Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Death Of Postum

It has come to my attention that Postum, the elusive wheat and molasses-based coffee substitute invented by known Seventh-day Adventist and cereal magnate C.W. Post as an alternative to the popular caffeine-based beverages (tea and coffee, mentioned earlier) that many Americans tend to start their day with, is no more. This news has come as a crushing blow to both Postum lovers and me, a guy who was just happy to know that a wheat and molasses-based beverage was out there if I ever wanted to try it.

The existence of Postum first came to my attention in the early ‘80’s when I was summering with my cousins at a resort off of Lake Champlain in Vermont. Basin Harbor, I think they called it. At the resort, we’d take each meal in a big dining room wearing dress attire. I always wore a kelly green blazer handed down to me from my brother. It was the only blazer I owned and was kind of embarrassing to wear every meal of the day, especially while eating in a dining room full of people who each owned more than one blazer, even the women. Then again, it kind of made me feel like I had just won the Masters every day. I guess I kind of miss that blazer now that I really think about it.

Anyway, that summer in the early ‘80’s, I noticed a peculiar item listed in the beverage section on the menu. “What’s Postum?,” I asked my uncle, a guy who would know from Postum, I thought.

“It’s kind of like coffee, only different,” he answered. My mind boggled. But since I was too young at the time to be ordering coffee, I figured I would also be too young to be ordering Postum and quickly gave up on the dream for the time being.

When I got back home to Cleveland later that summer, I found myself emboldened with a newfound determination to get to the bottom of this Postum business. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to let my age or the fact that I only owned one blazer that made me look like some kind of golf wunderkind get in the way of enjoying what I presumed to be the beverage of kings.

Fortunately for the young me, my family lived right down the street from a grocery store. With little notice to the rest of the family, I set out one day in search of Postum. Since I knew it was a beverage not unlike coffee according to my uncle, the detective in me knew to make a beeline right for the coffee aisle, judgment that would pay off big time because, well, it turns out that’s where they kept the Postum. There it was, nestled just to the left of the Folger’s Crystals and just south of the Nescafe and Sanka (coffee’s bitch, depending on whom you ask). There were only three or four jars of it, just enough to let the consumer know that this store wasn’t fucking around as far as Postum was concerned. I reached up and grabbed a jar and quickly pulled it to my face to take in its vacuum-sealed aroma and examine its contents. The front label played it pretty close to the vest- “instant hot beverage” it read simply. On the back, however, the truth came out- wheat, molasses, some other stuff. “That’s disgusting,” I thought. I set the jar back on its shelf and gave little thought to the topic of Postum ever again.

Until now, that is.

News of Postum’s demise first reached me through the Internet (and, to be fair, I have not seen nor heard of it mentioned elsewhere since). As it turns out, Mormons have been hit the hardest by the absence of the elusive beverage. Since they shun caffeine (and other fun things besides polygamy), Postum was just the thing for a God-fearing people in search of a warm, brown liquid to compliment whatever it was they were having for breakfast that day. Jars of Postum are now going for around $25 each on eBay. Are the Mormons to be blame? Well, they’re not not to be blame as far as I’m concerned.

Further research on the topic has revealed that Postum was the first product marketed by C.W. Post. The balls on that guy. He followed it up shortly thereafter with what some consider to be his masterstroke, Grape Nuts, a product containing neither grapes nor nuts yet still managing to hold its own over yogurt, underneath milk, or simply poured directly into the mouth straight from the box when no one else is looking.

For his next act, C.W. Post introduced an unfortunately named corn flakes product called Elijah’s Manna. He later changed the name to Post Toasties, but it was too late- the product had a decent enough run but never quite found its footing next to the Kellog’s Corn Flakes of the world.

C.W. Post killed himself in 1913. If you ask me, he was too hard on himself.

Dave Hill


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