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- The Physiology of Taste - 20/49 -

Though this may be but an old story, the honor of the discovery belongs only in part to the goat-herd. The rest belongs to him who first made use of the bean, and boiled it.

A mere decoction of green coffee is a most insipid drink, but carbonization develops the aroma and forms an oil which is the peculiarity of the coffee we drink, and which would have been eternally unknown but for the intervention of heat.

The Turks excel us in this. They employ no mill to torturate the coffee, but beat it with wooden pestles in mortars. When the pestles have been long used, they become precious and are sold at great prices.

I had to examine and determine whether in the result one or the other of the two methods be preferable.

Consequently, I burned carefully a pound of good mocha, and separated it into two equal portions, the one of which was passed through the mill, and the other beaten Turkish fashion in a mortar.

I made coffee of each, taking equal weights of each, poured on an equal weight of boiling water and treated them both precisely alike.

I tasted this coffee myself, and caused others who were competent judges to do so. The unanimous opinion was that coffee which had been beaten in a mortar was far better than that which had been ground.

Any one may repeat the experiment. In the interim I will tell you a strange anecdote of the influence of one or the other kind of manipulation.

"Monsieur," said Napoleon, one day to Laplace, "how comes it that a glass of water into which I put a lump of loaf sugar tastes more pleasantly than if I had put in the same quantity of crushed sugar." "Sire," said the philosophic Senator, "there are three substances the constituents of which are identical--Sugar, gum and amidon; they differ only in certain conditions, the secret of which nature has preserved. I think it possible that in the effect produced by the pestle some saccharine particles become either gum or amidon, and cause the difference."

This remark became public, and ulterior observations has confirmed it.


Some years ago all directed their attention to the mode of preparing coffee; the reason doubtless was that the head of the government was fond of it.

Some proposed not to burn nor to powder it, to boil it three quarters of an hour, to strain it, &c.

I have tried this and all the methods which have been suggested from day to day, and prefer that known as a la Dubelloy, which consists in pouring boiling water on coffee placed in a porcelain or silver vessel pierced with a number of very minute holes. This first decoction should be taken and brought to the boiling point, then passed through the strainer again, and a coffee will be obtained clear and strong as possible.

I have also tried to make coffee in a high pressure boiling apparatus; all I obtained however was a fluid intensely bitter, and strong enough to take the skin from the throat of a Cossack.


Doctors have differed in relation to the sanitary properties of coffee. We will omit all this, and devote ourselves to the more important point, its influence on the organs of thought.

There is no doubt but that coffee greatly excites the cerebral faculties. Any man who drinks it for the first time is almost sure to pass a sleepless night.

Sometimes the effect is softened or modified by custom, but there are many persons on whom it always produces this effect, and who consequently cannot use coffee.

I have said that the effect was modified by use, a circumstance which does not prevent its having effect in another manner. I have observed persons whom coffee did not prevent from sleeping at night, need it to keep them awake during the day, and never failed to slumber when they had taken it for dinner. There are others who are torpid all day when they have not taken their cup in the morning.

Voltaire and Buffon used a great deal of coffee. Perchance the latter was indebted to it for the admirable clearness we observe in his works, and the second for the harmonious enthusiasm of his style. It is evident that many pages of the treatise on man, the dog, the tiger, lion and horse, were written under a strange cerebral excitement.

The loss of sleep caused by coffee is not painful, for the perceptions are very clear, and one has no disposition to sleep. One is always excited and unhappy when wakefulness comes from any other cause. This, however, does prevent such an excitement, when carried too far, from being very injurious.

Formerly only persons of mature age took coffee. Now every one takes it, and perhaps it is the taste which forces onward the immense crowd that besiege all the avenues of the Olympus, and of the temple of memory.

The Cordwainer, author of the tragedy of Zenobia, which all Paris heard read a few years ago, drank much coffee; for that reason he excelled the cabinetmaker of Nevers, who was but a drunkard.

Coffee is a more powerful fluid than people generally think. A man in good health may drink two bottles of wine a day for a long time, and sustain his strength. If he drank that quantity of coffee he would become imbecile and die of consumption. I saw at Leicester square, in London, a man whom coffee had made a cripple. He had ceased to suffer, and then drank but six cups a day.

All fathers and mothers should make their children abstain from coffee, if they do not wish them at twenty to be puny dried up machines. People in large cities should pay especial attention to this, as their children have no exaggeration of strength and health, and are not so hearty as those born in the country.

I am one of those who have been obliged to give up coffee, and I will conclude this article by telling how rigorously I was subjected to its power.

The Duke of Mossa, then minister of justice, called on me for an opinion about which I wished to be careful, and for which he had allowed me but a very short time.

I determined then to sit up all night, and to enable me to do so took two large cups of strong and highly flavored coffee.

I went home at seven o'clock to get the papers which had been promised me, but found a note telling me I would not get them until the next day.

Thus in every respect disappointed, I returned to the house where I had dined, and played a game of piquet, without any of the moody fits to which I was ordinarily subject.

I did justice to the coffee, but I was not at ease as to how I would pass the night.

I went to bed at my usual hour, thinking that if I did not get my usual allowance, I would at least get four or five hours, sufficient to carry me through the day.

I was mistaken. I had been two hours in bed and was wider awake than ever; I was in intense mental agitation, and fancied my brain a mill, the wheels of which revolved, grinding nothing.

The idea came to me to turn this fancy to account, and I did so, amusing myself by putting into verse a story I had previously read in an English paper.

I did so without difficulty, and as I did not sleep I undertook another, but in vain. A dozen verses had exhausted my poetic faculty, and I gave it up.

I passed the night without sleep, and without even being stupified for a moment, I arose and passed the day in the same manner. When on the next night I went to bed at my usual hour I made a calculation, and found out that I had not slept for forty hours.


The first visiters of America were impelled by a thirst of gold. At that time nothing was appreciated but the products of the mines. Agriculture and commerce were in their infancy, and political economy was as yet unborn. The Spaniards found then the precious metals, an almost sterile discovery, for they decreased in value as they became more abundant. We have other and better ways to increase wealth.

In those regions, however, where a genial sun confers immense fruitfulness on the soil, the cultivation of sugar and coffee was found advantageous. The potato, indigo, vanilla, guano, cocoa, were also discovered; these are its real treasures.

If these discoveries took place in spite of the barriers opposed to curiosity by a jealous nation, we may reasonably hope that they will be multiplied ten-fold in the course of the years to come; and that the explorations of the savants of old Europe will enrich the three kingdoms with a multitude of substances which will give us new sensations, as vanilla has, or augment our alimentary resources, as cocoa.

It has been determined to call chocolate the result of the paste of cocoa burnt with sugar and the bark of the cinnamon. This is the technical definition of chocolate. Sugar is the integral part, for without sugar the compound is cocoa and, chocolate. To sugar, cinnamon and cocoa is joined the delicious aroma of vanilla, and thus is obtained the ne plus ultra to which this preparation can be carried.

The Physiology of Taste - 20/49

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