Coffee that Won the West" actually came from the East coast.
And no, the company that roasted and packaged the coffee beans that
helped fuel Manifest Destiny did not have a nine-letter name beginning
with "S." The brand that helped western types get up in the morning
and stay at it during the day was Arbuckles'.
Coffee had been around a long time before Arbuckles', but with one
grandee latte of a difference: Merchants sold green coffee beans
only. A consumer had to do his or her own roasting. After a long,
hard day in the saddle, someone wanting a cup or two or three of
Joe had to roast coffee beans in a skillet over the campfire (or,
if such convenience was available, over a wood-burning stove). Of
course, before brewing a pot, the roasted beans had to be ground.
Meanwhile, back east, about the time the Civil War ended Pittsburgh
grocers John and Charles Arbuckle came up with an idea, doubtless
after a strong cup of coffee, that changed everything for coffee
sellers and coffee consumers. In 1865, the brothers Arbuckle patented
a process for covering roasted beans with a glaze made of egg and
sugar. That, they had discovered, kept the beans fresh and aromatic.
They began selling their new product in air-tight, one-pound paper
packages under the brand name of Arbuckles' Ariosa Coffee. Each
package had a yellow label with the word "Arbuckles'" in large red
type. Below that was their trademark, a flying angel (who better
to deliver coffee to a caffeine-needing populace?). Beneath the
trademark, in a red-bordered box were the words "Ariosa Coffee"
in black type.
(A note on nomenclature. "Ariosa" is a created name with "A" standing
for Arbuckles' while 'rio" and "sa" refer to the company's South
American coffee bean sources.)
The new product proved an instant success. It smelled good, it tasted
good and it was strong. The old joke is that when brewing a pot
of cowboy coffee made with Arbuckles', the only way to tell when
it was ready to drink was to toss in a horseshoe. If the horseshoe
sank to the bottom, the coffee wasn't fit to drink yet. "The cook
firmly believed there is no such thing as strong coffee but only
weak people," writer-historian Edward Everett Dale wrote.
Especially in the west, Arbuckles' became a synonym for coffee.
Shipped in strong wooden crates, Arbuckles' spread nation-wide,
particularly across the wild west.
crates, made of Maine fir and holding 100 packages each, became
almost as popular as the coffee they contained. Seldom simply discarded,
the crates usually ended up being taken apart for use as interior
paneling, shelves, storage boxes, baby cradles, coffins, wagon seats
and more. If nothing else, they made good firewood. Accordingly,
today vintage Arbuckles' boxes are pretty rare and costly when they
do show up on the market.
The Arbuckle brothers not only manufactured good coffee, they had
a genius for marketing. The backside of their coffee bags featured
a coupon redeemable for assorted products that back then were categorized
as "notions." A cowboy who went to the effort of cutting and saving
coupons could redeem them for handkerchiefs, razors, guns and even
wedding rings. Each coupon was worth one cent.
Not only that, as today's TV marketers would say, each package of
Arbuckles' included a stick of peppermint candy. Chuck wagon bosses
learned to use the candy as an inducement to get some cowpoke to
grind the coffee. The candy apparently was tasty enough to trigger
competition for the "right" to take on the extra work of turning
the crank on the coffee grinder, truly a sweet deal for a cook who
had no shortage of other chores needing his attention.
In the 1880s, the Arbuckle brothers moved their business to Brooklyn,
where at the high point of their business they operated 85 roasting
its huge popularity, Arbuckles' did not survive the Great Depression.
But in the late 1970s, Pennsylvanian Denney Willis acquired the
Arbuckles' brand and began roasting and selling coffee marketed
under the famous name. He and his wife eventually relocated to Tucson,
where the couple and their son have kept the brand alive.
In 1994, El
Paso professor and writer Francis L. Fugate wrote a book on
the history of Arbuckles'. Published by Texas Western Press, the
now out-of-print 233-page book was Fugate's final work. In fact,
he died sitting in front of his desktop computer, putting the finishing
touches on his manuscript.
One of the last things he must have typed was this refrain from
an old cowboy song, which does a good job of summing up Arbuckles