The Unexpected Breakfast Drink That Was Common Before Coffee

Coffee is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, an important part of our morning culture. And by "our" we really mean Western culture. According to a graph Indy100 published regarding countries' preferences for coffee or tea, it can be generalized that most Eastern countries such as India, China, Pakistan, and even a handful of African countries like Kenya and Egypt almost exclusively enjoy tea over coffee, whereas Western countries such as the United States, most of Central America, Germany France, Switzerland, and Finland all prefer coffee. There are obviously exceptions to this generalization. For example, the United Kingdom is considered a Western country but they prefer tea, and South Korea is an Eastern country but prefers coffee.

But coffee didn't always exist to quench the West's needs. Et Buna tells us that the coffee bean wasn't discovered until a goat herder in Ethiopia's southwestern highlands during the 9th century observed his goats behaving energetically after eating the berries from a nearby plant. The goat herder, Kaldi, tried a few berries and felt the same rush of caffeinated energy. After that, coffee spread through the world, but what were people in the west drinking before coffee was discovered and exported to them?

Booze for breakfast

After Ethiopians discovered coffee, they eventually shared it with neighboring civilizations. According to the National Coffee Association, by the 15th century, coffee was being grown across the Arab peninsula. Coffee, also called the "wine of Araby," was enjoyed at home and in public coffee houses called "qahveh khaneh" and "schools of the Wise" where music, information, performances, and news were shared. But as this coffee renaissance was happening in the Arab peninsula, Europeans were drinking wine and beer for breakfast.

The European World Health Organization notes that the history of alcohol consumption in Europe, especially that of wine and beer, spans several thousand years dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Alcohol was so embedded in European culture that during the Middle Ages (500 to 1400–1500 CE), people often drank beer or wine in the mornings and throughout the day (via Alcohol Problems & Solutions).

Lancaster Brewery explains that the reason beer, was so popular for breakfast was because of its calories. In the European Middle Ages, manual labor like farming or masonry were common jobs and they required a lot of energy. At the time, the caloric value of beer gave laborers an energy boost. Wine was usually drunk by those who were wealthier and noble due to its high cost (via Slate). But Coffee Expressco states that once coffee was introduced to the European workforce in the 17th century, it became clear that coffee was a superior source of energy, and coffee houses opened by the hundreds.