Why do English people come to grief so often in the art of coffee-making? There are three chief reasons.
1. They do not grind their own coffee-beans.
2. They purchase ground coffee in far too large quantities at a time.
3. They are too economical in the making. Before dealing with the first point, the grinding, it is necessary to refer to that earlier important process, the roasting of the berries. This is a very delicate proceeding, requiring infinite skill, for the flavour, which is latent in the raw beans and developed during roasting, depends mainly on the heat being arrested at the right moment, and in a lesser degree on the proper ventilation of the roasting apparatus. When coffee is over-roasted it loses the greater part of its delicate aciditv and aroma. underroasted, coffee is deficient in flavour. Our Continental neighbours understand these intricacies of roasting far better than we do, and the operation is performed by them with amazing skill, even if only on a greased shovel over a charcoal fire. Sometimes an ordinary steel or iron frying-pan or an earthenware casserole is substituted, and shaken frequently to equalise the browning.
But it is better, under existing circumstances, that the English housewife should not attempt these measures, especially as she can always obtain the coffee-beans ready roasted, and if she keeps them in air-tight tins, the flavour will not sensibly deteriorate even after the lapse of some months. Many English people pin a superstitious faith to freshly roasted coffee-beans. The important point, however, is that the grinding should be carried out immediately before infusion.
The Grinding of the Berries
A coffee-grinder should be kept in every house, and the coffee ground as required, but never in large quantities, since it becomes stale quickly. Moreover, it should be rather finely ground, otherwise the full strength is not extracted. When, after domestic grinding, the coffee appears unusually coarse, it is generally a sign that the coffee-mill needs readjusting.
Failure in coffee-making, again, is due largely to the method of purchasing. The housewife goes to her favourite grocer, and buys up stock which has probably been in the shop a fortnight, and has already lost its aroma. Instead of buying a very small quantity, she will probably buy a couple of pounds, and keep the coffee in the house perhaps another fortnight. Is it any wonder that the resulting beverage is stale and tasteless? Coffee should only be bought from a reliable grocer or a well-reputed firm, and then only in small quantities, of course in proportion to the size of the household.
Economy in coffee-making, however, is the great bane of most English people. The kind of coffee bought in England is often far superior to the various compounds sold upon the Continent, but the English housewife will never use enough to make a really palatable infusion. She measures it in the same way as she measures tea, whereas the golden rule in coffee-making is that not less than one ounce of coffee should be allowed to each half-pint of water.
Coffee-making, in spite of all the popular mystery which surrounds it in England, is really a very simple process, and may be carried out quite as efficiently in an ordinary kitchen jug as in the most expensive percolating or filtering apparatus. Metal utensils, however, must never be used, as there is a certain amount of acidity in the coffee which acts upon the metal. Even enamelled utensils are not to be recommended, as the enamel chips, leaving the metal exposed on the under surface. Earthenware and glass are the only possible mediums. Many earthenware coffee-jugs are now upon the market at a very moderate price.
The jug must be thoroughly heated before the coffee is added; the water must be fresh and boiling. As in tea-making, water that has been standing should never be used. As soon as it boils it should be poured straight on to the coffee-grounds. If allowed to continue boiling for a long time certain alkaline salts contained in the water are destroyed, and the coffee therefore deteriorates in flavour. And, again, unless the water is freshly boiling, the stimulating property of coffee, known as caffeine, will not become soluble.
The coffee, then, must be left to stand for a full five minutes, then well stirred, and left for another two minutes so that the grounds may settle. The coffee is then ready for use. If the jug is kept at an angle, and not allowed to return to an upright position until all the cups have been filled, there is no need to use anything in the way of a strainer. Milk, in the proportion of half a pint to each half-pint of coffee, should be served, or, more preferably, cream. Both should be heated, for hot milk or hot cream develops a particularly fine aroma when blended with coffee.
For those who prefer more elaborate apparatus to a mere earthenware jug, there are many patent coffee-makers. One of the most effectual is made entirely of glass. The globe, or lower portion, holds the water, which is boiled by means of a spirit-lamp. The funnel, or upper portion, holds the coffee. As the water boils it rises through the glass connection into the upper vessel and mixes with the coffee. Whilst this is going on the infusion must be well stirred, and the lamp extinguished. A few moments later the coffee will descend into the lower vessel, where it is ready for use, and, when the funnel has been removed, may be poured direct from the globe into the cups, to avoid loss of heat. Few English people are adepts in the choice of coffee, and so had far better leave it in the hands of a reliable firm to supply them with what is necessary.
Costa Rican coffee is now being sold largely in England. Arabian blends are always popular, and "Blue Mountain" coffee from Jamaica is considered by many to be the best in the world.
Chicory is not to be recommended, in spite of the popular delusion that it adds to the flavour of coffee and renders it more wholesome. Chicory belongs to the dandelion family, and is, therefore, quite unsuitable as a beverage. Its only point in common with coffee is its colour after being roasted.
English housewives should beware of tins or packets of coffee on which the word " coffee " is qualified by some other words. This signifies merely that enough coffee is present to avoid infringing the law.