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Coffee Adulterants And Substitutes

( Originally Published 1900 )



THE history of the regulations with regard to coffee and chicory is rather curious, inasmuch as coffee appears to have been adulterated almost immediately after its introduction, and legislative interference was soon necessary.

The first Act (5 Geo. I, c. 11, 1718) with regard to coffee recited that : " Whereas divers evil disposed persons have at the time of, or soon after, the roasting of coffee made use of water, grease, butter, or such-like materials, whereby the same is rendered unwholesome, and greatly increased in weight to the prejudice of His Majesty's revenue, the health of his subjects, and the loss of all honest and fair dealers in that commodity," and went on to enact that " any person or persons whatsoever, who shall at the roasting of any coffee, or before, or at any time afterwards, make use of water, grease, butter, or any other material whatsoever, which shall increase the weight or damnify or prejudice the said coffee in its goodness, he, she, or they shall forfeit the sum of 20 pounds for every such offence." This penalty was increased to £100 by a subsequent Act (12 Geo. I, c. 30), passed in the year 1724.

An Act passed in 1803 (43 Geo. III, c. 129) ordered that : " If any burnt, scorched, or roasted peas, beans, or other grains, or vegetable substance or substances be used, prepared, or manufactured for the purpose of being an imitation of, or in any respect to resemble coffee or cocoa, or to serve as a substitute for coffee or cocoa, or alleged or pretended by the possessor or vendor thereof so to be, shall be made or kept for sale, or shall be found in the custody or possession of any dealer or dealers of coffee or cocoa, or any burnt, scorched, or roasted peas, beans, etc., not being coffee or cocoa, shall be called by its preparer or manufacturer, possessor, or vendor thereof, by the name of coffee, or by the name of American cocoa, or English or British cocoa, or any other name of cocoa, the same respectively shall be forfeited, and, together with packages containing the same, shall or may be seized by the excise." The person convicted was to be fined 100 pounds.

A subsequent Act (3 Geo. IV, c. 53) permitted persons, not dealers in coffee, to sell roasted corn, peas, beans, or parsnips whole, but not ground, crushed; or powdered.

In 1832 grocers were allowed by the Excise to keep chicory on their premises, and a Treasury Minute, dated August 4th, 1840, allowed the sale of coffee mixed with chicory, a step which no doubt opened the way to wholesale adulteration. This is evident from a meeting of those interested in the coffee trade, held at the London Tavern, on March 10th, 1851, in which the Chairman, T. Baring, Esq., M.P., explained that although more of what was called coffee was now consumed, yet that there was a less consumption of genuine coffee. " We wish," he continued, " to come to the real question, and we desire that it should be publicly understood that what is coffee be sold as coffee, and that what is not coffee, being a cheaper article, and, if you will, a more nutritious article, and as eligible for consumption, be sold to the consumer at the price at which it can be afforded." A grocer from Shoreditch having produced at the meeting a compound of burnt peas, dog-biscuit, prepared earth, and a substance " which," he said, " I shall not describe, because it is too horrid to mention," went on to affirm that several tons of the same material were in existence, and that it was used as a substitute for chicory and for snuff,

Section 7 of the principal Act enacts that " no person shall sell any compound article of food, or compounded drug, which is not composed of ingredients in accordance with the demand of the purchaser ; penalty not exceeding f 20."

Section 8 provides " That no person shall be guilty of any such offence as aforesaid in respect of the sale of an article of food or a drug mixed with any matter or ingredient not injurious to health, and not intended fraudulently to increase its bulk, weight, or measure, or conceal its inferior quality, if at the time of delivering such article or drug he shall supply to the person receiving the same a notice by a label distinctly and legibly written or printed on or with the article or drug, to the effect that the same is mixed." This label, by the 12th section of the 1879 Act, is to be legibly written or printed, and not obscured by other matters on the label.

It is difficult to know whether chicory should be described as a coffee adulterant in all cases, because there are many people who prefer the addition of chicory.

Chicory is prepared from the fleshy roots of Cichorium Intybus, a plant closely related to the lettuce, and found wild throughout a great portion of Europe, North Africa, Siberia, and Northern India. In parts of the United Kingdom it is a conspicuous wayside plant with cornflower blue flowers. Chicory was formerly the basis of an industry of some importance in England, and at one time about half the chicory used in this country was produced at home. About 1860 over 1,500 acres were devoted to this crop in Yorkshire alone. Various circumstances, however, have effected a great reduction in the crop. The removal of protective duties in 1854 ,coupled with the imposition of excise duties from 1860 onwards, had much to do in bringing about this result. The total area under chicory in the United Kingdom is now only some forty acres, and the preparation of the roots is only practised at York and St. Ives. At the present time the home-grown article contributes merely about two per cent. to the annual consumption, the great bulk of the imports coming from Belgium.

In addition to its legitimate use, which should be for the leaves to be used as an esculent, the chicory root is employed to adulterate coffee, and sometimes as much as ninety per cent. of chicory has been detected in ground " coffee. A simple test whereby to detect the presence of chicory is to put a little of the ground material in a glass of water. Coffee remains hard and floats on the surface for a long time ; chicory soon softens, and sinks, colouring the water more or less brown.

Before the last " Adulteration Act," and even now in foreign countries, the substances which have been found as adulterants in ground " coffee " are very varied, including cereals, sawdust, bark, cacao husks, acorns, figs, lupine, peas, beans and other pulses, and even baked liver.. Colouring materials are also used to improve the appearance of poor and damaged beans. Artificial beans composed of such ingredients as flour, chicory and coffee, or bran and molasses have been manufactured, the mixture being ground up, made into a paste, and moulded into the form of the genuine article.

There are a few seeds which make a palatable infusion with water and are used to some extent on the Continent as substitutes for coffee, although they lack its stimulating properties. One of the best known is Negro Coffee, or Mogdad Coffee, the seeds of Cassia occidentalis. The seeds of a species of Ipomea, the ochro (Hibiscus esculentus), and the soya bean are also employed for the same purpose.

Chicory is the only article recognised in this country as allowable to be mixed with coffee--a recent Act has sanctioned other substances, provided that in addition to the ordinary duty, an excise stamp of the value of twopence per pound, shall be affixed to the tin in the same way as a patent medicine stamp is. Probably the two articles most used for this purpose are malt and dandelion root, both quite harmless, but neither, any more than chicory, being of the substance, or to be compared with, coffee for its dietetic value. Chicory root has but one qualification, namely, that it is a diuretic, but there are probably few who know this and certainly many who take it would not like to think that they were habitually dosing themselves with a drug. Such, however, is the case. Where a taste for pure coffee can be cultivated it will be found that chicory is abhorred, and generally a more regular and lasting use of coffee will be assured. Chicory lacks altogether the stimulating properties of coffee, and it will be often found that those who take to coffee and chicory—which by the way is so often chicory and coffee—will often discontinue its use for a time, as they find that there is something does not agree with them and do not realise it is the chicory and not the coffee. It is true that the addition of chicory allows a mixture to be sold at a price which is more within the reach of the many than pure coffee is, and on more of an equality, for cheapness, with tea, yet unquestionably there are numbers who could well afford pure coffee who from habit, or some other cause, have become accustomed to the mixture and hardly know the taste of pure coffee.

There is an old story told of one of the Presidents of the French Republic ; how that being in rather an out-of-the-way place on a holiday tour, he entered an inn and enquired if they had any chicory they could show him. Some was brought and he enquired had they any more, the answer being in the affirmative, that also was brought. When he was satisfied that all the chicory in the house was before him, he turned to " mine host " saying, " Now make me a cup of coffee." There are few places in England where such could happen, as chicory is very rarely bought separately.

It is also surprising the number of patent concoctions that are constantly being brought out to masquerade as coffee. They mostly come from Germany, where from all accounts they have a large sale, but why they should be foisted upon the public as coffee it is most difficult to understand, and certainly ought never to be encouraged by anyone connected with the legitimate coffee trade, seeing they have absolutely no connection with the article itself. Fortunately these substitutes have, in this country, found little favour, but on the Continent and in the United States they have interfered very considerably with the trade as the following testifies undoubtedly the expenditure of one million dollars a year in an advertising campaign to discredit coffee in the interest of nostrums masquerading with the name coffee attached to a proprietary trade-mark has had the effect, not to reduce coffee consumption, but rather retard its increase."

There can be little doubt that advertising is largely the cause of the great consumption of these mixtures put up as " French " coffee, mixtures which return their proprietors such large profits that they are able to spend pence per pound in advertising. Probably if a campaign against these mixtures could be instituted on the lines of the " Fine Tea " campaign, much might be done to open the eyes of the public to the fact that they are paying a high price for a cheap article, and that, too, one that only contains a very small proportion of the stimulant which is so valuable and useful—a handbill, for instance, giving the analysis of pure coffee and pointing out that the addition of chicory necessarily reduces the various important constituent parts.



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