Does anyone remember the old jump rope song Lincoln, Lincoln? It’s most peculiar, but every Presidents Day this tune gets stuck in my head for a while and I can’t remember why or where it came from.
I've been thinkin'
What on Earth
Have you been drinkin'?
Tastes like whiskey,
Smells like wine,
Oh my gosh,
Presidents' Day, Monday February 20th this year, honors all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And as I was doing some research on the history of coffee in America I wondered what role coffee had played in American commerce during the terms of those two presidents. Coffee’s popularity had taken a great leap forward in 1773 as a result of the Boston Tea Party. Thereafter it was unpatriotic to drink tea and, as coffee could be imported from South and Central America without the help of the British, it became a sign of American independence and autonomy.
When George Washington became the first US president in the spring of 1789 coffee had already become more popular than beer as our favorite breakfast drink. (Except of course in ye old fraternity house where beer was and is still on the breakfast menu). Almost half of the world’s supply of coffee came from the plantations of the French slave colony of San Domingo, now Haiti, and average coffee consumption per person in the US climbed from less than a ¼ of a pound in 1772 to almost 1½ pounds by 1800. As Washington retired from office in 1797 the young nation’s thirst for coffee kept increasing and by 1860 we were consuming 8 pounds per capita.
Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected to office in 1861 the American Civil War hampered coffee consumption. The Union government blockaded southern ports to keep coffee from getting to the rebels and they also levied a duty on imported beans. While the Union army was consuming upwards of 40 million pounds of coffee a year by 1864, the Southern army was drinking brews of acorns, chicory, dandelion roots, or okra, (yuck!). Towards the end of the war coffee traded at its peak price in the Northern states at a little above 40¢ per pound, while in the South it cost a staggering $5 per pound!
By 1865, when Lincoln’s assassination ended his term, the self-emptying commercial coffee roaster, the first domestic coffee percolator, and inexpensive, durable paper bags all had been invented enabling coffee consumption to increase in the middle-class homes of America. John Arbuckle of Pittsburgh was on his way to becoming a multi-millionaire selling Brazilian coffee, young Caleb Chase from Cape Cod went into business as a coffee roaster and later joined up with James Sanborn creating the Chase & Sanborn brand, and 14 year-old James Folger started working in the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills of San Francisco.
There you have it, a brief snapshot of the growth of American coffee commerce during the terms of two of our dearest Presidents, Washington and Lincoln.
I've been thinkin'
That I know what I’ve been drinkin’,
Aroma so rich,
Taste so bold,
In my cup,
It’s Kona Gold!