Coffee was most certainly a popular drink in the Americas in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  There are records of John Smith bringing coffee to the Jamestown Colony and even trading it with the Indians, but remember, the British were not the only colonial powers.  Coffee would not take on importance in the British Empire until the early 18th Century but in New Spain, it was a staple as early as Columbus.  Yes, the Spanish brought coffee to the new world in the 15th Century and it stuck.

Coffee beans were first commercially cultivated in Northeaster Africa – Muslim North Africa!  The Moors brought coffee to Spain and it soon became a staple in every household, not just Islamic households.  When the Spanish threw out the Moors in 1492, they kept their taste for coffee.  The only problem is coffee doesn’t grow well in Spain.  Soon a Venetian/Arab North Africa monopoly controlled the sale of coffee.  Many people attempted to smuggle coffee plants[1] out of North Africa to break this monopoly but coffee won’t grow everywhere, you need a very specific climate.  In New Spain, however, that climate DOES exist, and the Spanish soon established coffee plantations in the mountains of Columbia and Peru.

Not to be outdone, the Dutch East India Company, similarly sought places where coffee would grow and, surprise, its definitely not Holland!  Coffee did grow well in Java and so soon the whole world had coffee.  Coffeehouses[2] sprang up all over the Netherlands including New Amsterdam (soon to become New York).

Coffee has obvious medicinal properties derived from the flavonoids and its caffeine content.  But understand, as a boiled beverage, it also protects you from waterborne diseases.  Coffee is a healthy drink and soon all taverns and public houses served coffee, tea, spirits, and ale as these were the beverages a traveler could trust when they did not know the safety of the local water.  Like beer, the consumption of coffee in public taverns was and the resultant discussions and sharing of ideas is a driving force behind the American Revolution.  Long before all the old men in the community gathered at the local dinner to chat over coffee, men[3] would gather at the coffeehouse to discuss the news of the day.  Add to this a little chocolate from New Spain, and some sugar from the East Indies, and the 18th Century coffeehouse isn’t too different from Starbucks.  It’s a place to gather, talk, and share ideas.


[1] This was considered a capital crime in Ethiopia and Yemen

[2] The kind that sell coffee, not the kind you find today in Amsterdam 😊

[3] Sorry ladies, the 18th Century was a very sexist time.  Men drank ale, spirits and coffee at the tavern while ladies drank fortified wines and tea at gatherings in the home (more on this in later postings).


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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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