This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
French Coffee has hitherto been made with more or less Chicory in combination, and sometimes with burnt sugar also. This Chicory is the root of the Wild Endive (Cichorium intybus), kiln-dried, and broken into fragments; the process of drying converts its sugar into caramel. As a rule French Coffee contains about one-third of its weight of Chicory, which gives a bitterish taste, and a dark colour to the brew. The chemical constituents of this Chicory, or Succory, are specially inulin, and a particular bitter principle not named. The root is fleshy and tapering like a parsnip; it is cut in pieces, and dried in a slack oven, after which it is again cut in smaller pieces and roasted like Coffee. Chicory when taken habitually, or too freely, causes passive congestion of the veins appertaining to the digestive organs within the abdomen, and a fulness of blood in the head; indeed, if used in excess it may bring about blindness, because of paralysing the retina of the eyes. The only benefit of quality which Chicory gives to Coffee is an increase of colour and body, but not by possessing any aroma of its own, or any fragrant oil, or stimulating virtue.
French writers say it acts in an opposite direction, and is "contre-stimulante" serving to correct the excitation caused by the active principles of Coffee; and that therefore it suits persons who are by nationality sanguineo-bilious, and who would otherwise be liable to habitual tonic constipation caused by their plain Coffee. On the contrary, Chicory is ill-adapted for those persons whose vital energy overpowers itself, and speedily flags; whilst for lymphatic and bloodless subjects its use should be forbidden. Johnson (Chemistry of Common Life) teaches that "when taken in moderate quantities the ingredients of Chicory are probably not injurious to health, but by prolonged and frequent use they produce heartburn, cramp in the stomach, loss of appetite, acidity, constipation, with intermittent diarrhoea, weakness of the limbs, tremblings, sleeplessness, and a drunken cloudiness of the senses"; "a most formidable list of accusations! At the best, therefore, Chicory as an addition to, or substitute for, Coffee should only be used on infrequent occasions when the price is an object.
The late Prince Bismarck stopped one day at an Inn on the borders of the Black Forest, and called for a cup of Chicory. The astonished landlord brought him presently about a gill. "This is all I have in the house," said he. "Are you sure?" asked Bismarck. "Yes, mein herr." "Very well," said the Prince, throwing the stuff away; "now make me some Coffee." After the Essex Rebellion (in English History) Queen Elizabeth was much troubled in mind; every new message from the city disturbed her; she frowned on her ladies, and kept a sword always beside her; she touched nothing for two days but a cake, and then disregarded every delicacy of food for a manchet (a roll), and plain Succory, or Chicory, pottage.
A well-made infusion of freshly-roasted and ground Coffee is often better as a restorative in fever than alcohol. Again, strong Coffee will frequently prove successful for allaying paroxysms of asthma. Some doctors forbid Coffee in gout, but without any special reason except as regards the cream and sugar served therewith; though Dr. Haig (who evidently has a personal prejudice against each theobromic beverage) declares that Coffee berries contain 70 per cent of uric acid, or xanthins. In Johnson's Chemistry of Common Life (1856) the case is told of a gentleman who was attacked by gout at twenty-five years of age, and had it severely at times till he was upwards of fifty, with chalk-stones in the joints of his hands and feet; then the use of Coffee was advised him, and completely prevented any further attacks. The French attribute to free Coffee-drinking their freedom from the gout due to uric acid deposits, with gravel, and derangement of the kidneys. It has not been determined to which of the Coffee constituents this preventive, or curative action is due, but the belief in its efficacy is confirmed by the fact that in a great Coffee-consuming country like Turkey, such gouty disorders of digestion and excretion are practically unknown.
Coffee (And Cocoa) favour regular action of the bowels more than tea, because not containing so much astringent tannin. Coffee Houses formerly held in Great Britain a position somewhat similar to that of the Club Houses of the present day. Macaulay wrote: "The Coffee House must not be dismissed with a cursory mention." It might, indeed, in his time have been not improperly called a very important political institution. The Coffee Houses were the chief organs through which public opinion in the metropolis vented itself. Every man of the upper and middle classes went daily to his Coffee House, to learn the news, and to discuss it. Every Coffee House had one or more orators, to whose eloquence the crowd listened with admiration, and who soon became (what the journalists of our own time have been often called) a "fourth Estate of the Realm"; this was in the early years of the eighteenth century. In Pickwick we read amusingly about Coffee-snuff, as taken at that period in substitution for the stronger weed. "Do you do anything in this way, Sir?" enquired the tall footman (at Bath, of Sam Weller), producing a small snuff-box with a fox's head on the top of it. "Not without sneezing," said Sam. "Why, it is difficult I confess, Sir," said the tall footman. "It may be done by degrees, Sir; Coffee is the best practice; I carried Coffee, Sir, for a long time: it looks very like rappee." Again, in another chapter we read concerning Mr. Jackson, the astute clerk of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, as showing his vulgar sagacity when questioned by Mr. Pickwick about a subpoena which had just been served on that gentleman: "Here Mr. Jackson smiled upon the company, and, applying his left thumb to the tip of his nose, worked a visionary Coffee-mill with his right hand, thereby performing a very graceful piece of pantomime which was familiarly denominated 'taking a grinder.' "