Ever wonder how people roasted and brewed coffee after it was first discovered? It is definitely a little different than how we do it today.
India Mandelkern, food historian at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote this article for the Huffington Post and I wanted to pass it along to all of you. She writes about how coffee was perceived in the 17th century and how “coffee promised its drinkers the best of both worlds; you got the fun of the tavern without the awful hangover the next day.” Seems to be the same nowadays too.
Europeans praised coffee’s ability to enhance memory and mood, suppress appetite, and increase awareness. Like always there were some that complained about the insomnia and others were worried about the potential sexual side effects, but for the most part Europeans loved the buzz they got from drinking this caffeine elixir.
The buzz was great, but the taste was a different story. Mandelkern points out that contemporaries described coffee as a “syrup of soot” and an “essence of boiled shoes” that “smelled like old crusts and leather” with a mouth-feel similar to “puddle water.”
Mandelkern breaks it down into four easy steps so we can all make coffee 17th century style, which I have copied from her article and put below. She even made it herself!
1. Find some beans. Until the first European coffee plantation was established in Java around 1700 AD, the entire world’s coffee beans were grown in Ethiopia and southern Yemen.
2. Roast your beans over a fire. After the arduous journey from the Arabian city of Mocha – center of the early modern international coffee wholesale market – to Europe, it was time to roast those beans. This was done the old fashioned way: in a frying pan or skillet over a fire. Now, this sounds easier than it actually is. Once you get your fire going, briskly stir your beans in the skillet until you hear them begin to “crack,” sort of like popcorn. But keep those babies moving, the whole process happens in a matter of minutes and it’s frighteningly easy to unevenly roast them. (Mandelkern admits she burned her first batch and she had better success when she used the stove)
3. Grind and boil your coffee beans. Once the beans were roasted, they were ground in a mortar, strained in a sieve, and then boiled for about 15 minutes. There was no such thing as a 17th century espresso; that wouldn’t be available for another two hundred years. The finished product was a lot closer to thick, unfiltered Turkish coffee. And the potency? That’s hard to tell. Historians estimate that the typical 17th century cup of coffee was made using one or two ounces of coffee to three or four cups of water. Compare that to the single drip we enjoy today, which uses about one ounce of coffee to 1 and 1/2 cups of water.
4. Drink you coffee. At last, drink your coffee in a small, shallow “dish” – the handles evolved a little bit later. Mandelkern observes that her coffee tasted a little smoky and burned, and the texture was decidedly muddier than the stuff she was used to.
Thanks to India Mandelkern for her great article. Let’s all experiment and try preparing coffee 17th century style next time we need a little pick-me-up.