Monday, November 23, 2015

Etiquette of French, British and Spanish Beverages

What is it about the French coffee?  The coffee sweetened with that sparkling beet-root sugar which ornaments a French table, is the celebrated café-au-lait, the name of which has gone round the world. 

We are not about to enter into the merits of the great tea-and-coffee controversy, further than in our general caution concerning them in the chapter on Healthful Drinks; but we now proceed to treat of them as actual existences, and speak only of the modes of making the best of them. The French coffee is reputed the best in the world; and a thousand voices have asked, What is it about the French coffee?

In the first place, then, the French coffee is coffee, and not chickory, or rye, or beans, or peas. In the second place, it is freshly roasted, whenever made—roasted with great care and even
ess in a little revolving cylinder which makes part of the furniture of every kitchen, and which keeps in the aroma of the berry. 

It is never overdone, so as to destroy the coffee-flavor, which is in nine cases out of ten the fault of the coffee we meet with. Then it is ground, and placed in a coffee-pot with a filter through which, when it has yielded up its life to the boiling water poured upon it, the delicious extract percolates in clear drops, the coffee-pot standing on a heated stove to maintain the temperature. The nose of the coffee-pot is stopped up to prevent the escape of the aroma during this process. The extract thus obtained is a perfectly clear, dark fluid, known as café noir, or black coffee. 

It is black only because of its strength, being in fact almost the very essential oil of coffee. A table-spoonful of this in boiled milk would make what is ordinarily called a strong cup of coffee. The boiled milk is prepared with no less care. It must be fresh and new, not merely warmed or even brought to the boiling-point, but slowly simmered till it attains a thick, creamy richness. The coffee mixed with this, and sweetened with that sparkling beet-root sugar which ornaments a French table, is the celebrated café-au-lait, the name of which has gone round the world. 
From 1869: "Chocolate is a French and Spanish article, and one seldom served on American tables." ··· In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste cocoa on his fourth voyage to the New World, returned to Europe with the first cocoa beans. Records from the time suggest that recognizing its potential, he took a load of cocoa beans back to Spain.
As we look to France for the best coffee, so we must look to England for the perfection of tea. The tea-kettle is as much an English institution as aristocracy or the Prayer-Book; and when one wants to know exactly how tea should he made, one has only to ask how a fine old English house-keeper makes it. 

The first article of her faith is, that the water must not merely be hot, not merely have boiled a few moments since, but be actually boiling at the moment it touches the tea. Hence, though servants in England are vastly better trained than with us, this delicate mystery is seldom left to their hands. Tea-making belongs to the drawing-room, and high-born ladies preside at the bubbling and loud hissing urn, and see that all due rites and solemnities are properly performed—that the cups are hot, and that the infused tea waits the exact time before the libations commence.

Of late, the introduction of English breakfast-tea has raised a new sect among the tea-drinkers, reversing some of the old canons. Breakfast-tea must be boiled! Unlike the delicate article of olden time, which required only a momentary infusion to develop its richness, this requires a longer and severer treatment to bring out its strength—thus confusing all the established usages, and throwing the work into the hands of the cook in the kitchen. 

The faults of tea, as too commonly found at our hotels and boarding-houses, are, that it is made in every way the reverse of what it should be. The water is hot, perhaps, but not boiling; the tea has a general flat, stale, smoky taste, devoid of life or spirit; and it is served usually with thin milk, instead of cream. Cream is an essential to the richness of tea as of coffee. Lacking cream, boiled milk is better than cold.

Chocolate is a French and Spanish article, and one seldom served on American tables. We in America, however, make an article every way equal to any which can be imported from Paris, and he who buys the best vanilla-chocolate may rest assured that no foreign land can furnish anything better. A very rich and delicious beverage may be made by dissolving this in milk, slowly boiled down after the French fashion. –From Catharine Beecher's and Harriet Beecher Stowe's, 1869, “American Woman's Home"

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