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Arbuckle: The Original Cowboy Coffee

“The Coffee that Won the West”

When you walk into the doors of the event center for the Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, the first thing you notice is the smell of coffee. Hot water streaming through fresh ground coffee beans actually in the booth to your right. It takes a strong continence to walk past that smell without stopping. I gave in to the assault on my nose and several minutes later walked away with a new coffee mug filled to the brim and two bags of coffee beans, Ariosa and Chuck Wagon Roast.

The Arbuckles Coffee Booth at the 2018 Cowboy Symposium, Lubbock. Photo by N. Bright


The Arbuckle Coffee booth is more than just a display. That smell and those coffee beans represent an important part of the American West. But the story starts long before the days of the cattle drives.

Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown, wrote of his travels through the Middle East and about the Turks. “Their best drink is coffa of a graine they call coava.” In Boston 1670, Dorothy James was granted a license to sell “Coffee and cuchaletto”, as appearing in New England colony records. The British East India Company, in the promotion of tea, were creative in their reference of coffee, using terms such as “essence of old shoes.” But the Stamp Act of 1765 taxed tea. Patriots gathered at taverns where tea was renounced and coffee was served.

It was a curious dilemma to John Arbuckle some decades later; how to preserve the freshness of the coffee bean between roaster and coffee pot. Leaving Washington and Jefferson College in 1860, young John joined a brother and an uncle in the wholesale grocery business, where he developed many patents that revolutionized not just the coffee industry, but invented other innovative structures and machines.

John Arbuckle

To enhance the flavor of a cup of coffee, roasting is key. During the roasting process, the green coffee beans take on quality and flavor, shrinking by one-fifth in weight, but roasted coffee is perishable. John Arbuckle developed a glaze, patented in 1868. The ingredients changed several times, eventually becoming a simple sugar and egg mixture.

Arbuckles brand, Ariosa, moved westward. A combination of java and mocha was jamoca. In the lumber camps you might hear “blackjack” or “blackstrap”. The freighters called it “black water”. Every chuck wagon had a coffee grinder securely bolted to its side.  Cowboys on the range knew of no other brand. The cowman’s term, “plum barefooted,” was strong coffee that would “kick up in the middle and pack double.” “Six-shooter” coffee was strong enough to float a pistol. Weak coffee was called “dishwater”, “belly wash”, or “brown gargle”.

Whole beans were packed in one-pound packages, and there were 100 to every burlap sack. Every tightly packed pound-bag of Ariosa included a peppermint stick. Eager cow hands would volunteer to grind coffee in return for the candy. So shove out of your bedroll and pull on your boots. The fire’s going and the coffee is almost ready.

Bacon in the pan,

Coffee in the pot;

Get up an’ get it,

Get it while it’s hot.

Visit the Arbuckle Coffee website for more information.


For more information on cowboy camp coffee, watch this very informative video by Cowboy Cook Kent Rollins on YouTube. Click here.

REF: ARBUCKLES. The Coffee that Won the West, by Franicis Fugate. Texas Western Press, 1994.

Natalie Bright is a blogger, author and speaker. Her fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades is a great read for the entire family, and the RESCUE ANIMAL series features true stories about horses.  Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017). She is currently researching the great cattle driving era for a book about cattle drives and chuck wagons coming soon in 2020.