Coffee houses are now once again a familiar sight in our high streets. They are usually part of a chain and laid out and decorated in a predictable manner, the latest manifestation of an institution which began in the 17th century.
As from the Restoration London was awash with coffee houses. They were used not just for refreshment, but for business, auctions, medical treatment, news gathering, hiring servants, or just conversation. They were viewed with suspicion by the authorities, who wanted to ban them.
In the 19th century the Temperance movement held sway, and coffee taverns were established to counter the appeal of cheap liquor.
In the 1950s Londoners discovered what coffee should taste like when Continental espresso machines were introduced. Music was added to the ambience. But mostly those overcrowded, sociable and individual coffee houses have given way to the new and formulaic brands.