Mid-17th century London coffee house coffee degustation
May 7, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Suppose I wanted to drink a faithful recreation of the coffee served in a mid-17th century London coffee house.

I'm really interested in how the coffee would have tasted, as there is a lot of variation today in beverages labelled as coffee. Is there a way I could prepare it? Or was it close enough to some modern variant?
posted by dhoe to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I just listened to "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" and one of the beverages covered was coffee. I belive the author said something to the effect that early coffee would have been heated and re-heated throughout the day so it would taste much like stale coffee left in a pot would now. Also it was unfiltered so there would be grounds. You might want to give that book a read or a listen.
posted by Busmick at 6:56 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a 19th century recipe, so I realize I'm off by a few hundred years. FWIW I could speculate that the coffee technology probably wouldn't have changed much in the interim.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:58 AM on May 7, 2012

Here's a quote describing coffee from an advertisement distributed upon the opening of the first coffee house in London, by Pasqua Rosee, an immigrant from Sicily.

It is a simple, innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dried in an oven, and ground to powder, and boiled up with spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk fasting an hour before, and not eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any blisters by reason of that heat.


No mention of milk, sugar or other additives. It's probably fair to guess that mid-17th coffee in England was similar to to the Turkish coffee of today.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:05 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Specifically mid-17th century? Assume "Turkish" style, strong and boiled up in a little pot. London's first coffee house was opened in the 1650s by a Sicilian who traded for the Levant Company in Smyrna; the ones that followed also explicitly invoke Turkey.

Coffee affords a huge amount of variation in how it's prepared, so by the end of the 17th century, moving into the 18th, you'll get the tall coffee pot seen in this video (1:58 on) on the reconstruction of a 1760s coffeehouse in Colonial Williamsburg. And the kind of reheating that Busmick talks about upthread.

Definitely unfiltered, served in small bowls with no handle.
posted by holgate at 7:33 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the historical novel A Conspiracy of Paper, which takes place in London around this time, the author mentions mixing it with wine (blech!). Usual caveats about the possibility of the author having used his artistic license.
posted by bluejayway at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2012

According to John Chamberlayn, you take 'the third part of a spoonful for each person, and put it into a glass of boyling Water, putting a little Sugar thereto: And after having let it boyl a small time, you must pour it into little dishes of porcelain or any other sort, and so let it be drunk by little and little, as hot as it can possibly be indur'd, but especially fasting'. (The manner of making coffee, tea and chocolate, as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America, 1685.)
posted by verstegan at 8:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Well, verstegan appears to have won this thread, but I was going to suggest contacting Plimoth Plantation in MA, where everybody is a frustrated history major embodying a 16th century settler. They did drink coffee (in fact, this was before the tea trade!), and might have some documentation of how it was made, although this is back a bit in time and probably in rustic technologies...
posted by acm at 8:32 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The main difference is that, before the 20th century, coffee and water were boiled together over a flame. Whereas now we have all kinds of methods of putting water in contact with grounds without letting the mixture sit at a boil to turn bitter.

Also, yeah, grounds.

Basically it should taste somewhere between Turkish coffee and cowboy coffee. But probably not boiled up in a very small pot -- that's an artifact of home coffee brewing which came about in the 19th century when coffee had become an everyday dry good. You'd never make coffee that way in a shop for mass consumption.
posted by Sara C. at 2:00 PM on May 7, 2012

probably not boiled up in a very small pot

The ibrik is mentioned in verstegan's source, though specifically as used in Turkey, but you're probably right -- the size and shape of an ibrik isn't a set thing. Anyway, prints of coffeehouses from the later 17th c. and early 18th c. (example) consistently show the tall conical pots on the hearth.
posted by holgate at 2:21 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I saw quite large ibriks in Turkey.

Also, absent evidence that Western European coffee houses brewed coffee in an ibrik, I'd guess that they probably weren't used outside of the very first shops started by Turkish immigrants. There's no reason you can't brew up coffee in an ordinary kitchen pot.
posted by Sara C. at 2:24 PM on May 7, 2012

« Older Did I destroy my Kindle?   |   Derailleur derailed. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.