Thursday, March 21, 2013


Nothing goes together better than cowboys and coffee

The love of coffee spread after the war as veterans from both North and South headed out to make their fortunes in the growing cattle industry, and in the gold, silver and copper mines of the West.

The Folgers Coffee Company had been founded by James A. Folger in San Francisco, California, in 1850. James came to San Francisco from Nantucket Island at the age of 15 with his two older brothers during the California Gold Rush. They imported coffee mostly from Brazil to supply the California miners.

Coffee was also being imported to the West from the Kona region of the Hawaiian Islands and the era from 1860 to 1890 saw a steady growth in Kona coffee being shipped to California and the West. Although far superior to the Robusta coffees from South America, Kona Arabica coffee was more expensive to grow and ship in rather meager amounts and so was making little progress economically in getting very far beyond the West Coast.

Before the end of the Civil war, only green coffee beans were sold in stores because, after exposure to air, roasted coffee beans would become stale or rancid. The green coffee beans had to be roasted in a skillet on a cook stove or over a campfire before it could be ground and brewed. A single coffee bean burned in the roasting process could ruin the whole batch.

In 1865, John Arbuckle and his brother Charles, partners in a Pittsburgh grocery business, changed all this by patenting a process for roasting and coating coffee beans with an egg and sugar glaze to seal in the flavor and aroma. Marketed under the name Arbuckle’s' Ariosa Coffee, in patented airtight, one pound packages, the new coffee was shipped all over the country in sturdy wooden crates, one hundred packages to a crate. The Arbuckle Brothers printed coupons on the bags of coffee redeemable for all manner of items including handkerchiefs, razors, scissors and wedding rings, everything a cowboy or a westward moving pioneer might come to need. To further entice the chuck wagon cook purchase, each package contained a stick of peppermint candy which became a means by which cookie could get the firewood collected and the coffee grinder handle spun with the call "Who wants the candy?" Some of the toughest cowboys on the trail would jump at the opportunity to satisfy a sweet tooth. Arbuckle’s' Ariosa Coffee became so dominant in the west, that many cowboys were not even aware there was any other kind.

Coffee has been a staple of cowboy cuisine since the days of the great cattle drives. The cowboy’s job was to bring herds of half-wild Mexican cattle through the range to the rail heads. After working cattle for hours, the cowboy was hungry. He welcomed the cookie’s call to "Come an' get it." With his famished appetite, he was prepared to chow down. The cookie's job was to prepare steaks, create stews, cook the beans, bake sourdough biscuits, and boil coffee. The staple of the cowboy was coffee. It kept him awake. It kept him alert for dangers on the trail. And to do that, it had to be black and strong.

There is a certain mystique about making coffee for the cowboy. The most common story about cowboy
coffee is that cookie has to toss in a horseshoe, and if it sinks, put in some more coffee. The standard coffee pot was three to five gallons, which handled ten to twelve cowboys. And those cowboys expected their coffee to be “brown gargle,” and that means hot, black and strong. Some ignore the horseshoe and say that it has to float a six shooter. The Cowboy Coffee folks up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming say that it should float a pistol, heal an ailing steer, scare off a pack of wolves and cure the effects of a short night.

The paniolas at the Kona Cowboy Coffee Company in New Mexico and Hawaii suggest that you start with a pot full of good, clean tasting water. In most towns I use bottled water. Measure out one rounded tablespoon of ground coffee for each cup. Now here’s where you’re experimenting. If that’s too strong for you, use less the next time. If not strong enough, add more. The best way to make coffee is with a French Press, but you want to make it the cowboy way. Put that coffee directly into the pot, if you’re not using a drip coffeemaker or a French Press. If you have a percolator… remember those? …throw it away. They always made bitter coffee. Don’t give it to the Salvation Army, toss it. If you’re brewing directly in the pot, bring it to a rolling boil and take the pot off the fire. Here’s where a splash of cold water will settle the grounds.

Or just let it sit a spell. Legend talks about dropping in an egg shell to settle it and you might have tried that. Then pour and enjoy a cup of cowboy coffee. And enjoy some history of the Old West at the same time. Or you could put a handful of roasted coffee beans into an old sock, beat the coffee beans in that sock with the butt of your six shooter, pop the sock full of crushed coffee beans into a pot of boiling water and end up with some pretty bad coffee and a clean, although brown, sock.

Western artists and writers such as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour have embellished images of cowpokes brewing coffee over chuck wagon stoves and blazing campfires. And every Western film and every TV oater has featured those same scenes.

Thanks to history and legend, cowboys and coffee have been paired forever.


  1. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Green Coffee Bean

    Keep Posting:)

  2. Wonderful Story! Thanks.
    (It's "paniolo", not "paniola", though."