Sunday, April 1, 2012

Coffees of Empire

The fourth in a series entitled "Foods of the Empire". The victuals people would buy at their local Co-Op when the maps of the world had large areas shaded in red.

You somehow feel that Britain has come to terms with its imperialist past. The recent BBC Tv five part series "Empire", an excellent travelogue / documentary with Jeremy Paxman suggests that.

Here is coffee essence a peculiar British product. A thick gooey syrup that was suppose to taste like coffee after hot water was poured over it. It is still retailed in places but I can't bear to purchase any. I remember it first time around. Ingredients : 40% water, 30% sugar, 26% chicory essence, 4% coffee essence, stabilisers and thickeners.

The label says everything about Empire and that later creation the Commonwealth. Manufactured by Patterson & Sons in Glasgow from 1875. The iconic label of an military officer in the Gordon Highlanders and a Sikh gentleman being a waiter / batman serving up the delicious sweet drink. That was the black and white days. Now the firm is a brand of the McCormick & Company (think of those over-priced Schwartz herbs and spices) it has been re-designed with both chaps sitting together enjoying the beverage. There was an intermediate design of the chap in his turban standing with the tray airbrushed out. Redolent of those Stalinist era photographs, when the old Bolsheviks got removed from the picture after Uncle Joe had them executed.

Getting back to the beverage I've always wondered why Britain, in the days of Empire, never got to grips with coffee making at home? Also the use of chicory in this product is an interesting and separate story. It can make an acceptable drink when there is a coffee shortage but there wasn't one.


Andrew Simpson said...

Coffee I know it isn't but I guess like many in the 50's I remember it at home, and came across it again when I was catering officer on a building site and one of my chores was to collect the mid morining sandwiches from the Italian cafe by the Royal Standard at Blackheath.
Nice piece of social & post Imperial history Lawrence

lorenzo23 said...

Think my view of coffee is blighted by growing up with Camp coffee or a tin of Nescafe. Then discovering the cafetiers (plunger) and that Italian kitchen essential you use, la molka.

In the CWS 1913 Jubilee book, full of facts and figures, more coffee than tea by weight was sold by the Rochdale Pioneers Co-op stores at that time. How did they make it?

A whole history we know nothing about. All before the Italian frothy coffee bars of the 1950's and the sugar corporate confections offered by Starbucks.

You can email : coop AT with any information that will help in the making of this history.