One more cup of coffee

Caf life began in London, not Paris. Now, reports Charlotte Packer, it's here again

cafe life is back, and so it should be. London was where it all began. The combined efforts of chains such as Aroma and Caf Nero, one- off establishments like the Monmouth Coffee House, the much hyped Cyberia and grand old lady of them all, Bar Italia, have done much to resuscitate caf society.

Add to this the increased awareness of bean variety, and we are witnessing the awakening of a national obsession. Let's face it, the smell alone is enough to make an addict, and then there is all that glorious gadgetry - far sexier than any tea-bag.

This obsession with coffee is nothing new: In 1652, some 20 years before the first Frenchman ordered a caf au lait, Pasqua Rosee opened his Coffee House in Michael's Alley, Cornhill. For the next century the coffee houses boomed.

The public loved the associated activity as much as the drink: the roasting beans and bawdy conversation. The crush made service so erratic that tipping became the norm - a box bearing the words "To Insure Promptness" sat on the counter. Much of London's history is bound to Rosee's establishment. It set a trend which changed the way business was conducted, with businessmen adopting coffee houses as unofficial meeting places.

Little did Edward Lloyd realise, as marine insurers flocked to his Tower Street shop, that his name would live on through the centuries to become the most famous shipping insurance institution in the world.

Coffee houses became such a rich source of gossip, and a powerful means of spreading information, that in 1675 Charles II tried to ban them. The public fury this provoked shocked the King into a swift U-turn. Debates were common and, in some, so furious that a means of settling them without recourse to violence was needed - enter the ballot box.

The last coffee boom was in the 1950s, when the bean bounced back from nearly a century of neglect, re-born in gleaming chrome and bright Formica. An enterprising Italian dental salesman, so horrified by the appalling coffee on offer, decided the English needed Gaggia... The Espresso bar hit town.

Its success was based on novelty, and a love affair with all things Italian, rather than a taste for coffee. Such passions are fickle, and soon real coffee was eclipsed by the convenience of the instant fix.

However a renaissance is now under way: at the forefront is a Swiss academic who, like the Italian before him, found his working life in London blighted by the lack of decent coffee.

Michael Zur-Szpiro saw the gap in the market, found a sympathetic backer and in January 1991, as the recession peaked, the first Aroma coffee bar opened its doors. The electric yellow interiors are now a familiar sight across the West End.

The philosophy, says Zur-Szpiro, is to "offer people a 15-minute holiday in the sun. The caf is the new pub, an unpretentious and unpressured plac:e to meet. Cafs are a natural part of society in Europe. Why not here?"

In another corner of London the spirit of the 17th century lives on. The Jerusalem Coffee House, just two months old, feels as if it's been here for ever. At first glance it looks like a private house. A closer inspection reveals trays of cakes and sacks of coffee. Curiosity and greed unite and you step inside to be greeted by a sleepy spaniel, a glowing fire and delicious coffee.

Julian Humphries is the owner-chef and stage manager of the whole affair. He defines the character of the place through its lack of choice. "People don't seem to like choice, it just confuses them. We had eight different types of coffee, but we quickly whittled it down to three." The customers stream in, happy in the knowledge that Mr Humphries has made all the difficult decisions.

While none of the current crop of coffee havens offer the ambience of their 17th-century counterparts, one thing is certain: the coffee is better. The choices are endless. You can specify beans, roasts, grinds, even the type of froth and temperature of the milk. So whether you like that one- cup kick in the morning or a steady jangling of nerves throughout the day, there are now plenty of places to accommodate your addiction.

Aroma: Dean St; Martins Lane; Bishopsgate; Piccadilly. Mon-Sun

Jerusalem Coffee House, 55 Britton St, EC1; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri (071-253 3490)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world