“Whether perked, brewed, dripped, or boiled, coffee has been touted as the definitive treatment for drunkenness, sleeplessness, depression, and anxiety. Both cursed and blessed, the dark brew has been blamed for man’s (and woman’s) perdition as well as salvation practically since the discovery of the bitter red berries.”
~From back cover of HOW THE CIMARRON RIVER GOT ITS NAME and Other Stories About Coffee
Chapter One of this entertaining book is titled Cowboy Lore, Legends, Lies, and Bits of Truth About Coffee. Before I delve into the history of coffee, here are a couple of those cowboy legends.
“A buckaroo grew weary of riding drag day after hot, dusty day. He decided to ask for what pay he had coming, take to the trail alone, and see what Lady Luck might bring his way. Things didn’t go so well. He had drifted into the Oklahoma Panhandle when the chance presented itself to rustle a few cattle. Now fortune was on his side. He drove those longhorns across the hot prairie, staying away from well-worn trails. When he came to a river he stopped to rest and built a little fire to put on a pot of coffee before searching out a fording place. Suddenly he heard the clatter of hooves moving fast. A posse! He jumped on his horse, took one long look at the coffee pot, and shouted, “Simmer on, you son of a b—ch.
"And with that he splashed across the river and was gone. But the memory of the would-be rustler lingers on: the river is still called by the name he gave it, the Cimarron. Cowboys are known for their colorful language.”
“Northerners, like old-timers in Montana, had a lot of fun at the expense of “rawhides,” their name for Texas cowhands who began spilling into Montana from about 1883. The nickname was derived from the Texans’ way of mending everything that broke or fell apart with strips of rawhide, whether it be a bridle or a wagon tongue. They knew cows and horses, the Montanans said, but when it came to anything else, they were “from the sticks and no mistake.” They told a story about a Texan who rode into camp in time for dinner. When they passed him the sugar, he said, “No, thanks, I don’t take salt in my coffee.” The only sweetener he knew about was sorghum syrup.”
There are many more humorous, sometimes true, tales of cowboys and coffee in the book, but let’s move on to some historical factoids.
According to the book’s author, Ernestine Sewell Link, coffee originated in the Middle East. The plants were cultivated, the seeds zealously guarded by Arabian growers as the beans (red berries) developed into a lucrative trade. However, a few of the seeds were smuggled into India, where they grew into trees and flourished.
Dutch traders, recognizing the value of the coffee beans, got hold of seeds in India and started plantations in Java, an island near Borneo.
|Coffee berries & roasted beans|
Despite the Arabs’ best efforts, coffee made its way to Europe, first arriving in Italy, supposedly after the Turks laid siege to Venice. They were routed by the Venetians, leaving behind their supplies, including bags of coffee berries, when they fled. One Venetian man took the berries and introduced “the divine drink” to his compatriots.
When coffee arrived in Rome, a controversy ensued. Some priests declared it to be the Devil’s invention, insisting he had given it to the Mohammedans for use in their rituals. Coffee would entrap weak Christians, causing them to lose their souls. But when the Pope tasted the drink, he said, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.”
French merchant sailors brought back stories about coffee and introduced the beans to France. Jean de Thevenot is credited with teaching Parisians how to prepare and drink the dark, bitter brew. They were to fill a boiler with water, let it boil, then add a heaping spoonful of coffee power per every three cups of water. This should be brought to a boil and stirred or temporarily removed from the fire lest it boil over; then repeat the process ten or twelve times. When done, pour into porcelain cups, place on a wooden platter and serve while boiling hot. “One must drink it hot, but in several installments, . . . One takes it in little swallows for fear of burning one’s self – in such fashion that . . . one hears a pleasant little musical sound." [A slurping sound, presumably.]
In Germany, Frederick the Great resented the fortunes being made by foreign merchants from the coffee bean trade. He declared coffee to be a quality drink, only available to the rich, thus limiting how much traders could sell in Germany. To quiet complaints from the poor, he claimed avoiding coffee was good for the fatherland because coffee made men sterile. Physicians further insisted women must not drink it if they wished to have children. Protesting such nonsense, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Coffee Contata.
In England during the 17th and 18th centuries, coffee drinking flourished. Touted as the “virtuous“ drink, it became the drink of democracy. Coffee houses sprang up where men could meet and discuss differing opinions. Women complained to King Charles II that the “drying and enfeebling” liquor had made the men “unfruitful as the deserts where that unhappy berry is said to be bought.” Alarmed, Charles ordered the coffee houses to be suppressed, but the men argued intensely against this, and he revoked his order within eight days.
However, when the East India Company formed to promote tea, the government began pushing tea, calling it “the cup that cheers.” Soon, tea replaced coffee as the national drink of England.
We have the French to thank for bringing coffee to the Americas. One brave, determined Frenchman brought a sprout from King Loius XIV’s royal tree across the Atlantic, keeping it alive through the depredations of a Dutch spy, a pirate attack, and a severe water shortage. Landing on the Caribbean island of Martinique, he planted and tended the wilted sprout, and within a few years coffee plantations were established.
Coffee could be had in the young United States, although at an exorbitant price. Not until after the Civil War did it gain widespread popularity. During the war, it became a staple among Union troops. The daily ration was ten pounds of green coffee beans or eight pounds of roasted ground per company. When the soldiers bivouacked, fires were built and coffee was the first thing prepared.Did Confederate soldiers have coffee? Well, it seems they sometimes did. Dogs trained for patrol duty were sent across enemy lines where, by previous arrangement, Yankee coffee was exchanged for Confederate tobacco and peanuts.
And then . . .
COFFEE CAME TO THE FRONTIER
According to folklorists, coffee spread widely in settlements of the Southwest after the war. It was effective after the settlers’ habitual over-indulgence in mescal, “pine top” whiskey or other alcoholic home brew. One memoirist recalled Southerners being so impoverished after the war that they concocted “coffee” from parched maize, meal bran or roasted sweet potato peelings.
Travelers to Texas were not impressed by the so-called coffee they experienced. Frederic Law Olmsted is quoted as saying, “. . . it is often difficult to imagine any beverage more revolting.”
The author mentions a number of other substitutes for coffee, including sassafras tea, which was considered a good tonic. Peppermint, easily found growing along little streams, also made a good tea (one I personally enjoy.) Among settler, though, parched corn was the most common substitute for the real thing.
Eventually, coffee did come to Texas after the war, much appreciated by gone-to-Texas emigrants, hunters and cowboys. “With the establishment of the ranching economy in the last decades of the 1800s, the back burner on the stove in every Mama’s kitchen had its coffee pot. Coffee was taken for granted as a necessity in the West.”
Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and paranormal romantic suspense novels, all spiced with sensual romance. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and three very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged babies.
Website: Lyn Horner’s Corner