... and why Brits can't make coffee
You don't need me to tell you this. Tea in North America is pretty universally appalling. Weak, flimsy slop. And anyone from across the Atlantic who has been offered a cup of coffee by a well-meaning English or Irish or Welsh* host will, equally, have had to smile gracefully while wondering how on earth it can be possible to get so trivially, microscopically, laughably simple a task as just putting hot water on coffee so gigantically wrong.
The problem is not a new one. As early as 1822 the, otherwise generally splendid Mary Eaton in her The Cook and Housekeeper's Dictionary, suggests making coffee in England...
"To an ounce of coffee, add a tea-spoonful of the best flour of mustard, to correct its acidity, and improve its fragrance; and in order to render it truly fine and wholesome, it should be made the evening before it is wanted ... Next morning pour off the clear liquor, add to it a pint of new milk, warm it over the fire, and sweeten it to taste. Coffee made in this way, will be found particularly suitable to persons of a weak and delicate habit"What? Mustard? Made the evening before? What the ...? Though she does add; "If for foreigners ... make only eight dishes from three ounces." Phew! That sounds all right. But wait, Mrs Eaton isn't going to let even foreigners get away that easily;
"If not fresh roasted, lay it before the fire until perfectly hot and dry; or put the smallest bit of fresh butter into a preserving pan, and when hot, throw the coffee into it, and toss it about until it be freshened, but let it be quite cold before it is ground."Yep, we've been having problems with coffee for a long time. Not surprising an exasperated Alexis Soyer, the Victorian cuisinier célèbre, wrote in 1850;
It is a very remarkable fact that but few persons in England know how to make good coffee, although so well supplied with the first quality of that delicious berry; but, by way of contrast, I must say that the middle classes of France are quite as ignorant of the method of making tea.So what's the problem, and what the solution? It is easy. It is basically TEMPERATURE.
So those who are good at tea (which needs boiling water) use it too hot for coffee (which needs just very hot water) and so make bad coffee. Those who are good at coffee (which needs very hot water) use it too cool for tea (which needs boiling water)
Got it? Pour boiling water on ground coffee and all its volatile flavoring oils will evaporate. Dip a tea-bag in just hot water and you won't extract the flavours.
Tea = boiling water, Coffee = very hot water.
Oh for goodness sake.
*The Scots, for reasons unknown, seem to be capable of making perfectly good coffee. No, I've no idea why either. True though, isn't it?