1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing (2024)

Make mine a venti: An example of a drinking vessel from the Grasshopper Pueblo archaeological site in central Arizona. Researchers tested shards of similar vessels found at various sites in the American Southwest and found evidence that people in the region were drinking caffeinated cacao and yaupon holly drinks 1,000 years back. Courtesy Patricia Crown hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy Patricia Crown

1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing (2)

Make mine a venti: An example of a drinking vessel from the Grasshopper Pueblo archaeological site in central Arizona. Researchers tested shards of similar vessels found at various sites in the American Southwest and found evidence that people in the region were drinking caffeinated cacao and yaupon holly drinks 1,000 years back.

Courtesy Patricia Crown

Feeding a caffeine habit is no sweat in our day and age: Just raid the office kitchen for some tea or hit one of the coffee shops that pepper the landscape.

But 1,000 years ago, Native Americans in the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest were getting their buzz on in landscapes where no obvious sources of caffeine grew, according to new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Salt

Here's The Buzz On America's Forgotten Native 'Tea' Plant

The research shows that people in the arid region — who had no nearby sources of caffeine — not only made drinks from cacao, the seed that is used to make chocolate, but also brewed drinks from the leaves and twigs of yaupon holly. That suggests that they had developed pretty extensive networks to trade caffeinated products between 750 and 1400 AD.

Patricia Crown, a professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, led a team that analyzed 177 pottery samples from 18 sites in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico. (During the analysis, scientists were not allowed to bring any caffeinated beverages into the lab, for fear of contamination). They found caffeine residue on pieces of jars, pitchers and mugs in 40 samples from 12 sites and conclude that the groups "likely consumed stimulant drinks in communal, ritual gatherings."

The Salt

Tea Tuesdays: Gift Of The Moon, Bane Of The Spanish — The Story Of Yerba Mate

Scientists have known that people in Mesoamerica — a region extending from modern-day central Mexico down through Central America — were already drinking frothy, caffeinated chocolate drinks some 3,000 years ago. And Crown's earlier research had found that cacao had made its way up to the Southwestern U.S. a thousand years back. But this is the first study to also find evidence of yaupon holly, a caffeinated, botanical cousin to yerba mate, in this region a millennium ago. (As we've reported, tea aficionados are starting to rediscover the virtues of yaupon.)

Yaupon is a caffeinated plant native to the Southeast, where Native Americans brewed it into a drink used ceremonially, often in rituals that involved purging. (Thus, yaupon's Latin name, Ilex vomitoria, though it is not an emetic). Several years ago, Crown led a team that found traces of caffeine — from drinks made with yaupon holly — at a site of a mound city near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. That suggested that yaupon was already extensively traded in the Eastern side of what is now the U.S. 1,000 years ago.

Archaeologist Chip Wills records samples of vessel shards at the Shabik'eschee Village in Chaco Canyon for residue analysis. In the foreground is a scale measuring a shard used in the analysis. Courtesy of Patricia Crown hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Patricia Crown

1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing (6)

Archaeologist Chip Wills records samples of vessel shards at the Shabik'eschee Village in Chaco Canyon for residue analysis. In the foreground is a scale measuring a shard used in the analysis.

Courtesy of Patricia Crown

The new research was sparked years ago, when Crown was looking at some unusual pottery in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. "The initial idea developed out of looking at Chacoan cylinder jars and trying to understand how they were being used," she says.

When she tested the jars for residues, she was surprised to find that the "analysis showed very clearly that they were being used to drink cacao-based drinks." That got her wondering just how far back in time, and how widespread, the cacao trade went.

"When does it start? How widespread is it? How late does it go?" Once she and her colleagues started asking those questions, she says, "it became clear that it wasn't just cacao, that there was something else there — that is, the holly-based drink. All of that has surprised me."

Janine Gasco, an anthropology professor at the California State University, Dominguez Hills, has studied the cacao trade extensively. She says the new findings confirm a growing body of knowledge.

"Any Mesoamerican archaeologist that works on that time period is well aware of that phenomenon: increased trade, increased long-distance trade in more and more products," she says. "It builds the argument even further that there was this vibrant trade going on."

One bit of the puzzle that's still not solved: Just where did that yaupon come from? It may be that Southeastern tribes traded the yaupon leaves with Southwestern tribes.

But there are also smaller, isolated patches of yaupon growing in Mesoamerica, and it is possible that yaupon came to the Southwest along the same trade routes that cacao traveled from the humid, tropical lowlands where it thrives. (Cacao was not the only Mesoamerican product imported to the Southwest: scarlet macaws, pyrite mirrors, and copper bells were also traded.) However, there's no historical evidence for the use of yaupon drinks in Mesoamerica.

Crown says wherever it came from, the presence of both yaupon and cacao fills in the picture of early caffeine use in the region.

"I think it points out how extensive the use of caffeinated plants for drinks was in North America," says Crown, "and that more work needs to be done to try to figure out exactly where that was coming from."

As for her own caffeine preferences? Crown says she's partial to tea.

Tea Tuesdays is an occasional series exploring the science, history, culture and economics of this ancient brewed beverage.

Murray Carpenter is a journalist and author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts And Hooks Us.

1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing (2024)

FAQs

1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing? ›

1,000 Years Ago, Caffeinated Drinks Had Native Americans Buzzing : The Salt

The Salt
The Salt The Salt is a blog from the NPR Science Desk about what we eat and why we eat it.
https://www.npr.org › sections › thesalt
People in the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest were drinking cacao and tea-like yaupon in places where neither grew.

Did Native Americans drink caffeine? ›

It appears inhabitants of North America have been seeking a caffeine buzz for at least a thousand years. These beakers, excavated from sites at Cahokia in southeastern Illinois, were apparently used by members of the Cahokia tribal group to consume something historically called “Black Drink.”

What Native American plant has caffeine in it? ›

Yaupon is the only naturally caffeinated plant species that grows in the US and most of North America. Yaupon Brothers trees are grown in certified organic “forest farms” on the central Atlantic coast of Florida, where Yaupon consumption began at least 8,000 years ago.

What drinks did Native Americans drink? ›

Surprisingly, there are a number of accounts of alcohol use among other American Indians and Alaska Natives. Beverages were limited to wine and beer, and included: balche, pulque, and "haren a pitahaya" wines, tulpi beer and other beverages.

What is the forgotten drink that caffeinated North America for centuries? ›

Cassina, or black drink, the caffeinated beverage of choice for indigenous North Americans, was brewed from a species of holly native to coastal areas from the Tidewater region of Virginia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was a valuable pre-Columbian commodity and widely traded.

Did our ancestors drink caffeine? ›

Alcohol has been with us since the beginning, but caffeine use is more recent. Chinese consumption of caffeinated tea dates back to at least 3,000 BC. But the discovery of coffee, with its generally far stronger caffeine content, seems to have occurred in 15th century Yemen.

What did early Native Americans drink? ›

Pre-Columbian Native Americans fermented starchy seeds and roots as well as fruits from both wild and domesticated plants. Among the most common are drinks made from fermented corn, agave, and manioc.

What was the first caffeinated beverage? ›

Historical Background

Coffee dominates modern drink consumption, but tea was the original popular caffeinated drink. Chinese tea cultivation began around 2700 B.C. and the beverage spread around the world when Buddhist monks brought tea seeds to Japan after visiting China.

What did the founding fathers drink? ›

The Founders, like most colonists, were fans of adult beverages. Colonial Americans drank roughly three times as much as modern Americans, primarily in the form of beer, cider, and whiskey.

What race has the lowest alcohol tolerance? ›

Alcohol tolerance in different ethnic groups

Genetics of alcohol dehydrogenase indicate resistance has arisen independently in different cultures. In North America, Native Americans have the highest probability of developing an alcohol use disorder compared to Europeans and Asians.

What is the oldest energy drink in America? ›

Enuf. Its origins date back to 1949, when a Chicago businessman named William Mark Swartz was urged by co-workers to formulate a soft drink fortified with vitamins as an alternative to sugar sodas full of empty calories. He developed an "energy booster" drink containing B vitamins, caffeine and cane sugar.

What was the 90s guarana drink? ›

Bawls (marketed as BAWLS Guarana) is a non-alcoholic, caffeinated soft drink. Created in 1996, the citrus-and-cream soda-flavored beverage leans heavily on the caffeine and natural flavor of the Amazonian guarana berry.

What did they drink during the Enlightenment? ›

Three hundred years ago, during the Age of Enlightenment, the coffee house became the center of innovation. Back then, most people went from drinking beer to consuming coffee (i.e. from being tipsy to being wired) and ideas started exploding.

Do Indian people drink caffeine? ›

It has a massive population that has, for ages, preferred tea to other beverages. But even with its over a billion people, India hasn't been able to avoid the influence of the West. Coffee, a wildly popular beverage in the US and Europe is slowly making its way through the Indian population.

What did the Cherokee tribe drink? ›

Cherokee black drink is taken for purification at several traditional ceremonies. Made with emetics, the complete recipe is not shared with the public. The black drink induces vomiting for purification purposes. Other ritual medicinal beverages are also used in the ceremonies.

Did American cowboys drink coffee? ›

Cowboys enjoyed black, strong coffee. After the first round was poured, they would add more coffee grounds to the pot to keep it strong. Brewing the coffee was a way for the men to relax and catch up at the end of their long days.

What is Cherokee purge drink? ›

For Native Americans, yaupon had multiple purposes including use as a medicinal tea and a sign of status. It was used by tribes as part of an infusion with other plants to create an emetic black drink for ritual ceremonies to purge toxins from the body and prepare for battle.

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Otha Schamberger

Last Updated:

Views: 6050

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Otha Schamberger

Birthday: 1999-08-15

Address: Suite 490 606 Hammes Ferry, Carterhaven, IL 62290

Phone: +8557035444877

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: Fishing, Flying, Jewelry making, Digital arts, Sand art, Parkour, tabletop games

Introduction: My name is Otha Schamberger, I am a vast, good, healthy, cheerful, energetic, gorgeous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.