Romanticized in today’s modern culture, the life of a Wild West cowboy was anything but romantic. Hardships faced them at every twist and turn of the journey called life.
Even cowboys in today’s age would have a hard time relating to the everyday life of the cowboys that experienced the Wild West.
After the Civil war, Northerners and Southerners alike, began a venture out west toward gold, cattle and the cowboy life.
Coffee was a staple that made the trek there, as well as the settling of the land, a thoroughgoing task.
Coffee became essential as well as pleasurable. Making coffee from the back of a conestoga wagon by a man named Cookie brewed a legend that intertwined cowboys and coffee forever.
The Green Bean
Today, the ease of brewing a fresh pot of coffee is often taken for granted and simply underrated.
Devices, such as the Keurig, make brewing coffee effortless, almost mindless. Our coffee is usually already ground in resealable bags. Even when the true coffee lover takes on the task of grinding their own coffee, the coffee is most likely already roasted.
This was not the way of the cowboy in the era of the Wild West.
Coffee beans, sold green to prevent turning rancid after roasting, had to be roasted over an open flame, usually in a skillet. A roasted coffee bean had a short shelf life.
Moreover, during the roasting process, one burnt bean could leave the whole pot tasting burnt and bitter.
If the camp Cookie was lucky enough to roast a successful batch, the beans then had to be crushed up by a handheld tool.
Devices such as the butt end of an axe or wagon jack often served as coffee grinders.
Cookie could not afford one bean to ruin a whole batch of roasted coffee when the batches that he prepared were in three – five gallon pots.
This amount of coffee would serve between ten and twelve men. A single serve Keurig would be obsolete in terms of satisfying ten to twelve cowboys getting ready for a tough days ride.
In the times of the “green bean”, coffee was a labour of intense care and time, a task that the camp Cookie took on with gusto and pride.
More often than not, Cookie had two or three batches of coffee going at once. This mass production of coffee was to keep the cowboys awake and alert.
Days began early and ended late in the Wild West.
Coffee was more a necessity than a luxury.
Arbuckles Ariosa Coffee – Coffins and Wedding Rings
Out of necessity and ingenious usage of strategy and marketing, came John and Charles Arbuckles of Pittsburgh in 1865.
These brothers patented a process of roasting and then coating the roasted coffee beans in a sugar and egg glaze.
This process not only flavored the coffee and added a irresistible aroma but also created a shelf life that could withstand the westward expansion.
Arbuckles’ Ariosa coffee came in one pound packages that were shipped in wooden crates designed for the hostile trip out west.
Each sturdy wooden crate was packed with one hundred, single pound packages.
These sturdy boxes that the Cookie purchased for their wagons, served many purposes after all the coffee had been used. The main fir crates were used to make, not only, furniture and cradles but also coffins.
Sadly, the coffins that the Arbuckles coffee crates could make were just as a highly sought after necessity as the coffee that originally came in them.
While the crates that the Arbuckles coffee came in were highly reusable, it was what was printed on the individual coffee packaging that set the Arbuckles Brothers apart.
While the patented roasting method of using sugar and egg glaze was incredibly ingenious, it was the marketing that the brothers instilled on the packaging that topped it off.
The Arbuckles Brothers printed coupons on the roasted coffee bean packages.
While extreme couponing had not taken the Wild West by storm as it has today, coupons on coffee packages were revolutionary.
Indeed, these were not even the usual coupons seen in today’s extreme couponing. The Arbuckles Brothers had a catalog of items and goods that could be purchased with the coupons off the coffee packaging.
The coupons were essentially referred to as “signatures”. The Arbuckles’ Coffee catalog had items ranging from women’s dress patterns and razors to…finger rings.
By the 1890’s, the Arbuckles Brothers claimed to be the largest distributor of rings in the world.
Not only did these incredible brothers create roasted coffee that withstood the hardships of the Wild West, they also, in a sense, tamed the rough edged cowboys with the ideology of courtship and marriage.
Alas, coffee was the Arbuckles Brothers first agenda, coffins and courtship were added allures. Many cowboys were not even aware that there were other coffee brands around. They drank Arbuckles and that was that.
Cowboy Coffee Recipe – The Horseshoe Method
The Arbuckles Brothers Coffee made the Cookie’s job slightly less time consuming, as he did not have to roast the beans.
That said, more often than not, the coffee grounds from the last three to five gallon pot of coffee was simply reused for the next pot.
This went on until the pot was so full, it had to be emptied of grounds.
Essentially, the recipe to making Cowboy Coffee is similar to the French Press method, without the French Press. While methods vary, below is a general way of making Cowboy Coffee.
How To Make Cowboy Coffee
- Boil 1 quart water in a pot or kettle
- Add 1 cup coarsely ground coffee to water (you may add eggshells at this time. Cowboys believed it was for a calcium benefit but also to help the grounds settle to the bottom).
- Bring pot back to boiling
- Remove from heat
- Pour ⅕ cup cold water into the pot
- Take 5-10 minutes to allow grounds and eggshell to settle to the bottom
- Pour gently and slowly into cups
According to the cowboys, if you place a horseshoe in the coffee and it stands straight up, the barefooted brew is ready!