Cowboys Drinking Coffee At Night – Coffee’s Importance To The Cowboy Lifestyle

by Derrick | Last Updated: February 20, 2022

Simply put, cowboys drink coffee at night to stay awake.

Coffee was important because it helped them digest their food and get through the long, hard days of work. It is also a way that they could stay alert and perform their duties safely and effectively. Coffee became popular with cowboys after the Civil War in order to help them keep up during cattle drives.

Nowadays there are many different types of coffee for people who enjoy drinking it throughout the day or just as an occasional pick-me-up.

Why Did Cowboys Drink Coffee At Night?

Cowboys drank coffee at night mostly to stay awake. In historical times while on a cattle drive cowboys would have to worry at times about staying awake to avoid threats such as attacks from bandits, predators that may try and disrupt the herd or simply to perform chores that they didn’t have time to get to while spending a long day on the horse driving cattle.

Trail boss George Duffield wrote that “during one storm, his men were in the saddle for 60 hours straight, but “hasty rations” of bread and coffee is what helped and kept them going on the road.”

Mental Clarity and Focus

Many people drink coffee for the caffeine boost, but coffee has other benefits as well. Coffee contains antioxidants and polyphenols, which have been shown to improve mental clarity and focus. In fact, caffeine is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world, and it’s ability to improve mental performance is one of the reasons why. In history, cowboys obviously didn’t have the scientific knowledge to know this, but they probably did realize the anecdotal evidence based on trial and error and personal experience.

Boosts In Physical Performance

Coffee is a popular drink because it has many benefits. One of these benefits is that it can improve physical performance. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant that can improve athletic performance. The boost in mental clarity and focus we discussed earlier may also help with physical performance.

Marginal Water

Back in the day water quality was always suspect. When coffee would be prepared the water would first be boiled. Boiling water will kill 99% of the bacteria. This means that boiled water was much safer than just regular unboiled water. This would be one less thing for cowboys to worry about.

Coffee would also make the marginal water taste better. Coffee is made with boiled water, so when coffee was added to the water it would make it safe for drinking and also make the “flat” taste of boiled water taste better.

How Did Cowboys Make Coffee?

Cowboys prepared their coffee in a pot over an open fire or on hot coals. They often used large enamel coffee pots that were approximately 3-5 gallons. Over time the pots were blackened by smoke and cowboys said that the coffee tasted better as the pot became used more.

This size pot was the standard for a working group of ten to twelve men. They poured ground roasted coffee beans in the pot, mixed with water, and waited until the liquid started overflowing outside the pot.

Coffee was always served piping hot, before it was distributed among the men.

Early on settlers would bring coffee beans with them, often green, and have to roast them in cast iron over the fire. This was far from ideal! Later on, two popular brands for cowboys were Folgers and Arbuckles’ Coffee. Arbuckles was so common in the old west that it became the universal name for coffee.

How Much Coffee Did Cowboys Drink?

One cook, Oliver Nelson, wrote that he used about 175 pounds of coffee beans each month for the cowboys he cooked for. This was an amazing amount of coffee, so it really illustrates just how much coffee was consumed by cowboys.

Cowboys would drink anywhere between four and ten cups of coffee each day, depending on how long their shifts were and what they were doing. For example, cowboys that worked longer hours would typically need more coffee to keep themselves awake in addition to what was drunk during meals.

Wrapping Up

Cowboys drank coffee at night mostly to stay awake while on the job, which really was the primary reason. The caffeine in coffee helped them stay alert and focused. Without having a lot of other options, coffee also was a pretty common staple to drink with most meals.