Early Americans Worked Hard to Get Their Caffeine Fix
Today, we take grabbing a morning cup of joe for granted. It is as quick and casual as it is essential. But a thousand years ago, caffeine wasn’t so easy to come by—at least for the inhabitants of Northwest Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Coffee was unheard of, and other popular caffeinated plants like holly and cacao didn’t grow in the region. But, according to a recent study, that didn’t stop the people of the Southwest from seeking out energizing beverages.
According to Smithsonian, archaeologists tested the residue on ancient pottery from the Southwest U.S. and Northwest Mexico, using a “liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry technique” to look for traces of caffeine. Out of 177 samples, 44 revealed some amount of the stimulant. For the most part, this was in the form of cacao-based chocolate beverages and a holly-derived beverage called “black drink,” which was similar to tea.
In order to acquire holly or cacao, the inhabitants of the region would have had to participate in lengthy trade routes, either with the Southeastern U.S. and Mexico or South America. Though this isn’t the first evidence archaeologists have found of trade between these regions, it further supports their theory about the interconnectedness of geographically disparate cultures as far back as A.D. 750. Early anthropological theories imagined indigenous American cultures as relatively immobile and bounded but modern scientists continue to find evidence that there was a significant amount of trade across the Americas, dating back to ancient times.
However, it still would have been difficult to get a hold of caffeine in large quantities. Instead of a daily cup of cacao, the people in these areas would have saved caffeinated beverages for ceremonial or political occasions.