Dark, bold, frothy. This is coffee. From the ports of Venice to the tourist booths at Easter Island, millions of consumers choose coffee. How many of them, I wonder, would be willing to try coffee with a little something different? How many of them would relish the added health benefits of an interesting way to enjoy a favorite? How many would re-think coffee, the way the cowboys might have drank it?

A cowboy enjoying the extra zing in his coffee

Cayenne powder provides a great kick to food, but what would it do to that most important first cup of morning coffee? I’d been cleaning a lot in the house, so I needed something to clear my sinuses. Copious amounts of coffee went down into me gulliver that morning, a little help on the hard road to cleanliness. I thought about squirting a little sriracha on my finger and eating that, but it seemed barbaric. Then, I thought about squirting some down into my coffee, but that seemed juvenile, like when kids would mix up their foods and dare each other to eat it. Then, I thought of cayenne. They put cayenne in chocolate. Cayenne generally tastes good. The health benefits were obvious: caffeine helps constrict blood vessels and cayenne opens them up. There isn’t a study done on it yet, but it’s possible that the positive effects of one could cancel out the negative in the other. I dumped a bunch of cayenne into my coffee, and I‘ve drank it that way a couple of times since then.

Putting a little cayenne in coffee shows people that you are health conscious and tough, like cowboys might have been. You want your blood vessels as wide open as your lifestyle allows, and you don’t mind a little spice. When I put cayenne in my coffee, I tell people that I’m doing it so that I can seem smart and D.I.Y. in a Benjamin Franklin kinda way.

By doing a little research, I realized that I wasn’t the first one to come up with the whole cayenne and coffee thing. The cowboys might occasionally have had their morning cup like this. There are dozens of recipes online. The few I’ve tried produced better coffee than simply dumping a bunch of cayenne into a cup, but that wasn’t bad either. A recipe that I just made up sounds pretty good: put a teaspoon of cayenne power in a mugful of dark coffee and squeeze a quarter of a lemon or lime into it. Sounds fine. If you drink your coffee with milk or cream, play around with it, see if you can’t come up with a good combination.

You can serve cayenne and coffee in a number of different ways. You can add the cayenne directly into the coffee, or frost the rim of the mug, like a martini. You can put a teaspoon of cayenne aside for your guests to serve themselves. But however you decide to serve it, always be sure to tell your guest that there is cayenne in his or her coffee. An oversight here could cause such unpleasantries as a mess on the floor or a choking friend.

Once people warm to the idea of putting cayenne in their coffee, they may become enthusiastic supports too. Inside a 7-11 the other evening, I told a lady to do it. She said she might some other time. But I think of it like this: It’s 4 am in the year 1902 and you are on the untamed prairies of Montana. A cowboy by trade, you get grunt as you awake and stalk around the campsite, your stomach growling as you wait for your comrade to finish boiling the beans. It’s gonna be a hard day on the ranch. What will get you through the morning? Coffee. And for a little extra kick, a dash of cayenne. A dash of cayenne? Maybe.