Period Civil War era coffee.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I am drinking a cup of instant coffee. I wonder what Civil War soldiers would have thought of my morning coffee. Not as much bite as their coffee?
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
I don't know if any of you are old enough to appreciate this. There used to be a TV commercial for coffee featuring Juan Valdez, a fictional character supposedly a coffee plantation owner boasting about not picking a single bean before it's time.

Amazingly enough when I was in college (68-72), I met Juan Valdez. At least I made the acquaintance of an exchange student from Columbia whose father owned a coffee "plantation". Every couple or three months daddy would send him a care package of a couple of pounds of coffee from his "plantation" he wouldn't have to defile his palate with "American coffee".

I cannot convey to you how amazing his coffee was compared to common fare. It was almost defamatory to mix water with his beans.

Through him I learned a lot about coffee production. Almost all instant coffee comes from Brazil or central Africa. Essentially low lying, red clay huge farms. At some point when the grower determines it proper the entire field is harvested like a field of wheat or corn. A huge mechanical harvester mows down everything in its path. Ripe, raw, or rotten. It's all ground up and processed together. Incidentally these are huge field similar to cotton, wheat or corn--hundreds of acres.

According to my friend, coffee is best grown at altitude in volcanic (mountainous) soil. His father's plantation consisted of a few acres. At harvest time, instead of mass harvesting, they would pick each bean, one at a time once it was ripe.

Ironically Georgia would have been ideal to farm coffee, at least the instant variety. Something tells me that the common soldier on either side would have been grateful for such "inferior" coffee.

PS: While we're talking about food/eating. I assume you've all heard about hardtack. I remember at least 50 years ago coming across a recipe for hardtack. Given that it might well have been stored for a decade or more, the name was appropriate. Once recipe called for taking each biscuit one at a time and pounding it with a rifle butt. Once reduce to powder, the cook could pick out the weavils one at a time and boil the rest into a paste. Alternatly the cook could simply dump the biscuit in the water and boil it and get the added benefit of additional protein from boiled weavil.
 

Peter Stines

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Location
Gulf Coast of Texas
It seems that on the CS side, after they roasted the bean, they ground it up by whatever means possible, placed the grounds into a pot or boiler, and boiled it. On the US side, it seems that the coffee was issued already ground. They probably boiled it next.
FWIW an old timer cowboy told me they added a little cold water to settle the
grounds. Egg shell had the same effect.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Many, many accounts of the Union Army on the march mention that the men would immediately 'boil' coffee whenever the march was halted, even for relatively short periods of rest. This was done simply of throwing ground coffee into boiling water. You be the judge of how this might taste, especially since most coffee was of the low-grade Brazilian variety (robusto) rather than more mild and flavorful varieties (arabica) like Colombian.

I had the privilege of visiting Colombia many years ago, including a visit to a coffee plantation. The Colombians are very proud of their coffee and disdain the Brazilian and African varieties.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

Sergeant
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
Anyone interested in the Civil War soldier and his love of coffee needs to read John Billings work "Hardtack and Coffee". My copy is a paperback by University of Nebraska Press, and pages 121-125 deal with coffee. Billings served as a private in the 10th Massachusetts Battery. His service earned him no special distinction nor dishonor, but his writings afterward are excellent. In order to understand the life of the common soldier in the Army of the Potomac, this book is a must. Incidentally, the illustrations in the book are by Charles Reed, who served in the 9th Massachusetts Battery and was awarded a Medal of Honor for saving his wounded commander, Captain John Bigelow, at the battle of Gettysburg.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
I don't know if any of you are old enough to appreciate this. There used to be a TV commercial for coffee featuring Juan Valdez, a fictional character supposedly a coffee plantation owner boasting about not picking a single bean before it's time.

Amazingly enough when I was in college (68-72), I met Juan Valdez. At least I made the acquaintance of an exchange student from Columbia whose father owned a coffee "plantation". Every couple or three months daddy would send him a care package of a couple of pounds of coffee from his "plantation" he wouldn't have to defile his palate with "American coffee".

I cannot convey to you how amazing his coffee was compared to common fare. It was almost defamatory to mix water with his beans.

Through him I learned a lot about coffee production. Almost all instant coffee comes from Brazil or central Africa. Essentially low lying, red clay huge farms. At some point when the grower determines it proper the entire field is harvested like a field of wheat or corn. A huge mechanical harvester mows down everything in its path. Ripe, raw, or rotten. It's all ground up and processed together. Incidentally these are huge field similar to cotton, wheat or corn--hundreds of acres.

According to my friend, coffee is best grown at altitude in volcanic (mountainous) soil. His father's plantation consisted of a few acres. At harvest time, instead of mass harvesting, they would pick each bean, one at a time once it was ripe.

Ironically Georgia would have been ideal to farm coffee, at least the instant variety. Something tells me that the common soldier on either side would have been grateful for such "inferior" coffee.

PS: While we're talking about food/eating. I assume you've all heard about hardtack. I remember at least 50 years ago coming across a recipe for hardtack. Given that it might well have been stored for a decade or more, the name was appropriate. Once recipe called for taking each biscuit one at a time and pounding it with a rifle butt. Once reduce to powder, the cook could pick out the weavils one at a time and boil the rest into a paste. Alternatly the cook could simply dump the biscuit in the water and boil it and get the added benefit of additional protein from boiled weavil.

FYI -- the copyright on Hardtack and Coffee is apparently expired and a very nice edition is free online at https://archive.org/details/hardtackcoffee00bill
 
Last edited:

FedericoFCavada

Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
In Java, Ceylon, Brazil, and Costa Rico.
During the American Civil War? Mostly Brazil. Specifically, the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Then, as now, coffee's origins was frequently disguised by all sorts of names.
Certainly Ceylon/Sri Lanka was once a huge producer of coffee, until coffee rust became a plant contagion there. For a time, the planters would just grow more coffee trees in an attempt to keep production levels up, but eventually the coffee trees had to be uprooted and replaced... With tea.

EDITED TO ADD: I just now see that this was already posted long ago by @donna Apologies!

https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1429643
 

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