Sounds familiar

Damned social networking sites! They’ve been destroying people’s lives since the 17th century, when the hot app was called “Coffeehouse” rather than “Facebook”.

Enthusiasm for coffeehouses was not universal, however, and some observers regarded them as a worrying development. They grumbled that Christians had taken to a Muslim drink instead of traditional English beer, and fretted that the livelihoods of tavern-keepers might be threatened. But most of all they lamented that coffeehouses were distracting people who ought to be doing useful work, rather than networking and sharing trivia with their acquaintances.

When coffee became popular in Oxford and the coffeehouses selling it began to multiply, the university authorities objected, fearing that coffeehouses were promoting idleness and diverting students from their studies. Anthony Wood, an Oxford antiquarian, was among those who denounced the enthusiasm for the new drink. “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the university?” he asked. “Answer: Because of coffee-houses, where they spend all their time.”

And look! Muslims were wrecking Christiandom even then! And don’t get me started on those students, screwing around in idle chitchat all the time…


  1. hillaryrettig says

    “A PROCLAMATION FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF COFFEE HOUSES: Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee Houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom…and the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many tradesmen and others, do herein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would be employed in and about their Lawful Calling and Affairs; but also for that in such houses…divers, false, malitious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of His Majesty’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath though it fit and necessary, that the said Coffee Houses be (for the Future) put down and suppressed…”

    King Charles II of England, December 23, 1675 This rule was revoked on January 8, due to widespread citizen protest.


  2. hillaryrettig says

    also, the theory that the energizing triumvirate of coffee, chocolate, and sugar that helped foment the democratic revolutions of the late 18th, early 19th century.

  3. Sastra says

    Back when I was in college, there really were no ‘coffee houses.’ There were restaurants which also served coffee — and that was pretty much it. Otherwise, there were bars. I majored in English Lit and felt envious when reading about the 18th century coffeehouses, where conversation, debate, reading, and really good coffee were available to the aristocrat, intelligentsia, and commoner.

    The ready availability of coffeehouses — yes, even popular chains — is one of the many improvements over the Good Old Days, when getting a cup of coffee and lingering with a book meant you were taking up a table and depriving a waitress of an opportunity to get some real orders, and real tips.

  4. Amphiox says

    re @1;

    Your experience is historically verifiable!

    The fact that at that time the Islamic world had coffeehouses and no pubs, while Christian Europe had pubs but no coffeehouses, was, obviously, the reason Islamic science and technology at the time blew the Europeans out of the water (sometimes literally) and left then sputtering in the dust.

    Europe’s appropriation of the coffeehouse thus marks the turning of the tide and the beginning of Europe’s assent to world dominance (up until they self destructed in WWI and WWII). We owe the modern world to coffee.

    Where the tea houses of the Orient fit into this is an exercise left to the reader.

  5. says

    God’s prime organism, the yeasts, were deprived of work.

    Actually, some think that the Enlightenment may have taken off in Europe like it did due in part to coffee partially supplanting alcohol. The latter may be fun and all, but rarely led to “sober analysis” and the like (creativity seems to do all right with alcohol, but rationality is hardly so lucky).

    Facebook in the coffeehouse must be abomination squared.

    Glen Davidson

  6. Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

    @ #9, Andy

    Oh hells no! Starbucks is evil incarnate. Tim Hortons on the other hand is the last best hope for humanity.

  7. Ogvorbis: Ignorant sycophantic magpie. says

    Didn’t did P.D.Q Bach write The Facebook Cantata?

  8. says

    @11: I was being somewhat facetious (probably should have added an emoticon). That said, let me commit genuine heresy and say that I’ve never been that impressed with Tim Horton’s. Their coffee just doesn’t do it for me, not compared to some of the local alternatives here in Vancouver.

  9. laurentweppe says

    some observers regarded them as a worrying development. They grumbled that Christians had taken to a Muslim drink instead of traditional English beer

    Fucking hypocrites: when the socialist parties rised in Western Europe, the very same people accused them of being Beer drinking drunkards. Whatever you drink, if you meet people and share ideas, you’re a criminal in the eyes of your overlords

  10. says

    So, hanging out at a pub and getting drunk is good, but hanging out at a coffee bar and getting a buzz is bad? Frankly, I have an easier time imagining intellectuals having a groundbreaking conversation on a stimulant than on a depressant like alcohol. Heck, I’d probably prefer them going to trendy milk and juice bars over the pubs.

    I’m reminded once again of my old troll, Gabriel who tried to ad hom his way out of an argument by complaining that I probably play D&D instead of having “real” social interaction. How exactly, is socializing in a D&D game inherently less worthwhile than other social experiences?

    Oh, that’s right, “NNNNEEEERD!

  11. jamessweet says

    There’s this game I played a few times on Android, I think was called Townspeople 6 or Townsfolk 6 or something like that… Anyway, it’s set in France, I think around the French Revolution, and it’s a cartoon-y RTS.

    I bring it up, because an important unit once you start getting into serious conflict are Propogandists… and what building do you use to make Propogandists? Coffeehouses!!

  12. Sastra says

    Andy #9 wrote:

    So in short, Starbucks is one of the greatest forces for good in the modern world?

    In short, yes.

    Well, no. But I do live out in the middle of nowhere, the nearest Starbucks being maybe 20 miles away — and only built about 5 years ago. I still think of Starbucks (and all the chains) as Big City Exotic.

    And Amphiox #8 echoes what I’ve read myself on the significance of 18th century coffee shops. It wasn’t the coffee — it was the fact that such places encouraged intellectual debate, a competition among minds to persuade an intelligent audience on the significant issues of the day. And it brought this forum to (what were considered) ordinary people.

    Enlightenment ideals: one of the greatest forces for good in the modern world. Hell, it is the modern world.

  13. baal says

    I wonder if the coffee shop owners were keeping notes and names of who said what to whom and then later sold the info to other merchants in order to boost the merchants sales via targeted advertising (and the same coffee owners never ever sold said info to the localgov).

  14. says

    I really enjoyed the book The World of Caffeine, which is mostly history with some science at the end. (Note the one-star review from one of those “Caffeine is baaaad, mmm’kay?” types. FSM forbid we ever enjoy ourselves by partaking of something unwholesome. Do books about wine and beer attract militant fundie and/or Alcoholics Anonymous ravers?)

    Starbucks has terrible coffee and has driven many independent coffeehouses out of business. On the other hand, it was instrumental in alerting Americans outside of the PNW to the fact that there’s more to coffee than Maxwell House with Cremora and two Sweet’n’Lows. So, at least in some urban areas, it’s created a demand for more and better indie coffee shops.

  15. robb says

    so…if you drink coffee, you are drinking a beverage with roots in the Arab world…therefore you are a terrorist!

    forget outlawing soft drinks larger than 16 oz. OUTLAW COFFEE! if you drink coffee you are unamerican!! the bible doesn’t mention coffee! heathens! if god wanted us to drink coffee he wouldn’t have given us monks that brewed beer!!111!1

  16. Akira MacKenzie says

    You can imagine what the crotchety old men of the era sounded like:

    “Those damn tobacco-smoking rakehells with their Kit Marlowe, and their Aeropagitica, and their hula-hoops…”

  17. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    The article quoted in the OP seems to claim that there were actual working Universities before students and researchers had access to coffee. That’s surely a misunderstanding, and the article should make it more clear that, of course, there was no actual work done in these Universities before the advent of coffee, and that they were merely institutions to keep old people with beards and beer-addicted youths off the streets.

  18. richardgadsden says

    Well, well, well, I’m disappointed that no-one has pointed out yet that coffee is neither Arab nor Muslim, but Ethiopian and Christian in origin.

  19. mikee says

    @ richardgadsden #25

    Well done, you almost had me convinced you were serious, suggesting that coffee was Christian in origin.
    Is there anything that Christians won’t lay claim to?

  20. Didaktylos says

    One of my lectures from my time at University used to quote one of his old lecturers who said that one of the measures of the greatness of the literature of Ancient Greece (I’m a Classicist, BTW) is that it was all produced without the aid of coffee …

    And Lloyd’s of London began as a group of financiers who were in the habit of foregathering at Lloyd’s Coffeehouse.

  21. says

    Didaktylos #27

    QFT. Although, speaking as someone who switched from psychology to philosophy because philosophy had better symposia, I have to say contemplation of universal truths and stupid quantities of wine go together pretty well.

  22. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    If I remember playdoh right, they were all hung over during the symposium and didn’t drink much at all, because they partied too much the night before.

  23. says

    PZ, if you’re ever in the UK and fancy doing some atheistic ranting at Oxford students (you would be well-received!), I’d be happy to take you to the two coffee houses which compete for the title of oldest in Europe.

    The Grand Cafe claims to be the oldest, while across the road the Queen’s Coffee House claims to be the longest-established. The Grand Cafe do a mediocre Manhattan but a good brew. I’ve never bothered much with the Queen’s Coffee House, but it looks homely enough.

  24. Olav says

    jamessweet #16:

    There’s this game I played a few times on Android, I think was called Townspeople 6 or Townsfolk 6 or something like that…

    Townsmen 6.

  25. says

    In Amsterdam, the “coffee houses” don’t even serve coffee.

    Well, I’m sure some of them do, but the atmosphere is a bit hazy.