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Living History: From the beginning, Utahns loved their cups of coffee

Published December 6, 2013 11:59 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I like a good morning cup of coffee. Nothing fancy. A dark roasted brew, straight up with no room for cream or sugar, suits me just fine. I'm not alone.

According to a recent National Coffee Association survey, more than 82 percent of U.S. adults imbibe enough coffee to nourish a $30-billion industry.

That's a lot of coffee consumption. Coffee and caffeine were booming commodities in Utah's early days when the manufacturing industry's motto was akin to "keeping the dollar home with Utah-made goods."

In 1887, Hewlett Bros. Co. operated its spice, coffee, jelly, and extract business in a simple, one-room frame structure in Salt Lake City. Considered one of the oldest manufacturing firms west of Chicago by 1917, the firm quickly expanded its product line, updated equipment, fabricated its own tin cans — printing signature labels on an in-house press — and provided employment to local folk. In 1920, the plant championed its Luneta brand of steel-cut, fresh roasted coffee as a "Utah product that has stood the test of time."

In 1920, Gibson Commercial Co. launched its first vacuum-packed coffee called "Early Dawn." Within months, more than 1,000 coffee tins and copious amounts of bulk roasts were sold. Formed by retail merchants from Bingham Canyon, Gibson employed 50 people. They distributed their coffee and other products throughout the state and beyond the Western territory.

Tempting brand names and images seemed as important as taste.

Olympic flames flanked the Luneta coffee tins. Davidson-Lake Tea & Coffee Co. saluted its Capitol brand. Murphy Wholesale Grocery Co., pitched Hotel Utah and Old Faithful.

John Scowcroft & Sons Co. was no exception.

Prominent among Utah manufacturers since 1880, the modern Ogden-based plant took coffee to new levels. A plump pine tree boasting a coffee "full of favor" was emblazoned on the 5-inch- tall Blue Pine Coffee tin. The perfected grounds were sold with "the unusual guarantee to suit every individual taste," a reporter wrote in the June 1922 issue of the Utah Payroll Builder.

"Only five or six of the 135 different kinds of [world market] coffee beans taken from known highland groves and seasoned for several months are the kinds blended to make Blue Pine Coffee," the writer explained. "After receiving at the plant, they are skillfully graded and cleaned by a process that constitutes the unique features of the Scowcroft Coffee plant."

Air pressure systems shot the green coffee beans from one floor to the next "through a series of galvanized chutes," during a "journey upwards with all the foreign substances blown into side chambers," the reporter observed.

On the top floor, rotating drums and hot-air roasters produced aromatic medium or dark roast blends. After they were ground, the batches were again processed to remove all traces of chaff.

"This results in an exceptionally clean coffee, entirely free from even the small percentage of chaff which is left in many [other] brands to make bulk," the reporter said.

Checking for quality, taste, density and flavor, each Scowcroft coffee brand was compared with other Utah-roasted coffees. Once the brew met the company's compact of quality, it was signed off with "Scowcroft Made It."

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Relief Society Magazine in 1923, the purchase of Blue Pine olive oil was sanctioned. Blue Pine coffee was not.

"The serving of tea and coffee at socials and weddings and Relief Society entertainments, and the sale of tea and coffee at socials or luncheons where the Relief Society is raising funds, are heartily disapproved," the magazine's Word of Wisdom cautioned.

Warnings noted, coffee production nonetheless had taken root in Utah.

Eileen Hallet Stone, author of Hidden History of Utah, a compilation of stories from her "Living History" column, may be reached at ehswriter@aol.com.