We are sitting here in our living room watching “The Man From Laramie (1955),” Anthony Mann’s psychological revenge saga starring James Stewart. It’s one of Stewart’s grittier roles and the cast is A-list. It’s a good one.

All of that being said, none of it explains the coffee. That there was coffee I was ready to believe. It arrived in Paris around the same time cocoa showed up during the long reign of Louis XIV. How did it get from 17th century Paris to every ranch, general store, restaurant, ranch, or lonely house on the prairie in North America?

Here’s the scene I was watching: Stewart got shot. A woman is patching him up. They are discussing life, love, hatred, vengeance, violent death, and other chit-chat. Finally, she says: “I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure could use some coffee.”

This is supposed to be a tiny no-name town. It’s a dusty village in cow country, not even the U.S. yet. There’s one store the size of our kitchen. They may not have much, but they sell coffee. How did they get coffee? It doesn’t grow in North America, so it had to have traveled there from Central or South America, a Caribbean island, or Africa.

I think we tend to forget that before “modern” inventions, the world found ways to get by. There were trade routes extending from Europe to China and those creaky old wood boats rounded Cape Horn. We — modern century — humans did not invent the world. We might yet un-invent it, but that’s a different issue.

An Ethiopian Legend

Coffee supposedly traces its heritage to ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend has it, a goat herder named Kaldi discovered the potential of the beans we love and need. Kaldi discovered, after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic they wouldn’t sleep.  

Kaldi reported his findings of super energized goats to the abbot of the local monastery. The abbot concocted a drink made from the berries. He discovered the drink kept him alert through long hours of prayer. He shared his discovery with other monks at the monastery and coffee was off and running.

Knowledge of those energizing berries began to spread. As the word moved eastward across the Arabian peninsula where it nestled forever, it was the beginning of a journey that would make coffee the international breakfast beverage of champions. And me. And maybe, you.

By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted like-minded patrons, including merchants, shippers, brokers and artists. Many businesses grew out of coffee houses. Lloyd’s of London, for example, came into existence as Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.

Coffee Comes to America

In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam gave a young coffee plant to France’s Louis XIV. The King had it planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King’s plant. Despite a challenging voyage — horrendous weather, a saboteur who tried to destroy the seedling and a pirate attack — he transported the seedling to Martinique.

The seedling thrived. It is credited with being the ancestor of more than 18 million coffee trees on Martinique over the next 50 years. Even more amazing? It was also the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now that’s ancestry!

Brazilian coffee exists because of a flirtation of Francisco de Mello Palheta with the French Governor’s wife. She was charmed by his good looks. Although her husband was unwilling to share his coffee, she gave Francisco a bouquet of flowers in which she had buried enough coffee seeds to begin a multi-billion dollar industry.

Missionaries and travelers, traders and colonists carried coffee seeds to new lands. Coffee trees were planted wherever they might grow. Plantations were established in tropical forests and rugged mountain highlands. Some crops flourished, others didn’t survive. New nations were based on coffee. By the end of the 18th century, coffee was the world’s most profitable crop. Even today, after crude oil, coffee is the most sought-after commodity on earth.

Somehow, some of that coffee landed in a general store in New Mexico. Given one thing and another, I suspect those cowpokes would sooner have run out of bullets than coffee, though the combination of bullets and coffee has been … well … interesting.

From sleepless Ethiopian goats, to hyped-up gun-toting cowhands, coffee rules. If all those western guys had been tea drinkers, would there have been a wild west? Or would everyone have politely sipped tea and settled down to read a book?

You have to wonder.


The mystery answer to whether or not they used milk in the coffee is yes, they did when they could. If they were home at the ranch, the first thing in the morning, they were out milking the cows because not only did it give them milk, but it gave them cream and butter.

Out on the trail, until the invention of the chuck wagon, it was difficult, but once they had someone to cook for them, if they weren’t in a big rush, someone would always milk a cow or two in the morning so “cookie” would have the wherewithal to make butter and there would be milk and cream for the coffee. Sugar was harder to come by. They brought suge with them, but until they got back to a town, they couldn’t replace it so they were careful in how it was used.

The coffee they drank was what we called in the middle East (and in all Arab countries) boiled coffee. You roast the beans, grind them. Boil water. Put the ground coffee into the boiled water (after it is finished boiling). Let it steep for a few minutes and put it in a cup. That coffee is STRONG. The caffeine is enough to keep you up for days. No wonder they were all so edgy!

Categories: #Food, #Photography, Anecdote, History, Humor, Western movies

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34 replies

  1. A great potted history of coffee Marilyn. I hadn’t heard that story of its origins before. And although I’ve seen plenty of Westerns with coffee drunk around a campfire, I never questioned how it got there!


    • Until now, I never questioned how it got there either. Nor did Garry. It was always there. If you thought about it, there were far more coffee drinkers than boozers. No matter what was going on from a gunfight to moving cattle across many miles, someone always asked “Anyone for coffee?” Apparently they hauled green coffee beans and roasted them over an open fire which it a perfectly find way to roast them. Mechanical grinders — one of the great inventions of the 1800s — have been around in 1819 and you can still buy one that’s pretty much identical to the ones they used out west from Amazon today. I bought one, but I don’t use it because it’s so slow compared to an electric version my arm gets tired thinking about it. As for the milk or cream in the coffee, I assumed there was no reason they wouldn’t use it if they could. I mean they were herding cattle — including cows — and I am willing to bet that 99 out of 100 cowboys was raised on a farme and knew how to milk a cow.

      I finally got around to looking it up and yup, they used milk or cream when it was available or when they were on the trail and had a cook and a chuck wagon. It was somebody’s job (youngest guy?) to go out in the morning and milks a few cows so “cookie” would have not only milk and cream, but would be able to make butter. Even with the milk, that was pretty potent coffee! I’ve had boiled coffee. It’s delicious. It’s also got enough caffeine in it to power your engine to the moon and back 🍵

      Liked by 1 person

      • If it’s that strong I’m in – I like my coffee to really taste of coffee and have a bit of a kick to it! My frequent complaint when visiting the US (apart from NYC and the West Coast) is that the filter coffee served everywhere is so weak it tastes just like hot water to me 🙄


  2. That’s a wonderful history lesson Marilyn, all I can say is thank goodness somebody found it
    I can’t function without my morning coffee


  3. My favorite Far Side comic is two cowboys sitting around a campfire. One is handing the other a mug and says, “Latte, Jed?” Now where’d that come from?! 😆


    • Well, let’s see. They were herding cattle so there had to be a lady cow with a calf ready to provide nice fresh milk. Why not? All you need to make latte are coffee beans, a grinder and warm milk fresh from the cow. Milk had to be readily available and apparently they never went anywhere without coffee.


  4. so interesting, I’ve never really thought about it. every western had ranch hands out in the middle of nowhere, perhaps on a roundup, drinking coffee around a campfire, etc. – I read an excellent book called ‘the monk of mocha’ by Dave Eggers that I think you would love. (a true story by Dave Eggers


    • I’ll have to see if they have it on Audible. I almost never really “read” these days.

      The final result of writing that piece was realizing I can finally buy better coffee. Garry has stopped drinking coffee, so I can buy what I like and not what he likes. Because it’s only me drinking it, it will last a long time.

      I never really stopped to think about how they got all that stuff — not just coffee but all the other things — to all those tiny little general stores in the middle of nowhere. But trade has been going on for thousands of years, so why not? I think what struck me is that coffee would not have been easy to come by. It isn’t grown in North America except Mexico — and that’s fairly recent. They must have really loved coffee because wherever they went, coffee went with them. Those guys were serious coffee drinkers. They didn’t have percolators or drip machines, so they must have boiled the coffee — like they still do in the Middle East. It makes for some very intense coffee experiences and without sugar, REALLY REALLY intense. One or two tiny cups of that boiled coffee is downright illuminating.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I found the book and bought it. It sounds good and has a great narrator. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I finished the book. It was great. It was nice knowing it had a happy ending because I was NOT up for tragedy. Thank you. I’ll have to see what else Eggers wrote because I’m really in need of new books to read. I’m beginning to run out of things I haven’t already read! Thank you most sincerely. It was gripping — and it also pointed out the incredible stupidity of our “immigration” policies. They weren’t JUST bad under Trump. They have been awful for a long time and it is shameful how we have failed to do something about them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • so glad you enjoyed it! based on what I know of you and your life, and your coffee post, I felt it was a pretty good match. I love that they gave the profits back to the people who they wrote about. two others of his that I’ve heard were good were ‘what is the what’ – about a sudanese lost boy, and ‘hologram for a king’ which I saw the film of, but have not yet read the book. yes, you are right about our horrendous immigration policies.


        • I’m happy I found another author. I read a LOT and it has gotten more and more difficult to find books I like. I need to read as much as any other activity in my life. I don’t know how people survive without reading.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Now that’s interesting history, I didn’t know that coffee was so well travelled…


  6. This is very interesting, Marilyn. I never really thought about there being coffee in the Wild West but I know the Afrikaners had coffee when they trekked into the interior of South Africa. As for the British drinking tea, that didn’t seem to stop them from being huge warmongers and the creators of the British Empire.


    • True. American fascination with guns was probably not gentled by being permanently jazzed on coffee. EVERY western I’ve ever seen has them drinking coffee. A lot of coffee. Every time they stop moving cattle, they drink coffee. Then they shoot each other. They didn’t even put cream or sugar in in it. Pure caffeine and who knows what kind of coffee it was. Probably not Jamaican Blue Mountain or Hawaiian Kona. I know they grow it in Mexico, up in the mountains, so maybe that would have been the closest location where it was grown, though I don’t know if they were growing it in Mexico at that point in time. And I’m not sure they had discovered Hawaii, either.

      And why no milk? They were HERDING COWS. Surely they could have found one who had a calf and therefore, milk. VERY fresh milk.

      Sometimes we think 20th and 21st century humans invented everything. But before we had gadgets and widgets and electronics, we managed to move goods from China to England and back again — as well as everywhere else on earth. We didn’t invent trade, banking, or ships that could round Cape Horn or cross the Himalayas and we did it using only stars and the sun and math. Amazing if you realize we did ALL that without a GPS or even an accurate clock!

      Liked by 1 person

      • HI Marilyn, Man has some amazing attitudes and is very intelligent. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of greedy power hungry people who use their intellectual prowess for all the wrong things. As for milk, I’m sure cowboys would never drink milk in coffee.


        • Garry pointed out last night that probably every single cowboy was brought up on a farm and milking cows was part of the basic essentials every kid had to know. So they might not drink it in coffee, but if they wanted milk, they knew how to get it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, although, strangely, I’ve never read about a cowboy drinking milk. The books only have them drinking coffee and eating cowboy stews cooked over campfires. Funny really. In South Africa, the Zulus used to drink blood from cows mixed with milk. It made them very big, muscular and strong at the time.


            • I read about that years ago. I wasn’t sure if it was true or a fable. Cowboys (no surprise) ate a LOT of beef. I think that’s why Americans are so hung up on beef. There has always been so MUCH of it available and often at surprisingly low prices. Right now, though, the favored meat du jour is chicken. I feel bad for the chickens, but I haven’t worked out a way to be a vegetarian and still manage to get enough protein.

              Liked by 1 person

              • South African history is similar to American history in many ways, Marilyn, and we also have a love of beef. Cattle raiding was the main reason for the discord between the Dutch settlers and the indigenous people. I just don’t like vegetarian food although I try to like it. I can’t do it seven days a week.


                • I don’t like it enough to make it my main diet. I like vegetables, but I’m in my soul, omnivorous. Less into red meat than I was when younger. More inclined, when available, towards fish and shellfish. All the vegans I know look pale and underfed. I know they are supposed to be healthy, but they don’t LOOK healthy.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Agreed, my work colleague is vegan and he looks ill all the time.


                    • I’m glad I’m NOT the only one who has noticed. Our vegan friends always looked pale and thin and WEAK. If they don’t have a disease, they look like they are going to get one any minute.

                      I looked up the whole thing with milk and coffee. Answer is, if they had milk, they used it. The first thing that they did in the morning when they were camped was go out and milk a cow. That not only gave them milk, it also gave them butter and cream. Sugar, on the other hand, was much harder because it had to be hauled, so it was used judiciously and never on the trail. Milk was rarely used on the trail because they were too tired but then they were camped overnight and weren’t on the move first thing in the morning, milking cows gave them an improved coffee AND butter AND cream.

                      They made coffee the same way they do in the Arab countries and Israel which is boil the water, add the ground coffee, let it settle, drink. Apparently cowboys lived on coffee. Forget booze. They drank COFFEE pretty much all the time and since they carried green beans and roasted them over a fire, ground them with one of those little hand grinders (I have one, but they were making identical ones since 1819 and they haven’t changed much).

                      In Israel, this kind of coffee was called “boiled coffee” or Moroccan coffee or Greek coffee or Armenian coffee. It’s all basically the same, with or without cardamom. That stuff is REALLY STRONG. Talk about heavy duty caffeine! Wow, that stuff will REALLY wake you up.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • HI Marilyn, thank you for looking this up, I appreciate it. It is really interesting and I had no idea.


    • I was going to suggest that maybe if someone gave Donald Trump a nice cup of tea he might settle down but maybe not.

      Liked by 1 person

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