Coffee – a true global beverage. From the regular everyday morning coffee to coffee ceremonies to coffee in medicine, coffee is riddled with history and culture. Much of this history can be found in the city of Oxford right on your doorstep in the oldest coffee house in Europe!
The word coffee came to England in 1582 which stemmed from the Dutch word for coffee koffie, which was adapted from the Ottoman Turkish kahve (قهوه), which in turn was borrowed from the Arabic qahwah (قَهْوَة). The adaptation of the word for coffee also follows coffee’s journey from Arabia, through the Ottoman Empire which then arrived with the Dutch before finally landing on the shore of England.
Much of the history of coffee and coffee drinking can be traced back to Ethiopia in the 15th century where coffee was used to concentration in prayer. This then spread across the globe, whereby coffeehouses were taken up by Germany, England and Holland in particular. By 1852 Brazil had become the worlds largest producers and exporters of coffee and still hold that title in 2023 exporting 5.5bn pounds of coffee each year.
Queens Lane Coffee House – Oldest Coffee House in Europe?
Did you know that the first ever coffee house that opened in Europe was right in the heart of Oxford. There are two coffee houses that claim to have been the first with Queens Lane Coffee House claiming to have been the first, opening in 1654 of which are still open for business today serving delicious treats alongside their signature coffee.
However, another cafe also claims to have been built on the site of the first coffee house in Europe according to Samuel Pepys’ Diary, 1650 who is also stated to have opened the first coffee house. The Grand Cafe claims to have been built on this site and delves into the rich history of the site on their website.
Whoever was first, both cafes have charming, cosy interiors with superb coffee and tasty treats. We will leave it up to you to decide who came first.
Image of The Grand Central Cafe and Queens Lane Coffee; Image credit; The Grand Cafe and Queens Lane
A Cup of Happiness or Controversy?
Coffee has not always been associated with normality or happiness. Coffee in the early 16th century was riddled with controversy, similar to that of alcohol.
Coffee was outlawed as illegal in Ottoman in 1511 whereby secret coffee clubs and houses opened up for the elite to secretly drink the delicious brown drink. The drink was banned as a result of the effects that coffee had on the mind being compared to that of drugs and alcohol. It was questioned as to whether this effect went against religious beliefs and thus the ban was issued. This ban was overturned by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I who favoured the drink and overruled the law.
Coffee was also banned in Ethiopia in the 18th century for the same reason, this was again overruled in the second half of the 19th century due to the coffee boom in Ethiopia. In modern times coffee is associated with morning rituals, socialisation and comfort.
Image of a no coffee sign; Image credit free signs icons
Historical Cafes in Oxford
If you have tried both Queens Lane Coffee and The Grand Central Cafe and are still wanting your fill of historical Oxford cafes The Story Museum has great coffee and sweet treats to enjoy as well as being family friendly. There is also the Old Fire Station if you are looking for a place to enjoy a sit down lunch or dinner or The Old Town Hall Cafe which serves all the classics as well as coffee and is within the Old Town Hall so has some beautiful architecture to admire whilst you eat.
Oxford is full of history and not just about coffee. If you are looking for more information on historical Oxford, Oxford History Tours Business Profile may be worth a read.