Friday, August 5, 2011


What made America the big coffee drinking nation it is today? During the time of the Rev War the non-alcoholic drink of choice seems to have been tea - especially up in the northern colonies. I am wondering if the tariff on tea, and the whole politics of
the tea tax, drove Americans to start drinking coffee.

I remember someone saying that he was not sure it was an easy one-for-one replacement in the Revolutionary era. For one thing, although coffee was *one* of the substitutes offered for tea in the early 1770s, it wasn't the only one. "Labrador," a sort of herb tea of North American origin, and chocolate were also on the table.

“The Ladies too were so zealous for the Good of their Country, that they agreed to drink no Tea, except the Stock of it which they had by them; or in Case of Sickness. Indeed, they were cautious enough to lay in large Stocks before they promised; & they could be sick just as suited their Convenience or Inclination. Chocolate & Coffee were to be substituted for Tea; & it was really diverting, to see a Circle of Ladies about a Tea Table, & a Chocolate or Coffee Pot in the midst of it filled with Tea”. (A Tory view of the Revolution activities)

We are aware of the tea dumped in Boston Harbor. Did that signal a cultural shift from tea to coffee? And then consider that coffee has more caffeine than tea on average. A safer guess might be economics. Although coffee was popular in Europe even in the 16th century it was more expensive than tea. As an occasional treat, coffee was more likely to be served than tea.

Despite the high prices today, coffee is available from more sources, and there's more competition, so more people can afford to drink it as an everyday beverage instead of a rare luxury.