Le Café



Although coffee is extensively drunk in many other countries, it is such a national institution in France, and “café au lait” and “café noir” are so popular that I have thought fit to say a few words about it, and describe the typically French method of coffee-making. It is a common error to think that French coffee is always adulterated by the admixture of chicory. Among the working classes in France the bitterness imparted by the addition of chicory is sometimes fancied, but the real French connoisseur of good coffee would never tolerate the addition of chicory, or any other “flavouring” matter to his coffee.

Although the history of coffee is somewhat obscure, it seems to have been in use in Abyssinia from time immemorial, whence the shrub was introduced to Arabia, and eventually reached Europe some 200 years ago; and the Mocha coffee of Arabia, when obtainable (and genuine), is undoubtedly the finest coffee. There are innumerable blends of coffee, in France as well as in this country, a third each of Mocha, Bourbon and Martinique coffees being a favourite one in France, though Porto-Rico is sometimes used as a substitute for the Bourbon or Martinique.

To obtain good coffee it is essential that it should be properly roasted and freshly and finely gound.

In France the classical method, which has been more or less adopted in all countries where the art of coffee-making is studied, dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Monsieur de Belloy, nephew of the then Archbishop of Paris, invented his famous filter which revolutionised coffee-making. It consists of an earthenware or stone coffee-pot, with a very fine filter, a perforated disc fitting over it, and a lid. The coffee-pot is stood in a saucepan of boiling water, which is kept simmering continually, but not sufficiently for the coffee to boil. The coffee is put on the filter, in the proportions of 1 tablespoon of coffee to 6 of water, the coffee being first of all damped with a little boiling water, so that the grains will swell, and must stand for 5 minutes, with the lid on the pot. The boiling water is then added gradually, at intervals of 2 to 3 minutes. The whole process takes from 15 to 20 minutes.

The method is excellent, and is best calculated to retain the delicate aroma of coffee, which is extremely volatile, and unites so feebly with water that it escapes with great facility.

A very typical French custom is to add a liqueur glass of brandy to a cup of black coffee.

French coffee, at its best, should have all the qualities described by Talleyrand:

“Noir comme le diable,

Chaud comme l’enfer

Pur comme un ange,

Doux comme l’amour—”