The rise and rise of the cafe

Many of my friends joke because, wherever I am in central London, I have a favourite cafe. Although Starbucks apparently has 166 branches within five miles of Regent Street [check out the store locator here], none of my favourite cafes is a Starbucks, although I’m not averse to calling into one, if I want a cappuccino and none of my favourites is nearby. However, other factors influence my choice of favourites, such as friendly staff who know me, the ability to sit around reading for a while, and (very important) the choice of cakes.
This article explains that Starbucks now has 530 branches in the UK and some 12,500 worldwide with plans to expand to 40,000. I’m not wild about the domination by one brand, but I welcome the growth of cafe culture. The same article summarizes the historical development of places selling coffee.

  • 1554 Constantinople’s citizens become the first to patronise houses selling coffee.
  • 1652 Refined arabica coffee arrives in Britain. It was drunk black and without sugar, and the first shop was reputedly opened in Oxford.
  • 1660s Coffee houses in Britain become a social phenomenon and are dubbed ‘penny universities’. A single penny bought you a coffee and time to scan the latest newsletters posted on the walls.
  • 1665 Samuel Pepys recorded nearly 100 visits he made to coffee houses.
  • 1688-98 Some houses became a hub for commerce where information was exchanged. Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley brimmed with stockbrokers – and eventually became the London Stock Exchange.
  • 1700s Coffee houses begin to fall out of favour.
  • 1930s-40s Two world wars and a social revolution revive cafe society in the UK. A migrant influx still nostalgic for coffee houses sets up cafes such as The Cosmo in Hampstead, London.
  • 1971 Starbucks opens its first outlet in Seattle. The name derives from a character in Moby Dick
  • 1998 King’s Road in Chelsea becomes the first location for Starbucks in the UK, selling cappuccino or mocha latte at £2.
  • 2000 The UK coffee shop market rockets with daily sales of 4.4m cups. Coffee-selling becomes a billion-pound industry, with UK-owned chains such as Caffe Nero and Costa Coffee offering stiff competition.
  • 2006 The Starbucks empire grows to 12,500 outlets and £4bn in revenue.

One Comment

  • Janet

    I try to use indepenent cafes whenever possible; but of the chains, I prefer Costa as they stock ground decaffeinated coffee, and are obliging about Fair Trade options. The only time I use Starbucks is in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Terminal 4, where location is everything. You can sit with a drink and a book, view the flight status screen AND be seen by arriving passangers. I just won’t divulge the optimum table!