Guest Posts · History Facts

Did They Enjoy Coffee in Castles? A Guide to the History of Coffee in the UK

Morning all! This is a guest post about the history behind coffee! This was an absolutely great idea and I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know a lot about coffee, so I definitely learned a thing or two – absolutely fascinating! Hope you all enjoy!

This is a guest post from Kieran MacRae co-founder of Above Average Coffee

As a lover of coffee and a lover of history I’ve always been curious about the question in the title.

It’s so easy nowadays for me to get a takeaway coffee and enjoy it outside of Inverness Castle where I live. I enjoy drinking it outside in the modern-day world, but the question is did people get to enjoy coffee on the inside of a castle back when it was functioning properly?

Technically Inverness Castle is still functional as a courthouse, or it was until very recently, and I have no doubt many a judge and clerical assistant have enjoyed a coffee inside it. But I’m talking about enjoying coffee while cannons thundered and pillagers assailed the gates!

Did they have coffee back then, did they drink coffee in their castle, or was the only drink available to them being the all time favourite drink such as ale or similar. How did they manage in their daily life without a heartwarming, eye-opening and awakening cup of coffee in the morning?

Let’s find out…

Coffee The Origin Story

There are lots of stories of how people first discovered coffee. The first is one I certainly heard before.

The first origin-story goes that a 9th century goat herder, named Kaldi, noticed his goats were eating the fruits from a plant and were acting pretty energetic. The goat herder tried the little berries himself and found himself very awake, full of energy, and just generally jazzed.

He took the berries to a monk. I suppose they were friends? The monk didn’t like them so threw them in a fire. When the beans in the fruit started to roast it made a nice smell. Other monks checked it out. They then had the brainwave to grind them up and dissolve them in water. Ta dah!

It probably didn’t go that way and many think this is just a story but I personally love it and as an origin story I think it’s perfect.

Another famous story says that a Moroccoan mystic was travelling to Ethiopia. He watched birds eating coffee berries from the plants and were very spritely. When he tried the berries, he felt the same!

One story, possibly more rooted in history is of a gentleman named Omar, who was a disciple of Sheikh Abul Hasan ash-Shadhill. Omar was banished from Mecca. Starving in the desert, he tried eating some berries from a shrub. He thought they were bitter, so he tried to roast them to improve their favour. That made them hard, so he tried to boil them in water to soften them.

He drank his coffee and felt great! When word of the miracle drink he had created reached Mecca he was supposedly invited back and sainted.

Historians seem to agree that coffee was born around about the 15th century.

By 1414 the musty bean was known to Mecca. By the early 1500s it had made its way to Egypt Egypt and most of North Africa. By around 1550, there were coffee shops in Cairo, Istanbul, and Aleppo. By the 16th century, it had spread throughout the middle east, it had made it to Italy, and the Dutch were even transporting the coffee plants to the East Indies!

In a historical sense, coffee became very popular very quickly.

But when did it come to the UK?

Coffee In The UK

If it had made it to Europe in the 16th Century it seems likely it would have come to the UK around that time, and yes according to Coffee Aid it was around that time that coffee did, in fact, come to England and so the rest of the UK. And it was in 1650 that the very first coffee house was opened.

No it wasn’t Starbucks…

But to me is astonishing that cafe’s have been around for that long, the coffee wouldn’t have been anything like we drink today. I am sure the beans were grown roughly, any sort of grinder would have rudimentary at best and I imagine the beans were much more likely to be crushed with some sort of mallet than ground to a fine powder.

After that they were most likely thrown into a pot of boiling water over the fire and potentially left there for hours! Leaving you with an incredibly bitter very strong cup of coffee. If you were very posh and wealthy you could have put sugar in it but much more likely you’d have to purse your lips to filter out the crushed beans. 

So was Coffee Enjoyed In Castles?

Enjoyed is a strong word.. But it was drunk in castles.

But rather than being used to draw strength to the troops in castle warfare it was much more likely enjoyed by the gentry inside their castles come manor houses.

 But, for a bit of perspective, it means that coffee could have been drunk in castles while Oliver Cromwell was leading the charge against the royalists!

7 thoughts on “Did They Enjoy Coffee in Castles? A Guide to the History of Coffee in the UK

  1. This was such a fantastic post to read, I absolutely love coffee so I knew straight away that I would really enjoy reading this post! It’s amazing to learn about the history of coffee and if it was ever consumed in castles 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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