Saturday, March 26, 2016

Coffee Horror Show

Vincent Price, from a Pinterest collection  of many famous people drinking coffee. As one friend commented on seeing the collection, "the internet has so enriched our lives."
Over his 82 years, Vincent Price amassed over 200 acting credits, mostly in the macabre realm of ghosts, ghouls, and monsters. But the real horror may have been in this cup, which he enjoyed on the set of The Bribe.

Because Price shares a birthday with Pam, I made an early gift of his book A Treasury of Great Recipes, 50th Anniversary Edition: Famous Specialties of the World's Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen. From the front matter of the book -- by chef James Beard and by daughter Victoria Price -- we have already learned that Vincent and Mary Price were much greater figures in the worlds of culinary and visual arts than we would have supposed. We look forward to learning more about their travels and to preparing some of the meals, which of course we will discuss on Nueva Receta.

Given their devotion to excellence in the preparation and presentation of food, I peeked into the index to see if their gourmand instincts extended to coffee. Based on previous experience, my expectations were low, but I was not prepared for the horror that awaited on page 413, where the Prices describe how they prepare and serve iced coffee -- then a bit of a rarity -- in their home.

The Prices were all about visual style, and they were writing during a dark days of perfectly bad coffee, so they actually paid more attention to the cups than to the coffee. In fact, they start by assuring the reader that no care is taken with the coffee itself:
We serve Iced Coffee in heavy ceramic goblets, gold-lustered by Mary. It is my own most unorthodox concoction, and friends always ask about it expecting some exotic recipe involving fresh-ground Colombian beans and goodness knows what in the way of brewing and flavoring. Now the secret is out. This is all there is to it.
The recipe follows, calling for six heaping spoons of instant decaf and 9 saccharin tablets to be dissolved in a cup of boiling water. To say that the concoction was borderline toxic would not be an exaggeration, since all decaf in those days was made by rinsing coffee with antifreeze, and saccharine was not yet known to be carcinogenic.

Once this witches' brew has cooled, they recommend adding a quart of cold milk and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cinnamon, and serving it straight or over ice. Sweeteners, dairy, and spice are key to serving inferior coffee, as Pam and I helped demonstrate during a key study conducted by Folgers back in 1989.


Of course I would not bother to write about this if my only concern were for the uneven dining experiences of visitors to the home of Vincent Price. The fact is that bad coffee is not only unpleasant in the cup -- it is damaging both to land and people. On my own campus, even the finest meals are often served with perfectly awful coffee. Just being seated near the coffee, I can tell that it comes from poor practices that yield injustice and environmental damage at every stage.

The good news is that we know how to do it better, and my coffee students have worked with me to propose world-class coffee worthy of the social-justice and sustainability commitments our university has made.

So far, that proposal has been rebuffed by university administration, but it has a substantial number of supporters, and the space for it has already been constructed.

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