Mind, Body . . . C-o-f-f-e-e !


“Black as the devil, Hot as hell, Pure as an angel, Sweet as love”

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838)


In 1804, Deacon and Medical Doctor Caleb Child opened a coffee house in Poughkeepsie.  It was not the first place to serve coffee in Poughkeepsie, but it was perhaps the most lucrative coffee house because it could be associated with health.  The owner of this coffee house was Caleb Child, a physician.  Dr. Child was in his seventh year of medical practice in the valley, one of the first physicians to receive his MD license from the state back in 1798 just a few months after the new medical licensure law was passed.

The way in which Dr. Child earned and received his degree is “different”, to say the least.  He was trained in religion and natural philosophy at Harvard, making him one of the first local physicians to also be a Harvard graduate.  But he did not learn medicine at Harvard, only the natural philosophy that would later define the kind of medicine he would practice–a form of medicine which the locally referred to as “medical electricity”.   

To practice medical electricity, one needed only a superficial understanding of human anatomy and physiology.  This was because the skill set for being a medical electrician did not require much internal anatomical, physiological, and pathology knowledge.  This also meant that the education Caleb received from his Harvard professors in physiology and anatomy could be sufficient for practicing this new form of medicine.  Even though Caleb Child probably had just a few months of experience working alongside someone else interested in and practicing medical electricity, somewhere between Albany and Poughkeepsie, this provided him with enough education in the practical skills needed to become a medical electrician.

Once he began practicing medical electricity in Poughkeepsie around the turn of the century, Caleb Child began to broaden his interests in this particular breed of medical philosophy.  Most of the doctors practicing in the Dutchess County area were trained in both the physics and metaphysics of medicine.  It may have seemed somewhat peculiar for someone who was trained more in religion than medicine to be licensed to be a doctor due simply to his clinical experience and an understanding of the most controversial topic in medicine for the time–medical electricity.  Nevertheless, this interest in metaphysical medicine had its followers, especially some of the local politicians involved with local legal, governmental and policing responsibilities.  

Policing was now an important part of medicine due to the roles police played in maintaining a sane and sanitary living space within the urban settings.  Police were responsible for inspecting meats to be sure they are not unhealthy through the development of putrescence related to poor curing barreling and storage procedures.   They made sure the local water remained free of filth.  They made sure the local farm products sold by local grocers such as fruits and vegetables, breads and other grain products, were able to pass their inspections for size, weight, lack of rot, and amount and type of pure grain or product used to produce the final baked goods.  Food was as much an object of public health concern and public health inspection as rum and whiskey, locally made beer, and locally roasted and cured coffee beans–the source for the miasma that caused the yellow fever that struck Philadelphia just a few years earlier, according to Benjamin Rush.

Food contamination and spoilage were considered two of the most common causes for disease. As Rush noted in Philadelphia, the putridity of roasting coffee beans was one such example of this contagion. nonetheless, Caleb Child and other local physicians paid no heed to Rush’s warning about the unhealthiness of the stench of the bean, or the related coffee brewing and drinking.  As a result, the first merchant ships with large amounts of the smelly coffee beans probably started arriving in Poughkeepsie again some time in the very early 1800s.  

Due to its fame as a tonic and stimulant to the body, coffee was highly respected due to its ability to revitalize anyone willing to engage in the risk of imbibing this controversial beverage. Caleb Child’s natural medical philosophy attracted him to this particular line of goods for sale at his stores and later at his cafe because the effects of coffee on the body had everything to do with the vital spark or force of life in the body. This meant that Dr. Smith’s coffee house could even be viewed as providing some sort of service to the people, providing a service that was previously lacking from this region. 

Unlike the other havens for socialization during this time, Caleb Smith’s Coffee House was a place where people could congregate without having to be concerned with the misbehaviors of drunkards. It was the place where important business decisions and agreements could be made,
and where important political gatherings cold take place.
Coffee Taverns

In the cities of Philadelphia, Boston and New York, taverns often served coffee to customers.  The most successful places not only had highly skilled individuals operating the kitchens and breweries.  Brewing coffee was a skill itself, especially if you were able to import some raw coffee beans from such places as Brazil or Jamaica, the most productive countries growing coffee around this time.   A good chef was also a coffee brewer, and a good manager of the establishment more than willing to share a cup or two filled to the brim with ‘mud’.

Due to the philosophy of Brunonianism, nervous energy was considered important to the body’s physiological functions and ‘life energy’  With this in mind, Caleb Child promoted his tonic hoping to satisfy the local queries made about such teachings.  The average individual could hypothesize and believe that nervous energy was an important link to vitality and health, the cause for many diseases.  Caleb Child probably added to this philosophy the notion that coffee was the means to improving your mind, your passions, your life’s experiences.  After all, due to his training at Harvard by one of the best experts in natural philosophy, Samuel Williams, Caleb should know how the best cup of coffee should be made, at least for healthy body and healthy mind.

This popular view about coffee helped to promote some of the newer theories about health, theories which defined the flow of blood as the link to our soul much less our brain, assisting the “vital spark” along in its biological processes.  The vital spark make each and every living being’s heart tick. It controls the nerves, the heart, the muscles we use each and every day.  And even when we are is suspended animation, the spark has not left the body yet.  We need only to revive it to come back to a state of full consciousness and being.

Two theories existed when the vital spark popularity became the public rage.  The first of these two theories was the next version of disease theory initiated before the war,  “solidified” during the years of the war as well as afterwards.    Were it not for Brown’s nervous energy theory, this may have become the most popular philosophy of disease for the late 1790s and early 1800s in the United States.  Unfortunately, the solidist theory did relate too much to specific body parts, much like its Dutch precursor of 1760, Bordenism, which placed a heavy emphasis on three of these organs and their most important roles in maintaining life and well-being.  Medicine during this time was also in a dilemma academically.  Professors were offering cadaver studies of the human body, making use of local bodies such as those of criminals, and unfortunately the elders of famous local families now deceased.  This did not receive much support locally, and in 1787 even resulted in a mob scene in New York City at the medical school when its president Samuel Bard was accused of engaging in inappropriate, disrespectful teaching practices.

One way to reduce this emphasis on the physical body parts when it came to better understanding disease was to substitute the older solidist theory for disease, with the blood, nerves and various forms of energy used to the link each and every biological process together. Child’s profession took this important step in changing medicine into some precursor to the transcendental movement it would become about 20 or 30 years later.   Caleb Child believed in medical electricity, nervous energy and the vital spark.  His coffee served as proof of such claims.

One additional proof that coffee served as the spark for the life processes came in 1803 by an essay on coffee written and published by Samuel Hahnemann.  Hahnemann was the creator of homeopathy, a medical philosophy and system that relied heavily upon the underlying energy or force of medicines (contemporary terms, not exactly Hahnemann’s terms for this) instead of the substance of medicines.   Hahnemann’s work reached the New York region by way of the German communities, some of whom read the popular German journal for the time published by Hufeland.  It was through this journal that the philosophical proposals about medicines, poisons and the magnetism of medicines were made popular  by Hahnemann.  Educated by Harvard, and well trained in the natural philosophy published in Latin and other languages, Caleb Child could probably translate and interpret these writings as they made their way through the local Palatine, Rhinelander and other German communities.

Coffee drinking demonstrated to many of its future habitual consumers that there was some sort of chemistry or substance within its fluid that helped to excite the brain, body and mind. It made us more productive individuals than ever before.  It made its drinker capable of reaching new goals in life.   Coffee allowed for a unique new philosophy to be formed, a new idea to be realized, a new business to be formed.  According to Caleb Child’s teachings and philosophy from Harvard, coffee could become one of the final resources needed for us to completely reverse  the old-fashioned pre-Revolutionary War philosophies about disease.  Following our recovery from the great war depression, coffee became more American than any other common beverage, its promotion supported by the philosophical teachings Dr. Child provided about body, mind and health, a philosophy better than those of the famous Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia or New York’s Samuel Bard and David Hosack.   Caleb Child was our local equivalent to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin.   Educated at Harvard, he was also a classmate of our president-to-be–John Quincy Adams.

From Tea to Coffee

Coffee made its way into the New World some time during the 1600s.   During its first years it was more a recognized medicine and tonic than a recreational drink like bohea tea, rum, bitters and beer.  But like any drink popular along most commercial avenues and cultural settings,  there was that stage in it history which began with the sale of coffee beans as a product via shipping ports and captains’ or investors’  homes, followed by its introduction to the mercantile businesses in operation.  Due to its growing popularity, specialty shops took on the coffee bean and a rapidly expanding market came to be.

The global marketing of coffee was just as important as the marketing of sugar loaves and molasses, west indies spices, tobacco, and chocolate.  The history of the coffee bean was very much like that of cacao or chocolate.  The Dutch helped bring this market to fruition.  Their unique discovery of a method to extracting the “nectar of the gods” chocolate from such an unsuspecting natural product as the cacao bean required a unique knowledge of its behavior chemically as a food product.  What they learned about chocolate and the need for an alkaline formula to extract and produce this new tonic was an opportunity missed by other countries hoping to beat their competition.  The same kinds of events took place with caffea bean, although the chemical processes were not so complex this time, and popular plant product of the tropics turned tonic and medicine–the cola bean.  By the end of the colonial period in North American history, with each of these industries now nearly perfected, it was coffee that won out and become the most important tonic and stimulant of the new Americans.   Only one other equally addicting natural product preceded caffea, Papaver somniferum or Turkish Opium.

Together, Turkish Opium and Coffee were two products that worked on the body in opposing manners.  Traditionally, the most popular use of opium latex was the becalm the digestive tract, especially whenever some has such a severe case of diarrhea, dysentery or cholera that the outcome of the illness could soo become fatal.  Aside from inebriating the body and mind of someone taken so ill, opium helped to reverse much of the symptomatology and anguish a patient felt, enabling the other medicines taken with it to work as well, in some tonifying manner, complete and successful when it came to inducing the “cure”.  Caffea and its coffee tonic on the other hand offered another tonifying effect acting in an opposing manner on the body.  Whereas opium brought you and your nervous energy down according to brunonian thinking, made your body less active and less energetic, coffee tonics revitalized you and brought a formerly sick individual back to life.  Had you another disease to worry about, coffee tonics satisfied the needs for an inward cure.  These tonics got your kidneys working again, made your stomach enunciate its need for food and motility through the ‘growl’, and took your over-fatigued mind and brought it back to its former highly productive state.

All of this was due to the main chemical ingredient of coffee–caffeine, a substance not to be identified for nearly a century after its initial marketing in the early 1700s.  This unidentified ‘nectar of the other gods’ made made its irresistible.  However, the obvious effect coffee had on the mind led to a very early movement headed by women against the imbibing of this tonic.  As early as the coffee hit the western European trade, there were substitutes out there being marketed as well, none of which unknowingly had the magical ingredient of the caffea bean–caffeine.  Roasted wheat, beans and bark substitutes were out there as soon as coffee became a hit with many a man and husband.  The coffee bean substitute would never produce its own successful industry over the next hundred years, and many of the women so against this magical source of physical, mental and passionate stimulation either appreciated it greatly due to their husbands’s behavior  following such a drink, or became the next victim of a husband falling victim to such passions and uncontrollable mindsets with the lady next door.  Coffee itself was the work of the devil to some, to others it was a food of the Gods, be they materialistic “Gods” showing the way to local entrepreneurs, or philosophical Gods trying to interpret and distinguish right from wrong in a more rapidly engaged tonic-addicted society.  If your were a good husband or man of the house, wishing to stay healthy, you began your day with a bitter, earthy coffee, and ended your day with a sour, bitter beer, partaking in West India Rum, Ginger-based ales, and Gentian Bitters on and off throughout the day.


A History of Caffea Medicina

In Benjamin Moseley’s A treatise concerning the properties and effects of coffee published in 1792, the following important history of coffee is provided.


The healthiness of coffee houses had already been tested in the Middle East near Mecca.   The Judicial leaders in local towns had to deal with whether or not coffee was a beverage allowed by traditional kosher law, and just how moral the social aspect of this tradition could be.  Coffee houses were a common establishment in these communities and their effects upon the local religious practices were queried, resulting in the following summary of their impacts on local religious tradition published as part of the 1792 treatise:


 The introduction of coffee to European culture was not as a beverage as much as it was as a tonic.  Even though imbibing in a coffee drink had the exhiliarating effects well known by experienced users, other people who were not so much in search of the excitant effects of its chemistry favored it due to its tonifying effects on the stomach and intestines following a heavy, and physically trying meal of sour foods and poorly processed and poorly cooked regular food stuffs.  As noted by Mosely:

In support of the ongoing ideology of disease and its causes, the following statement was made about Coffee and health maintenance in people migrated to climates they have not yet been adjusted to (ibid, p. 46).

. . .


These applications for coffee seem very much experiential and at times heroic in nature.  It was promoted as if these discoveries were made by the intelligentsia of the time.  However, many of these early uses of coffee for treating specific illnesses developed much like similar philosophies were produced for the herbal medicine industry.   Some speculation was made about specific uses due to an ideology that was at times as much folklore based as its was philosophically based.   The simplest interpretation of coffee use asa medicine may be related mostly to appearances, smell and taste.   The colors of the coffee bean could be interpreted as mucosal (the unroasted, whitish, ivory bean) to biliary (aka cholic, yellowish, tannish, or  light brown) to melancholic (deep brown to black or burnt) depending upon the degree to which the bean was roasted.  The smell of the freshly roasted bean was very much “earthy” and when added to hot water produced a brew that represented a balance of these two elements.    But the strong earthy, bitter taste of the roasted bean made certain its uses had very much to do with tonifying the body, ranging from help at the cholic or biliary level to the melancholic or very stressful, and sometimes potentially fatal melancholic level.

In the human psychological sense, evidence for this latter use could be interpreted by the effects that caffea arabica had on the melancholic or deeply saddened and depressed brain and human psyche.  Anyone seemingly fatigued with life, in a poor mental state, unhappy to sad, or overly sleepy due to little vital force, could be successful rejuvenated and enervated by the effects of this tonic.  It’s ability to revitalize the inner organs became immediately apparent due to the tendency of the consumer to soonafter have need for a latrine.  This represented to old-time Bordenian-trained former colonial old-timers the possibility that caffea could work by rejuvenating the body’s inner energies and nerve energies (a philosophy interpretable through Brunonian thinking as well), claiming that the several vital force sources in the body produced by the heart, lung and stomach were balancing with the remaining parts of the body’s total energy.  This effect of caffea upon the kidney would symbolize to these philosophers the possibility that coffee rejuvenated the heart, instestines and kidneys.  If they were in the least familiar with the Chi concept in Chinese philosophy (much evidence for which exists), they may have also surmised that the Oriental similar yin-chi was provided by caffea, no wonder the Turks imbibed it so much (yin-chi is the kidney essence; today, its theoretical effects upon the body are considered parallel to the adrenal glands activities) .

There are numerous of traditions associated with partaking in coffee consumption today that are very much a by-product of past medical traditions when it came to imbibing this uniquely exciting bitter tonic.  One of the more unusual habits people have with coffee was developed in 1675 thanks to German physician Nieuhoff–sugar and milk became popular additives to coffee.



Over time the use of coffee as a treatment for pulmonary complaints, in particular consumption or tuberculosis, was substantially reduced in popularity.   In rural environmental settings and especially in settings here consumption seemed to prevail, like the cold, humid climates of the mid-Atlantic and northward American colonial settings, caffea was a god-send due to its use in treating the most endemic disease of this region–consumption or tuberculosis.  This is how and why milk became a popular part of the caffea dietary practice.



The following description of the stimulating effects of caffea on the body made this drink seem more like a nerve tonic and excitant than a cure for lung diseases,  dropsy, pleurisy, or whatever else may ail you.  Sleep and health were very much a popular topic in the medical field.  Somnambulism had become a major social disease that permeated much of the psychological writings being published for the first time.  The ability to sleep walk and yet appear awake was a fairly common topic of discussion when it came to better understanding the human mind-body relationship.  A number of very unique culturally defined diseases had erupted in the medical field about this time.  The ability of people, to speak, sing, pray and walk whilst supposedly still asleep mimicked some of the well-staged and highly popular presentations given at lectures occasionally held about mesmerism, now being called the field of hypnosis, and the ability of the mind and brain to work independently of each other–the ability of someone to not even know he/she is behaving like a child, or talking with a deceased family member, or claiming to be a famous individual whom he/she is not.  Through hypnosis, people could be put asleep.  Due to somnambulism, they could behave as though they were awake.   Due to coffee, they could guarantee to everyone that they would be awake, and behave like a somniferant, with the opportunity to be actively thinking or walking, as well as the opportunity to finally become so exhausted and fatigued that the next sleep period they experienced would fully regarding–the ‘post-tonic crash’ one could say.


In Essays medical, philosophical, and experimental   (Warrington, 1788), “Essay IX.  On Coffee” (Vol. 1, 4 ed, pp. 351-8),  p. 354:

 vis vitae = [Latin] energy of life

 Tonics have often been associated with treating the intestinal tract.  The bitter tonic is most closely linked to the successful treatment of the stomach following a bad or near-dangerous meal of half-rotted, imperceivable decayed foodstuffs.  The typical bitter tonic for the upset stomach was the tincture of gentiana, a substance still unmatched by most other plants that can serve as tonics.  The ales, stouts, and other hops beverages also served as tonics, but the “exciting” effect of alcohol had its problems when overly consumed or consumed for exceptionally long periods of time.  Caribbean Rum, French Wines, various forms of “beer” made from roots, did little to appease the ailing stomach in many cases, when a simple caffea arabica beverage seemed to always be effectively at reducing the discomforts of these poor eating habits.

The Coffee House

According to British historians, this version of the “elixir of life” was first served regularly in the public setting as early as the 14th century in Constantinople.  The first Coffee house in Western Europe was opened some time around 1650.  In England, the first coffee house opened in Oxford and was called Le Grand Cafe.  It was followed by the Queen’s Lane Coffee House  four years later (see wikipedia).

By the time coffee became popular, two other sources were well known for their stimulating effects.  Chocolate was successfully manufactured by the Dutch with the caffeine-like theobromine.  The various versions of teas produced from the leaves of Thea (or Camellia) grown in the Orient had their theophylline.

Like any natural resource used to make food and drink, medicinal properties were linked to these special effects provided with coffee.  In  “A character of coffee and coffee-houses“, “M.P.” provides us with some insight into these uses for this tonic and elixir:

“‘Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head.”

The migration of these coffee traditions to the New World began with a transfer of seedlings by the French, from Arabia to Isle of Bourbon by the East-India Company in 1717, soonafter followed by a similar transfer made by the English to Martinico in 1720 (Moseley, p. 34).  After ten years, the trees that were planted became productive and some of the first beans were harvested from them.   At first, coffee houses were mostly places where these beans were roasted beans and then processed into a tonic for later service to customers.  But the best businesses were coffee houses that roasted their own beans to provide a fresh brew, like the beer breweries common to many of the colonial town settings.  This meant that coffee houses had to be built in close association with the shipping ports that brought in the raw, partially processed beans, delivering these raw goods to the roasting house and adjacent brewery where tonics could be made and served fresh.    For this reason many coffee houses had several features about them in terms of utilization and appearance.  They were often multi-floored, with the uppermost floor serving as a storage place and possible a roasting house.  But they also had other floors or sections of floors designed for use in brewing, including even basement facilities, for varying kinds of use.  One of the more attractive features of a coffee house was the smell of its roaster.  For this reason many of these places were often well located and in the best of cases distant enough from any adjacent facilities designed to process and brew barley and hops into beers.  The sourish smell of the latter countered the enticing and even “stimulating” smell of the former.

Sanity and mental health were also the by-products of imbibing a caffea tonic.  Coffee offered its decoction consumers the hyperactive thinking mind, thereby facilitated one’s control of the passions, or in the worst of cases turning the passions in the primary cause for emotional, domestic and intellectual failures.  And when the passions went out of control, coffee made the mind agile enough to assign reason, and excuses for one’s changes in personal behaviors.   This made the coffee a unique place for socializing, for which reason its placement within a town or city setting was very important to its owner and its clientele.  By facilitating such socialization, even in the most primitive of settings, the coffeehouse became as a place where a man could meet a lady for the night, or for just a few hours.  In London, coffee houses were a popular substitute for similar barroom, another place frequented by residents and wayfarers searching for temporary bed-partners.

Paris Café, London

Like any public meeting place, room and board were possible for some of the coffee houses.  But this required that the overnight tenants tolerate whatever other events occured in the building.  Sleeping next to a barrel in the alley behind the brewhouse filled with sour hops and fermented barley was different than trying to sleep within an atmosphere filled with the aroma of roasting coffee beans.  Sometimes rooms were provided in these buildings where special meetings could be held.  But by the late 1700s and early 1800s, we find examples of coffee providers serving the community more than as just hotels and taverns filled with beer and coffee for the morning drink.  The more highly skilled tavern owners set up in places where beans could be roasted in the main facility, and hops and barley brewed in a distant back yard barn, far enough away from the eatery to not deter the more sensitive of potential customers.


Throughout the 1800s, this enlargement of the coffee house-tavern-brewery setting was a traditional path taken by successful businesses.  During the earliest years of local Poughkeepsie history, the coffee related businesses served either as roasted bean merchants, bean roasters and servers, or in Dr. Child’s case, as a place meant to draw people together into a single place for coffee consumption, proselytizing, and various forms of political and personal gallivanting.  How and why people frequented Child’s Coffee-House was up to the clients and the advertisers for this lucrative business.  Although a physician, Caleb Child marketed his café more like a businessman.  There were multiple reasons for its use by locals and visitors, with or without any mention of the true medical value of coffee.  The value coffee had to the community was obvious, and required minimal advertising due to its stimulating effects on the Poughkeepsie community.   Caleb Child’s coffee house was to be frequented for whatever reasons one’s imaginative mind came up with.  If you could not imagine a reason to visit his place, take oa sip of his coffee, wait a few minutes, and more than likely a good reason to visit, and then return on a daily basis would come to be.    Coffee was as important to the social scene as it was to the personal psychology and professional scene.  Even the most hyperactive businessmen and entrepreneurs were in need of some coffee each morning of their life.

By the 1770s, the first industry devoted to caffea “bean” (actually a fruit or berry) was established globally.  This included the development of the slave trade required to meet the demands of the plantations established.   By the 1790s, more than half the world’s coffee beans came from these plantations.

The coffee bean first made its way into American plantations via the Carribean some time close to 1720, three centuries into its European history as the failing competition for tea.

During the 172os, a well established commercial route established between the Caribbean and New York City.  From 1720 to 1800, the bulk of the caffeinated food and beverage market in general consisted mostly of Oriental Tea (Bohea and Souchong) Teas and to a lesser extent, Theobroma or the Chocolate-Cacao-Sugar Cane market developed by the Dutch, followed finally by the Coffee Bean Industry.   The impetus needed to introduce caffea beverages to what was now the United States would of course focus on these other trade routes already well established.

During the late 18th century, the following coffee-related cooking and brewing utensils were developed.

It took the first United States citizens just a short time to realize that coffee after a meal was very much a helpful addition to an already multi-course menu.

Caleb Child helped the people of Poughkeepsie learn this bit of truth about coffee.  As a physician and doctor of the soul, mind and body, he was one of the most learned practitioners in this version of the medical profession.

The American Coffee House

Coffee filled an important need for the global marketplace, and ultimately became more satisfying to American culture than the European world of consumers.  The British never dropped their loyalty to tea, a product very symbolic of their fights with others in the New World, places the Brits tried to consider their own.  In some places, a Brit was a tea drinker, but also a colonist.  But in America, an American colonist whom was no longer a loyalist could demonstrate this patriotism by becoming a coffee drinker.  Once the Revolutionary War was over, American culture could continue to symbolize this loyalty to the new government, by preventing a resurgence of the British owned tea industries.

When coffee first made its way to North America and New York, it was a fairly rare product, and its successes came about due to the Dutch market and former Dutch colonial setting, not simply the English.   As it made its way into the big town settings like Boston and Philadelphia, former British people did admire and on occasion imbibe this tonic, but few became addicted to coffee voluntarily as the substitute for Bohea tea.  

Following the Revolutionary War, all of this loyalism changed.  Partaking in tea was followed by coffee, and finally, the inland migration for the coffee bean commenced.  As many new settlers made their way into the heart of the new nation, coffee made its way inland with them and the various forms of tea were symbolically left to rot in the harbor and in formerly loyal homes still standing in the fairly old harbor towns and villages.  The first and most important of such routes coffee took into the heart of the United States was naturally by way of the Hudson River.  It is for this reason that coffee became more than just a storefront commodity in the valley by 1800.  Next to the motel, there was the coffee house, a place where locals and passer-bys could congregate and exchange their opinions, knowledge and political intelligence (early spies).  This would soon be followed by another, and another, until coffee like American patriotism stomped out the remaining signs of British rule and domination of this non-British, Dutch-centered, multicultural and multinational diverse cultural setting.

The Colonial years were primarily dependent upon the tea market, in particular the marketing and consumption of Oriental tea products like Bohea and Souchong teas.  The success of the tea market was due primarily to the British tradition of tea-drinking, a cultural behavior in need of something more United States in origins for substitutes.

This is how and why the coffee house came to the New World.  The first coffee house was perhaps in Philadelphia, which opened sometime around 1720.  But this public meeting place was pretty much one-of-a-kind.



There is one more addition to medicine and the common social scene that Dr. Child should be recognized for.  He is one of the first to add the coffee-house to his clinical services in Poughkeepsie, serving coffee as a tonic, and to some a medicine.  To much of the United States, coffee was the newest elixir of life that came to this country once the Revolution War and its post-war depression were over.   Thje stimulant effect of Coffee was well known and a major topic of research by physicians.  Due to this effect, many of the beliefs held today about coffee were first generated as soon as coffee made its way to the common marketplace and in particular the public gathering place known as the coffee house.

Unlike other food commodities and rarities, imported or grown at one of the many southern plantations established down near the Carribean, Coffee was needed by everybody.  It was requested by both laborers and office workers alike, both in the public setting as well as at home, where it became a substitute for to old tradition Bohea Tea.  Coffee also provided yet another sense of patriotism to the home setting.  Unlike tea, favored by the British, coffee lacked much of the British tradition attached to tea, such as the drinking of a well-milked and diluted cup of tea every mid-afternoon.   With Coffee, there wasn’t so much of the memory of the European Colonial Oriental produce market to contend with.  Coffee for the most part came from the local colonies, unclaimed lands, islands in the Caribbean, many places where lands could be developed, but no longer of any British style or fostering some malingering British political intent.  Coffee was as much an American commodity and natural resource as it was a resource by lands claimed by European countries.  Coffee was therefore an American product and would soon become a symbol of the United States.

Coffee was the primary symbol of American and United States capitalism during its earliest stages in United States history.  During the period of time that Caleb Child practiced medicine and began selling his coffee beverage, using it to develop a following of avid addicts to this new tonic, other changes were taking place within the United States urban setting that helped to differentiate the rich from the poor more than ever before.  The Irish in particular were developing their first street gangs, any farms remaining on Manhattan Island were becoming a space and public health problem, as hogs occasionally broke through the fences and left their waste and other products on previously smooth and non-puddled dirt roads.  The plan road became a necessity due to the escape of many of these domesticated boards now turned “road-hogs”, making it hard at times for carriages to pass, and any trip taken to Harlem Springs for use of its miraculous healing waters a weekend recreational event sometimes being more like a luxury than an affordable form of recreation for any sized family no matter its income.


The opening of a coffee house in Poughkeepsie also had attached to its a certain amount of glamor we attach today to business and military espionage escapades.  Such a public setting was typically a common place for officials to share knowledge and experiences, be it government or not.  These settings may have even served a small portion of the spy market and industry.  This coffee house was where the charlatans made their stay for the night,  where musicians, authors and poets made a stop to share a bit of themselves with others seated at the tables.  This coffee house was where the locals came to know each other better, and perhaps even became at times one of the places where the first arguments developed, as one politician laid forth an embarassing statement about another, one of the places where arguments often began, and then ended on the street in the form of a duel.

Coffee Houses added to the local culture of one’s otherwise very isolated social life.  The coffee house was not a quiet dining room setting, nor was it a loud and overly vocal pub or steak house doubling as a hotel and place of stay for special women.  Coffee Houses like that of Dr. Caleb Child, due to his professional history, were more than likely business settings where the philosophy for the times could be taken advantage of, and for Dr. Child, philosophy meant everyting when it came to life, vitality, and that daily cup of coffee.

The Poughkeepsie Coffee House

In 1804, Deacon and Medical Doctor Caleb Child opened his first coffee house in Poughkeepsie.  This was probably not the first place to serve coffee in Poughkeepsie, but it was the most lucrative.  In the cities of Philadelphia, Boston and New York, a number of taverns were serving coffee to customers.  The more successful places not only had highly skilled individuals operating the kitchens and breweries, brewing coffee was a skill in itself, especially if you obtained the raw coffee beans from such places as Brazil or Jamaica, two of the most productive countries growing coffee by this time.  Brewing coffee required the business have great brewing equipment, either imported from Europe or engineered locally by a metalworker or smith.


Between 1790 and 1820, the Poughkeepsie Village underwent rapid change in size, population and architecture.  Original Dutch architecture was quickly replaced by new styles.  A number of the early Colonial, Georgian and Neoclassical styles remained.  But for the most part, for utilitarian reasons, the villages quickly developed into styles resembling the above Truro, English setting for 1810.  According to advertisements, news items, and notices about new laws published in the the Poughkeepsie Journal, public places were required such as centralized hay sites for horses and horse quarters, public well facilities, a public place defined for storing the supplies needed to deal with fires, an inspector’s building where meats were inspected for freshness, bread loaves for predefined weights and sizes, and various other store products linked to high pricing.  Laws were passed requiring streets, walkways and yards be kept clean of debris, leaves, and the like.  Animal and livestock control laws were adopted. 

Caleb Child’s coffee house had to be one of the first to open in the fairly small but rapidly growing village in New York state like Poughkeepsie, due in large part to the French Revolution and the recent migration of French scholars, artisans. philosophers, scientists and doctors to the United States since the late 1780s.   As this large amount of French culture made it way into New York and the Hudson Valley, coffee wasn’t necessarily a tag along of French Culture, but the idea of a coffee house combined well with everything else the French brought to the United States with them.  French bread, pastries, and sweets were matched by the French knowledge, ideas, imagination, and various forms of scientific thinking and intelligentsia-designed craftsmanship.  This enabled the Coffee House to become something opposite of what a pub or motel restaurant had become during this time.  The French made the coffee house the meeting place and recreational space that we still think of it as today.  The coffee house was where the Dutch discovered coffee products were consumed next to the delicate French pastries and fine cookery, whilst discussion about Great Britain’s politics and Prussian and Turkish political rights prevailed throughout much of these conversations.   Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Congressman Mitchell were all given topics of discussion.  The unstable commercial practices engaged in by the French versus the United States, and the related disputes Americans had with England about the Woolen Law in the process of being passed by Parliament, all helped set the stage as to how and why a coffee house would soon become on of the most important public settings for important political conversations to take place, be they between political and local community leaders, or between relatively uninvolved citizens, farmers and countrymen who on occasion might have frequented these places.   Intellectual discussions such as these meant everything to the Poughkeepsie citizen, be he or she rich or poor.  A place like Child’s helped inspired the other political meetings that often happened during these years.  It was where arguments first arose amongst people ready and willing to engage in a pistol duel the next time such an event took place, just outside the front or rear entrance to Child’s place, with the ultimate goal of becoming a a common part of the local news during the early 1800s.

The Coffee House however was not a place where drunkards pretending to be politicians and important community leaders, or vice versa, made their statements and opinions public, or had their final says.  The Coffee house could be an intellectual retreat, one that could be visited by women and their children, and by men not interested in the insecure minds of poorly educated, squabbling locals and visitors.  The addition of such a place to the Poughkeepsie village gave local artisans and craftsman a place to show off their trade skills and local French scholars newly arrived from the French Revolution a place to share their teachings and philosophies.

The Coffee house was yet another addition to the village of Poughkeepsie that added as much cultural meaning as the Italian Jewish lampmaker (like the Del Vecchios, the precedent to Tiffany), numerous multilinguists, singers and theatricians, dancing teachers, musicians that offered their products, and Masters of numerous other arts with rare skills up for sale to the next apprentice.


Early 19th Century Coffee Apparati

Dr. Child’s Coffee Tonic

Dr. Child introduced the roles of caffeine and the coffee house into the Poughkeepsie lifestyle.  Due to Dr. Child, the chemical stimulant was becoming a part of the daily life experience.  Anyone willing to visit his social place was also willing to engage in the most popular gossip and intellectual exchanges of the local countryside.

Dr. Child’s coffee house was very much a social scene in Poughkeepsie.  It was an additional place people could go to and frequent, besides the hotel or inn setting with its bar and restaurant.   The almost city-like social setting of Poughkeepsie in fact required such improvements in the public setting to be developed during the early 1800s.  Poughkeepsie was one of the primary stopping points for people escaping the larger cities each time they were struck by yellow fever.   The Poughkeepsie newspapers demonstrate this diversification of the city of Poughkeepsie through the addition of French Language and Classical music teachers, an Italian Jewish Stained Glass Lampmakers industry, painters, sculptors, opera singers, and other artisans largely lacking from this setting during the years prior to the yellow fever era of local history.  These social changes not only taught the locals more about the international life experience, but also made then consumers of some of these new wares, replacing the Oriental tea with the Arabic and Turkish Coffee experience.

People could attend a coffee house and not have to worry about advances by local drunkards and disorderly, fowl smelling ship captains and self-proclaimed entrepreneurs.  They could visit the coffee house, either in morning or late night, to meet up with more straight-headed customers, friends, neighbors and visitors with a little more class, stamina and vigor than the detonified and unhealthy social outcast.

The Chemistry of Caffea and Coffee

The discovery of chemicals as an important constituent in medicinal plants came some time during the late 1700s.   The notion of purifying and isolating important chemicals is a product of natural events- such as the formation of Epsom Salts or Glauber’s salts by specific mineral springs.  But the idea that plants bore chemicals in them that could be responsible for their medical effects was a new concept in medicine around 1800.  In particular, the alkaline material considered to be so influential upon health during the late 17th and much of the 18th century due to Boerhaave’s concept of alkaline humours in the body increased the focus some scientists had on the reason for alkaline features.  Whereas the first alkaline characteristics of the body were ultimately related to the discoveries of oxygen and carbon dioxide, the latter then known as carbonic acid, the resulting increase in attention paid to chemistry allowed scientists to visualize the notion of an alkaline chemical product, an extract and at times a fairly pure substance derived from plant extractions which came to be known as “alkaloids.”  The first of these alkaline chemicals extracted from drug plants were the products of opium latex like morphine and even heroin, and the chemicals related to the quinine of cinchona such a quinine.  The concept of a purified chemical behaving like a drug mimicked another part of the discpline of medicine and pharmacy, the belief that mineral remedies mimicked plant based remedies, but were much stronger in these effects and therefore required less substance to be provided to a patient as a medicine.   The resulting transition into mineral remedies this results in between 1790 and 1810 was a primary reason the medical field split into its regular and “irregulars”, the latter believing more in the value of the plant remedy versus the mineral remedy.

As more and more alkaloids were documented between 1800 and 1815, the chemical in caffea (not a true alkaloid, but really a purine analog, but that’s a different story based on metabolic pathways and the like) that was isolated by Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, caffeine, in 1819.  This would ultimately become the primary reason that both the use and marketing of coffee changed during the remaining decades of the 19th century.  Caffeine remained a major marketing feature of caffea products, and was the reason that the notion of the use of caffea first and a nervous energy stimulant (ca. 1800), and later as a tonic and stimulant (1810-1835), and finally as a nervous system stimulant impacting nerve activities and the activities of the brain, mood, mind, reflexes, autonomic nerves and emotions (1835 onward),  were all important steps taken for the development of the caffea products into a luxury, a drink for the most needy, the ill, the poor and the rich.  Dr. Caleb Child gave coffee and caffea arabica tonics new meaning in the Poughkeepsie village setting.

Whereas Opium latex made many a person, physician or not, addicted to what was called Laudanum, and cinchona turned doctors and patients into addicts of the bark for any and all fevers to strike the human body, Dr. Child’s coffee house and its caffea bitters or tonics addicted members of Poughkeepsie to his new form of social recreational “drug”.  Dr. Child’s Coffee house resulted in the social addiction of local people to caffea, leading to a social practice that continued in this village and later city settings long after his death.

Other References, Notes

1782 – The gentleman’s magazine, and historical chronicle, Volume 52, “Historical Chronicle”, March 12, p. 201, notes the rules that the wholesale dealers of the coffee market must abide by.

Caleb Child’s Biography, from Elias Child’s Biography . . . (1881)

Genealogy [Source Elias Child, p. 424]