This Cookbook from 1881 Explains What’s Wrong with Starbucks Coffee

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Coffee is far from a modern trend. As soon as traders realized there was value to the coffee bean, it started being exported, and this exotic drink quickly became a staple in households in Europe and North America.

So what if we went back a little over a century to learn how to make coffee?

In the Household Cyclopedia of General Information, published in 1881, there’s an entire section devoted to making coffee, not to mention the references for different uses for coffee throughout the book. If someone has a tapeworm, “Strong coffee, without sugar or cream, sometimes acts like a charm in soothing the pain” and a recipe for apple cake calls for putting a sprinkling of coffee grounds and sugar on a buttery dough.

Even in 1881, They Knew Over-Roasting Was Bad

What I love is that, while this was 1881, they had a pretty good understanding of what made a good coffee. For example, there’s special attention given to how the coffee was grown and harvested, as well as the fact that coffee should be ground and immediately infused. You wouldn’t have caught your great-great-grandmother buying any of that abhorrent pre-ground stuff!

There’s also a mention that beans should be browned, not burned; very forward thinking considering how much over-roasting has happened in the last century on account of low-grade beans.

Coffee-Making Instructions from 1881

So, let’s learn how to make coffee as if it was 1881.

To Make Coffee

The best coffee is imported from Mocha. It is said to owe much of its superior quality to being kept long. Attention to the following circumstances is likewise necessary.

1. The plant should be grown in a dry situation and climate.

2. The berries ought to be thoroughly ripe before they are gathered.

3. They ought to be well dried in the sun; and

4. Kept at a distance from any substance (as spirits, spices, dried fish, etc.) by which the taste and flavor of the berry may be injured.

To drink coffee in perfection, it should be made from the best Mocha or Java, or both mixed, carefully roasted, and after cooling for a few minutes, reduced to powder, and immediately infused, the decoction will then be of a superior description. But for ordinary use, Java, Laguayra, Maracaibo, Rio, and other grades of coffee may be used. An equal mixture of Mocha, Java, and Laguayra make an excellent flavor. We have been recently shown (1865) some samples of African coffee from Liberia, which is said to possess a very superior flavor. The following mode of preparing it may be adopted:

1. The berries should be carefully roasted, by a gradual application of heat, browning, but not burning them.

2. Grinding the coffee is preferable to pounding, because the latter process is thought to press out and leave on the sides of the mortar some of the richer oily substances, which are not lost by grinding.

3. A filtrating tin or silver pot, with double sides, between which hot water must be poured, to prevent the coffee from cooling, as practiced in Germany, is good. Simple decoction, in this implement, with boiling water, is all that is required to make a cup of good coffee; and the use of isinglass, the white of eggs, etc., to fine the liquor, is quite unnecessary. By this means, also, coffee is made quicker than tea.

Generally, too little powder of the berry is given; it requires about one small cup of ground coffee to make four cups of decoction for the table. This is at the rate of an ounce of good powder to four common coffee cups. When the powder is put in the bag, as many cups of boiling water are poured over it as may be wanted, and if the quantity wanted is very small, so that after it is filtrated it does not reach the lower end of the bag, the liquor must be poured back three or four times, till it has acquired the necessary strength.

Another Method

Pour a pint of boiling water on an ounce of coffee; let it boil five or six minutes, then pour out a cupful two or three times and return it again, put two or three isinglass chips into it, or a lump or two of fine sugar; boil it five minutes longer. Set the pot by the fire to keep hot for 10 minutes, and the coffee will be beautifully clear. Some like a small bit of vanilla. Cream or boiled milk should always be served with coffee.

In Egypt, coffee is made by pouring boiling water upon ground coffee in the cup; to which only sugar is added.

But not only do we learn how to make coffee, there’s also a tip for making coffee for a crowd; if anyone wants to give this a go, I definitely want to hear from you. I for one probably wouldn’t put egg whites in my coffee.

Coffee for 30 People

Put one pound of best coffee into a stewpan sufficiently large to hold 7 quarts of water; put it on the fire to dry, or roast the coffee (be sure to shake it for fear it should burn), then take it off the fire and put the whites of two eggs into it, stir it till it is mixed, then pour on it 6 quarts of water boiling, let it stand 1/4 of an hour covered closely, then strain it through a jelly-bag, or let it stand awhile to settle; pour into an urn and serve hot for use.