Courtesy of Cambridge Archaeological Unit

The cache of drinkware and other items proves Britain's taste hasn't always just been for tea.

Abbey White
December 21, 2017

We live in an age when you can find a Starbucks around almost any city corner, but what about 300 years ago? Well, a recent archeological find in at Britain’s St. John’s College is proving our current Starbucks obsessions might not be as “millennial” as some think.

More than 500 pieces of 1700s drinkware were found in an unused cellar on the St. John’s College campus in Cambridge, England. The space is believed to have been inn owned by the Claphams, a married couple who ran it between the 1740s and 1770s. They were able to link the owners to the space after uncovering several items featuring the proprietors' names emblazoned on them. That’s a rare occurrence according to Craig Cessford, a member of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, the team who uncovered the cellar’s contents.

Vessels for sipping coffee, tea and chocolate were among the pieces caught in time at what Cessford jokingly calls an “18th Century Starbucks.” Other finds from the Georgian-era establishment included serving dishes, jelly glasses, clay pipes, teapots, animal and fish bones, in addition to a whopping total of 38 teapots. While it was “definitely a coffeehouse,” those additional discoveries lead researchers to believe old cafes were more than just a place people came to drink a latte and edit their latest scripts on parchment paper. They also acted somewhat like an inn.

"It seems that coffeehouses weren't completely different establishments as they are now—they were perhaps at the genteel end of a spectrum that ran from alehouse to coffeehouse," Cessford told the BBC.

Coffeehouses weren’t unusual for that time either. In fact, coffee drinking arrived in Britain during the 16th Century. By the mid-18th Century, there were reportedly thousands of coffeehouses where people gathered to socialize, much like they do in bars now. It’s a big revelation in the context of Britain’s great and long-lived “tea” identity.

“In the late 17th Century coffee was more popular than tea in England,” Cessford told the New York Daily News. “But over time the position was reversed so by the mid-18th Century tea was the more common drink.”

So how did the the drinkware land in the cellar? Cessford says he and the research believe  it was all moved to the cellar by Mrs. Clapham, who closed up shop and retired some time after she became a widow.