Utah Stories

Babs in the City – Mormon Tea and Me

When did coffee come to Utah


image002By Babs De Lay: Broker Urban Utah Homes & Estates

The May issue of Utah Stories has a few bits on coffee. But I don’t drink it. I’m a black tea with cream kinda person. So Bah! to your hipster coffee concoctions and double Bah! on coffee shops that don’t offer a good black tea option. The only time I had a regular experience (no pun intended) with coffee was when I was a kid. My nana would make me feel grown up and serve me a cup across the table from my big scary bear grandpa. There would be about a shot of weak brew, and a cup of half and half. My bio-mom loved coffee flavored ice cream that was only available back then at Baskin Robbins. When I was 16 I was chosen to be a member of the American Youth Symphony and toured Europe one summer. This is when and where I learned to drink a good black cuppa with cream. 

I was trying to research where the coffee train began in Utah with not much luck. Greek immigrant George P. Lamb opened up a café in 1919 in Logan on George Washington’s birthday, and he served coffee there. He hung up a portrait of the president and then drug George’s mug to his new wall in 1939 when the restaurant moved to downtown Salt Lake’s Main Street (it still hangs there in the main dining room). Lamb’s Grill is the oldest, continually operating restaurant in Utah, so logically I’m going to have to give them the Golden Coffee Bean Award for keeping folks caffeinated the longest.

Brigham’s Young’s trekkers missed their English breakfast tea that they drank when they lived across the pond.  There weren’t any Maverick stations open just yet when they arrived in Zion but there was a plant we call ‘Mormon Tea’  (aka: Ephedra sinica) growing abundantly in the western deserts. I know the plant and I’ve chewed on it while hiking but never drank any potion made from it. Pioneers and natives alike said it cured anything from colds to sexually transmitted diseases. The Prophet’s wives brewed it with peppers, aromatic spices and added sweeteners to it to make it heartier and palatable. 

Since pioneer times, coffee has slowly seeped into mainstream Utah culture, even more so in the last 40 years. When I arrived in Utah in 1970 and ordered an iced tea at a local fast food place in Kanab, the order taker looked at me like I had just asked her to have sex with an ostrich. “We don’t serve caffeinated drinks here,” she said. I still prefer my black tea over a black coffee, but I appreciate the abundance and variety of coffee shops that have come to be in the state.  

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