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COFFEE, AND THE PORCELAIN
MRS. HARCOURT. I have not forgotten that little Henry is to open the conversation to-night, with an account of the peculiarities of the coffee-tree. Pray, try to repeat the botanical definition properly. Speak clearly and distinctly, and arrange your ideas in order: if your memory should fail, your father or Sophia will assist you, with pleasure; therefore be encouraged to proceed. We are all attention.
HENRY. After such kind encouragement from my dear mother, I have no excuse for declining the performance of my promise, though I feel myself scarcely equal to the task. The coffee-tree is a genus of the pentandria monogynia class. The flower has one petal, which is funnel-shaped; it has five stamens, which are fastened to the tube; the roundish germen afterwards becomes an oval
berry, containing two seeds, in shape like half globe, flat on one side, and convex on the other. This tree originally came from Arabia Felix, but is now cultivated with success in the British West Indies. It is a low tree, even in its native soil seldom exceeding sixteen or eighteen feet high. In the West India islands, the negroes are employed to gather the berries. As soon as they change their colour to a dark red, they are fit for gathering. Each negro is provided with a canvass bag, with a hoop in the mouth of it to keep it open: it is hung about the neck of the picker, who occasionally empties it into a basket; and, if he be industrious, he may pick three bushels in the day. One hundred bushels in the pulp, fresh from the tree, will produce about one thousand pounds weight of merchantable coffee.
MR. HARCOURT. You have given us a very clear account of this tree, and the manner of gathering the berries: you must next inform us of the method used in drying them.
HENRY. There are two methods in use, of curing or drying the bean. The one is to
spread the fresh coffee in the sun, in layers about five inches deep, on a sloping terrace or platform of boards, with the pulp on the berry, which in a few days ferments, and discharges itself in a strong acidulous moisture: and in this state the coffee is left till it is perfectly dry, which, if the weather be favourable, it will be in about three weeks. The husks are afterwards separated from the seeds by a grinding mill, or frequently by pounding them with pestles, in troughs or large wooden mortars. The other mode is to pulp it immediately that it comes from the tree, which is done by a pulping-mill: the pulp and the bean (in its parchment skin or membrane which encloses it) fall promiscuously together. The whole is then washed in wire sieves, in order to separate the pulp from the seeds: the latter are then spread open in the sun to dry, After this follows the operation of grinding off the parchment skin which covers the bean, and is left after the pulp is removed: when it appears sufficiently bruised, it is taken out of the trough and put to the fan, which clears the coffee from the chaff;
and the seeds remaining unground, are separated by sieves and returned to the mill, which finishes the process.
MRS. HARCOURT. The coffee-berries are generally roasted before we use them. They are put into a tin cylindrical box, full of holes, through the middle of which runs a spit. Beneath this machine is placed a semicircular hearth, in which is lighted a large charcoal fire: by the help of a jack, the spit turns swiftly, and in that manner roasts the berries equally. When the oil rises, and they are become of a dark brown colour, they are emptied into two reservoirs, the bottoms of which are iron plates: then the coffee is shaken, and left till almost cold; and if it looks bright and oily, it is a sign it is well done. Sophia, you are, doubtless, acquainted with the manner of boiling it for use.
SOPHIA. I take as many berries as I want, and grind them to a fine powder in an iron coffee-mill. I next infuse this powder in a suitable proportion of boiling water, and let this infusion just boil again, and stand till it is clear, after which I pour it off for use. The
addition of cream and sugar heightens and improves the flavour.
CECILIA. The Turks are remarkably fond of coffee: they flavour it with cloves, or essence of ambergris: and so essential do they deem it to their comfort, that it is one of the necessaries with which a Turk is obliged to furnish his wife.
MR. HARCOURT. Many substitutes have been proposed for coffee. Peas, beans, rye, and barley, when roasted, yield an oily matter, resembling it in a degree, but much inferior in strength and flavour. During the late war, when coffee was at a very high price in France, the seeds of the yellow water-flag, which is found in moist places in England, were strongly recommended as the best substitute for coffee; and the plant, I believe, was cultivated for that purpose.
AUGUSTA. Many other things are sent to this country from the West Indies, besides sugar, coffee, and chocolate.
CHARLES. Ginger is produced there in abundance. There are three species: the