100 Years Ago Today, W.H. Ukers Finished Writing All About Coffee
One hundred years ago, in June of 1922, William Ukers completed the last round of proof-reading for his book, All About Coffee.
On June 17th, he finished writing the preface and the book was ready for the printer. After 17 years of research, travel, and writing, he had produced what was, perhaps, the most comprehensive book ever written on coffee, and certainly the most important book on coffee ever written in English. Some might argue that it remains such 100 years later; and although many of the scientific, technological, geo-political, and coffee origin details became dated decades ago, much of the content remains relevant if not precisely timeless.
The pages of All About Coffee are filled with examples that give credence to the cliché, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Ukers also demonstrates that some ideas around what constitutes quality coffee and solid business practices have not evolved over the last 100 years so much as they temporarily devolved in the middle of the 20th century.
Just a handful of examples below from the 1922 edition:
“As soon as it is roasted, it begins to lose in flavor and aroma? Certainly. Grinding hastens the deterioration? Of course. Therefore, it is better to buy a small quantity of freshly roasted coffee in the bean and grind it at the time of purchase or at home just before using? Absolutely!” -Page 722
“Practical co-operation between wholesaler and retailer is one of the most important factors in coffee merchandising. In these days of keen and unremitting competition, neither agency can stand alone for long. The progressive wholesaler does not sell a retailer a poorer quality of coffee for any particular grade than his trade calls for, and he does not load him up with more than can be disposed of while still fresh. He gauges the capacity and facilities of each retail customer, and then gives him practical help to keep the stock moving.” -Page 412
“Coffee demonstrations in stores are easily arranged, in most cases. The main consideration is fresh coffee of good quality served daintily and hot. Lacking a coffee urn, some grocers make their brews in large-size home-service coffee-making devices. Those most advanced in the correct method of brewing use the drip process.” -Page 425
“In preparing the perfect cup of coffee, then, the coffee must be of good grade, and freshly roasted. It should, if possible, be ground just before using. The author has found a fine grind, about the consistency of fine granulated sugar, the most satisfactory. For general home use, a device that employs filter paper or filter cloth is best; for the epicure an improved porcelain French percolator (drip pot) or an improved cloth filter will yield the utmost of coffee's delights. Drink it black, sweetened or unsweetened, with or without cream or hot milk, as your fancy dictates.” -Page 723
“Experience has proven that a package coffee, to be successful, must have back of it expert knowledge on buying, blending, roasting, and packing, as well as an efficient sales force. These things are essential: (1) a quality product; (2) a good trade-mark name and label; (3) an efficient package. With these, an intelligently planned and carefully executed advertising and sales campaign will spell success.” -Page 442
“A chain of coffee specialty stores in which the coffee is roasted fresh every day was started in California about the year 1916; and according to reports, it met with almost instant success. In this system, the proprietor buys the green coffee in large quantities, and it is roasted in each of his specialty stores, which are located in public markets, store windows, and alongside heavily traveled highways. The roasting machinery is invariably set up in front of the store where passers-by can easily see it in operation—and also smell the coffee roasting. Four years after starting the first store, there were fifty in operation along the Pacific Coast” -Page 421
The investigation disclosed also a more palatable brew at 195° to 200° F. than at the boiling point. -Page 714
“It is not what you make it in; it is how ye make it. It all hangs upon the word fresh—freshly roasted—freshly ground—water freshly boiled. The secret is, fresh, fresh, fresh, and don't stint your coffee.” – Page 563, Ukers is quoting the 1909 novel, Rosary, by Florance Barclay
“There is no universal standard for the degree to which coffee should be roasted. The North American trade recognizes these different roasts: light, cinnamon, medium, high, city, full city, French, and Italian. The city roast is a dark bean, while full city is a few degrees darker. In the French roast, the bean is cooked until the natural oil appears on the surface; and in the Italian, it is roasted to the point of actual carbonization, so that it can be easily powdered.” – Page 388
“If all coffees were alike, roasting would soon be almost automatic. In some plants most of the work is on one uniform grade or blend. But coffees which vary greatly in moisture-content, in flinty or spongy nature, and in various other characteristics, will puzzle the operator until he establishes a personal acquaintance with them in various combinations in repeated roasting operations. The roasterman therefore must be able to observe closely, to draw sensible conclusions, and to remember what he learns. Roasting coffee is work of a sort which anybody can do, which a few people can do really well, and no one so well but that further improvement is possible.” -Page 391, Ukers quoting A.L. Burns