Coffee shops: history repeating

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January 23, 2013 by Beans Ahoy

It is as if history is repeating itself. Nearly 340 years ago King Charles II tried to ban coffee shops in England. There was even a Women’s Petition Against coffee claiming that it Eunucht their husbands and crippled their gallants. What a terrible thought, all Eunucht’ed and de-gallanted, but what coffee actually did was stimulate the mind. For centuries previous the drink of choice had been alcohol, but it was hardly conducive to constructive thinking or discussion and usually ended in a brawl.

Needless to say, King Charles II nor the wives succeeded in having coffee driven from our shores (thank goodness for that). What coffee shops became synonymous with at the time though are intellectuals. It was a way for wise men to discuss events and interests over a drink that was not going to make them fight, vomit, or tie themselves to a lamp-post with their trousers around their ankles. Coffee became the thinking discursive mans drink, and from coffee shops sprung new ideas and radical thoughts. Coffee shops in the UK gave us Lloyd’s insurers, the Stock Exchange, even auction houses such as Sotherby’s and Christie’s. They became meeting places for artists, businessmen, and academics.

It is easy to see why a government could be suspicious of such places, especially a government fearful of change. Today we read in the Guardian about Iran’s crack down on coffee shops (, with the government believing that they are breeding grounds for dissidents. History has a way of repeating itself and it is likely foolish for the Iranian government to believe that they will succeed in running coffee shops out of town, or stop their use as a gathering place for free thinking.


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