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WRITING · RECIPES · TEACHING · PHOTOGRAPHY
by Edward Bottone
Coffee love swept America like a typhoon of taste. Connoisseurs of coffee have long been a tradition in Europe and Latin America, but in North America, for the most part, coffee was an after thought. The Starbucks Coffee Company out of Seattle is often credited with the coffee boom beginning in 1987 with 17 stores. True or not, Starbucks Coffee International opened in Paris in 2004 and they had over 8,000 locations worldwide by then; double the number from two years before. Big numbers? Maybe not.
There were 2,000 coffee houses in Paris at the time of the French Revolution (1789) and the number doubled by the beginning of the Empire. Far more coffee was drunk in England in the seventeenth century than was tea. In London it was a time when on nearly every corner hung the sign of the now ubiquitous coffee house, a Turkish coffee pot or a Sultan’s head. Indeed for a while the drink was swaggeringly called the ‘Turkish Renegade’. By the turn of the seventeenth century there were 600,000 people living in London with 3,000 coffee houses to serve them. One for every 200 people! They were called everything from ‘penny universities’ to dens of political foment, for good reasons, as you shall see.
Java History & Legend
Although the first mention of coffee by a European was by an Italian named Prospero Alpino in 1580, the origins of the elixir go back to a legendary goatherd in Abyssinia. In a story that is complex or simple, a according to the teller, it seems that the goatherd was at a loss to explain the friskiness of his ‘dancing goats’. When he conferred with the Imam from a nearby monastery it was discovered that the goats had been grazing on shiny leaves and bright red berries. When he tried chewing the leaves and berries they to experienced a sense of heightened excitement. In that epoch making moment, what was to become known as the ‘Wine of Islam’, had been discovered.
It was quite sometime, however, before coffee became the decoction of roasted beans to which we are accustomed today. At first the ‘cherries’ were eaten whole, or crushed and mixed with butter, endured rather than enjoyed for its stimulating qualities. Eventually someone got the revolutionary idea that if the beans inside the cherries were roasted like cereals, pulverized and boiled it might make an interesting beverage. This early bitter result was sweetened with honey. Soon the kawah, ‘that which excites and causes the spirits to rise’, caught on. By the ninth century coffee was used and enjoyed in Aden and Ethiopia but did not experience widespread use in Arabia until the fifteenth century, after which there was no stopping it.
So popular did the drink become that Alexander Dumas, in his Dictionaire de Cuisine, noted that the taste for coffee “went so far in Constantinople that the Imams complained their mosques were empty while the coffee houses were full.” This, in one variation or another, became a popular complaint during coffee’s first few centuries of use.
Coffee On The Continent
It is hard to imagine how an innocent little bean that migrated from the Levant came to influence the style of life throughout Europe and England, was responsible for changes of government and for the genesis of many financial institutions that exist today. After all it is just a cup of coffee – right? Wrong.
During the 1600’s the English began importing coffee and its popularity was immediate. By 1675 Charles II made an unsuccessful attempt at stemming the rising tidal wave of coffee houses denouncing them as hotbeds of political intrigue; which of course they were. In an age were “The Media” consisted of criers, word of mouth, pamphlets and posted Bills, anywhere people gathered to exchange news, opinions and gossip was dangerous. The growth and influence of the coffee house grew unabated throughout the reigns of Queen Anne and George III.
In 1674 a, extraordinary screed called, The Women’s Petition Against Coffee (“base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous puddlewater”) was published in London including the complaints that, because of coffee houses men were “not to be found at home in times of domestic crisis”, and the drink made them impotent (yet another form of domestic crisis).
Coffee met with similar opposition in all of the European capitols. In Italy the priests appealed to Pope Clement VIII to make coffee forbidden among Catholics because it was the official drink of the infidel Moslems. The far-sighted Pope, knowing that it was the wine of Islam, in a devilish twist baptized it instead. Just the same in Venice the Council of Ten denounced Caffès as ‘social cankers’ – immoral, and corrupting.
The Caffè Florian, opened in 1720 by Floriana Francesconi build it’s success on its patrons, and its padrone who had “long concentrated in himself a knowledge more varied and multifarious than that possessed by any individual before or since.” Today the Cafe Florian, on St. Mark’s Square, has lost none of its lustre and is arguably the most celebrated coffee house in the world.
“Were I king,” wrote the wise Frenchman Montesquieu, “ I would close the cafés … the intoxication which coffee arouses in them, causes them to endanger the country’s future.” And he was right. The coffee house had become more like clubs — clubs of radical thinkers. The French revolution was born in the café. Robespierre frequented Café La Regence and there espoused his doctrines and cries to action; Danton and Marat shaped the Republic in Procope’s already famous café.
Coffee was a problem in Germany, too. So bemused was the public by the uproar that coffee consumption had brought about that J.S. Bach was moved to compose the Coffee Cantata n 1732-a musical amusement exposing the “horrors” of coffee.
In 1781 Frederick the Great found it necessary to employ coffee “sniffers” to roam the streets to smell out those not permitted by royal decree to be among the privileged to enjoy the brew. In the end it was money and not Royal prestige with which the King was concerned. Beer, the national drink, was being usurped by this ‘brown poison’. In a decree of 1777 he’d warned: “It is disgusting to note the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. My people must drink beer.” In fact, until coffee came along beer soup was the accepted breakfast beverage. How times had changed. Of course, none of it worked. Governments have never been able to legislate morality or lifestyle, although they continue to try.
Right from the first, everywhere it was consumed, coffee was a man’s drink. Women were restricted, by design or preference, to the more genteel pleasures of a pot of chocolate. The growth and activity of these male dominated coffee houses was due in no small part to the fact that they were places of rendezvous for the upper and middle classes, they had quickly become an important component in the social fabric in all societies. Today we call it networking or just plain social climbing.
In London gentlemen, business men, clergy, artists, students and writers all had their favorite coffee houses were they would encounter men of like mind. The first coffee house was opened in 1650 at Oxford at the Angel in the parish of St. Peter-in-The-East. Two years later Pasqua Rosée opened London’s first cafe in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill. Soon the pot boiled over.
In England the coffee houses, evolved in an interesting fashion. Merchant Banks, insurance houses and the Stock Exchange all came into being in coffee houses. In 1682, the Bank of Credit was formed and announced that they were set up for business in specified coffee houses — Garaway’s, Peter’s in Covent Garden, the Mail Coffee House at Charing Cross. At Tom’s Coffee House, the oldest fire insurance service, known as Hand-in-Hand was formed. Doctors used city coffee houses as consulting rooms. And the famous private clubs,; The Kit Kat, Beefsteak, and the October Club, all began as coffee houses. Of those that evolved into business houses, none is more famous than Lloyd’s.
Back in 1689 in the back room of Edward Lloyd’s coffee house seafaring men (whether or not they went to sea), wagered on the fate of merchandise that came and went between London and the East and West Indies. Would the cargo come to a peaceful end or meet with misadventure. This type of gambling became known as insurance.
Samuel Pepys, whose diary is a wonderful window on the times of the 17th century, described the ‘bitter black drink’. Usually served black, he wrote, it was made with boiled eggshells and sometimes mixed with mustard or sugar candy. Some concoctions included “oatmeal, a pint of ale or any wine, ginger, honey or sugar to please the taste … butter might be added and any cordial powder or pleasant spice.” And you thought flavored coffees were something new.
In the next century it was the hated Tea Tax of 1767 that made a nation of coffee drinkers out of the soon to be Americans. King George’s attempt to impose a tax on the tea drinking habits of his colonists in America not only decided their beverage preference but bought him a revolution.
All of this because of a little fruit, that hid a little bean, that made an inky, fragrant brew.
Expressions of Espresso
The current head over heals for coffee really began not so very long ago when the first espresso machine came into being. The contemporary focus is not on the conventional cup, but on that o, so continental tiny, unctuous, dark brown, foamy cup of espresso and its many variants.
Although there was a coffee machine exhibited in Paris at the Exposition Universelle in 1855, it was not what we know today as an espresso machine. In 1901, in an effort to cut down on employee coffee breaks, Luigi Barezza designed a machine that made faster coffee with the aid of steam and water under pressure. A good idea but the coffee was sometimes bitter and he never had the funds to market his prototype, appropriately named, Tipo Gigante.
It was during the 1930’s when Francesco Illy (Illy cafe is still an industry leader) created the first viable prototype that utilized compressed air to propel the water uniformly through the coffee grounds. Formerly a machine had to build up a head of steam to a critical pressure before the water would flow. This was, however minor it seems, a big break through.
In the next decade, in 1945, Achille Gaggia (still manufacturing one of the best machines on the market) devised the spring-powered piston lever machine — the Gaggia Crema Caffè. This pump process was the beginning of the modern, commercially viable, espresso machinetta. This was the machine that brought the espresso bar into being.
The process is simple: very hot water is forced through the grounds at high pressure. The coffee is brewed extracting the maximum amount of flavor and body in the least amount of time. The steaming cup is then served and enjoyed immediately — the best way to enjoy coffee. It is one of those logical assumptions that actually is true.
There is no good cup of coffee without high quality, freshly roasted beans. Just what beans will put the steaming your cup is a highly subjective matter. s with wine you’ll have to do some research to find just what flavors appeal most to you.
The first thing you need to know is that there are essentially two types of beans Arabica and Robusta. The latter, high yield and inferior, was, and still is, responsible for giving coffee a bad name among users in our part of the world. Beans should be kept in protective containers – in the store and in your home. Open burlap bag look nice but don’t do anything to preserve freshness. Buy in small amounts – what you’ll use in a week. If you don’t have a grinder have them ground at the store to your specifications. Keep your beans in airtight containers in the fridge. Grind as you need them (see below).
The growing regions, the names and classifications are many. Here are a few to get you started.
Apparently Brazil has a Portuguese coast guard officer to thank for all that coffee. In 1727 Francisco de Malo Palhete paid a visit to the Governor of Cayenne, French Guiana. The charmer engaged the interest of the Guv’s wife and she, slipped him a coffee plant in a bouquet of flowers. From this single seedling, that he transported to the Portuguese colony of Para on the Amazon, has grown the immense Brazilian coffee industry.
Apart from some selected better grades — quantity and not quality distinguishes Brazilian coffee. On giant Fazendas cultivation and harvesting is focused on greatest yield.
Columbia is the world’s second largest producer after Brazil. Runs the scale from poor to first class – some among the world’s best. The finest are grown in the foothills of the Andes, in the shade of banana and rubber trees abut 4,0000 feet above sea level. Strong, sharp, full bodied Medellins are very popular, Excelso, Manizales and Bogatas are among the most aromatic and flavorful.
The first coffee plants arrived in Costa Rica from Jamaica in 1779. Rich, loamy soil in the central mountain ranges near San Jose produce the best beans. These tend to be mild, rich in body and sharply acid. Coffees from the lower regions of Costa Rica tend towards a more neutral experience; actually they are boring.
Popular in the U.S. and Germany and tend to be slightly sweet, the better grades are strong and heavy bodied.
This is where, according to some legends, it all began. Delightful aroma, many Ethiopians can be very good. Producers, however, tend to be inconsistent and often employ primitive harvesting methods and the coffee may contain imperfections.
Mellow, mild, full bouquet; needs to be blended with a bolder bean to make a superior cup.
Coffee’s nickname comes from here. Old Java was a nineteenth century term for coffee beans that benefited from a minimum of ten years tropical storage. Today, if stored, matured and roasted properly they have a spicy fragrance, are mellow and strong.
The Kenya Peaberry produces a coffee immensely popular in Britain. The Coffee came to Kenya from Reunion island with the Catholic missionaries near the end of the nineteenth century. High quality, flavor and high acidity.
Until the close of the seventeenth century the world’s coffee supply emanate from the Yemenite city of Moka. Small, hard beans deliver a winy, piquant, distinctive coffee ideal for after dinner. Crude and primitive, centuries old harvesting methods, and political unrest have kept the beans scarce.
Blue Mountain, high grown, Jamaican coffee has been in vogue for some time now. I think it is grossly overrated. It’s good, but hey. The British introduced coffee here in 1730 and today a large portion of the crop is sold to the Japanese.
The Kona district produces a distinctively smooth, full flavored, low acidity bean. Growers deciding on macadamia nuts as the more favorable cash crop may make Kona coffee more scarce, and even more expensive as time goes on.
Mountain (Andes, again) grown coffees and both full bodied and delicate, are complex and have low acidity. You may have to search for some. Blend with others for fullest flavor.
Can be among the world’s best. Mellow, distinct Maracaibos can be memorable. Caracas ‘Blue’ may be a coming trend – I’ve never tasted it.
Mandheling beans, heavy bodied, rich, exquisitely flavoured are best. Ankola are heavy and musky. Arabicas are grown on the west coast, robustas on the east, why I don’t know. The Dutch introduced coffee here in 1699 with plants from the Malabar coast.
The Right Equipment
Like making anything else you will need a proper machine to brew your coffee. Right now any up to date kitchen without an espresso machine is sadly neglected. But you can make fine coffee in your pour over drip machine, in an on the stove espresso pot, in a plunger-filter French glass canister type, whatever. The best place to start is with the beans.
In the past coffee was boiled, cooked. The object of the brewing process is to extract the already cooked aromatic constituents from the ground beans by putting them in short contact with boiling water. Steeping, drip/filtration, percolating, vacuum/pressure are all methods of coffee making with which we are familiar. Unfamiliar would be the Turkish Ibric, those small, side handled copper or brass. Of these methods percolation, which continue boils the coffee, is the worst; steeping in a French style Melior plunger/filter the best.
If you need a guide use: a rounded tablespoon of grounds per cup (8 oz of water) you wish to make. I usually add one more ‘for the pot’. Adjust according to the strength you prefer. Drink it as soon as it is brewed. Brewed coffee, unlike wine, does not age well.
Reheated coffee is nasty.
Not just because it is the trend but coffee made in a proper espresso maker is superior to all of these. A freshly ground, measured amount of coffee put in the handle/strainer, tamped, locked in place and subjected to a blast of boiling water. The less expensive (not to say inexpensive) machines are a throw back to those that boiled water in a sealed tank until it reached critical pressure and then forced the water through the beans. These usually come with a small glass pot that allows for making four cups at a go. Same principle and a good cup can be made with the traditional stovetop Moka Express, on which there are lots of variations.
Brewing Your Own
The best way to start your day is with the daily grind. No, that’ s not a new underground newspaper but a task easily incorporated into your morning ritual. This means you will have to buy whole beans and grind them each day. Wait until you taste the difference.
Naturally you’ll need a grinder. Honoré de Balzac kept one nailed to his desk. The fifty cup a day prolific author was said to have bought the farm from caffeine poisoning. Most of the grinders around will do the job (you can also find them at house sales in like new condition). So called, burr grinders are superior to blades because they crack rather than actually grind. With all grinders use a stop and start method so that you don’t ‘burn’ the coffee as you grind. Desktop or in the kitchen you’ll have to decide which is the best grind for you.
If you are making Turkish (Greek coffee) grind the coffee to a powder. A very fine, like granulated sugar, is good for espresso, whether in a fancy machine or a stove top Mocha Express.
Fine, like cornmeal, is perfect for drip and filter makers.
Coarser than fine is for percolators and we aren’t going to use those are we?
Most Europeans, however, enjoy coffee throughout the day and not at home. In Italy on nearly every corner you’ll find a coffee bar. In the cities the price of the cup is determined on in what posture you’ll be consuming the coffee; standing, sitting at a table, etc. Today, wherever you go, you might encounter a coffee bar of some description and you’ll need to know how and what to order. (Read on)
What to order?
A Glossary of Sorts
In almost all instances you would drop the word Caffè and order a Latte or a Macchiatto, solo, doppio and so forth.Acidity – The sharp lively quality characteristic of high-grown coffee, tasted mainly at the tip of the tongue. The brisk, snappy quality that makes coffee refreshing. It is NOT the same as bitter or sour and has nothing to do with pH factors. Coffees are low in acidity, between 5 and 6 on the pH scale.
Caffè Americano – A shot or two of espresso that has been poured into a glass filled with hot water.
Caffè au Lait
Caffè con Panna … with cream
Caffè alla Romano
Most of the above variation of coffee drinks can be ordered as Decaf, should they be so stocked.
WRITING · RECIPES · TEACHING · PHOTOGRAPHY