Rosee, Pasqua (fl. 1651–1656), coffee-house keeper
by Brian Cowan

Rosee, Pasqua (fl. 1651–1656), coffee-house keeper, was probably born into the ethnic Greek community in Ragusa, Sicily, in the early seventeenth century. By 1651 Rosee had moved to Smyrna in the Ottoman empire, where he made the acquaintance of Daniel Edwards, an English Levant merchant who had acquired a taste for coffee. As a non-Muslim Levantine, Rosee was well placed to serve as an intermediary between English merchants and the Ottoman Turks, and it is likely that he began to work for Edwards in this capacity in Smyrna.

Edwards left Smyrna in the latter part of 1651, perhaps to escape an outbreak of the plague in that city in September, and he returned to London with Rosee in his service. Henceforth Rosee was responsible for preparing and serving coffee to Edwards and his household. Edwards's household was located in Walbrook ward in the City of London. Here Rosee served ‘two or three dishes’ of coffee ‘at a time twice or thrice a day’ (Houghton, 312). The popularity of the novel drink among Edwards's friends and acquaintances was such that it became impractical to have Rosee serve it in a private house, so Edwards helped Rosee to establish his own business selling coffee to the public from a shed in the churchyard in the parish of St Michael Cornhill. Despite its inauspicious building, Rosee's coffee house was distinguished for its customers by a sign bearing his own head. This was the first coffee house in London. It is likely that Rosee's London coffee house was opened in 1652 as John Aubrey asserted. However, conclusive archival evidence of Rosee's coffee house does not turn up until mid-1656, when parish registers record Rosee's trading partnership with Christopher Bowman in St Michael's Alley. The first coffee house in England was probably established in Oxford a few years earlier in 1650 by a Jewish entrepreneur named Jacob who opened a coffee house at the sign of the Angel in the parish of St Peter-in-the-East.

Rosee was an energetic entrepreneur and he took great pains to promote the novel practice of coffee drinking. He published a handbill advertisement entitled The Vertue of the Coffee Drink (c.1652), in which he claimed credit for being the first person to sell coffee publicly in England. His handbill described coffee as ‘a simple innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dryed in an oven and ground to powder and boiled up with spring water’. He identified coffee as having both cold and dry qualities according to the humoural principles of Galenic medicine. The medicinal properties of coffee were also endorsed by Rosee, who claimed that it ‘is good against sore eyes’ as well as headaches and it ‘will very much stop any defluxion of rheums … and so prevent and help consumptions and the cough of the lungs’. In addition Rosee noted that coffee drinking could both prevent and cure the dropsy, gout, and scurvy, as well as miscarriages in pregnant women, ‘the spleen, hypocondriack winds, or the like’. His belief that coffee ‘will prevent drowsiness and make one fit for business’ has proved more resilient than his other claims for the drink's medical benefits.

Apart from the handbill which proclaimed Rosee's authorship, three other undated contemporary handbills survive with the same title, two of which state that coffee was sold at the Rainbow Coffee House in Fleet Street. These tracts were most likely issued by James Farr, who probably established the Rainbow as the second London coffee house about 1656 and borrowed much of Rosee's original sales strategy for marketing coffee as a healthy drink with substantial medicinal uses.

Rosee's business was well received, but he encountered some resistance from some alehouse keepers in the City of London who feared an encroachment on their custom and thus petitioned the lord mayor of London to stop his trade on the grounds that Rosee was not a freeman of the City. In 1654 this problem was solved by Alderman Hodges, the father-in-law of Daniel Edwards, who set up his coachman, Christopher (Kitt) Bowman (d. 1663), who was free of the City, as Rosee's business partner. Bowman's freedom and Rosee's skill as a coffee man permitted the two to sell coffee legally.

In 1656 Rosee and Bowman were able to move their coffee business from the previous shed into a building. They were granted a lease for premises identified as messuage G in the St Michael's vestry's 1696 summary, a site now known as 3 St Michael's Alley. The annual rent for this site, with a building 27½ feet deep and 19 feet wide, was £4. This business partnership did not last long, however, and soon Bowman and Rosee were running rival coffee houses on opposite sides of the same street in St Michael's Churchyard. Rosee's coffee house was identified by a sign bearing an image of his own face, while Bowman's was identified by a sign with a coffee pot. A doggerel verse poem entitled ‘To Mr. Pasqua Rosee, at the sign of his own head and half his body, in St. Michael's Alley, next the first coffee tent in London’ was penned by one ‘Adrianus del Tasso’ to commemorate this trade war. Bowman ultimately prevailed in the contest, for Rosee was later obliged to leave England ‘for some misdemeanour’ (Houghton, 313), which has never been explained, and Bowman was thus able to convert the original coffee ‘shed’ into a proper house.

There is no record of Rosee's life after he left London, although it has been subject to some speculation. Robinson suggests that Rosee went to Holland. Ukers elaborated on this suggestion by claiming that Rosee was also responsible for introducing the coffee house to the Netherlands in 1664. There is no contemporary evidence for either assertion.

Rosee's innovations and achievements remained in popular memory long after he left England. John Tatham's 1664 play Knavery in All Trades features a Turkish character named Mahoone—possibly modelled on Rosee—who runs a coffee house and boasts ‘Me travel all the varld, me speak all de lingua’ (sig. D3r). A satire of 1672, A Broad-side against Coffee, recounts derisively that Pasqua had been a coachman and made fun of his foreign accent: ‘Me no good Engalash!’ It is possible that English was Rosee's third language, after Greek and Turkish, and given his background in the trading world of the Levant he may have been familiar with Hebrew and Armenian as well. Rosee was given credit for the first time as the first London coffee-house keeper by John Houghton, in his report to the Royal Society on 14 June 1699, which was later published in the Philosophical Transactions in September 1699 and later reprinted in his own journal, A Collection for Improvement of Husbandry and Trade (nos. 457–61, 25 April – 23 May 1701). The Scottish physician James Douglas also recounted the story of Rosee's achievements in a supplement to his botanical treatise on coffee, Arbor yemensis fructum cofé ferens (1727). Later antiquarians of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries have variously repeated and elaborated upon, often without evidence, the story of Rosee's coffee house.

On 25 March 1952 the lord mayor of London commemorated the tercentenary of Rosee's coffee house with a tablet in St Michael's Alley affixed to the Jamaica Wine House, a building which had been preceded by the Jamaica Coffee House, which was built after the great fire. The plaque was paid for by the Coffee Buyer's Association and the ceremony was attended by ‘diplomatic representatives of the great coffee-producing countries’ (The Times, 26 March 1952, 6c).



M. Ellis, ‘Pasqua Rosee's coffee house, 1652–1666’, London Journal, 29/1 (2004), 1–24 · A Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade, 457–61 (25 April–23 May 1701) · The vertue of the coffee drink, first publiquely made . . . by P. Rosee (1652?) · The vertue of the coffee drink (1654?) · The vertue of the coffee drink (London, 1654?) · Brief lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, 2 vols. (1898), 1.108–11 · R. Bradley, The virtue and use of coffee, with regard to the plague (1721), 21–2 · The life and times of Anthony Wood, ed. A. Clark, 5 vols., OHS, 19, 21, 26, 30, 40 (1891–1900), 1.168 · J. Houghton, ‘A discourse of coffee’, PTRS, 21 (1699), 311–17 · J. Tatham, Knavery in all trades, or, The coffee-house: a comedy (1664) · A broad-side against coffee, or, The marriage of the Turk (1672) · Adrianus del Tasso, ‘To Mr Pasqua Rosee, at the sign of his own head and half his body, in St Michael's Alley, next the first coffee tent in London’, in J. Douglas, A supplement to the description of the coffee-tree, lately published by Dr Douglas (1727), 29–30 · ‘London's first coffee house: plaque to commemorate opening in 1652’, The Times (26 March 1952), 6 · Athenian Mercury, 9/5 (1692), q. 2 · B. Cowan, The social life of coffee: the emergence of the British coffeehouse (2005) · B. Lillywhite, London coffee houses (1963) · A. Ellis, The penny universities: a history of the coffee-houses (1956) · E. F. Robinson, The early history of coffee houses in England: with some account of the first use of coffee and a bibliography of the subject (1893) · W. H. Ukers, All about coffee (1922)

© Oxford University Press 2004–16 All rights reserved  

Pasqua Rosee (1651–1656): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/92862