Jefferson's Coffee Urn

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson deemed coffee "the favorite beverage of the civilised world."[1] Jefferson enjoyed the coffee houses of Williamsburg and Paris, and served coffee at the President's House, Poplar Forest, and Monticello. He preferred beans imported from the East and West Indies, and abhorred the "green" or unripe beans that were popular in America at the time.

Jefferson estimated that a pound of coffee a day was consumed at Monticello during his retirement. His cellar was stocked with unroasted beans in barrels weighing as much as sixty pounds. Small quantities of beans were roasted and ground in the Monticello kitchen, and then prepared according to the recipe of Adrien Petit, Jefferson's French maïtre d'hôtel:

On one measure of the coffee ground into meal pour three measures of boiling water. Boil it on hot ashes mixed with coal till the meal disappears from the top, when it will be precipitated. Pour it three times through a flannel strainer. It will yield 2 1/3 measures of clear coffee.[2]

Coffee was served at breakfast, and likely after dinner, in a silver coffee urn made to Jefferson's design.


Primary Source References

1803 May. (Hetty Anne Barton). [In Washington]. "After dinner to drawing room. Tea and coffee appeared, and every thing in superb stile."[3]

1808 October. (Frances Few). "Dinner was soon ended and the ladies left the table and were soon followed by the gentlemen ... tea and coffee were then handed us ...."[4]

1809 August. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "[W]e had tea, coffee, excellent muffins, hot wheat and corn bread, cold ham and butter. It was not exactly the Virginian breakfast I expected."[5]

1824 December. (Daniel Webster). "Dines at four, returns to the drawing-room at six, when coffee is brought in and passes the evening till nine in conversation. ... His breakfast is tea and coffee, bread always fresh from the oven ... with sometimes a slight accompaniment of cold meat."[6]

- Ann M. Lucas, 6/94

Further Sources

Look for sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.


  1. ^ Jefferson to Edmund Rogers, February 14, 1824, Tucker-Coleman Papers: Series 2 Thomas Jefferson Correspondence, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Recipient's copy available online at the William & Mary Digital Archive. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ Petit's Recipe for Making Coffee, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Manuscript available online.
  3. ^ Diary of Hetty Anne Barton, May 1803, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  4. ^ Noble E. Cunningham, ed., "The Diary of Frances Few, 1808–1809," Journal of Southern History 29 (Aug. 1963): 350.
  5. ^ Smith, First Forty Years69.
  6. ^ Daniel Webster, The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster, ed. Fletcher Webster (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1857), 365. See also Peterson, Visitors, 98.