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History: Coffee in America

Many Americans rely on our friend, coffee, to get us through the day. Coffee’s trading rate in the international market is surpassed only by petroleum. Being the second-most traded commodity results in the coffee industry pulling in roughly 60 billion dollars every year. There is no question about the effects that coffee has had on America. Today, American coffee drinkers consume three 9 oz. cups on average per day! With this staggering statistic, it makes one wonder how coffee consumption has had a major impact on our economy and culture.

In “Caffeine and the Coming of the Enlightenment,” Roger Schmidt argues how coffee consumption had a major impact on European sleep patterns and culture during the 18th century.  Before cocoa, coffee, tobacco, and white sugar (uppers and stimulants) came to Europe, most Europeans ate grains and drank beer or wine (downers/depressants). Caffeine attracted the leading scholars of the day and profoundly altered the culture of London society as coffee shops became establishments for cultural, economic, and political transactions.

Coffee’s influence began to spread from the thriving coffee houses of England to the developing shores of colonial America. In 1670 a petty license to sell coffee was granted to Dorothy Jones of Boston; however, by mid-1700s, coffee houses doubled. In fact, coffee houses became political in that colonists could trade within the Americas, therefore isolating the British Empire from further trade. Drinking coffee instead of tea became a political statement and cry for American independence. To adhere to the rhetoric of the American Revolution, James Nason made coffee available to the middle class by creating the coffee percolator.

This availability of coffee became all-encompassing as it spread to incorporate soldiers when the U.S. Civil War broke out. During the 1860s, coffee beans were issued out to combatants as their primary ration and by World War I dehydrated coffee packets were standard rations—soldiers were drinking coffee several times a day.
It became evident that coffee’s popularity within the military did not cease during peacetime due to the fact that coffee houses in America expedited in growth by 450%.

As the WWII era dawned over America, factories were providing wartime workers rest breaks with cups of coffee. By the mid 1950s, the Pan American Coffee Bureau promoted campaigns that had a major percentage of U.S. blue and white-collar workers taking slips of coffee during their coffee break. In 1958, coffee consumption within the United States was more than 20.5 million bags and in 1959 it increased to 21 million bags.

On 1971, Starbucks was established in Seattle. By the mid-90s, Starbucks was deeply embedded in American culture as stores appeared on every block.  As Starbucks expanded across the nation the demand for coffee grew rose up by 700%.

Coffee’s popularity in America is a direct result of a long process of growth over more than a century. While the British may have conceived of high “tea time”, Americans propelled and proudly adhered to their “Coffee break.”



Caffeine and the Coming of the Enlightenment
Roger Schmidt . Raritan . New Brunswick: Summer 2003. Vol. 23 , Iss. 1; pg. 129

Howard, Brian C. “How Coffee Changed America.” National Geographic, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014.

United States. Business and Defense Services Administration. Food Industries Division. Coffee Consumption In the United States, 1920-1965. [Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1961.

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