10 Intriguing Presidential Coffee Habits
When you deal with specialty coffee every day it is always a treat to learn who enjoys that coffee. That includes everyone from our daily loyal customers to celebrities, a president, politicians, sports stars, and famous chefs that enjoy Greenwell Farms 100% Kona Coffee. (Although it is company policy not to tell you who!!)
So, in honor of the upcoming President’s Day, we thought we’d share with you some really intriguing coffee habits of our American Presidents. We know that Presidents are complex human beings and occupy the White House with all of their personal idiosyncrasies and preferences. Learning about them is a function of the detailed histories that accompany life in the public eye.
1. George Washington had a Taste for the Good Stuff
Long before specialty coffee was a thing, George Washington sourced some of the best coffee he could. It is documented that he was partial to coffee from the “Red Sea Port of Mokha.” (Which is where we get the word Mocha in our current coffee lexicon from Mokha, Yemen) Even then, Mokha coffee was prized for its rich, chocolatey notes and exquisite natural sweetness.
Martha Washington also gave strict instructions for how drip coffee was to be served, “a heaping tablespoon of good grounds per cup of water, pulverized as fine as cornmeal, served with sugar and hot milk at breakfast and only sugar after dinner.”
The claim that Washington had wooden teeth is not true, but he did have dentures made of various materials like other people’s teeth and ivory. These dentures caused him great discomfort so with his morning coffee, he required that his hoecakes and syrup be cut into small pieces to make them easier to eat.
2. President Thomas Jefferson and the Civilized World
It is well known that Thomas Jefferson was a man of many talents, poly-lingual, a farmer, lawyer, architect with deep interests in mathematics, horticulture, and philosophy. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, (which was most likely written while under the influence of coffee) and is said to have kept up to 60 pounds of green coffee in storage at Monticello. He was known to be a “foodie” long before being a foodie was popular.
Now keeping in mind that he served for 5 years as the U.S. Minister to France, he came to believe that “coffee was the favorite drink of the civilized world.” His preferred bean varieties were Bourbon and E. India, which were required to be roasted, ground, and served in a silver urn that he designed.
Kitchen staff at Monticello estimate a pound of coffee a day was consumed in Jefferson’s retirement years. His house recipe was:
On one measure of the coffee ground into meal, pour three measures of boiling water. Boil it on hot ashes mixed with coal till the meal disappears from the top when it will be precipitated. Pour it three times through a flannel strainer. It will yield 2 1/3 measures of clear coffee.
That is basically cowboy coffee triple strained, so I assume that he liked a very dark, smoky cup. Mr. Jefferson was also known to love Vanilla Ice Cream for which he had created his own recipe and one can’t help but wonder if any of that ice cream ever made its way into his coffee.
3. Abraham Lincoln’s Morning Joy
Accepted widely as one of our greatest Presidents, born of humble beginnings and self-educated, it was often commented by those close to him that Honest Abe had no interest in food. He was one of those who ate to live rather than lived to eat. One presidential historian wrote, “he was almost indifferent to food, eating sparingly anything that was placed in front of him.”
The only two exceptions to that were apples and coffee. Now there are many accounts of Lincoln cooking, which a motherless 9-year-old in a one-room log cabin would certainly have had to participate in, but even then, most cite a very small appetite. It was said that he could make a meal of apples and nuts, liked cakes and bread in small quantities, and preferred venison, but disliked killing animals even for food.
Abe Lincoln didn’t drink alcohol, usually drank water with every meal, but really enjoyed a good, hot cup of coffee early in the morning. As he was an early riser and did a lot of his thinking in the quiet early morning hours, I think we can assume that at least a little bit of the eloquent Gettysburg Address was powered by coffee.
4. President Ulysses Grant and the Morning Pickle
Historical accounts report that when Ulysses Grant was the Union General, his morning meal consisted of a “cup of coffee and a cucumber soaked in vinegar overnight.” That is of course a pickle. I am not referring to a “difficult or messy situation” but an actual, honest to goodness pickle.
While drinking coffee and munching on a fresh pickle may seem like a pregnant lady’s weird craving, he may have been ahead of his time with the hydrating properties of the cucumber, the multiple medical benefits of vinegar, and the stimulating effects of the coffee.
However, after he became President, it is recorded that he favored a good hearty breakfast over any other meal. A favorite breakfast was “broiled Spanish mackerel, steak, bacon and fried apples, flannel cakes or buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee.”
5. Theodore Roosevelt’s Coffee was Good to the Last Drop
Teddy was a ravenous coffee drinker, famed to drink up to a gallon of coffee a day, and known to add up to seven lumps of sugar to his cup. His son described his coffee cup as more of a “bathtub” than a cup. It might explain some of his inexhaustible energy.
A famous urban legend says that while Theodore was visiting Nashville and tried Maxwell House coffee, he exclaimed it was, “Good to the last drop.”
However, the advertising campaign first started using the slogan in 1915 (he was President from 1901-1909) with no attribution to Roosevelt. Coca-Cola also used this slogan. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that commercials claimed these words were spoken by the former president.
Maxwell House later distanced itself from the claim, and it is believed that Clifford Spiller, former president of General Foods, wrote the line.
Mr. Roosevelt was also the first U.S. President to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Another great accomplishment for coffee powered brains.
6. President Franklin Roosevelt, the Barista President
Maybe that’s a stretch but, Franklin liked a dark French Roast that was freshly roasted in the White House kitchen. As he considered himself an expert at making coffee, a coffee maker was placed on his breakfast tray so he could brew the coffee to his personal satisfaction.
When coffee rationing began during WWII, Eleanor Roosevelt announced that all White House staff, including the President, would be limited to one cup a day. So, the ever-ingenious FDR came up with a new process where he dried his previously used grounds, added a teaspoon of new grounds, boiled it up, and made what he called a “good cup.” Yuck.
Now perhaps it was as awful as it sounds, or maybe he was doing his patriotic duty but early into the war, Roosevelt gave up coffee altogether in favor of milk. He was also the first President to fly in an airplane and I wonder if coffee was served on that first Presidential flight.
7. Harry S. Truman’s Happy Wife
Like many a soldier President, Harry Truman was somewhat indifferent to the food he ate. He claimed that soldiers learned to “eat what was put before them and like it.” Those that complained were often forced to try to make it better, which cured them from speaking out anymore.
His wife, however, Elizabeth “Bess” Truman, took great pride in her kitchen skills and so her exacting standards were brought to the White House. Amongst these, how to make a good cup of coffee.
According to The President’s Cookbook, “Mrs. Truman would examine the color of the coffee with a spoon several times and had the White House staff experiment to produce a cup of coffee that would please her. These instructions were then sent to the kitchen staff on the Presidential Yacht.”
Harry though, who thought about his health carefully, favored Bourbon in the morning. I am not referring to the coffee known as Bourbon, but the alcoholic beverage “Old Grand-Dad”. Harry was known to walk 2 miles every morning, occasionally imbibing Bourbon from a dram. This, at the time, was believed by many to increase circulation. He lived to 88 years old.
8. President Dwight David Eisenhower and Coffee Defeat Fascism
Amongst those who called coffee their “soup of the day”, was 5-Star General turned 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower. From the previous snippets of Presidential coffee habits, we know that coffee was present at the crafting of the Declaration of Independence, and most likely the Gettysburg Address, but it is certain that coffee played a role in the planning and execution of the D-Day landing at Normandy.
Eisenhower drank cup after cup of coffee, chain-smoking and pacing, awaiting reports of the various components of his master plan. Prior to his becoming Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, he was known to drink 15-20 cups a day and smoke 4 packs of Camels.
President Eisenhower continued to drink coffee relentlessly as President. He navigated the postwar world, the rising Soviet influence, and the rebuilding of the country always with a cup of coffee at his side. How did he take his coffee? Constantly and seriously.
Interesting to note that the Presidential retreat in Maryland, which opened in 1938 was originally referred to as Shangri-la. It was under Eisenhower that it took on the name of both his father and his grandson and has been known as Camp David ever since.
9. John F. Kennedy’s Smoky Coffee Break
Long before coffee culture emerged, the Kennedys used it as a marketing ploy to fuel their meteoric rise. As early as 1952, the Kennedy’s, wanting to appeal to woman voters started hosting “Coffee with the Kennedys” in the living rooms of prominent families in Massachusetts. These would become very popular and propelled JKF into the U.S. Senate.
It is said that Kennedy enjoyed a cup of black coffee with a cigar. He loved a good Cuban cigar in particular, so in 1962 he asked his press Secretary to acquire about 1,000 Cuban Petit Uppmans. When Secretary Salinger reported that he had acquired 1,200 cigars, the President took from his desk a long paper which he immediately signed. “It is now illegal to buy Cuban Cigars in the United States,” he smiled.
10. President George H.W. Bush and American Coffee
Most likely, the third most caffeinated President after Theodore Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, George Bush Sr. was known to drink coffee all day, up to 10 cups. That’s about a half-gallon of coffee a day. It might explain how the Connecticut born Navy Pilot became a successful Texas Oilman, a legislator, ambassador, headed the CIA, served as a Senator and a Vice President before becoming the 41st President. That kind of resume requires a lot of energy.
It was reported that due to a thyroid condition he had to give up caffeine in 1991 and White House staff claim he was not happy at all with the decaf stuff. Against Doctor’s orders, he is said to have slowly reintroduced coffee to his diet about 2 weeks after leaving the hospital.
The Bushes also started the trend of serving coffee grown in the United States at State Functions. (Kona Coffee) A trend that continues to this day.
Wishing you a happy Presidents Day! Aloha!
About the Author
Matt Carter is a retired teacher (1989-2018), a part-time musician, farmer, and currently manages Greenwell Farms Tour and Retail Store Operations.