January 20, 1864: Coffee and substitutes


The Charleston Mercury reprints an item from Scientific American about coffee. It contains some bad news for Southerners affected by the blockade, I’m afraid. All the various substitutes for coffee that we’ve seen advocated are devoid of caffeine, which is responsible for coffee’s “peculiar quality for preventing the waste of animal tissue in the living being”. And besides, with apologies to all you New Orleanians, chicory tastes awful. And I’m not even going to comment on toasted okra or cottonseed.

CHARLESTON MERCURY, January 20, 1864, p. 1, c. 4

Coffee and Its Substitutes.–

The use of coffee as a beverage seems to have originated among the Turks in Arabia, from whence it was carried to Europe in 1669. It has gradually become a national beverage to Europeans and Americans, as well as the Moslems, and it has been called one of the chief necessaries of life among the people. The coffee bean is the seed of the Coffee Arabica, a shrub which grows to about the height of 30 feet, but it is usually cut down to about six feet, to increase the yield of the bean.

Its cultivation was confined until within the past century to Egypt and Arabia, but it is now cultivated in the West Indies and East India Islands; also in Brazil upon a most extensive scale. A single tree sometimes yields about 20 pounds of beans, and about 1100 pounds are obtained as the crop of an acre of land. There are a number of varieties of coffee, but Mocha or Arabian is still the most famous. Its beans are small and of a dark yellow color; Java is a larger bean, and the color is a paler yellow; West India and Brazilian coffee is of a bluish grey color.

Physiologists have endeavored to account for the extended use of coffee by ascribing to it a peculiar quality for preventing the waste of animal tissue in the living being. This principle is called caffeine, and is composed of carbon 8, nitrogen hydrogen 10, and oxygen 3 parts. Roasted coffee contains about 1240 parts of caffeine.

In roasting coffee great care should be exercised not to overheat it, because the caffeine in it is so liable to volatilize. The best temperature to roast coffee is 362 degrees Fah., and the operation should be performed in a close revolving vessel. When the beans have assumed a bright brown color, they should be cooled, if possible, in the vessel in which they have been roasted, so as to retain all the aroma that has been developed by the roasting operation. Burnt coffee beans are just as suitable for making an infusion as charred wood. Upon no account, therefore, should coffee beans be so heated in roasting as to char them.

Coffee should never be boiled, because the boiling action volatilizes the aromatic resin in it, and this constitutes nearly three per cen. of the beans. It should be ground as finely as possible, and scalded with water heated to the boiling point. It can be clarified with the white of eggs or isinglass.

This information relates to pure coffee. In Germany and England the poorer classes, who cannot afford to buy coffee, use mixtures of it, and in many cases, other substances as entire substitutes. In Germany dried yellow turnips and chicory root mixed together are employed as a substitute; chicory is also very generally mixed with common coffee in England. Lately several mixtures and substitutes for coffee have become more common among our own laboring people on account of the great rise in the price of coffee. In some of our country villages German families roast acorns, and use these as substitutes for coffee. Roasted rye is an old and well-known substitute, and so is “Cobbett’s coffee,” which consists of roasted corn. Many persons roast white beans and peas, and mix them with coffee; others roast carrots and beets, and make a mixture of them with coffee. In some parts of France a mixture of equal parts of roasted chestnuts and coffee is used. It makes a very superior beverage to chicory, turnips, and all the other articles mentioned.

The substitutes for coffee are innumerable, and so far as taste is concerned, this is a mere matter of cultivation. If any of these substitutes for coffee contained caffeine or a similar principle, they would answer the same purpose, and their use should be inculcated; but in all the analysis that we have examined of chicory, turnips, carrots, beets, peas, beans, corn and rye, no such substance as caffeine is mentioned, therefore they are not true substitutes for it in a chemical and physiological sense. We have been unable to obtain a satisfactory analysis of chestnuts and acorns, but it is well known that these contain tannic acid, and it is certain the caffeic acid is very nearly allied to it: hence they may have a close resemblance to coffee, in taste, and perhaps in effect also.

–Scientific American. 

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