Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Discovery of Coffee

These legends about the early discovery of coffee are excerpted from "Coffee; its history and also its remarkable growth in the world of commerce (1898)"

In the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris is an old manuscript which contains the statement, that the use of coffee was known as early as 875 A. D., over a thousand years ago. But this manuscript is not explicit, and throws very little light into the haze of romance that surrounds the birth of coffee.

One legend says that when the pious dervish Hadji Omar fell under the ban of the people of Mocha, and was driven forth in the year 1285, A. D., to perish in the wilderness, he roasted some of the berries that grew wild in the thickets, and some of them accidentally fell into the water which he had collected for coffee drinking. He failed to notice it for some time, and when he did, lo! coffee was discovered. He stole back into Mocha, proclaimed his discovery, and the Mochans, who knew a good thing, took him back into favor, and made a saint of him on the spot.

Another story gives credit to the friar of a monastery for the first use of coffee. The friar had great difficulty in keeping his monks awake during devotions, and on being told by a goatherd of the exciting effect, produced on his goats by eating coffee berries, he decided to try them on his charge. He did so with admirable results and thus was discovered the great stimulating effects of coffee, which prepared the way for its world-wide popularity.

A more authentic account is given in a manuscript published in 1566 by an Arab sheik, which states that the learned sheik Djemal-eddin-Ebn-Abou-Alfagger brought coffee from Abyssinia to Arabia, in the neighborbood of 1400 A. D., and still another treatise places the date at which the Arabians found out its good qualities, about a century after. Some accounts say that it came direct from Abyssinia or Ethiopia to Arabia, and others give the Persians credit for having had the first taste of our familiar beverage, though I believe it was first used by them for medicinal purposes. Certain it is, however, that the introduction of coffee into the Mohammedan countries met with a great deal of opposition. One party contended that the roasted berry was a kind of coal, and the Prophet had very sensibly made it a law that coal should not be be eaten by his people. Another party maintained that it was an intoxicant, and as the Koran prohibits the use of intoxicants, it could not be partaken of by the faithful.

However, it was soon discovered that coffee was neither a fuel nor an intoxicating beverage, and so it came into general use. It began to be cultivated in Yemen, in southern Arabia, and for two centuries the entire supply of ihe world came from there. Even today the celebrated Mocha, or Mukha, comes from Yemen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Grinding and Packaging of Coffee

It is a curious fact that green coffee improves upon aging, whereas after roasting it deteriorates with time. Even when packed in the best containers, age shows to a disadvantage on the roasted bean. This is due to a number of causes, among which are oxidation, volatilization of the aroma, absorption of moisture and consequent hydrolysis, and alteration in the character of the aromatic principles. Doolittle and Wright in the course of some extensive experiments found that roasted coffee showed a continual gain in weight throughout 60 weeks, this gain being mostly due to moisture absorption. An investigation by Gould also demonstrated that roasted coffee gives off carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide upon standing. The latter, apparently produced during roasting and retained by the cellular structure of the bean, diffuses therefrom; whereas the former comes from an ante-roasting decomposition of unstable compounds present.

The surface of the whole bean forms a natural protection against atmospheric influences, and as soon as this is broken, deterioration sets in. On this account, coffee should be ground immediately before extraction if maximum efficiency is to be obtained. The cells of the beans tend to retain the fugacious aromatic principles to a certain extent; so that the more of these which are broken in grinding, the greater will be the initial loss and the more rapid the vitiation of the coffee. It might, therefore, seem desirable to grind coarsely in order to avoid this as much as possible. However, the coarser the grind, the slower and more incomplete will be the extraction. A patent has been granted for a grind which contains about 90 percent fine coffee and 10 percent coarse, the patentee's claim being that in his "irregular grind" the coarse coffee retains enough of the volatile constituents to flavor the beverage, while the fine coffee gives a very high extraction, thus giving an efficient brew without sacrificing individuality.

In packaging roasted coffee the whole bean is naturally the best form to employ, but if the coffee is ground first, King found that deterioration is most rapid with the coarse ground coffee, the speed decreasing with the size of the ground particles. He explains this on the ground of "ventilation"—the finer the grind, the closer the particles pack together, the less the circulation of air through the mass, and the smaller the amount of aroma which is carried away. He also found that glass makes the best container for coffee, with the tin can, and the foil-lined bag with an inner lining of glassine, not greatly inferior.

Considerable publicity has been given recently to the method of packing coffee in a sealed tin under reduced pressure. While thus packing in a partial vacuum undoubtedly retards oxidation and precludes escape of aroma from the original package, it would seem likely to hasten the initial volatilizing of the aroma. Also, it would appear from Gould's work that roasted coffee evolves carbon dioxide until a certain positive pressure is attained, regardless of the initial pressure in the container. Accordingly, vacuum-packing apparently enhances decomposition of certain constituents of coffee. Whether this result is beneficial or otherwise is not quite clear.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vintage Coffee Video: NoneSuch Coffee, 1934


Remember ladies, the way to a man's heart is thru the coffee pot!

Here's a vintage coffee advertisement from 1934 for NoneSuch Coffee, roasted using a new "secret process" and kept in the icebox! Pretty radical but it does seem to please Mr. Jones. The video is actually rather sweet and innocent, but is a reminder of how our consumerist culture got started and how far along it was already by the 1930's.

This video is courtesy of the excellent Prelinger Archives.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coffee Harvesting in Brazil, 1913

Brazilian Coffee Farm 1913 This is an interesting description of the process of harvesting and preparing coffee beans for market in Brazil, from "Across Unknown South America", by A. Henry Savage-Landor, 1913

The collection of the berries is the busiest process in the fazendas, and has to be performed with considerable care, for some of the berries are already ripe and dried when others hidden under the branches have not yet reached the required degree of maturity. An experienced hand can collect from 400 to 450 litres of coffee berries per day. It takes an average of 100 litres of coffee berries to produce 15 kilos of prepared coffee beans ready to be shipped. The crop is not the same every year. After one plentiful crop there generally succeeds one year, sometimes two or three, of poor—almost insignificant—collections, varying according to the care that is taken of the trees and the soil.

When once the coffee has been collected and transported to the fazenda in baskets, blankets and sheets, it is necessary to remove the skin and viscous pulpy matter which envelop the beans. This is done partly by maceration in water tanks, and afterwards by drying upon extensive flat terraces, tiled or cemented, and locally called terreiro. The process of drying by machinery has not been adopted in Brazil; principally because of its high cost. The coffee is first placed for some days in mounds on the terraces, until fermentation of the outer skin begins, which afterwards hastens desiccation when coffee is spread flat in a thin layer on the terraces. When once the coffee berries have been freed from their pulpy envelope and skin, the desiccation—if the weather is propitious—takes place in a few days. Care must be taken to move the berries constantly, so that they dry evenly on all sides, as perfect desiccation is necessary in order to preserve the coffee in good condition after it is packed for shipment.

There are two ways of preparing coffee for export—the humid and the dry. In the humid process the berries are placed in a special machine called despolpadore, which leaves the beans merely covered and held together in couples by the membrane immediately enclosing them after the skin and viscous sugary coating have been removed. Those coffees are called in commerce, lavados, or washed.

The dry process consists, after the berries have been skinned and dried, in removing part of the pulp and membrane in a special machine and a series of ventilators. They are then quite ready for export.

The preparation of coffee from the drying terraces is slightly more complicated. The coffee passes through a first ventilator, which frees it from impurities such as earth, stems, stones, filaments, etc.; from this it is conveyed by means of an elevator into the descascador, where the membrane is removed. Subsequently it passes through a series of other ventilators, which eliminate whatever impurities have remained and convey the coffee into a polishing machine (brunidor). There the coffee is subjected to violent friction, which not only removes the last atoms of impurity but gives the beans a finishing polish. The coffee is then ready for the market.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brew, Don't Boil

The old-time boiling method of making coffee has gone out of style, because the average consumer is becoming aware of the fact that it does not give a drink of maximum efficiency. Boiling the ground coffee with water results in a large loss of aromatic principles and a bitter flavor to the beverage. Also, the maintenance of a high temperature by the direct application of heat has a deleterious effect upon the substances in solution. This is also true in the case of the percolator, and any other device wherein the solution is caused to pass directly into steam at the point where heat is applied. Warm and cold water extract about the same amount of material from coffee; but with different rates of speed, an increase in temperature decreasing the time necessary to effect the desired result.

It is a well known fact that re-warming a coffee brew has an undesirable effect upon it. This is very probably due to the precipitation of some of the water-soluble proteins when the solution cools, and their subsequent decomposition when heat is applied directly to them in reheating the solution. The absorption of air by the solution upon cooling, with attendant oxidation, which is accentuated by the application of heat in re-warming, must also be considered. When an extract of coffee cools upon standing, some of the aromatic principles separate out and are lost by volatilization.

The method of extracting coffee which gives the most satisfaction is practised by using a grind just coarse enough to retain the flavoring components, retaining the ground coffee in a fine cloth bag, as in the urn system, or on a filter paper, and pouring water at boiling temperature over the coffee. During the extraction, a top should be kept on the device to minimize volatilization, and the temperature of the extract should be maintained constant at about 200° F. after being made. Whether a repouring is necessary or not is dependent upon the speed with which the water passes through the coffee, which in turn is controlled by the fineness of the grind and of the filtering medium.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Judging Coffee Quality by Taste and Appearance

Before the beginning of the twentieth century, practically all the coffees bought and sold in the United States were judged for merit simply by the appearance of the green or of the roasted bean. Since that time, the importance of testing the drinking qualities has become generally recognized; and today every progressive coffee buyer has his sample-roasting and testing outfit with which to carry out painstaking cup tests. Both buyers and sellers use the cup test, the former to determine the merits of the coffee he is buying, and the latter to ascertain the proper value of the chop under consideration. Frequently a test is made to fix the relative desirability of various growths considered as a whole, using composite samples that are supposed to give representation to an entire crop.

The first step in testing coffee is to compare the appearance of the green bean of a chop with a sample of known standard value for that particular kind of coffee. The next step is to compare the appearance when roasted. Then comes the appearance and aroma test, when it is ground; and finally, the most difficult of all, the trial of the flavor and aroma of the liquid.

Naturally the tester gives much care to proper roasting of the samples to be examined. He recognizes several different kinds of roasts which he terms the light, the medium, the dark, the Italian, and the French roasts, all of which vary in the shadings of color, and each of which gives a different taste in the cup. The careful tester watches the roast closely to see whether the beans acquire a dull or bright finish, and to note also if there are many quakers, or off-color beans. When the proper roasting point is reached, he smells the beans while still hot to determine their aroma. In some growths and grades, he will frequently smell of them as they cool off, because the character changes as the heat leaves them, as in the case of many Maracaibo grades.

After roasting, the actual cup-testing begins. Two methods are employed, the blind cup test, in which there is no clue to the identity of the kind of coffee in the cup; and the open test, in which the tester knows beforehand the particular coffee he is to examine. The former is most generally employed by buyers and sellers; although a large number of experts who do not let their knowledge interfere with their judgment, use the open method.

In both systems the amount of ground coffee placed in the cup is carefully weighed so that the strength will be standard. Generally, the cups are marked on the bottom for identification after the examination. Before pouring on the hot water to make the brew, the aroma of the freshly ground coffee is carefully noted to see if it is up to standard. In pouring the water, care is exercised to keep the temperature constant in the cups, so that the strength in all will be equal. When the water is poured directly on the grounds, a crust or scum is formed. Before this crust breaks, the tester sniffs the aroma given off; this is called the wet-smell, or crust, test, and is considered of great importance.

Of course, the taste of the brew is the most important test. Equal amounts of coffee are sipped from each cup, the tester holding each sip in his mouth only long enough to get the full strength of the flavor. He spits out the coffee into a large brass cuspidor which is designed for the purpose. The expert never swallows the liquor.

Cup-testing calls for keenly developed senses of sight, smell, and taste, and the faculty for remembering delicate shadings in each sense. By sight, the coffee man judges the size, shape, and color of the green and roasted bean, which are important factors in determining commercial values. He can tell also whether the coffee is of the washed or unwashed variety, and whether it contains many imperfections such as quakers, pods, stones, brokens, off-colored beans, and the like. By his sense of smell of the roast and of the brew, he gauges the strength of the aroma, which also enters into the valuation calculation. His palate tells him many things about a coffee brew—if the drink has body and is smooth, rich, acidy, or mellow; if it is winy, neutral, harsh, or Rioy; if it is musty, groundy, woody, or grassy; or if it is rank, hidey (sour), muddy, or bitter. These are trade designations of the different shades of flavor to be found in the various coffees coming to the North American market; and each has an influence on the price at which they will be sold.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Philadelphia's First Coffee House

The first house of public resort opened in Philadelphia bore the name of the Blue Anchor tavern, and was probably established in 1683 or 1684; colonial records do not state definitely. As its name indicates, this was a tavern. The first coffee house came into existence about the year 1700. Watson, in one place in his Annals of the city, says 1700, but in another 1702. The earlier date is thought to be correct, and is seemingly substantiated by the co-authors Scharf and Westcott in their History of the city, in which they say, "The first public house designated as a coffee house was built in Penn's time [1682–1701] by Samuel Carpenter, on the east side of Front Street, probably above Walnut Street. That it was the first of its kind—the only one in fact for some years—seems to be established beyond doubt. It was always referred to in old times as 'Ye Coffee House.'"

Carpenter owned also the Globe inn, which was separated from Ye coffee house by a public stairway running down from Front Street to Water Street, and, it is supposed, to Carpenter's Wharf. The exact location of the old house was recently established from the title to the original patentee, Samuel Carpenter, by a Philadelphia real-estate title-guarantee company, as being between Walnut and Chestnut Streets, and occupying six and a half feet of what is now No. 137 South Front Street and the whole of No. 139.

How long Ye coffee house endured is uncertain. It was last mentioned in colonial records in a real estate conveyance from Carpenter to Samuel Finney, dated April 26, 1703. In that document it is described as "That brick Messuage, or Tenement, called Ye Coffee House, in the possession of Henry Flower, and situate, lying and being upon or before the bank of the Delaware River, containing in length about thirty feet and in breadth about twenty-four."

The Henry Flower mentioned as the proprietor of Philadelphia's first coffee house, was postmaster of the province for a number of years, and it is believed that Ye coffee house also did duty as the post-office for a time. Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, in an issue published in 1734, has this advertisement:

All persons who are indebted to Henry Flower, late postmaster of Pennsylvania, for Postage of Letters or otherwise, are desir'd to pay the same to him at the old Coffee House in Philadelphia.

Flower's advertisement would indicate that Ye coffee house, then venerable enough to be designated as old, was still in existence, and that Flower was to be found there. Franklin also seems to have been in the coffee business, for in several issues of the Gazette around the year 1740 he advertised: "Very good coffee sold by the Printer."