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President's Day and Presidential Coffee

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President's Day and Presidential Coffee

Carrie Masek

“As American as apple pie,” is a well-known phrase, but it would be just as accurate to say, “As American as coffee.” From our first president to modern day, coffee has been important to the men who lead this country.

Tomorrow, February 18, is President’s Day. Since we love coffee history, we thought it would be fun to take a quick tour of the White House from a coffee-lover’s perspective. Here are some highlights:

George Washington not only drank coffee, he imported it. Records show he brought hundreds of pounds of green coffee beans from the port of Mokha into the country. The coffee he enjoyed was probably very similar to our Natural Ethiopia Lake Abaya.

There’s evidence that his wife, Martha, knew how to brew a good cup of coffee. According to historical records, the Washingtons drank their coffee sweetened with sugar, and often added milk in the morning.

John Adams preferred tea to coffee, but during the Revolution, it became unpatriotic to drink tea. In 1774, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that “Tea must be universally renounced…Accordingly I have drank coffee every afternoon since, and have borne it very well.”

In contrast, Thomas Jefferson loved coffee, and like Washington, also imported it. “Bourbon or E. India would always be preferred,” he wrote in 1809, “but good West India will give satisfaction.” It sounds like he preferred Indonesian coffees like Organic Java Dadar, but also enjoyed coffee grown on Caribbean islands like Haiti and Jamaica. Like most folks in the early 1800’s, he roasted his own beans. Being Jefferson, he also designed a special, silver coffee urn to serve it in.

According to historians, Abraham Lincoln was the opposite of a picky eater, and didn’t care much about most foods, “except that he liked apples and hot coffee.” We don’t know what coffee was served at the White House during the Civil War, but it probably came into the country through the ports of either New York or Boston. Unfortunately, even in the White House, he didn’t always get good coffee. One of the quotes attributed to him concerns an unfortunate cup of mystery brew: “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” Hopefully, someone brought the 16th President of the United States a decent cup of coffee!

Theodore Roosevelt also loved coffee. He was known to drink a lot of coffee (up to a gallon a day) with a lot of sugar in it (seven lumps per cup according to some estimates). One story about Theodore Roosevelt and coffee comes from a visit he had to the Hermitage, a resort in Nashville, TN, that had once been Andrew Jackson’s home. The Hermitage served a local coffee called Maxwell House. According to the story, Roosevelt like the balanced, flavorful brew so much he coined the phrase, “Good to the last drop,” a phrase which would become Maxwell House’s famous slogan.

It’s not possible for us to go back to 1907 and taste the coffee that so impressed Roosevelt. From the descriptions, though, we think it was probably a coffee blend very similar to our Cowboy Coffee 1870.

Franklin Roosevelt was also a coffee drinker. Apparently, he preferred it roasted to a very dark, French roast level, and had his staff roast the beans in the White House kitchen and then bring the coffee maker in with his tray so he could personally supervise the coffee’s brewing.

Unfortunately, in 1942 the government added coffee to the list rationed items. FDR responded by changing the way he brewed coffee, saving spent grounds and adding a single teaspoon to them the next time he brewed a fresh pot. This proved an unfortunate choice. Several months later, the New York Times reported that, “Roosevelt Drops Coffee, Takes Milk.” Eleanor, on the other hand, never stopped brewing her coffee correctly, and continued to enjoy coffee with her breakfast.

Harry and Bess Truman had high standards for their coffee, and the folks in the White House kitchen had to experiment to until the coffee met those standards. The Trumans were known for their Midwestern values, and we like to think they also enjoyed Midwestern-style coffee, like Chicago Cup 1925.

Dwight D. Eisenhower liked coffee, and drank a lot of it, especially during WWII, but he didn’t like Harry Truman. Apparently, when he was elected president in 1952, he refused to meet with Truman in the White House the share coffee and discuss the transition. We weren’t able to find out what kind of coffee Eisenhower preferred, but we hope he had a good, solid blend like WWI Roast 1917 to get him through D-Day.

John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. and George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all drank coffee. The record is a less clear for Barack Obama. He was more often seen drinking tea than coffee, but his White House did order both regular and decaf coffee from a farm in his native state of Hawaii.

Obama’s coffee drinking habits may be a mystery, but the current resident of the White House doesn’t drink coffee at all. He prefers to get his caffeine through Diet Coke, an unfortunate choice in our opinion.

For more information about Presidential coffee, check out this article from the Boston Globe.

Since tomorrow, February 18, 2019, is President’s Day, the USPS will be closed for the federal holiday. All orders we receive after noon on Friday, February 15, will be roasted, packed and mailed on Tuesday, February 20.

Thanks for taking our brief tour of Presidential coffee! If you know a story about coffee in the White House, or anywhere in Washington, DC, please join the conversation and share it on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your love of coffee with the wider world, leave us a coffee review on Google or on your favorite review site. Not only do we value your opinions, but reviews help more people find us. Help us connect coffee lovers to fresh, quality coffee!

~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast.