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The History of Coffee

We served more than 107,000 cups of coffee at The Runnymede on Thames last year! Here, we take a look at the wonderful world of coffee culture and how it’s led people to our inviting riverside home.

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Drinking coffee is a ritual that spans cultures, generations and geographical regions. Seen as a pick-me-up, a social ice-breaker and a sign of friendship, sitting down for a coffee is a global tradition of decorum and amiability. Coffee culture has become increasingly prominent throughout the ages, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down.

In a fast-paced world, the appeal of the caffeinating effects of coffee are obvious. Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat-herder first discovered these effects in the 9th century, as he noticed how excitable his goats became after eating beans from a coffee plant! Indeed, the buzzy feeling we get from drinking a coffee nowadays inevitably has something to do with the energising experience the coffee ritual gives.

The first coffeehouses are thought to have appeared from the 14th century onwards, mostly in Turkey and the Middle East. From the 1600s they appeared elsewhere in Europe and the first coffee house in England was set up in Oxford in 1650. They were places for drinking coffee and social interaction.

Across Europe, coffee houses were also seen as centres for art and intellectualism. Popular meeting places for artists, writers and the politically active, coffee houses made the authorities a little nervous too. Charles II even tried to ban coffee houses in London because he saw them as places where disaffected people met to start scandalous rumours about the King and his ministers. He was presumably the recipient of an enthusiastic – and no doubt caffeinated – backlash, as he never quite succeeded with his plans…

Drinking coffee and socialising seems to have always gone hand-in-hand. The idea of cafés being creative centres also continues to this day, as people enjoy business meetings and laptop working in bustling, inspiring surroundings. Yet in more recent decades, coffee drinking was seen as being much more popular in continental Europe compared to the UK. Brits are known for being a nation of tea drinkers, after all. However, some of the latest evidence is showing that the tables may be turning.

Brits are now said to be drinking 2.1 billion cups of coffee per year outside of the home, versus the 874 million cups of tea drunk outside of the home a year. Perhaps us Brits like to stay at home for tea, while we go out for our dose of coffee culture. Overall, however, tea consumption has fallen by 19% since 2010. In one piece of research, Britain was the only nation whose coffee drinking habits outside of the home had risen in the last five years. Café culture is definitely booming. According to the British Coffee Association, 80% of people who visit coffee shops do so at least once a week.

Coffee and tea consumption at The Runnymede on Thames matches up to these fascinating national statistics showing the cultural shift in how we like to get caffeinated. While we served more than 107,000 cups of coffee in the hotel last year, we only served 52,000 pots of tea during the same period. Coffee rituals take place in our vibrant lounge every day of the year. With comfy chairs, inspiring riverside views and top-notch coffee, it’s no wonder the coffee culture trend has come knocking on our door. And we’re very happy to say ‘hello’ to people enjoying this sociable culture, over a cup of coffee of course.

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