17th Century Coffee

Ready for a brief caffeinated interlude before the next episode?
Do something really simple but fun for yourself and make a cup of 17th Century style coffee (after you listen to Episode 23 of the History of Food and hear how coffee changed the world of course). It’s an interesting exercise, and actually pretty tasty!

Coffee beans are coffee beans, whatever century you’re in, but modern inventions like roasters and the coffee filter have changed much about this magical beverage. Today we’ll be starting with raw, green, coffee beans, roasting them ourselves in an oven, then boiling them in a pot the way people did when coffee first got popular.

Raw coffee beans just smell like regular beans, or lentils, which is slightly disconcerting if you’re not expecting it. But have faith, and just wait until we get roasting.

Get your oven really hot, like 475-500F hot. (You can also roast the beans in a skillet but it’s a lot less even and precise). Lay the beans out in an even layer on a baking sheet, and bake in the center of the oven for 6 minutes.

After that long, you have to be a lot more attentive. Open up the oven to check on the beans every two minutes or so, shaking the tray up and stirring the beans to keep them moving and get a more even roast. Keep going until they are nice and dark, like chocolate brown, but not as dark as modern coffee beans. Without modern roasters, old style coffee was all blonde roasts. But you can still get it pretty dark if you keep going and watch them close.

Let the beans cool off and rub them with a towel to remove the husks. Winnow away the chaff by dropping the beans between two containers, outside where the wind will carry it away.

Now grind the beans as fine as you can manage by hand and put them through a sieve.

We’re ready to brew coffee.
Let’s follow the Arab example. Brewed coffee, after all, first arrived on the scene in Yemen, where the grounds were boiled with water three times in rapid succession to agitate the beans and extract the flavor/caffeine.

Look, I don’t know the exact historical ratio of water to coffee, and neither it seems does anyone else for sure, so just make it however strong you like to make your coffee. I like a strong cup with a 1:1 ratio by weight.

Bring the mixture to a boil and let it roll for one whole minute. Then remove from the heat for two minutes. Bring back up to a boil, let roll another minute, and remove from the heat. Repeat this process one more time, and pour the mixture, grounds and all into a shallow dish.

This coffee is totally worth the effort! Not only the historical novelty, but it has its own merits on flavor. It’s thick and a bit muddy, like Greek or Turkish coffee, which I happen to like, and I kid you not: the freshly roasted beans bring a real fruitiness to the flavor here that was novel and delicious for me. And that isn’t some coffee snob B.S., the flavor legitimately tastes fruity.

The Muslims knew how to make their coffee, but if you want to taste what the first Europeans were drinking in their caffeinated sprint into the Enlightenment, you’re in for a much worse time. Remember that coffee, by law, had to be taxed by the barrel, which means it had to be pre-brewed in giant batches, then reheated. And coffee houses didn’t even reheat to order. They kept a pot over the boil all day, or until it was gone, meaning that what every European philospher, writer, scientist, and businessman was drinking is the equivelant to leftover coffee you forgot about that’s been sitting over the warmer for two days, if you’ve ever sampled that….
Yeah, as long as it has caffeine, who really cares, right?

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