5 Obscure Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Coffee (But Should!)

February 23, 2019Rob Harbin
Coffee or Die Photo

Coffee: it fuels our days and more than a few nights. You buy it, brew it, and drink it without a second thought. What more do you need to know? Plenty. Here a few interesting facts to get your percolator going.

1. The Goat Herder: Legend has it that coffee was discovered by a goat herder in Ethiopia around A.D. 850. He noticed that his goats were more energetic and didn’t sleep at night after eating berries from the coffee trees. The goat herder, named Kaldi, went to the local monastery to tell them about his goats that were wound for sound. The priests brewed up the berries to see what the hype was all about. Suffice it to say, it gave them the kick they needed to pray all night — and the rest is history.

2. World’s Most Expensive Coffee: Kopi Luwak is both the world’s priciest cup of joe and most expensive bag of beans. But the price tag isn’t merely a reflection of its fabulous taste — it’s actually due to the way it is produced. First, coffee beans are fed to Civet cats in Indonesia. These cats apparently love them some coffee beans: they gobble them up before pooping them back out, and the scat is then collected and packaged. The price for a cup of this particular brew runs anywhere from $35 to $80, with a 1-pound bag of beans ranging from $100 to $600.

Civet eating coffee berries in cage to produce Kopi Luwak coffee. Adobe Stock photo/Coffee or Die.

3. Cotton was King but Coffee was Gold: During the Civil War, coffee was the only food item that was even close to being fresh. Troops in the field would roast and grind their own coffee, savoring every drop. “Coffee was one of the most cherished items in the ration,” wrote Bell Irvin Wiley in “The Life of Billy Yank.” “The effect on morale must have been considerable. And if it cannot be said that coffee helped Billy Yank win the war, it at least made his participation in the conflict more tolerable.” Even the 25th U.S. President William McKinley started as a humble “coffee boy” ushering vats of coffee to Union troops on the frontlines.

With the price of inflation, coffee in the South was valued at well over $1,000 a pound, and not nearly as accessible as it was to Union troops.

Union soldiers sit with their coffee in tin cups, their hard-tack, and a kettle at their feet. Photo courtesy of “The photographic history of the Civil War: in ten volumes” (1911).

4. Coffee is All-American! Ever wonder why we don’t drink tea? We started as a British colony after all. Well, it all started with a bunch of pissed-off future Americans up in Boston. These American revolutionaries threw a bunch of tea overboard into the harbor in an act of defiance to King George in what has since been dubbed the Boston Tea Party. 

What most don’t know is that after that, drinking tea was looked down upon and considered treasonous. That’s right — you were a traitor for drinking tea! There was an unofficial boycott of tea, so people were serving coffee to show their loyalty to the revolution. If you look at it this way, coffee is — and has always been — the definitive American drink!

An artist’s depiction of the Boston Tea Party. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

5. Who’s Joe?: We all know that a cup of coffee is commonly referred to as a “cup o’ Joe” — but who is Joe? During President Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels decided that alcohol would be banned from all warships during World War I. With stockpiles of rum, whiskey, and wine now staying in port, sailors needed a replacement. Coffee was there to save the day and was sarcastically called a “cup of Joseph.”

A sailor enjoys a cup of coffee while reading in tight quarters on a naval ship. Photo courtesy of The Lakeside Ledger.



Rob Harbin
Rob Harbin

Rob Harbin is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die. Having devoted the majority of his career as a Critical Care Tactical Medic, he spent over 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During this time, he was assigned to Department of State tactical response teams and combat search and rescue elements. Other than a passion for the outdoors, Rob enjoys expanding his knowledge on culinary skills and photography.

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