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Independence, Revolutionary America and Coffee (also Holiday Hours)

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Independence, Revolutionary America and Coffee (also Holiday Hours)

Carrie Masek

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, Independence Day. Most of us will be celebrating the birth of this nation with parades, cook-outs and fireworks. For some of us, thinking about Revolutionary America and our Founding Fathers also makes us think about coffee.

Many know the story of the Boston Tea Party and the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” In 1773, the Son's of Liberty, a group of disgruntled Bostonians, dressed up as Mohawk warriors, boarded merchant vessels in Boston's harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea overboard to protest the British parliament's attempts to control the American Colonies while refusing the colonists their “rights as Englishmen.” What fewer people know is that the rejection of English tea led to Americans adopting coffee as a patriotic beverage.

Both coffee and tea arrived in the American colonies at the end of the 17th century, but tea quickly became the American favorite. This was partly because the tea leaves arrived ready to brew, while coffee was only available as raw, green beans. Another reason was most American colonists identified as Englishmen, and tea had become the English hot beverage of choice. In the colonies, coffee was most often available in Coffee Houses, establishments that usually also served ale, wine and spirits. These establishments were not entirely respectable, and women were not allowed to frequent them. If a woman wanted a cup of coffee, she had to roast, grind and brew it herself. No wonder most pre-revolutionary Americans drank tea.

The Boston Tea party changed all that. The American Colonists boycotted tea and adopted coffee as the patriotic American drink. A great example of this is in a letter that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in 1774. He wrote:

“I believe I forgot to tell you one Anecdote: When I first came to this House it was late in the Afternoon, and I had ridden 35 miles at least. “Madam” said I to Mrs. Huston, “is it lawful for a weary Traveller to refresh himself with a Dish of Tea provided it has been honestly smuggled, or paid no Duties?”

“No sir, said she, we have renounced all Tea in this Place. I cant make Tea, but I’le make you Coffee.” Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.”

As John's story shows, women were instrumental in boycotting tea and embracing coffee. George Washington imported green coffee (beans similar to the naturally processed Ethiopians available today), but his wife, Martha, was the one known for her excellent brew. In just a few years, coffee became a staple of American life, largely thanks to women, and patriotic women became as devoted to their coffee as their male counterparts. One of my favorite examples was recorded by Abigail Adams in 1778.

“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.”

In other words, even in Revolutionary American, it was dangerous to get between a woman and her coffee.

Nowadays, it's much easier to buy and brew good coffee. We'll be enjoying Cold Brew during our 4th of July festivities, but whether you drink your coffee hot or cold, lift a cup on Thursday to our Founding Fathers and Mothers. Without them, we'd not only be paying British taxes and we'd probably also be drinking tea.

We will be closed July 4 for Independence Day. Any orders we receive after noon on Thursday, July 3, will be roasted and mailed Friday, July 5. Have a wonderful Fourth of July!

What's your favorite way to celebrate the 4th? We'd love to hear about it. Please join the conversation and share your thoughts on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your opinions 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

Here are links for more information about coffee in early America: