Friday, September 21, 2012

How Drinking Coffee Became Patriotic

An original story loosely based on real history
Rocci Hildum

If you’re anything like me, which I sincerely hope for your sake you are not, and even if you’re not anything like me, you probably started this morning with a cup of coffee. Just where did that coffee come from? I don’t mean what brand you bought or what store or premium drive through vendor you patronized, I mean, who ever thought up taking the bitter berries of a tropical bush, roasting them, grinding them, pouring hot water over them, and drinking the results?

I’m a pretty curious guy, so I decided to find out. Naturally, I went to the Internet because everyone knows that if it is on the Internet it must be true. So this is the absolutely true story of the origin of coffee.

It all started a long time ago in Ethiopia. There was a young goat herder named Kaldi. Apparently herding goats is neither physically nor intellectually challenging work so Kaldi was taking his usual afternoon nap, which had been preceded by his morning nap and would be followed by his late afternoon nap. When Kaldi woke up he couldn’t help noticing that his goats were dancing.

Now not being a professional goat herder myself, I was unaware of this interesting fact – goats rarely dance without the assistance of an artificial chemical stimulant. Kaldi was surprised by this so he investigated and discovered that his goats had been eating the red berries of a small bush.

For reasons that make absolutely no sense at all to me, Kaldi decided to follow the example of his goats and he started to chew on some of those berries. The berries were bitter but produced a pleasant surge of energy and a mild euphoria.

That might have been the end of it, because you see, Kaldi had deliberately chosen the profession of goat herding precisely because he was a man with few if any physical or intellectual assets and even less ambition.

But fortunately for all of us, those berries found their way to a monastery where the monks first poured water over the crushed roasted berries and drank the resulting beverage, just what was needed for men who get up at 4:00 every morning. And that monastery was situated right on the silk and spice trade routes. The monks, being hospitable, as well as entrepreneurial, shared their wonderful discovery, for a small fee, with travelers passing by and essentially established the very coffee shop. The coffee shop was so successful that they expanded from selling individual cups of coffee to selling the entire coffee bushes themselves. This coffee thing got huge, which might have been a problem for men who have committed themselves to an austere life of intentional poverty, service to the poor, suffering, and asceticism … but business is business.

Coffee reached Europe by way of Arab traders and merchants. Now there were a group of tired cranky folks who stay awake nights worrying that someone somewhere might be having fun and they tattled to Pope Clement VIII. They wanted him to ban coffee because it was an “infidel threat” to civilized Christians. Pope Clement, in an uncharacteristic display of progressive open minded thinking postponed his decision until he personally sampled the beverage. After just one cup Pope C. baptized coffee as fit for Christians and was too good to waste on the infidels.

Coffee eventually got to America where a whole bunch of those tired cranky people came to live in peace … well peace for them, but not for their new neighbors, but that’s another story. Still at that time, very few people drank coffee because everyone knew that all civilized people drank tea, specifically the King’s tea supplied exclusively by the East India Tea Company.

The Colonists were loyal subjects of the crown so King George treated them like all the other royal subjects, he taxed them mercilessly, on virtually everything, including tea. Americans didn’t want to give up their tea so they relied on genuinely American attributes of innovation, adaptation, and black market smuggling. The first, but not last, example of American entrepreneurs capitalizing on the popularity of an illegal agricultural product smuggled into the country and sold illegally on street corners and back alleys. King George, never fully appreciating the subtlety and value of moderation, went too when he set the price of tea sold by the East India Tea Company tea so low that it was cheaper even than black market pekoe. 

Now Americans loved their tea but they soon learned to love a good fight and sticking it to arrogant oppressive monarchs even more. The Patriots rose up in protest … actually it was more like slinking about and whining. On December 16, 1773 about a hundred tired, grumpy Patriots dressed up as Indians, might as well be cautious and blame your mischievous civil disobedience on the local folks, and dumped the King’s tea into Boston Harbor. From that day on, it became an act of treason to drink tea and coffee assumed its rightful place as our national beverage of choice.

Ever since that day offering the weary traveler a warm cup of coffee has been the iconic expression of hospitality in the home of all true Americans and drinking coffee has been the solemn duty of all true patriots.


  1. I'll be remembering you with my mourning cup of coffee.