Coffee And Politics
Coffee is the ultimate beverage of American politics. In the mother country during Queen Anne’s reign, poet Alexander Pope – who inhaled the still-novel brew to relieve his “me-grim” headaches, had praised “Coffee, which makes the politician wise/Who looks at all the world with half-shut eyes.” He referred of course, to the gossips and parliamentary hangers-on who naturally congregated in London coffeehouses to dish the latest dirt. In America, the coffeehouse also became haven for partisan prating and plotting,
In fact, Daniel Webster dubbed the Green Dragon coffeehouse a Boston hangout from 1697 to 1832, “the headquarters of the Revolution” because of all the Patriot activism simmering there.
The British tax on tea had brewed a revolution, sparking the Boston , along with earlier, more violent protests in Maryland, South Carolina, and other colonies. Tea plunged, and untaxed coffee bobbed up as the beverage of choice, dominating American hearts and palates ever since. “Drank coffee at four,” tutor Philip Fithian noted in his diary of his stay at a Virginia plantation; “they are now too patriotic to use tea.”
It was therefore apt that, on 23 April 1789, arriving in New York City for his inauguration as first President of the United States, George Washington was escorted to a reception at Merchants’ Coffee House. Although Radicals attacked Martha Washington’s “monarchist” airs in her formal entertainments, she scotched the bad press by unpretentiously rising early every morning to brew her own coffee.
Coffee inevitably flowed into electioneering, Most commonly associated with hard cider, William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!” presidential run of 1840-the first real mass-market campaign- also produced china coffee and tea sets adorned with the candidate’s picture. Since then (although campaign crockery has degenerated into paper or styrofoam cups) creamers, sugar bowls, and tea spoons have all sought to stir voters.
Nineteenth-century coffee-and-tea firms gave out cards and other gimmicks picturing the candidates as sales promotions. Customers purchased extra packs of beans, trying to complete sets of the national tickets or even of governors of all the states. A century later, cheap coffee mugs had become a standard campaign souvenir.
The election of 1988 saw the sale of identical Bush and Dukakis coffee blends by Rochester, New York’s Starlite Gourmet Coffee Company (now apparently out of business).
So when you go to the polls to vote, have a cup of coffee and think back on how long coffee and politics have been together.