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In 1773 the Society of Arts offered a premium for growing a certain type of purple orchids in England.

In the eighteenth century, tea and coffee were not the only exotic new beverages: a cheaper and popular alternative was salep, or saloop, imported from Turkey and made from a flour of dried orchid tubers. Many of the old London coffee houses served it alongside coffee and gin, and the Society was keen to replace the Turkish imports.

The word salep comes from the Arabic for orchid, which translates literally as "fox's testicles" - very similar to "dogstones", an older English word for orchids. Salep is still consumed in Turkey today, where its popularity has endangered orchids - in fact, its export is now banned. But unlike coffee and tea, the popularity of salep in England dried up - by the 1820s it had a reputation as the drink of the poor, and by the 1840s it had all but disappeared from London's streets.


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