Saturday, March 27, 2010

Handling Coffee in San Francisco

San Francisco ranks third in the list of United States coffee ports, having received its greatest development in the four years of the World War, when the flow of Central American coffees was largely diverted from Hamburg to the Californian port. In the course of these four years, the annual volume of coffee imports increased from some 380,000 bags to more than 1,000,000 bags in 1918. The bulk of these importations came from Central America, though some came from Hawaii, India, and Brazil and other South American countries. Because of its improved unloading and distributing facilities, San Francisco claims to be able to handle a cargo of coffee more rapidly than either New York or New Orleans.

Handling Central American coffees in San Francisco is distinctly different from the business in Brazil. In order to secure the Central American planter's crops, the importers find it necessary to finance his operations to a large extent. Consequently, the Central American trade is not a simple matter of buying and selling, but an intricate financial operation on the part of the San Francisco importers. Practically all the coffee coming in is either on consignment, or is already sold to established coffee-importing houses. Brokers do not deal direct with the exporters; and practically none of the roasters now import direct.

In recent years San Francisco has adopted the practise of buying a large part of her coffee on the "to arrive" basis; that is the purchase has been made before the coffee is shipped from the producing country, or while in transit. This practise applies, of course, only to well known marks and standard grades. Coffee that has not been sold before arrival in San Francisco is generally sampled on the docks during unloading, although this is sometimes postponed until the consignment is in the warehouse. It is then graded and priced, and is offered for sale by samples through brokers.

San Francisco is better equipped with modern unloading machinery and other apparatus than either New Orleans or New York, even more liberal use being made there than in New Orleans of the automatic-belt conveyors both for transferring the bags from the ships to the docks and for stacking them in high tiers on the pier. Another notable feature of the modern coffee docks is that the newer ones are of steel and concrete and, as in New Orleans, are covered to protect the coffee from wind and storm.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chicory and Coffee

This article is excerpted from the 1911 edition of a major British encyclopedia, and contains a brief discussion of how chicory has been used as a substitute for (or addition to) coffee.

The chicory or succory plant, Cichorium Intybus (natural order, Compositae), in its wild state is a native of Great Britain, occurring most frequently in dry chalky soils, and by road-sides. It has a long fleshy tap-root, a rigid branching hairy stem rising to a height of 2 or 3 ft.—the leaves around the base being lobed and toothed, not unlike those of the dandelion. The flower heads are of a bright blue colour, few in number, and measure nearly an inch and a half across. Chicory is cultivated much more extensively on the continent of Europe—in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany—than in Great Britain; and as a cultivated plant it has three distinct applications. Its roots roasted and ground are used as a substitute for, adulterant of, or addition to coffee; both roots and leaves are employed as salads; and the plant is grown as a fodder or herbage crop which is greedily consumed by cattle.

In Great Britain it is chiefly in its first capacity, in connexion with coffee, that chicory is employed. A large proportion of the chicory root used for this purpose is obtained from Belgium and other neighbouring continental countries; but a considerable quantity is cultivated in England, chiefly in Yorkshire. For the preparation of chicory the older stout white roots are selected, and after washing they are sliced up into small pieces and kiln-dried. In this condition the material is sold to the chicory roaster, by whom it is roasted till it assumes a deep brown colour; afterwards when ground it is in external characteristics very like coffee, but is destitute of its pleasing aromatic odour. Neither does the roasted chicory possess any trace of the alkaloid caffeine which gives their peculiar virtues to coffee and tea. The fact, however, that for over a hundred years it has been successfully used as a substitute for or recognized addition to coffee, while in the meantime innumerable other substances have been tried for the same purpose and abandoned, indicates that it is agreeable and harmless. It gives the coffee additional colour, bitterness and body. It is at least in very extensive and general use; and in Belgium especially its infusion is largely drunk as an independent beverage.

The blanched leaves are much esteemed by the French as a winter salad known by the name of Barbe de capucin.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Interesting Claims Made About Coffee

One can not fail to note in connection with the introduction of coffee into England that the beverage suffered most from the indiscretions of its friends. On the one hand, the quacks of the medical profession sought to claim it for their own; and, on the other, more or less ignorant laymen attributed to the drink such virtues as its real champions among the physicians never dreamed of. It was the favorite pastime of its friends to exaggerate coffee's merits; and of its enemies, to vilify its users. All this furnished good "copy" for and against the coffee house, which became the central figure in each new controversy.

From the early English author who damned it by calling it "more wholesome than toothsome", to Pasqua Rosée and his contemporaries, who urged its more fantastic claims, it was forced to make its way through a veritable morass of misunderstanding and intolerance. No harmless drink in history has suffered more at hands of friend and foe.

Did its friends hail it as a panacea, its enemies retorted that it was a slow poison. In France and in England there were those who contended that it produced melancholy, and those who argued it was a cure for the same. Dr. Thomas Willis (1621–1673), a distinguished Oxford physician whom Antoine Portal (1742–1832) called "one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived", said he would sometimes send his patients to the coffee house rather than to the apothecary's shop. An old broadside, described later in this chapter, stressed the notion that if you "do but this Rare ARABIAN cordial use, and thou may'st all the Doctors Slops Refuse."

As a cure for drunkenness its "magic" power was acclaimed by its friends, and grudgingly admitted by its foes. This will appear presently in a description of the war of the broadsides and the pamphlets. Coffee was praised by one writer as a deodorizer. Another (Richard Bradley), in his treatise concerning its use with regard to the plague, said if its qualities had been fully known in 1665, "Dr. Hodges and other learned men of that time would have recommended it." As a matter of fact, in Gideon Harvey's Advice against the Plague, published in 1665, we find, "coffee is commended against the contagion."

This is how the drink's sobering virtue was celebrated by the author of the Rebellious Antidote:

Come, Frantick Fools, leave off your Drunken fits. Obsequious be and I'll recall your Wits, From perfect Madness to a modest Strain For farthings four I'll fetch you back again, Enable all your mene with tricks of State, Enter and sip and then attend your Fate; Come Drunk or Sober, for a gentle Fee, Come n'er so Mad, I'll your Physician be.

A Dr. Willis, in his Pharmaceutice Rationalis (1674), was one of the first to attempt to do justice to both sides of the coffee question. At best, he thought it a somewhat risky beverage, and its votaries must, in some cases, be prepared to suffer languor and even paralysis; it may attack the heart and cause tremblings in the limbs. On the other hand it may, if judiciously used, prove a marvelous benefit; "being daily drunk it wonderfully clears and enlightens each part of the Soul and disperses all the clouds of every Function."

It was a long time before recognition was obtained for the truth about the "novelty drink"; especially that, if there were any beyond purely social virtues to be found in coffee, they were "political rather than medical."

Dr. James Duncan, of the Faculty of Montpellier, in his book Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors, done into English in 1706, found coffee no more deserving of the name of panacea than that of poison.

George Cheyne (1671–1743), the noted British physician, proclaimed his neutrality in the words, "I have neither great praise nor bitter blame for the thing."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cafe de Procope

Cafe Procope, Paris It was not until 1689 that there appeared in Paris a real French adaptation of the Oriental coffee house. This was the Café de Procope, opened by François Procope (Procopio Cultelli, or Cotelli) who came from Florence or Palermo. Procope was a limonadier (lemonade vender) who had a royal license to sell spices, ices, barley water, lemonade, and other such refreshments. He early added coffee to the list, and attracted a large and distinguished patronage.

Procope, a keen-witted merchant, made his appeal to a higher class of patrons than did Pascal and those who first followed him. He established his café directly opposite the newly opened Comédie Française, in the street then known as the rue des Fossés-St.-Germain, but now the rue de l'Ancienne Comédie. A writer of the period has left this description of the place: "The Café de Procope ... was also called the Antre [cavern] de Procope, because it was very dark even in full day, and ill-lighted in the evenings; and because you often saw there a set of lank, sallow poets, who had somewhat the air of apparitions."

Because of its location, the Café de Procope became the gathering place of many noted French actors, authors, dramatists, and musicians of the eighteenth century. It was a veritable literary salon. Voltaire was a constant patron; and until the close of the historic café, after an existence of more than two centuries, his marble table and chair were among the precious relics of the coffee house. His favorite drink is said to have been a mixture of coffee and chocolate. Rousseau, author and philosopher; Beaumarchais, dramatist and financier; Diderot, the encyclopedist; Ste.-Foix, the abbé of Voisenon; de Belloy, author of the Siege of Callais; Lemierre, author of Artaxerce; Crébillon; Piron; La Chaussée; Fontenelle; Condorcet; and a host of lesser lights in the French arts, were habitués of François Procope's modest coffee saloon near the Comédie Française.

Naturally, the name of Benjamin Franklin, recognized in Europe as one of the world's foremost thinkers in the days of the American Revolution, was often spoken over the coffee cups of Café de Procope; and when the distinguished American died in 1790, this French coffee house went into deep mourning "for the great friend of republicanism." The walls, inside and out, were swathed in black bunting, and the statesmanship and scientific attainments of Franklin were acclaimed by all frequenters.

The Café de Procope looms large in the annals of the French Revolution. During the turbulent days of 1789 one could find at the tables, drinking coffee or stronger beverages, and engaged in debate over the burning questions of the hour, such characters as Marat, Robespierre, Danton, Hébert, and Desmoulins. Napoleon Bonaparte, then a poor artillery officer seeking a commission, was also there. He busied himself largely in playing chess, a favorite recreation of the early Parisian coffee-house patrons. It is related that François Procope once compelled young Bonaparte to leave his hat for security while he sought money to pay his coffee score.

After the Revolution, the Café de Procope lost its literary prestige and sank to the level of an ordinary restaurant. During the last half of the nineteenth century, Paul Verlaine, bohemian, poet, and leader of the symbolists, made the Café de Procope his haunt; and for a time it regained some of its lost popularity. The Restaurant Procope still survives at 13 rue de l'Ancienne Comédie.

History records that, with the opening of the Café de Procope, coffee became firmly established in Paris. In the reign of Louis XV there were 600 cafés in Paris. At the close of the eighteenth century there were more than 800. By 1843 the number had increased to more than 3000.