Thursday, 3 October 2013

12 March 1887 - 'How to Obtain Good Coffee'

"If we wish our coffee to be extra clear, a raw egg should be mashed up, shell and all, into a slopbasin full of coffee-powder, and boiled as before." Nope.  

We have generally been accustomed to have France held up to us as the country for really good coffee. Within the last few years this old dictum has certainly been vastly modified, for not only has Vienna almost outrivalled France, but in England great improvements have been made, although, even now, at many hotels, railway refreshment rooms, and on steamboats, the coffee is an abomination.

In winter it is sell worthwhile for housewives to give their earnest attention to the making of this beverage, as coffee possesses considerable heat-imparting properties, and to most constitutions it is harmless and far more caloric to the system than an equal quantity of alcohol - that is to say, if it is strong and properly made. An impression seems to exist in England that there is some secret mystery attached to coffee-making above the comprehension of ordinary mortals. There is no secret whatsoever, and it only requires care and common sense to make the best coffee in the world. Without going into recipes, the following broad principles should be impressed on a housewife. First, have coffee; a great deal of the stuff we drink is not coffee at all. I should strongly advise the coffee to be entirely without chicory; the chicory may add somewhat to the strength, but at the loss of the flavour. Chicory is a good deal used in France, and also in Rome, but it is best not employed at all, as the low price of it, compared with coffee, offers an inducement for the introduction of an overdose. Those who have the means of roasting coffee berries at their command should always buy them unroasted, and perform the operation themselves. When they are roasted, care should be taken to keep them in an airtight receptacle, the best form being wide-necked bottles with glass stoppers; for coffee, like tea, quickly catches up foreign flavours and scents, and all possibility of contamination should therefore be carefully avoided. Highly sensitive in its raw state, it is far more so when roasted; even ship-cargoes of coffee have been completely spoiled, due to their being inadvertently stowed in company with spirits, pungent spices, and fruits.

Every continental cook and housewife roasts her own coffee, and yet our cooks, as a rule, resolutely set their faces against this. If the mistress would only take the trouble of superintending this operation once or twice, she would soon find that there was no mystery, and that only care was needed to roast it to a nicety. If not sufficiently roasted, the true flavour will not be extracted, and if roasted for too long a time it becomes bitter. Various machines are used for roasting; but the simplest is perhaps a frying pan. The coffee should be previously washed, then place the beans in the pan over not too fierce a fire, and stir them gently with a spoon until they are not a dark mahogany colour, but not black; take them off the fire, and allow them to cool. No interval should elapse between roasting and grinding, and the oftener it is roasted the better. For all ordinary purposes twice a week is sufficient. No one who desires good coffee can get on without a coffee mill, which is easily obtained at a trifling cost in any size. It is a bad plan to let the grocer grind the berry, and send it home at his convenience; for this means a lapse of time between the grinding and the making, which is quite fatal to the preservation of the aroma. In many eastern countries the beans are pounded in a mortar instead of ground. Coffee beans should be kept in a dry place, and are greatly improved for keeping a long time.

Neat-handedness and judgment, so necessary for cooking an omelet, are quite as much required for the perfect making of coffee. As soon as the coffee is ground no time should intervene before the boiling water is poured upon it, and even in applying the water there is something in the dexterity with which it is done. More strength is obtained by simple boiling than by any other plan; but we must take care not to overboil it. The water must be boiling. If the coffee is put in all at once, the coffee pot or pan should be placed over a gentle fire and just allowed to come up to the boil two or three times, and each time quickly removed. Before letting it settle, pour out a cup or two of the liquid, and return it immediately to the vessel, or else pour in half a cupful of boiling water. Then place it near the fire for a few minutes and pour it out gently, or strain it through a fine filter or flannel bag into the coffee pot for the breakfast table. In France they usually merely filter; but it makes the coffee less strong. If we wish our coffee to be extra clear, a raw egg should be mashed up, shell and all, into a slopbasin full of coffee, and boil as before.

Professor Liebig's method of boiling half of the coffee for a few minutes, and then putting in the other half without letting it boil, has its advantages. The first half of the process extracts the strength, and the latter preserves the aroma.

Of all the coffee machines in use, perhaps none is simpler than the French percolator, which consists of one coffee-pot on the top of another, the upper being for the making of the infusion, the lower for the infusion itself when it has filtered through.

Those who like to see their coffee made on the breakfast-table can use the pretty French invention for making coffee, consisting of two glass globes, one above the other, with a spiral lamp beneath. The water is placed in the lower globe, and is forced up by the heat to the coffee, which is in the upper globe. The lamp is then removed, and the coffee flows into the lower globe, from whence it is drawn off.

The Viennese have perhaps the best coffee machines, notably the Non Plus Ultra. The Napier Coffee-Pot, a Glasgow machine, is very simple and most expeditious. Both of these are very suitable for the sideboard. The latter is specially useful for being able to warm coffee a second time, for we have only to light the spirit lamp under the glass globe in which the coffee has been left. The mouth of the globe, however, must be tightly corked up to preserve the aroma when it is left standing in the globe, but it must be removed before the spirit-lamp is lit.

A little muslin bag containing coffee, and fitted into the top of the coffee pot, and the boiling water poured on, makes very excellent coffee.

Some eccentric people infuse it cold, allowing it to stand for a long time, and heat it just before serving it; but this is rather too elaborate a method to be frequently adopted.

The Germans make their coffee as above described, except that they use a flannel bag instead of a muslin one. They pour the boiling water on, and let it boil up once, and then serve. The water runs through the bag into the lower part of the pot, so that the liquid is quite clear without fining. This is one of the most economical ways of making coffee; but plenty of coffee must be put in.

Coffee is often so weak that it will not admit of boiled milk. It is an entirely mistaken economy to think that we can make up for the want of a sufficient amount of coffee by infusing a small quantity for a long time.; Whether brewing for a few people or many, the infusion must be strong and bright. For each cup two or three good teaspoonfuls of coffee are not too much; but of course it is a matter of taste. There is no better breakfast beverage than a good cup of cafe-au-lait, and whether intended for that or cafe noir it should be equally strong.

The Eastern or Arabic fashion of making coffee is the simplest and most primitive of all; it only consists of pouring boiling water upon the coffee in a tin pot and letting it boil for a minute. This is not likely to become a favourite method with us, as the grouts would remain at the bottom, but with the Eastern peoples, since they pulverise the berry, their residuum is a delicate, soft, almost toothsome one, resembling in consistency soft chocolate. Connoisseurs have had many disputes as to whether coffee should be ground of pulverised. Brillat Savarin, king of the gastronomes, held a council of his friends and disciples, who decided, after mature deliberation, in favour of pulverisation, as yielding the fullest flavour of the aroma.

As to the choice of the berry, this again is a matter of individual preference; but generally a mixture of several sorts, as with tea, produces the most satisfactory result. The best "Mocha" coffee has now become an entire fallacy, for we have more of this breakfast or cigarette-accompanying beverage from Madras, Central America, and Ceylon, than any other parts. In France the perfect mixture is said to be composed of equal parts of Mocha, Bourbon, and Martinique's coffee.

We do not drink as much coffee as we might with advantage, and only perhaps on this score is much blame to be attached to us as a coffee-making nation. It matters little nowadays of what nationality coffee makers are, provided there is skill and common sense, coup'ed with the practice that makes perfect.

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