7 Taboos From a 17th-Century Coffeehouse

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In the 17th century, London coffeehouses were evolving into consortiums of progressive academics, philosophers, doctors, and lawmakers, including historical heavyweights like Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope. A snapshot of this scene is captured by Paul Greenwod’s 1674 A Brief Description of the Excellent Vertues of that Sober and wholesome Drink, called Coffee, and its Incomparable Effects in Preventing or Curing Most Diseases incident to Humane Bodies which documents “The RULES and ORDERS of the Coffee-House.” Here are the rules that 17th-century London’s most progressive socialites abided by when they needed a cup of joe.

1. Don’t swear.

Or, if you do have a foul mouth, you'd better have deep pockets to match.

To limit mens expence, we think not fair,
But let him forfeit Twelve-pence that shall Swear:

2. Don’t start a pity party.

Much to the poetic patron’s dismay, disgruntled lovers would have to suffer elsewhere.

No Maudlin Lovers here in Corners Mourn,

3. Don’t talk about God.

Even though most coffeehouses were located next to churches and cathedrals, religion was off limits. Politics, on the other hand, was fair game. Benjamin Franklin frequently visited many London coffeehouses, where he brushed up on politics and social theory.

But all be Brisk, and Talk, but not too much
On Sacred things, Let none Presume to touch,
Nor profane Scripture, or sawcily wrong
Affairs of State with an Irreverent Tongue:

4. Don’t be too serious.

Take what you hear lightly. The ideas you’d hear may spark a revolution or they may just be the coffee talking. Either way, it’s all in good fun.

Let Mirth be Innocent, and each Man see,
That all his Jests without Reflection be;
To keep the House more Quiet, and from Blame,

5. Don’t bet your house on it.

Bets were made on gentlemen’s terms. They should be small and light-hearted.

We Banish hence Cards, Dice, and every game:
Nor can allow of Wagers, that Exceed
Five shillings, which oft-times much Trouble Breed;
Let all that’s lost, or forfeited, be spent
In such Good Liquour as the House does vent,

6. Don’t stay too late.

Drink as much as you please, but you were encouraged to head home to attend to more important matters (writing the laws of gravity, for instance).

And Customers endeavour to their Powers,
For to observe still seasonable Howers.

7. Don’t be a stranger.

You and your wallet-straining addiction to caffeine are in good company—the best scholars of London struggled to resist a daily dose of coffee. Plus, coffeehouses were a center for community. Strangers were welcome, but regulars kept them churning out the good stuff. 

Lastly let each Man what he calls for Pay,
And so you’re welcome to come every day.

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July 2, 2014 - 7:00pm
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