Coffee is king! The once-upon-a-time story of the brew’s origins

| October 02, 2013

coffee-cupOnce upon a time, on a distant highway far, far away, a tired trucker pulled off to get some much needed rest. He happened to have parked right next to a goat farm and dozed off while watching the little goats eat berries off a tree. Fifteen minutes later, he was rudely awakened by the same sweet little goats running around like lunatics, wide-eyed and blasting ACϞDC from their goat-stereos. The smart trucker realized the berries they ate must have made them act that way. He grabbed a handful, took them to his favorite waitress at the TA, and had her brew up a pot of berry/bean juice and !voila! coffee was invented.

Wendy Parker writes the George & Wendy Show blog, appearing several times a week on OverdriveOnline.com, dispatched from her ridealong position in the truck with her owner-operator husband, George.

Wendy Parker, this story’s author, writes the George & Wendy Show blog, appearing several times a week on OverdriveOnline.com, dispatched from her ridealong position in the truck with her owner-operator husband, George.

Also, a full selection of ACϞDC was added to all the jukeboxes in TA restaurants.

(This was obviously before every single truck stop restaurant in the whole entire world installed nine flat screen televisions blasting Fox News and MSNBC 24/7. You know, the good ol’ days, before the news was crammed down your throat at every turn.) 

OK, so that may be a filthy lie — except for the “every single truck stop restaurant having nine flat screen televisions blasting Fox News and MSNBC” part — but truckers do love their coffee. And the legend of how it came to be one of the most widely consumed drinks in the world isn’t far from it.

According to the National Coffee Association’s website, we owe a simple man from Ethiopia a massive thank-you for the delicious elixir a good portion of the country starts their day off with. Legend has it, Kaldi the goat herder discovered coffee after noticing his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited they didn’t want to sleep at night. Kaldi went to the Abbot at the local monastery and told him about the goats.

“You’re not going to believe how spirited my goats are. They ate these berries.”

“Awesome. Brew some up, I need to pray for a really long time without falling asleep, because I’m an Abbot, you know.” 

(This is an interpretation of the conversation, as I don’t speak the language of Ethiopia.) 

Read reporting accompanying results of the coffee survey conducted in 2008 by then Overdrive sister publication Truckers News.

Before anyone could have Amazon deliver a French press, the monks were drinking coffee, and praying all over the place. Word spread about the amazing powers of the dark drink, and today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world.

Americans crave their daily fix and drink an estimated 400 million cups a day. But coffee is so much more than a drink. As one of the most actively traded commodities, coffee is now a multibillion-dollar global industry. The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but to begin its trade. They preceded Starbucks by about a thousand years with the local coffeehouse, called qahveh khaneh, where they not only consumed the beverage and engaged in conversation — they also listened to music, watched performers, played chess and kept current on the news of the day. 

The Arabs tried to retain a monopoly on the production, but eventually, after much ado and the Papal approval of Pope Clement VIII, who personally clarified that coffee wasn’t “the bitter invention of Satan,” the Dutch finally procured seedlings and found a place, other than Arabia, coffee would grow. The Dutch gave coffee to the French, and the French gave it to Brazil. New nations were established on coffee economies. Fortunes were made and lost. And by the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops.

coffee

BEST COFFEE ON THE ROAD?  

Last time Overdrive or any of its sister publications surveyed readers on their coffee preferences, in early 2008 via Truckers News magazine, respondents to our online survey selected Pilot Travel Centers as living up to the “Best Coffee” slogan on many of its billboards, with almost a fifth of respondents reporting its coffee as superlative. Among truckstops, Petro Travel Centers placed second, in a statistical tie with McDonald’s, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Notable in the “Other truckstop” category was QuikTrip, with locations at the time in Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona.

Other fast-food restaurant or coffeehouse/doughnutnut chain: 3%
Tim Horton’s: 3%
Krispy Kreme: 1%
Dunkin Donuts: 10%
Starbucks: 10%
McDonald’s: 10%
Other truckstop: 3%
Love’s: 5%
TA: 3%
Petro: 10%
Flying J: 8%
None, I make my own: 16%

Rarely has anyone taken their first sip of the bitter, hot potion and immediately liked the taste. Coffee is diluted with everything from sugar to yak milk to change the offending, oily taste. The promise of energy and clarity keep people drinking it. Energy and alertness are the cognitive reasons, but there’s a much deeper, autonomous effect coffee has on the body. Coffee stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine produces euphoria and pleasant feelings — it’s no coincidence the slang term “dope” is sometimes used for marijuana, because it stimulates some of the same receptors. But coffee is legal. Many drugs that produce euphoria, such as cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy, act upon dopamine in the brain. The action by coffee has always been an adequate explanation for why caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

An extremely loose poll of Facebook readers and personal family and friends indicates the top three favorite truck stop coffees, in order, are: Pilot, TravelCenters of America, and Love’s. Personal experience dictates that the quality of the coffee really depends on how much the people working in the truck stop care about the product they’re serving. I’ve seen more than one 17-year-old sulky girl holding her cell phone in one hand and re-using coffee grinds with the other. It happens all over. 

Brewing your own is the most economical and convenient way to assure quality every time. Twelve-volt coffee makers range from $25.00 to $149.00 on the Internet. You can spend anywhere from close to $2/pound to upward of $600/lb. for coffee made from beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a palm civet. The civet is a dark brown tree-dwelling cat-like creature found throughout Southeast Asia. Wait a minute, what? The most expensive coffee comes from beans dug out of animal poop? What kind of emotional disturbance do you have to have to want to drink poop-coffee? How do they sell it?

“Why is this coffee so expensive?” 

“It comes from cat poop.” 

“Ew.” 

“Cat poop makes it magical. Plus, we have to pay someone a lot to go through all that cat poop to find the beans.”

“Ew. But if it’s magical, I guess I’ll have no choice other than to spend my rent money on it. Bag up a pound.” 

(This is a loose interpretation of the conversation, as a lot of poop coffee is sold in Manila, and I don’t speak the language of the Philippines.)

Another extremely informal poll indicates the most purchased home-use brand of coffee to be Folgers, followed by Dunkin’ Doughnuts and Community Coffee. The truckers polled spent an average of $20 a month on coffee, bought or self-brewed. Several people reported spending nothing at all, because they use their truck stop rewards points. A lot of people think truckers should get free coffee all the time at fuel stops. A friend from the Facebook page, Maxine Barricklow, says she’s the “first to say a trucker should not have to buy coffee. Not with what we spend in fuel.”

Whether you pay for it or not, coffee is king on the road, still out-selling energy drinks, and being consumed by 80% of the population on a daily basis. All hail the mighty bean.

Read more from Overdrive contributor Wendy Parker via her George and Wendy Show blog. 

  • John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt

    Actually, coffee “beans” are the pit of the coffee cherry fruit. And yes, Yemen was the first area to cultivate coffee. I roast my own beans and you can buy green beans from Yemen from internet retailers. The agricultural situation of fiscally poor Yemen farms doesn’t produce the finest beans. They do make a wild and wooly cup for a nice diversion once in awhile.