American Patriot

American Patriot Perspective – The History of Coffee in America:

The History of Coffee in America: Overview

Like many products enjoyed today in the U.S., coffee has a rich history. The discovery of the coffee plant is surrounded by folklore, but the cultivation of the plant, processing of the fruit and bean, and creation of the beverage we know as coffee today has had major impacts in the United States. In the current U.S. economy, coffee is the most traded commodity after oil. The story of the United States is entwined with the history of coffee in America.

Coffee History: Introduction and Origins

The most popular folklore of the origins of the coffee plant includes an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi who noticed unusually energetic behaviors in his goats. He determined their energy came from the red berries from the coffee shrub that his goats were consuming. There were many preparations of the coffee fruit before the coffee beverage we know today was created. For example, at one point the coffee fruit was mixed with animal fat to create a snack. The fruit was also fermented creating a wine-like beverage.

Coffee history was made in 13th-century Arabia, when the beans, the center of the coffee fruit, were roasted and made into something like the modern beverage. In Arabia, the plant was harvested in the wild. It wasn’t until the plant was introduced to Egypt and Yemen in the 15th century that it became cultivated. In 1616 the Dutch established the first European-owned coffee estate in Sri Lanka. After the French and Spanish established their own estates, coffee houses began to emerge throughout Europe. It was only a matter of time before the beverage broadened its reach to the New World.

When Did Coffee Come to America?

The first mention of coffee in America was by Captain John Smith who, having seen coffee cultivation in Turkey, introduced the idea to Jamestown colonists. Reportedly, 1723 was when coffee came to America, and its seeds were introduced in the New World.

Coffee During the Late Colonial Period

In 1773, Britain created the Tea Act, cutting colonial tea merchants out of commerce; in response, the Boston Tea Party occurred as a protest. Part of the protest was to boycott tea and consume coffee instead. Drinking coffee became a patriotic duty. This marked the beginning of a decline in the consumption of tea by colonists and an increase in the consumption of coffee during the late colonial period.

When Did Coffee Become Popular in the United States?

Coffee became popular when America was not yet a country. Long before the Boston Tea Party, the first coffee house in the colonies, The London Coffee House, opened in 1689. After the revolution, the shop was renamed The American Coffee House. In 1773, The Merchant Coffee House was built in Philadelphia. Frequenters of the particular coffee house were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Paul Revere. Meetings in coffee houses were quite popular by this time. By the 19th century, coffee was ingrained in American life.

Coffee, the Civil War, and Westward Expansion

Midway through the 19th century, the U.S. found itself in the internal conflict of the Civil War. Because of issues with the overindulgence of alcohol amongst soldiers, coffee soon replaced alcohol in many instances in popularity. Coffee could keep soldiers awake and alert and lifted soldiers’ spirits. In 1832, Andrew Jackson substituted coffee for alcohol in soldiers’ rations. In the mid-1800s, the south, particularly New Orleans, became a significant importer of coffee. As southern states began to secede from the union in 1861, the U.S. imported around 182 million pounds of coffee. The beverage was a part of the American way of life; as settlers moved west, they brought the drink with them. Keeping a kettle over the fire, cowboys and pioneers consumed coffee in large quantities during the period of westward expansion.

 

Coffee often lifted soldiers

Image of soldiers enjoying coffee around a campfire

 

Coffee History: Marketing and Advertisement

As the popularity of consuming coffee continued to grow in America so did marketing and advertising. As America’s frontier grew beyond westward expansion, so did its demand for coffee. Marketers took advantage, including Arbuckle Brother Company. Arbuckle Brother Company rose in popularity by making easy-to-use products for frontier people on the move.

Throughout both World Wars, coffee remained a staple in American life. Marketing and advertising during this period proliferated along with the mass production of instant coffee. Ironically, a man named George Washington first successfully mass-produced instant coffee. In 1938, the Swiss competitor Nestle developed Nescafe, an instant coffee, which soon dominated the global instant coffee market. Coffee history at this point witnessed the development of major distributors of common brands still seen today. These include Folgers and Maxwell House, which were thriving due to their advertising and marketing efforts.

Coffee History During the First Half of the Twentieth Century

During the Great Depression, many Americans couldn’t afford coffee. Soup kitchens began providing cups of coffee as well as soup and bread. The U.S. was developing ties to Latin America, including the coffee trade, while Latin American countries were attempting to be independent in response to the global crisis of the 1930s. However, in Latin America, coffee remained a huge part of export income due to the favorable climates in many Latin American countries.

 

Coffee history has impacted many Latin American countries

Photograph of a coffee plantation

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the first coffee brand in America?

Arbuckle Brother Company was created in 1839 during westward expansion in the United States. It is the first company to sell coffee in America.

When did America first get coffee?

It is reported that in 1723 coffee seeds were introduced in the New World. The idea of coffee was first introduced to the colonies by Captain John Smith.

Who introduced coffee to America?

Captain John Smith introduced the idea of coffee to the American colonies. He learned of the beverage from his travels to Turkey.

How did coffee become popular in America?

Coffee became popular after the Boston Tea Party. It was seen as patriotic to switch from drinking tea to drinking coffee.

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