Real Patriots Drink Coffee, and That’s the Truth

July 4, 2011 In honor of Independence Day 2011, this news article is taking a different tack than usual. The article featured today actually appeared in March of this year, but it’s very apropos for July 4 due to its theme as it connects George Washington to coffee which leads to MIT which leads to a fascinating 1920 story of coffee experimentation. Besides being the anniversary of the USA’s independence from England, we can also celebrate the beginning of coffee’s rise to fame as the “national drink”. A few years before the Declaration of Independence, in 1773, the whole revolutionary process began with the Boston Tea Party. After all the tea was tossed in the sea, coffee drinking became a patriotic duty. The Continental Congress institutionalized coffee as “the national drink”. The next step, of course, was to merchandise the new patriotic drink, and that occurred in the first coffee houses, where the leaders of the day met and ostensibly planned the revolution. After all, what else did the likes of Paul Revere, John Adams and George Washington discuss over their coffees? It was outside a coffee house where the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was made. It was at a coffee house that people gathered to welcome General Washington to New York on his way to the inauguration. Later, it was a coffee house which morphed into the New York Stock Exchange. Beat that, Starbucks! A relative of President Washington went into the coffee business and started George Washington Coffee. It was on an empty can from this coffee - sitting in the MIT Museum – that writer Amy Marcott read about the event reported in March. That brings us to the amazing story about the National Coffee Roasters Association giving MIT Professor Samuel Cate Prescott $40K to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Coffee purveyors were in a bit of a bind because beginning in 1830, enemies of coffee started making claims that coffee was not good for one’s health. Coffee consumption fell off. So naturally the coffee association went to the go-to guy for food PR, Prof Prescott. The professor threw himself into “The New Science of Automatically Controlled Coffee Making.” (You might be able to read this title on the folder in the photo.) In the end he perfected a formula for good coffee: “one tablespoon of coffee per eight ounces of water, just short of boiling, in glass or ceramic containers, never boiled, reheated, or reused.” He went on to publish that coffee “properly prepared and rightly used, gives comfort and inspiration, augments mental and physical activity, and may be regarded as the servant rather than the destroyer of civilization.” Prescott’s work was widely published, and the rest is history. Coffee was restored as the national drink, and demand continues to increase. Coffee itself is credited increasingly with beneficial effects on our health. So have a Happy 4th of July, and do remember the amazing role coffee has played in our history since 1776. Since it all started in Boston, below are featured coffees from a “Best of Boston 2010” roaster.

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