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Valuing Coffee

( Originally Published 1900 )



HAVING traced the coffee from its original place of growth and followed all the processes necessary to the preparation for market, we come naturally to the question of values and how to set about this most difficult but necessary task. At the outset we must say, what to the uninitiated may seem strange ; there is no simple standard to go upon. An article is worth what it will fetch. For instance, two men are making collections of the works of a certain artist and a fine specimen of his work comes upon the market ; it is evident that its value is finally reached by the length of the purse of one of these two collectors. The crowd in the auction room may whistle, or exclaim, " What a price ! " but the buyer has paid what he considered it was worth, and is, or should be, satisfied. There may be a long distance between a notable work of art and an uninteresting looking sample of coffee, but the principle is the same, and a buyer naturally bases his valuation upon what he considers he will be able to obtain for it. This will explain why there are often differences of valuation by dealers of great experience, of many shillings. For example, an export dealer whose trade lies mostly with the north of Europe, where it is only possible to sell low-priced qualities, will be quite unable to see, by simply valuing in the raw state, the subtle quality and delicate taste, which the clever home trade dealer has detected after roasting, and which the wise and discriminating grocer will also appreciate. In valuing by the raw state, colour is the first consideration, a deep blue, or a light green, or a smooth pale, almost yellow, will be chosen in preference to a grey, brown, or dull colourless berry. But there is more than colour, the blue or green must be also of a waxy hard texture ; further it must be " heavy," when tossing it lightly in-the hand, and certainly free from any objectionable smell. The blue, the green, and the smooth pale are each distinctive colours of different growths, and in addition to some descriptions, notably East India, a sign of quality consists in its being " coated," a term not easy to define, but one that can be easily noted by examination. This was particularly the characteristic of Mysore coffee until, in order to increase the production per acre, seed from the Coorg district was introduced, resulting in a coffee absolutely different in appearance to the old description though often grown upon the same estate. Another consideration in valuing " in the raw " is the size of berry, the bold sizes fetching generally much more than the small. And yet, when one thinks that all coffee has to be ground before it can be made into a beverage, it is natural to ask why should the large berries fetch a higher price than the small ? There are two answers. It is unfortunately true that many persons "taste with their eyes " ; that is to say, with regard to coffee, the uninitiated, the housewife, will think a bold roasted berry must be better than a small, though experience often says quite the reverse. Moreover, on the Continent a very large proportion of the trade is done by selling to the consumer in the raw state—a coffee-roasting machine is a household necessity in many countries—and here again the housewife, or " frau," selects the bold-looking coffee in preference to the small. At the same time, there is wisdom in this valuation. Who would not, with a plate of cherries in front of them, prefer the fully-developed, luscious red ones, knowing they are the ripest, to the small and only partly coloured ones ? Now coffee is much like the cherry, not only in appearance on the tree, but from the fact that if it has had proper weather, and has been well cared for, most of the beans will have grown and developed, and where large and small are picked off the same tree, as has been done with the A and C size, it is certain that the expert will detect a more subtle and a richer flavour in the bold than in the small. This, the finer flavour, is still more marked with the peaberry ; it, as a rule, is of better quality than even the bold size of the same mark and shipment. Thus it will be seen that valuing may be done on two principles, by appearance and by taste. As a fact, in the home trade both methods are used. The various parcels are, as a rule, first valued by their appearance in the raw state, this may be altered by the appearance in the roasted state, and finally by the quality of taste, or liquor. As a rule, acidity is the first requisite in tasting, but different growths have their distinctive flavours ; for instance, some are " minty," or " nutty," or simply thick. To arrive at the value by tasting, the samples must be all roasted to the same degree—otherwise a comparison cannot be properly arrived at. The question of what weight to use for each sample is a matter of individual custom, and varies from the weight of a halfpenny to a sixpence and a halfpenny, to one penny. The latter is the limit if it is to be tested in the usual sampling cups. The coffee should then be ground direct into the cup in which the infusion is to be made. As soon as the water thoroughly boils—not before, and not after it has been long boiling—fill the cups up to three parts full, stir them up thoroughly so as to ensure that all the ground coffee has become watered, pour in the remainder of water to properly fill each cup, not spilling it over, but filling so that each has the same amount of water. On the top of each cup will be a frothy scum, whether this is removed or not is immaterial, but it is customary to do so as at least it looks more palatable, there is, however, no virtue or flavour in it, so that it makes no difference whichever is done. The coffee will then all settle to the bottom of each cup, and by the time it has settled, say about three minutes, it will have become sufficiently cool to taste and will have allowed sufficient time for all the goodness to have been extracted. It seems hardly necessary to say it, and yet until people are accustomed to tasting coffee they often make a great mistake in treating it like tea. They forget that if they dip their spoon too deep they will stir up the grounds and make the infusion muddy for a second spoonful, even if not for the first. The spoonful should therefore be taken gently from the top of the cup.



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