Our love affair with coffee and wine started long before our town changed its name from Morristown – the county seat of Buncombe County in 1794 – to Asheville. Coffee was introduced to Western North Carolina long after a number of sophisticated Native American nations – including the civilization of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee who had been consuming natively grown roasted chicory root as a tonic.
Its speculated that the Spanish conquistadors were the first ones to bring coffee into Western North Carolina. The Spanish had just finished a protracted “reconquista” reclaiming Spain from an occupation that lasted 700 years. Much of Spain and Southern France was finally won back by its own European natives in the late 1400’s. A gift of coffee and the secrets of its preparation was left behind by the Moorish conquerers.
After the war the Spanish maintained trade with their former conquerors and coffee beans came direct from Ethiopia and Yemen. This coffee habit was one of the few happy thing the Arabs, Turks and North Africans left behind in Spain after fomenting – to this date – the world’s longest war of religious occupation. This war reached all parts of the world in the form of Spanish combat officers and soldiers sent out across the world in the name of the Spanish Crown to stake claim to the “New World”.
The Reconquista lasted between 718-1492 and the end of the occupation facilitated the Spanish Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile sending Christopher Columbus to find the route to India by sailing Easterly over the Atlantic Ocean.
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Another Conquistador, Captain Juan Pardo followed in de Soto’s trail. Pardo and his men were victorious war veterans in the war against Umayyad Caliphate that had ejected Islam from Spain in the world’s longest war to date. Turkish roasted coffee was as much a part of their cuisine as Spanish wine. The Spanish brought their coffee with them in their attempted conquest of North America. After destroying several French coastal settlements, arrived in Western North Carolina with more than coffee beans. He brought 120 steel clad armed soldiers, 30 mastiff war dogs and fifty matchlocks (large muskets).
They traveled 231 miles from Fort Santa Elena (located on present-day Parris Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina) across Asheville’s future location and built Fort San Juan outside of Morrisville, NC just 49 miles from Asheville, NC.
Coffee, wine and steel is what that peaked the interests of the stronger American tribes that were not overcome by the Spaniards. Yet, the depredations of de Soto and Pardo’s men sealed the fate the Fort San Juan. The garrison was burnt to the ground by Catawba Nation and only Juan de Badejoz Rodriguez, escaped – it is said with the last bag of coffee and cask of wine. The site had been archaeologically excavated and named the Berry Site after the Berry family who had settled Morristown since before the Revolutionary War. No evidence of coffee, chocolate or wine remained at the Fort as it was burned to the ground and a ceremonial Catawban mound was erected in its place. It would be quite some time before coffee arrived back in Asheville.
Before the Spanish, the Native American civilizations known as the Ani-Yvwiya, or the “Real People,” are today known as the Cherokee. They shared the two river valley of the Swannanoa and South French Broad with other tribes. The Cherokee called the South French Broad river “Long Man,” Described as “Tahkeyostee,” or “Where They Race,” and the purple flowering chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) is found along its banks and paths. This is the pre colonial precursor to the coffee flavor for Native America. The chicory flower can be eaten raw in a salad. The roots can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable or roasted and pulverized to make a medicinal calming tonic tea or coffee substitute. Chicory is still used medicinally along the Qualla Boundary (Cherokee reservation) as the Eastern Band of Cherokee just 51 miles from downtown Asheville in Cherokee, NC.
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