Did The Romans Have Coffee Or Energy Drinks?

Further ReadingThe 5 Elements Which Defined The Early Roman Empire

Did the Romans have coffee or energy drinks? I get this question an awful lot, and the answer is that it depends on several things. Yes, the Romans did have drinks that would give them a boost of energy, however, today we would not see these Roman drinks as energy drinks or coffee.

Simply put, the average Roman person did not have access to coffee but they did have a substitute. This drink was called posca and it was a mixture of water and raw vinegar. This drink when mixed properly would give the Roman working person and soldier a boost of energy that would resemble a form of an energy drink today. However, Romans did not have access to coffee or caffeine as coffee beans did not grow naturally in their region.

When we discuss the Romans in general it is important we discuss the time frame. In this article, we are talking about the ancient Romans that lived from 753 BC up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. During this time the Romans would consume many drinks, and the one we are talking about today posca was considered a drink of the lower class.

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Without further ado, here is an answer to the common question of whether or not the Romans had access to coffee or energy drinks.

The Romans Did Not Drink Coffee

The Romans did not have access to or drink coffee. That’s the hard truth of the question.

The reason why the Romans did not have access to coffee is that they did not spread far enough into eastern Africa to encounter the ancient people that drank this beverage for meditation.

Coffee is believed to have originated as a cultural drink coming out of the western side of the Red Sea. Recent academic reports have uncovered ancient native coffee forests in modern Ethiopia.

The Romans simply did not push far enough into Africa to encounter coffee drinkers. This was because at the peak of Roman expansion under Trajan instead of Rome expanding further they simply built buffer kingdoms to protect their land.

Is it possible that a few Roman merchants trading with these client kingdoms did encounter coffee? Yes, but even then it would have been a small minority. This is because towards the end of the Roman Empire we know Rome traded with India, the northern kingdoms of Africa, and even China. However, even if these few Romans did interact with the now widely consumed drink they did not bring it back to Rome or any major province.

The reason why coffee simply was never drunk was that Rome had their own widely consumed form of energy drink, the posca.

The Roman Energy Drink, Posca, Instead Of Coffee

If the Romans did not have coffee did they have an alternative for an energy drink? The answer is that surprisingly they did.

While we here in the 21st century drink coffee 1,700 years ago the Romans were drinking posca. This drink is a mixture of water and vinegar and resembles a highly bitter form of lemonade.

The Roman elite would not drink posca. It was seen as an inferior drink to Roman wine, which was full of nutrients and resembled modern bitter grape juice. The Roman soldier and worker who could not afford wine would instead drink a 1/4th vinegar and 3/4th water mixture.

The vinegar was pure and extremely bitter. Even though it was only 1/4th of the total volume it was anything but tasty by today’s standards. However, since vinegar contains sugars, vitamins, and nutrients when in concentrated amounts the Romans had created an energy drink!

Even though posca acted similar to coffee in that it gave energy when drank it was not preferred by the Roman population. The Roman soldier, in particular, did not like drinking posca and it was not until the later Roman Empire that Roman emperors and generals purposely started to drink the bitter drink in solidarity with their men that the drink began to take hold.

As such instead of drinking coffee, the Romans actually drank posca to give themselves energy. Between the bitter nature of coffee and posca, I am sure that the Romans would prefer coffee if they knew about it.

It Is Possible Roman Traveling Merchants Drank Coffee

It is possible that an extremely small portion of Romans did drink coffee. These would have been the privileged merchant class that could afford to travel and sell goods between India and Rome during the 3rd and 4th centuries.

The reason why these traveling Roman merchants might have drunk coffee is that they would have had to stop and pay a toll to cross the territory of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum.

The act of drinking coffee was a cultural event in Ethiopia according to oral history traditions. Here people would brew a pot of coffee and take turns drinking the beverage in a group setting. It is possible that the Roman merchants on their way out to India during the 3rd and 4th centuries would have had to stop in the Kingdom of Aksum and were introduced to Coffee.

We already don’t know much about these merchants during the 2 centuries they were active between India and Rome. We know that Rome was rapidly expanding its trading networks east during the 2nd-4th century AD and in order to do this they would have had to interact with the powerful Kingdom of Aksum which controlled the southern mouth of the Red Sea, the same sea that Rome would have sailed on.

Therefore the answer to the question of whether or not Romans drank coffee is that for 99.9% of the Roman population coffee was not drank or even known about. However, the wealthy Roman merchants of the 2nd-4th century might have been exposed to coffee while on their voyages.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article dedicated to answering the question of “did the Romans have coffee or energy drinks.”

Simply put, the Romans did not have access to coffee. They did however have their own form of an energy drink called posca. An extremely small portion of the total Roman population might have been exposed to coffee but it was not large enough to bring back to Rome.

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