Have you ever written or read about the cowboy hero of your novel sitting around the campfire drinking coffee? In my mind I always pictured a small campfire outlined with rocks where my handsome hero sat pouring coffee from a blue speckled coffee pot. How the coffee got into the pot never crossed my mind.
Well, if your story takes place before the end of the Civil War, your hero’s coffee beans would have been green. They were sold by the scoopful from barrels in mercantile stores. Once the coffee was purchased the beans then had to be roasted on the stove or over a fire before they could be run through a coffee grinder. It was easy to burn beans this way and one or two burned beans could ruin the flavor of the coffee. Exposure to the air also caused the roasted beans to become stale and rancid.
Then in 1868, two brothers, John and Charles Arbuckle, who owned a grocery store in Pittsburg, PA patented a process for roasting coffee beans and coating them with an egg and sugar glaze to seal in the flavor.
Their coffee was packaged in one pound, airtight bags. The packages had a yellow label with the name ARBUCKLES’ in large red letters across the front. Beneath that was the trademark Flying Angel, over the words ARIOSA COFFEE® in black letters. The coffee was shipped all over the country in wooden crates with one hundred packages to a crate.
The coffee was an instant success, especially with cowboys out on the open range. On the bottom of each bag were printed coupons which could be redeemed for things like silverware, curtains, handkerchiefs, scissors, razors and even wedding rings. Inside each package of coffee was a peppermint stick and chuck wagon cooks would call out, “Who wants the candy?” to tempt a volunteer into grinding the beans for the next batch of coffee.
Depending on the size of crew, the coffee pots used by chuck wagon cooks were usually 20-36 cups, and made of copper, cast iron, steel or enamelware. Pots were washed daily and once a week cleaned with inside with vinegar. On a trail drive the cook would rise around three in the morning. He would take the coffee pots off the spits and either poured out what was left from the night before or added it to stew for flavor. He would add fresh water to the pots and bring it to a boil. The grounds were placed directly into the water to cook (about 2 ½ cups of grounds for 20 cups of coffee). After about five minutes the coffee was done. He would add a cup of cold water to settle the grounds and serve it black. Any man who added sugar or evaporated milk invited teasing from other cowboys who labeled him a greenhorn. If you were refilling your coffee cup and someone yelled, “Man at the pot,” you were obligated to serve refills.
However, most men riding alone in the old west didn’t carry a coffee pot. Instead, they brewed their coffee in a small pot the same way the chuck wagon cook did. Cold water was brought to a boil then the coffee grounds were thrown in (one rounded tablespoon for each two cups of coffee). The coffee was brought to a boil again then removed from the heat. A splash of cold water was added to help the grounds settle then being careful to keep the grounds inside the pot, the coffee was poured into a tin cup for drinking.
Add some wood smoke and maybe a bit of ash and you can make cowboy coffee at home.