Soluble Coffee on the Desert
by Bob Jaussaud
“What the heck is soluble coffee?” That’s what we wondered when we saw an old metal tin labeled “soluble coffee” laying in the desert sand. Sue and I explore on the desert when we need a desert ﬁx, which is often. Last week we discovered rock alignments we had not seen before. They were military alignments left over from Patton’s training camps of WWII.Walking through the alignments, we saw the small metal lid with“Barrington Hall Soluble Coffee” embossed on it. Was this a predecessor of instant coffee? Internet research gave us some answers and more information than we anticipated.
It is worthy to note that coffee has been the American drink of choice since King George the Third unfairly taxed our Colonists’ tea. During the Revolutionary War, coffee houses were used as meeting places by the Continental Congress. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was ﬁrst publicly read aloud at theMerchant’s Coffee House (City Tavern) in Philadelphia. If you were a patriot, you drank coffee. Personally, I enjoy feeling very patriotic in the mornings.
Soluble coffee was supposedly invented around 1771 in, of allplaces, Britain. In 1832, Andrew Jackson signed an ExecutiveOrder (probably very unpopular) that replaced the alcohol allotment of each soldier with an allotment of coffee and sugar,but it wasn’t until 1853 that the ﬁrst American soluble coffee was invented. Soluble coffee was actually ﬁeld tested in cake form during the Civil War. Apparently the military has been interested in soldiers’ wakefulness for a very long time. In WWII the military used soluble coffee in the K rations, the soldier’s individual daily combat food ration. Today the military is distributing “Stay Alert” gum, a chewable caffeine that is especially valuable because it is not a diuretic.
I digressed. Moving on, the history of soluble coffee seems varied and I am a bit confused as to who deserves credit. Around the turn of the century (1881 to 1919), there appeared several individuals who claimed to have invented soluble coffee, invented an improved soluble coffee, invented an improved manufacturing process for soluble coffee or did something signiﬁcant involving soluble coffee. It seems, though, that 3 names are almost always mentioned. Sartori Kato used a process he had developed for making instant tea to manufacture soluble coffee. The Kato Coffee Company of Chicago put soluble coffee on the market at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. In 1910, George Washington (no relation to our ﬁrst President) mass produced soluble coffee commercially (WWI’s “cup of George”). His company would morph into Nescafe’. William Baker of BarringtonHall in Roswell, Georgia, had 3 sons who united in 1917 to form Baker and Co, Importers and Roasters of Coffee, in Minneapolis.Their speciality was “Barrington Hall Soluble Coffee.” Viola!
Wikipedia conﬁrmed that soluble coffee and instant coffee are the same. It seems that through WWII it was called soluble coffee. The mass production, for the public, of instant coffee began postWWII and ever since we’ve known it as instant coffee.
So, it makes sense that we saw a “Barrington Hall Soluble Coffee” lid at a WWII site on the desert. The lid we saw probably came from a 1941-42 K ration pack, as after 1942 soluble coffee was packaged in paper foil packets.