Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan took his black

By John "Bridge" Martin

Tarzan was sipping from a cup in our first view of him in the 2016 movie, The Legend of Tarzan. Since this scene was of a meeting in a British government office, we may assume the brew was tea. However, the ape man was also known to enjoy a good cup of coffee.

Those who know Tarzan only from the movies may be surprised at that, since coffee wasn't usually available in jungle scenes from many of those films. But in the original Tarzan novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, coffee was a commonly available beverage and Tarzan drank his share.

Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans.

The story goes that that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night.

Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.

As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe.

Source: National Coffee Assocation

In the first novel, Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan's father who, along with his wife, Alice, had been marooned on the shore of an African harbor, fortified himself with a cup of campfire coffee before setting to work on building the little cabin in which would be born his son, who would later be orphaned and then raised by the motherly ape, Kala.

With his parents dead by the time he was one, and little John carted off into the jungle to grow to manhood, he didn't have much chance to learn to drink coffee himself. However, when he was grown, another party was marooned by mutineers on the same shore, and the brigands were thoughtful enough to leave them with a few supplies, including coffee. So when Tarzan made contact with the group of people, which included his future wife, Jane, it's possible that he may have been given his first taste of coffee, although the book doesn't say so.

But in a later chapter, as Tarzan and his new friend, Paul D'Arnot, make their way through the African wilds toward civilization, we read that they entered a "native coffee house" where, presumably, they took advantage of the establishment's brew.

In the second Tarzan book, The Return of Tarzan, the ape man, on assignment for the French government in the Sahara, enters an Arab restaurant and the common beverage in those places was coffee, so we may again assume the ape man imbibed.

The ninth Tarzan book, Tarzan and the Golden Lion, tells of a schemer named Flora Hawkes who teamed up with four other baddies to rob the gold vaults of the lost city of Opar. The plan required that Tarzan be dealt with and Flora's idea is to slip him a Mickey Finn or put poison into the ape man's coffee.

Fortunately, they settled for merely some knockout drops and one evening Tarzan, always one to screen any who ventured into "Tarzan country," dropped in on their safari's camp.

"Please sit down," urged one of the men, Carl Kraski. "We were about to have coffee and we should be delighted to have you join us. We meant no wrong in coming here, and I can assure that we will gladly and willingly make full amends to you, or to whomever else we may have unintentionally wronged."

Burroughs then writes: "To take coffee with these men would do no harm. Perhaps he had wronged them, but however that might be a cup of their coffee would place no great obligation upon him. Flora [who had been the maid for Tarzan and Jane at their Greystoke estate in London] had been right in her assertion that if Tarzan of the Apes had any weakness whatsoever it was for an occasional cup of black coffee late at night. He did not accept the proffered camp stool, but squatted, ape fashion, before them, the flickering light of the beast fires playing upon his bronzed hide..."

Tarzan drains his cup to the last drop and the drug takes effect. The conspirators leave Tarzan to the merciless jungle and head on to carry out their plans of robbing Opar. But in the meantime, some from that very city chance upon the unconscious Tarzan and he is carried off to their temple to become a human sacrificed to the "flaming god."

What happens next? The book tells the tale. But, in short, Tarzan prevails.

The 13th Tarzan tale, Tarzan at the Earth's Core, has him meeting another safari—a friendly one this time—in Chapter I. The leader of the Safari, Jason Gridley, was seeking out the ape man to enlist his help in an expedition to the world inside the Earth. After Tarzan dropped in on Gridley's safari, we read: "It was not until Jason and Tarzan were enjoying their coffee that evening that the ape man reverted to the subject of the American's visit."

Then, in the 22nd Tarzan adventure, Tarzan and "The Foreign Legion", the book concludes with Tarzan and his allies, escaping from the Japanese-held island of Sumatra, and being rescued by a submarine. After boarding the boat, "they all went below for dry clothing and had coffee..."

On April 9, 2021, the U.S. Postal Service issued four different stamps in a 20-stamp booklet to celebrate various espresso drinks.

Espresso is actually gussied-up coffee. The difference between espresso and coffee is all to do with the way it's prepared—not the beans themselves. In general, espresso requires a dark roast, fine grind, and high pressure to create an ounce or two (aka a "shot") of concentrated coffee.

Espresso originated in Italy sometime in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Its name comes from the word esprimere which means "to express" or "to press out." One reason that espresso was created was to help cut the brew time of regular coffee. It is often completed in less than a minute.

Burroughs never mentioned an instance where Tarzan drank espresso. However, in the early part of The Return of Tarzan are a few chapters dealing with his time in Paris before his leapfrog to the Sahara and from thence back to his original African home, and it's possible, when sampling the cuisine of that city in the company of D'Arnot, that he had opportunity to savor some.

In the jungle, however, only coffee was easily available—and Tarzan, as we learn from Miss Hawkes—took it black.

Thanks to Bruce "Tangor" Bozarth, for helping me to locate all the instances in the books of Tarzan drinking coffee!

I made five designs for my first-day covers for the stamps, showing four different types of espresso drinks, one with one stamp each and one with all four stamps.

Thanks to Nik Poliwko, comic and fantasy illustrator, for allowing me to use his clever art, showing Tarzan and a couple of his ape friends enjoying their "daily cup."

Also, thanks to Ralph Brown, a fellow Tarzan fan, for use of the photo of a can of Tarzan-brand coffee from China, an item acquired during his many years of building a Tarzan collection.

The other images were found on the internet, including the one of the Tarzan comic strip from Bill Hillman's vast erbzine.com website.