( Originally Published 1917 )
The popularity of coffee. There are few foods about which consumers are usually so particular as they are about coffee. People who enjoy this beverage at all are likely to regard it as the most delicious drink that has found its way to the tables of civilized man.
Coffee a restaurant "drawing card." Certain high-priced restaurants and hotels have catered to this highly developed taste to such an extent that their popularity practically rests upon their ability to hit the taste of their customers in this one particular. In other words, the excellence of the coffee served is their "drawing card." Considered from this viewpoint, the coffee seryed in these places is the most important item on the menu and any variation in its quality is a matter for serious thought on the part of the management. In many instances, a poor brand of coffee has turned thousands of dollars a month away from the cash drawer of a large city restaurant. Likewise the serving of coffee of a high standard of excellence, day after day, has driven more than one restaurant out of the ranks of the poorly paying into the highly profitable class.
Dealer's success depends upon quality. The same sensitive taste as to the quality of the coffee served in the home may be noted in nearly every family that uses it. This fact has a big trade significance. It means that importers, jobbers, and retailers in foods must give special attention to this product about which the general public is so particular. The wholesaler realizes that if he can make his coffee department especially strong, his house is thereby placed in a good competing position. It is doubtful if there is any one article, other than coffee,on the food list upon which is centered so much care by all who traffic in foods. In view of this fact it is interesting to note that the price of coffee is not subject to the extreme changes that affect most foods about which the consumer is particular. The choicest coffee to be had in the market, the kind bought by persons of great wealth who consider quality without regard to cost, does not command a startling price. At least there is no such difference in the prices of coffees that there is in the prices of teas. Almost any fancy grocery in a large city, a store patronized chiefly by people of wealth, carries teas that sell at several dollars a pound. Probably the most exclusive grade of coffee carried in this class of stores does not sell for more than sixty or seventy cents a pound.
The first coffee drinkers. There are many stories as to who first discovered the food value of coffee. Here are two of the most interesting and the most likely to be true. In Europe this important discovery is usually credited to the inmates of an old monastery in Arabia. The monks had noticed that their goats after browsing upon coffee berries were unusually lively. Prompted by curiosity they decided to taste the berries and find out for themselves whether they would be affected in the same way. Accordingly they first tried chewing the berry, but the result proved unsatisfactory. Next they boiled the berries but were again disappointed. They felt quite sure, however, that the berries should be cooked in some way, so they tried roasting them. To their delight they found that this gave the berries a fine flavor. For some time they continued to chew the roasted berry. Finally one of the younger monks brewed a delicious and stimulating drink by boiling the roasted berries after pounding them in a mortar. Very soon coffee became the most popular drink at their meals. Pilgrims to whom the monks gave shelter and food were pleased with the strange but fragrant beverage served them at the monastery. They spread its fame wherever they journeyed and thus the use of coffee was extended.
Our second story relates that coffee roasted, powdered, and made into paste balls has been familiar to the Ethiopians of Northern Africa from an unknown time. These balls were eaten without further preparation. Coffee reached Abyssinia in the latter part of the thirteenth century and traveled to Arabia about two hundred years later. From there it was distributed to the world.
Origin of "Mocha" coffee. Coffee was originally shipped from the port of Mocha, to which it owes the name "Mocha." But for many years none has been shipped from that port, which has been closed by drifting sand except to native boats. This name, however, still clings to a certain kind of high-grade coffee. Abyssinia now ships a grade of Mocha, and much of that kind of coffee is shipped from Aden, a British port in Arabia.
Mandheling and Ankola coffees. Undoubtedly the choicest and finest coffees of to-day are grown in the Dutch East Indies, on the Island of Sumatra. They are known as Mandheling and Ankola. These coffees were formerly knoi'vn as Old Government Java, because. the coffee was picked' from the different plantations, cured, and at regular periods collected by the government and shipped to Amster-dam, where it was sold at auction.
The coffee 'countries. There are numerous grades of coffee grown in many different countries. The various countries of the world consume in all about 2,500,000,000 pounds each year. This coffee is sup-plied by Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Salvador, Mexico, Porto Rico and other islands of the West Indies, Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, India, Arabia, and Abyssinia.
If you turn to the map of the world and note carefully the position of the coffee countries, it will help you to realize the remarkable geographic range of coffee production. In this study of the map you will learn another interesting fact about the countries which contribute to mankind's supply of coffee: that is, that South American countries now play the leading part. Coffee is the star crop of tropic America.
On a great coffee plantation. The United States is the largest coffee consumer. We buy in a year about 1,000,000,000 pounds of coffee. Of this Brazil supplies about 75 per cent. For this reason it will be interesting to take a look at the plantations there.
The coffee tree, or shrub, is produced from a seed. The seedlings are transplanted when small and the tree grows to a height of eight to fifteen feet. It produces a crop about five years after the planting of the seed.
The leaves resemble those of the laurel, and the, flowers are not unlike jasmine blossoms and are very fragrant. A few days after their opening the flowers disappear and in their place come clusters of, green berries which when ripe are a bright red. They are ready for picking in about six or seven months after they appear. As the time for picking approaches, the berries shrivel and dry. Each normal berry contains two coffee beans.
Here, however, enters a most interesting exception. Probably you have more than once seen a sign in a retail grocery calling attention to "Peaberry Coffee" and have wondered what was the especial peculiarity of that variety. The fact is that it is not a distinct variety at all. Had you looked closely you would have noted that the berries were round instead of flat. These double or undivided berries occur at the end of the branches where they are not as well nourished as the others which get first chance at the supply of plant food. The result is that these tip-end berries are stunted while their more favored companions develop into twin or "flat" beans. The "peaberries," however, are quite numerous and a very acceptable article of trade, having as much strength as a fully developed coffee bean.
Coffee is picked by men, women, and children who carry baskets into which they put the fruit. When the baskets are full, the coffee is dumped in heaps, then loaded on wagons and carted to the drying stations. After the beans are thoroughly washed they are spread in the sun to dry, either in large shallow wooden trays or on modern terraced concrete drying yards. Every morning after the dew has disappeared, the coffee is raked over to insure a thorough sunning.
After the coffee has been properly dried or "cured," it is repeatedly run through hulling and fanning machines, which clean it and remove the tough hull. Then the coffee is ready for shipment.
Why coffee is blended. Blending usually done by the importer or wholesaler is an important branch of the coffee industry. Different varieties of coffee beans are blended or mixed together in order to obtain a smooth, mellow, aromatic liquid. Blending strengthens a coffee that is too weak and tempers one that is too strong. For instance, genuine Mocha is a little too acid and genuine Java is usually not quite acid enough to please the popular taste. So, in order that each element may be in just the right proportion to produce the finest possible flavor, the two coffees are blended. That is, the blender uses just the proper proportion of each to obtain the right result. The success of a certain brand of coffee depends largely upon the quality and uniformity of the blend. The blending of coffee is done before it has been roasted.
Roasting brings out flavor. Coffee roasting is an art which requires great skill, since it is proper roasting which gives the coffee its flavor. Of course different coffees from different countries will vary in strength and aroma or, as we sometimes say, bouquet, if subjected to the same roasting. However, a radical difference in roasting can bring about a far greater difference in taste than can nature through the influence of widely different soils and climates. The coffee bean is composed of innumerable tiny cells in which are stored the aromatic oils of the coffee. Roasting causes certain chemical changes in the bean which alter both its appearance and its flavor. Roasting liberates the "caffeine," which is the stimulating quality in coffee, corresponding to the " theine" in tea.
When the coffee is ground the cells are broken up and the oils released. Then immersing it in boiling water quickly brings out the flavor. The art of producing the finest beverage from any coffee is much a matter of not permitting any of the aroma to escape from either the package or the brew.
Where we get our coffee. If coffee is not already the favorite drink of the American people, it is growing in popularity every day. On an average each man, woman, and child in this country consumes a pound of coffee every month in the year. In France coffee is served in several ways. Individually, Scandinaviaris are the world's greatest coffee drinkers. They drink coffee not only at each meal but also between meals.
Although the Netherlands proper produces no coffee, yet we have imported from this country almost 6,000,000 pounds in a single year. Can you explain this? If you can recall which country owns the rich East India islands, Sumatra and Java, your answer will be easy.
Brazil raises three fourths of the world's supply of coffee, producing more than 1,800,000,000 pounds in one year. Venezuela, with a yearly crop of 96,000,000 pounds, is the second largest producer, and Colombia, with 92,500,000 pounds to her credit, is the third. Guatemala grew about 89,000,000 pounds in one year and Mexico about 65,000,000 in the same period. These countries sold us about the following quantities of coffee: Brazil, 743,000,000 pounds; Colombia, 91,000,000 pounds; Venezuela, 50,000,000 pounds; Mexico, 49,500,000 pounds; and Guatemala, 25,000,000 pounds. Ask your family grocer about the average retail price of coffee in this country and with these figures you can make a very fair estimate of our national coffee bill. The sum will mount high into the millions, and will give you an idea of the tremendous importance of coffee among our foods.
How altitude influences coffee. "Coffee," says an expert who has many times visited all the great coffee-growing centers, "is perhaps the most sensitive of foods. It is influenced by many things by climate, soil, and method of cultivation, by the manner of picking, curing, handling, blending, roasting, grinding, and brewing it for the table.
"Perhaps the most noticeable feature in the raising of coffee is the great influence that altitude has upon the berry. The better grades of coffee, those grades that carry the exquisite flavor and strength of the best product, are raised in the highlands, while the less desirable grades are raised in the lowlands. The best coffee grows at an altitude of from 2,500 to 3,000 feet above sea level. The growth in the low-lands is ranker and the strength goes more into the foliage, while the hardy plants of the uplands put the snap and, freshness of their crisp climate into the berries. Therefore we find the best coffee grown in Colombia for the coffee lands of that country have the highest average altitude.
"The average coffee consumer, however, does not care to have a single grade of coffee served him, as it often proves to be too strong or too rich, too weak or too acid. That is why coffees grown in the lower altitudes are blended with those from the highlands.
Occupation descends from father to son. "Another interesting feature in the coffee industry is found in the fact that, like the making of cheese, the raising of coffee is an art that is handed down from father to son. There is this difference, however, that the sons usually go to America or to France to broaden their education. They go there to learn the most modern methods of financing their business, of marketing their product, and of meeting the varying requirements of foreign customers."