From Popular Science: Starbucks of Ancient America?.
I finally found it.
My past life: a barista in Cahokia.
What? Never heard of Cahokia? Well, allow me to tell you about this seemingly wonderful-icious society. Cahokia was a native, pre-European settlement outside of what’s now St. Louis, Missouri. It had 15,000 inhabitants, and lasted all of 300 years starting in about 1050 C.E. – at the time, it was larger than London.
Cahokia “sprang up almost overnight” (and maybe this is why) and archaeologists have recently found evidence of a highly-caffeinated “black drink” that was imported from the coastal region between eastern Texas and Florida. This indicates that the drink had huge cultural significance to make it all that way, plus it was drank out of some of their nicest pottery beakers, with straight sides, distinctive handles, and beautiful swirling concentric patterns.
Follow me on Twitter on any given Monday, and you’ll hear all about how much I love caffeine. This goes beyond addiction: coffee and I have a symbiotic relationship – I need it to survive, and the industry would probably crumble if I stopped drinking it – but enough about me.
Back to the Cahokians and the Black Drink. Cahokia was about 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles). It had a wooden version of Stonehenge (much lighter – smart) that charted eclipses, a stockade that surrounded the city and could be moved around depending on the invader’s approach, and ritual gathering and burial places, which is where the ceremonial mugs were found – go figure.
“Heading to the ceremony? Double Black Drink? You got it.”
Researchers were able to isolate the chemical signature of Black Drink based on the residue in the cups. Archaeologists worked with biochemists (from the Hershey company of all places), and identified a fingerprint chemical called ursolic acid that distinguished it from chocolate, which the researchers had also suspected to be the residue.
Black Drink was documented by visiting Europeans 500 years later. They wrote about a native purification ritual in the American southeast that involved dancing, vomiting, and large amounts of what the travelers called “Black Drink.”
I call it, the Cahokian Latte.
It’s much better than the scientific name of the plant, llex vomitoria – I mean, who on Earth would want to drink something called, “vomitoria?”
The ancient city of Cahokia seemed to spring up overnight, and now archaeologists understand why: a new roadway has been found, and the final segment of it dates exactly to when Cahokia began its uprise – as soon as the road reached Cahokia, its population exploded.
The road originated along the Gulf Coast between eastern Texas and Florida, and travelers were fueled by what Europeans 500 years later called “Black Drink.”
Black Drink was a highly caffeinated tea brewed from the shrub llex vomitoria, a species of holly. When the Drink made it to Cahokia, something happened: science and astrology flourished, ritual ceremonies became more elaborate, and there was evidence of the beginnings of telepathic communications.
Then it all stopped.
As quickly as Cahokia appeared, it vanished. For years, archaeologists assumed the normal harbingers: plague, famine, invasion; alas, the Cahokian calamity was probably one of the most doleful and lugubrious events in history.
Coinciding in time with the downfall of Cahokia, archaeologists have uncovered pottery tablets that depict a plague of epic proportions, but not on human civilization, but on the Gulf-coast crops of llex vomitoria. Carbon dating of the tablets date them within a year of the Cahokian collapse – just enough time for the reserves to run out of the coffers and for withdrawl to dig its sharp claws into the deprived Cahokian brains.
Cahokia, we weep for thee.
This latte’s for you.