According to the National Coffee Drinking Trends report for 2017 conducted by the National Coffee Association, 62% of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. With more than half the population as daily coffee drinkers, it’s easy to see that the drink is an important part of our culture and history. Whether it’s made at home or by a barista, coffee is part of the daily routine for many Americans.
During the American Revolution, drinking tea was considered unpatriotic after the Sons of Liberty dumped chests of tea in the Boston Harbor. Coffee wasn’t an unfamiliar drink but tea had always been more popular. However, during the war coffee began to reign supreme because it was grown in the New World and didn’t represent British economic interests. Coffee remained popular after the war but people were also happy to return to drinking to tea. Coffee houses thrived in the ports where merchants, primarily men, would meet to discuss business, but tea remained a staple in many homes because of its more genteel status.
So when did coffee gain a more devoted following? The American Civil War!
As part of their rations, men in the Union were given coffee. If the men didn’t have time to make it before they marched, they would just chew the beans. When the conflict ended, these soldiers continued to drink the brew that had fueled them during the harsh days of war. Coffee became an American staple and also secured its place with soldiers. After all, “…nobody can soldier without coffee” as one Union cavalryman wrote.
During war, rationing is frequently implemented in order to give the military priority to resources. During World War II, ships were at large risk from German U-boats so shipping certain foods and resources was more difficult. Americans were given ration books since many things like butter, milk, sugar, and gas were in short supply. On November 29, 1942 coffee was added to the list. The Cañon City Daily Record ran an ad from Hills Bros. Coffee on November 30, 1942 informing the public they could once again buy coffee. To prevent people from hoarding coffee right before rationing began, grocers weren’t allowed to sell it leading up to the official day rationing began. Once the freeze was over people could take their ration book to the store and anyone over the age of 15 was allowed to receive one pound of coffee for every five weeks with a ration stamp. That calculates out to roughly only one 8 oz. cup per day! To make it last, many people would reuse grounds which made a watery beverage or find a non-coffee drinking neighbor willing to share their ration stamps. A coffee substitute named Postum, made of roasted grains, became popular as well.
Gas had been rationed on the east coast since July but Fremont County had yet to feel that pinch. Two days after coffee rationing began gas rationing took effect on December 1, 1942. Non-essential drivers were limited to 32 gallons for every two months. However, gas rationing lasted far longer than coffee rationing, which ended in July of 1943. So for all you coffee addicts, you can be glad you don’t have to survive on only one cup a day!
War Ration Book One with stamps attached, 1942; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center
Gas Ration Book with stamps attached, 1944; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.