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A Brief History of Coffee and Booze

October 17, 2013  |  9:44am
A Brief History of Coffee and Booze

Few things affect our lives like coffee and alcohol. Mornings can either be made or broken by a cup (or three) of joe. Newbies often drown it in sugar and milk and are still somehow jittery and weird for the rest of the day. Veteran drinkers will not abide the instant stuff nor will they tolerate any obstacle that may lie between caffeinated goodness and their bloodstreams.

Alcohol is an entirely different story. At its best it makes giddy fools of us all, with happy hours and well-stocked parties giving us opportunities to either commiserate or celebrate milestones and setbacks with our friends and family. Unlike coffee, it’s not the drink that gets you going. Booze is often what’s waiting for you when you come back. After coffee kicks you out of the house to get stuff done, booze welcomes you on home. At its worst, well, you know happens during those bad booze moments. We’ve all seen that episode of Cops/Jersey Shore/Real Housewives of Drama City and Drunktown.

But for all that coffee and booze do for and to us, separately and together, we still hardly ever think about how our favorite drinks ever came to be. Even when they’re wonderfully mixed together. On those hurried morning Starbucks runs, you know damn well you’re not thinking about the origin of coffee. And you sure as hell aren’t thinking about alcohol consumption in ancient Mesopotamia while you’re downing after-dinner drinks with your friends on that one night out you managed to snatch away from your career and/or childcare responsibilities.

But that’s why we’ve got just the quick-and-boozy history lesson you need on your favorite beverage buddies, coffee and alcohol. We’ve got the scoop on your most beloved coffee-flavored liquor brands, new cocktail recipes to try and a glimpse into the future of this drink duo: a look at new research that has recently led to the development of a liquor made with used coffee grounds. So start brewing your favorite roast (or pour yourself a shot), kick back and read on to fill your brain with knowledge about those happy drinks that fill your belly.

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The origins of coffee and alcohol consumption among humans are murky at best. While the consensus is that alcohol is the oldest drug in the world and that coffee was cultivated for consumption as early as the 15th century, a specific date of origin still hasn’t been established for either beverage.

What is known, however, is that the production, sale and governmental regulation of alcohol was already taking place as early in human history as 2100 B.C. in ancient civilizations like Sumer. Clay tablets found from that era show that Sumerian doctors and pharmacists would prescribe beer to their customers, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. This medicinal use of alcohol continued on in early human history, even much later during ancient Egypt, around 1500 B.C.
From the Babylonians, the well-known Hammurabi’s Code, widely considered to be the oldest set of laws ever written (1750 B.C.), had its own laws for regulating, not the consumption of alcohol, but the “fair commerce” in it, according to “History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World,” by David J. Hanson.
If you want to get really technical, Hanson, a sociology professor at the State University of New York Potsdam, also mentioned “the discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs” as evidence that early human production of fermented beverages (probably made from berries, honey or other sugar-laden ingredients) had occurred around 10,000 B.C., much earlier than the Sumerians and their medicinal beer.

The cultivation of coffee on the other hand, was long estimated to have begun around the 15th century. But while there are a number of theories and legends surrounding the discovery of coffee, there’s only one that seems to have garnered a consensus: that early humans figured out that the berries and beans, were edible much earlier, at around 800 A.D. Both National Geographic and the National Coffee Association seem to agree: It all started with a bunch of dancing goats hopped up on caffeine. The goats (and the strange coffee berries) were discovered by their owner, an Ethiopian herder named Kaldi, who then brought the caffeinated berries to the attention of local religious leaders.

But dancing goats, herders and monks aside, the best part of waking up back then was the development of other coffee berry-related products around that time. Other Africans invented animal-fat-and-coffee-berry-protein bars and, get this, fermented coffee-berry pulp—coffee wine. It seems that coffee and booze went hand in hand even back in 800 A.D.

When talking about coffee and alcohol, a few brands leap to mind:

Tia Maria
Though the recipe for Tia Maria coffee liqueur dates back to the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it was finally commercialized and the Tia Maria brand was born. The origin story behind Tia Maria is the stuff of cinematic legend. It’s got everything every thing you’d need for an action flick: a war, a fleeing family, a beautiful heiress, her brave maid and a mysterious box that contained the start of Tia Maria: the heiress’ family’s recipe for the vanilla-spiced rum-based coffee liqueur.

The liqueur’s namesake was the brave maid, the one who helped the Spanish heiress escape Jamaica and a colonial war and salvaged the mysterious box containing a pair of pearl earrings and the family’s recipe for Tia Maria. The heiress named the recipe after the maid to honor her. About 300 years later, in the 1950s, Dr. Kenneth Leigh Evans drank it at a friend’s house and immediately began manufacturing and selling it as Tia Maria, a brand of coffee liqueur. Today, Tia Maria is sold in over 60 countries.

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