Rev. Edward Terry, chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe, wrote in 1616: Many of the people there (in India), who are strict in their religion, drink no Wine at all; but they use a Liquor more wholesome than pleasant, they call Coffee;
David Burton, a food historian, writes in The Raj at Table (1993): India’s first coffee house opened in Calcutta after the battle of Plassey in 1780. Soon after, John Jackson and Cottrell Barrett opened the original Madras Coffee House, … [They recovered] their costs with the high price of one rupee for a single dish of coffee.
From Geetha Padmanabhan and Deepa Kurup’s piece on coffee in the Hindu Sunday magazine. One rupee for a cup of coffee in late 1700s–and, I thought 60 bucks for a cup in early 2000s to be too high!
These coffee hotels were so popular and such money-spinning enterprises that the satirist Kuttoosi Guruswamy, the ideologue of the Dravidian movement, likened them ‘to printing currency notes in one’s own press’…
A.K. Chettiar, a keen observer of contemporary culture, wrote in a lighter vein: Some find it difficult to cajole their wives to entertain friends at home. Such persons seek refuge in coffee hotels. The coffee hotel is not just an eating joint. In villages it is a place of congregation. In towns it is the place where traders clinch deals. Wage earners, school-going students and sub-editors, who down ‘half a cup’ by the hour — all depend on the coffee hotel. There are people who, sick of homemade food, go to eat at these hotels with their family every week… Moreover, what can one do when visitors turn up without notice?…
What is missing in this account, however, is the fact that the coffee hotel was generally run by Brahmins and, in the popular mind, was associated with brahmins…
The coffee house at Kolkata’s College Street was the place for intense intoxication, but achieved without the aid of liquor, remembers eminent Bengali writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen.A visitor during the 1960s, though not a regular, to that now almost mythical cradle of intellectual discourse, Ms. Sen recollects how the “intoxication of creativity, intellectual excitement and free exchange of ideas” energised the place.
A cauldron of creative energy, the Coffee House was the ultimate pilgrimage for the aspiring writer, the budding poet, the young painters, playwrights and filmmakers or the radical in politics. “It was a kind of lounge where new ideas would be generated and exchanged, where young, creative, thinking people would congregate,” Sen said.
Amid the twirling haze of cigarette smoke, editors of little magazines would prod wannabe writers to submit their articles, while intricate cinematic aesthetics would be laid bare in discussions where Satyajit Ray or Mrinal Sen would hold forth.
Take a look!