Side Trail Article
I was a cub reporter working for a small town paper called the Daily News. It was my first day on the job and as I recall, my first assignment went something like this...
“Scott, have you ever heard of Cowboy Coffee?” my boss asked.
I replied enthusiastically. “No sir, can't say that I have, but If you'd like me to find out, I'm on it.”
“I like your spunk son. The story's yours. Run with it. Lets see what you can do.”
The boss walked back to his office and closed the door behind him.
Being my first assignment, I wanted to do it right. I fired up my computer and began with a little research.
I found next to no online information about its history, but quite a few versions of how to brew it. Nothing unusual here except for the humor, I thought.
Seems like that part of the recipe varies widely, but I certainly wasn't seeing a story here.
I’m a coffee lover. I admit it. I love a good cup of hot coffee. I’m not talking about one of those expensive $tarbuck$ flavored coffee drinks. I’m talkin’ about plain ol' strong, black coffee. The kind that will curl your toes and put hair on your chest. Seems cowboy coffee and I have that much in common. I kept looking. I needed an angle.
I did happen across one article which stated that out on the range, the cook actually roasted green coffee beans by placing them in a skillet and holding it over the fire until the beans turned brown. That was something, but not much.
What I determined was cowboy coffee is a generous helping of fresh ground coffee beans thrown into a pot of boiling water. Some recipes call for an eggshell. Hmm, that's interesting. Some call for the whole egg. Just crack it into the coffee and throw the shell in after it. I Really don’t understand that one. Does it add to the flavor kind of like cream and sugar?
I really didn't know and could only assume it was one of those humorous ingredients I had come across.
The egg trick wasn't the only one. Here are a few more...
'Strain the coffee through an old sock.'
I think it goes without saying that you should use a clean one.
'The coffee should be so thick a six-gun or a horseshoe will float in it.'
Does this mean you may need to eat it with a spoon, like pudding???
If you're wanting real authentic cowboy coffee, you need to make it over a real campfire, sit on the ground and drink it from a tin cup. Be sure to use the remaining coffee to extinguish the campfire.
As I'm sitting at my computer reading this stuff I'm thinking to myself, this is all bullshit. If I'm going to write a great story that my boss will love, I need to get out in the field and get at the truth.
So I decide I need to go where cowboys hang out and actually drink the coffee. I do one more bit of research and something intriguing pops up on my screen. It's a place called the Auction Barn. Cowboys and cattle ranchers go here to auction off their cattle and other country critters like horses, goats, sheep and chickens. Chickens? Well maybe not those.
I'm in luck. There's an auction starting in thirty minutes. I grab my coat and head out.
I get to the Auction Barn just as things are getting up to speed. It's an inside arena complete with a small restaurant and I'm sure they serve Cowboy Coffee here.
Before I try the coffee I decide to see how this auction thing works so I head past the padded booths to a set of old wooden bleachers where a crowd of what I can only guess are cowboys taking in the action on the arena floor before them.
Mostly older men in muddy boots, faded blue jeans and sweat stained cowboy hats. The rest are fairly well dressed. Buyers and sellers I figure. The auctioneer is rattling on incoherently as cattle meander around in the arena. I keep my hands to my sides. I'm here for the coffee. The last thing I want to do is accidentally buy a cow.
After a couple of minutes I figure it's time to get what I came for, but first a restroom call is in order. If you've never visited the restroom at the Auction Barn you're in for a real treat, and I don't mean that in a good way. Can you say dirt and filth??? I'll spare you the details by just saying I feared for my good health as I stood in front of the urinal.
With that experience behind me I took a seat at the counter and ordered a cup of 'Cowboy Coffee'. The waitress gave me a quizzical look as she poured it.
“Are there eggs in your coffee?” I asked.
“Eggs? No, and I didn't strain it through a sock either,” she replied sarcastically.
So, she knows about cowboy coffee, I thought. This has to be the real deal.
Peering into the cup I realized there was no way a horseshoe could float on this stuff.
The waitress stood by as I put the cup to my lips and took a gulp. My eyes opened wide. Should I spit it out or swallow it. The decision is made and I swallow it like a trooper.
“What do you think?” questioned the waitress. “Does it meet your approval?”
Not normally one to tell a bold faced lie, I reasoned with myself that I've never really had cowboy coffee before so I really wasn't sure if this was good or bad. It's what they served, so I assume it's supposed to be good.
“Perfect,” I replied.
As soon as the waitress was distracted, I left. I'd like to say I left with a good taste in my mouth, but that would be another lie.
I headed back to the office to write up my story.
Fifteen minutes after I turned it in, my boss called me into his office. With my story in his hand, he asked me to take a seat. He had a smile on his face which I took as a good sign.
He opened the conversation with a question. “Do you know of the coffee kiosk a couple blocks west of here?”
“No, I'm not familiar with it,” I confessed rather uneasily.
“It just changed hands and the new owners are calling it 'Cowboy Coffee'.” His smile grew wider as a queasy feeling in my stomach began to grow larger. I could tell he was enjoying the moment. He continued. “That's the story I wanted you to write.”
He stopped talking and just smiled at me. Thinking the next words out of his mouth were going to be ones I didn't want to hear, I just sat there not knowing how to respond. He stood up and looked me square in the eye.
Here it comes, I thought.
He reached across his desk and handed me the story. “It's not what I was after, but this is damn good writing. We'll go with it.
I walked out of his office. Now I was the one with a smile on my face.
And there you have it. My first story, Cowboy Coffee, good to the last drop. Ask any cowboy.
All kidding aside, coffee was a big part of the American Western tradition. It was strong, hot and very much loved by the men who made and drank it.