Prefatory Matter on Coffee ~1856

Introduction to Coffee from the 1850s.

Coffee, like tea, should be an infusion, not a decoction.

This month I am dedicating each Monday to coffee, the rich, dark brew that invigorates and never inebriates.

In reading about coffee in various cookery books, we find that the beans are always purchased fresh. There is a great deal of discussion about the highest quality bean being Mocha, which was typically mixed with Java in a 1:1 ratio. The true connoisseur would have been capable of differentiating the two. Unfortunately, there was a great deal of marketing deception at the docks, and by the time the beans arrived at the store, it would have been unlikely that their original origin or variety were what was on the label. The savvy shopper would know to be careful with her purchase, as beans shipped with animal hides or other pungent goods would absorb those odors and be ruined.

Preparing Coffee

The home cook must roast her beans (preferably each morning). This was done in a pan, or a roaster that operated something like a bingo ball cage or hand-cranked composter. Roasting, however, could be outsourced to the local baker. Various fining agents were added to coffee, fish skin and eggs being the methods du jour. By the 1880s and 1890s, we see references to coffee filters which were fine muslin bags stitched together to prevent the grounds from escaping. By the close of the century, we read the first references to percolators and ground coffee for purchase.

Where did coffee come from?

Mainly Brazil, followed by Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Ceylon. A fungus of some sort wiped out the coffee trade in Ceylon in the late 1800s, hence we know it today for teas, not coffee. Arabian coffee was considered to be the finest quality, but alas it did not make it to the American market. Americans were known as something of simpletons when it came to the beverage, with their European counterparts begin the true gourmands. The highest quality coffee beans were shipped to Europe where they could command the highest prices, of up to .25 cents/pound. Our forefathers, on the other hand, would have enjoyed a quality cup of Joe at between .10 – .17 cents/pound.

More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks.

Source: Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy, E. Hall, 1856.

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