How Drinking Coffee Became a Patriotic Past Time

The Colonies Before the Revolution

Life in the colonies was much different before the American Revolution began. For the most part, colonists saw themselves as loyal British subjects and enjoyed the privileges that being so afforded, embracing English customs and perspective. England provided the colonies with much needed military protection against Native Americans, the French and even Spain. However, the military aid that was sent was extremely costly, and the English crown soon began exploring ways to recoup costs.

Despite the English preference for tea, coffee was introduced to the island nation first, due to the recent European colonization of Africa. Fashionable coffeehouses began popping up in London as early as the 1650’s. However, tea was not introduced to the land until King Charles II wed the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. She brought chests of tea as part of her dowry, and the “taking tea” became a popular past time of the court. Tea quickly became favored throughout the land by the wealthy because it became a status symbol due to its association with royalty.

It is also worth mentioning that at this point very little was known regarding illnesses and their cause. Water was seldomly drank because it often made people ill; bacteria, microbes, and other malignant organisms were yet to be discovered. Beer, alcohol, and other substitutes would be served with all meals, including breakfast, even to children. Tea and coffee, however, would begin to slowly appear on the the breakfast tables of those who could afford the luxury because the water used to brew them had been boiled, killing any bacteria present and rendering it a safe alternative.

Boycotting Britain

In the 1760’s Parliament began to issue stricter rules as to what could and could not imported to the colonies. England felt that colonists should purchase the majority of goods from their “mother nation” in return for the protection and military aid that was previously mentioned and crippling the treasury.  Wealthy colonists purchased luxury items such a fine furniture, elegant clothing, tea, wine and other goods directly from England, often imitating the aristocracy across the ocean.

To protest British interference in trading, America’s first efforts to buy local and American made products began. This movement began to plant the seeds of rebellion throughout the population, giving the American populace its first chance to unite- not as rebels, but as consumers. Prominent figures such as George Washington even made public oaths to abstain from purchasing English goods.

The Sons of Liberty Host a Tea Party in Boston

The strained relations between the colonists and Parliament continued until 1770. At that point, Parliament repealed the reviled Townshend Act, which taxed tea and other luxury goods. However in 1773, the East India Company sent seven ships containing 600,000 pounds of tea to the colonies around the time that America was learning about the newly levied Tea Act. Although the Tea Act reduced the price of tea, colonists were tired of Parliaments interference in trade and the way that the Crown asserted power, leading to the well-known “Taxation without representation” argument.

On December 16, 1773, a heavy fog descended upon Boston Harbor where 4 of the East India Company’s ships lay whether to dock, waiting to unload. Not far away at the Old South Meeting House around 7,000 Bostonians gathered to discuss the political tensions under the leadership of Samual Adams. History tells us that the mob broke up after Adams uttered the words “This meeting could do nothing further to save the country.”.  A group of colonists (sources report anywhere from 30 to 130), some dressed as Mohawk Indians stormed the ships under the direction of the patriotic group, the now infamous Sons of Liberty, throwing every last chest of tea overboard. The act of dumping the tea overboard was a symbolic rejection of England’s taxes, but more importantly the nation’s beloved customs and culture.

American Coffee Houses

By the time the American Revolution had began coffee houses had already become established as a meeting place where men met to conduct business, exchange news, discuss current events and politics. They were a much safer alternative to taverns where alcohol-fueled disagreements often became ugly. After the Boston Tea Party, many coffee houses became the meeting places of rebellious groups and a central symbol of the rebellion against the heavy-handed English. More importantly open rebellion with Britain caused the colonists to define what being American meant, and the controversy surrounding tea made coffee an obvious choice.

Modern coffee shops and cafes still identify with the culture that dates back to the revolutionary period. Today they are a place where individuals still gather to read, share ideas, and converse in an egalitarian setting.

The Lasting Effects of the Revolution on the American Palette

Coffee was not the only whose beverage that was altered by these events in history. Before the Revolution, rum from the West Indies was the most common alcohol of the period. However, local whiskey quickly became the favorite after the conflict began. Another beverage that became very popular was chocolate, and interestingly enough some even tried to promote hot chocolate as the best replacement for tea.

Another change that happened as a result of the rift between the colonies, and Britain was these alternative beverages that were now considered patriotic began to replace the beer and alcohol at the breakfast table. Coffee helped sober the country up- until lunch, at least.

Today around 60% of American adults begin their day with a cup of coffee (About 298 Million People) with the average coffee drinker enjoying 2.1 cups per day (415 Million Cups/day). Chances are that without the rebellion we would still be a nation of tea drinkers, not that there is anything wrong with that. However, since the upheaval of tea as the favorite we have fully embraced coffee as part of American culture. American infantry during World War II even earned the nickname “G.I. Joes” after the slang name for coffee because of their dedication to the drink.

In conclusion, today coffee has become as American as well.. Apple Pie.



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