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Colonial Coffee

Posted by elainemcooper on June 1, 2012

Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper

Pewter Coffee Pot

It was a dark and stormy afternoon…and my foggy brain craved some coffee before starting this blog post. I knew my mind could use a hefty dose of caffeine to get the wheels of creativity turning.

It was just yesterday, when I was measuring the rich brown grounds into my French press, that a thought occurred to me. When exactly did coffee come to America? I knew that tea had been the most popular beverage in the colonies up until the Tea Party in Boston—a rebellion that sent cases of tea leaves floating in the murky harbor. But what about coffee?

The answer may surprise you as much as it did me. Coffee, tea, and chocolate all arrived in the American colonies at about the same time in the late 17th century.

Coffee originated in the Arab countries but live plants were transported to greenhouses in Holland in 1616. From there, the Dutch began to grow this popular bean in India and Java (now called Indonesia). Within a few years, the Dutch were the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.

According to the International Coffee Organization, the first European coffeehouse opened in Venice in 1683. It was called Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco and it is still open for business today! And Lloyd’s of London—the largest insurance market in the world? It also started out as a coffee house.

Metal and China Coffee Pots

Now, the Holland connection brings up another interesting tidbit from my research. A mortar and pestle for “braying” coffee beans into powder was brought over on the Mayflower in 1620 by William and Susanna White (two of the passengers). The emigrants onboard the Mayflower had resided in Holland for a time before leaving for the New World. Thus, the first coffee may have arrived with the first colonists arriving at Plymouth, although there was no record of the beans actually carried as cargo onboard.

The first literary reference to coffee consumption in North America is from 1668, when coffee houses were established in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities. Often these coffee houses also served other beverages such as tea, ale and cider.

In 1773, the coffee house known as the Green Dragon, became the location where enraged colonists planned the Boston Tea Party to protest British taxes on tea. I imagine lots more coffee than tea was served there after that date.

A reference to coffee and tea is found in Shirley Glubock’s Home and Child Life in Colonial Days:

“In 1670, a Boston woman was licensed to sell coffee and chocolate, and soon coffee houses were established there. Some did not know how to cook coffee any more than tea, but boiled the whole coffee beans in water, ate them, and drank the liquid; and naturally this was not very good either to eat or drink.

At the time of the Stamp Act, when patriotic Americans threw the tea into Boston Harbor, Americans were just as great tea drinkers as the English. Coffee-drinking, first acquired in the Revolution, has also descended from generation to generation, and we now drink more coffee than tea. This is one of the differences in our daily life caused by the Revolution.”

Johnson Brothers Coffee Pot

Just one of the many differences, indeed.

My favorite excerpt about coffee and the American Revolution was an incident recorded by Abigail Adams in 1778, and quoted in Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin:

“An eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant (also a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store, which he refused to sell…under six shillings per pound. A number of females, some say a hundred, some say more, assembled with a cart and trunks, marched down to the Warehouse and demanded the keys which he refused to deliver. Upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys when they tipped up the cart and discharged him; then opened the Warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trunks and drove off…a large concourse of men stood amazed silent spectators.”

Wow. I guess the moral of that tale, is never stand between a woman and her coffee—especially during a Revolution!

(Pewter Coffee Pot from ColonialSense.com)

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4 Responses to “Colonial Coffee”

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

    Reblogged this on The Chronicles of Johanan Rakkav and commented:
    An interesting article for American (and other) coffee lovers…

  2. You are so cool to dig this out – I would, too! Curtsying this morning, mum.

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