The Character of a Ottoman Coffee House
And if you see the great Morat
With shash on’s head instead of hat,
Or any Sultan in his dress,
Or picture of a Sultaness,
Or John’s admired curl’d pate,
Or th’ great Mogul in’s Chair of State,
Or Constantine the Grecian,
Who 14 years was th’ only man
That made coffee for th’ great Bashaw,
Although the man he never saw;
Of if you see a coffee-cup
Filled from a Turkish pot, hung up
Withing the clouds, and round it Pipes,
Wax candles, stoppers, these are types
And certain signs (with many more
Would be too long to write them ore’),
Which plainly do spectators tell
That in that house they coffee sell.
Some historians of this period have also noted that the prevalence of names such as “Turk’s Head” or “Solyman’s Coffee House” refer to Sulayman the Magnificent, one of the great Renaissance monarchs of the 16th century. His rule had made such an impression not only on the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, but also subsequently on the population at large, that his name was adopted as the main pulling factor for these coffee-houses, “where Turkey coffee was sold”. This also showed how the diplomatic trends of the time would then influence the lives, perspectives and aspirations of the general populace.
In fact, they influenced people so much that the styles and even clothing of the Islamic world were adopted into British society. Another anonymous writer, “W.P.” (possibly one and the same, whose work was entitled, A Character of Coffee and Coffee-Houses) wrote, “the English imitate all other people in their ridiculous Fashions… [and] With the Barbarous Indian he smoaks Tobacco. With the Turk he drinks Coffee”. Hence in a later period, you find Hogarth’s portrait of himself wearing a turban (quite ironic in view of his opinions about coffee).
It seems, in fact, that turban-wearing became common for coffee-house goers generally. This and other such eccentricities worried certain sections of society, and so in 1674 there arose “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” as they complained that their husbands were turning “as unfruitful as the deserts”, or as other commentators have called it, “turning Turk”. Other petitions ensued, and even Charles II thought it wise to abolish coffee and other foreign drinks, which ban did not last long.
Coffee went on trial as a substance that would morally corrupt and attract “renegades from Christianity”. This hysteria was not helped by the appearance of an early translation of the Qur’an, which was associated with the religious tolerance that had previously existed. The Qur’an came to be associated with the coffee. The antics of the Barbary corsairs did not improve the popularity of the Muslims and a strange dichotomy developed, whereby London society was split into those who supported coffee and those who did not.
However, this was all in keeping with the cultural fascination with the East that had sprung up on a large scale and which, during the Georgian period, also translated itself into the Orientalist movement in art, literature and then finally in academia.
One surviving bastion of all things to do with coffee stills harks back to an older world. Established in 1887, the Algerian Coffee Stores can be found at 52 Old Compton Street, and it is worth a visit if only to breathe in the spectacular flavours.