For many people today, the Georgian Era was a time when everyone drank alcoholic drinks and “knew” not to drink the water because of the pollution and bacteria. While the people of the English-speaking world certainly did consume what, to most of us today, would seem to be prodigious amounts of alcohol, the fact is, bacteria were almost unknown to the Georgians, and they certainly did not associate them with disease. In reality, the prevailing theory on the cause of disease, throughout the Georgian era was the Miasma Theory, that held that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by a miasma, a noxious form of “bad air”.
The Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first observed bacteria, using the microscope he invented, in 1676. They were just at the limit of what his simple lenses could make out and, in one of the most striking gaps in the history of science; no one else would see them again for over a century. Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg introduced the word “bacterium” in 1828, referring to a genus that contained non-spore-forming rod-shaped bacteria, as opposed to Bacillus, a genus of spore-forming rod-shaped bacteria defined by Ehrenberg in 1835
The Italian Agostino Bassi was the first person to prove that a microorganism caused a disease when he conducted a series of experiments between 1808 and 1813, demonstrating that a “vegetable parasite” caused a disease in silkworms known as calcinaccio. Louis Pasteur demonstrated in 1859 that the growth of microorganisms causes the fermentation process, and that this growth is not due to spontaneous generation. Along with his contemporary Robert Koch, Pasteur was an early advocate of the germ theory of disease. While the Georgians did not generally know that bacteria caused disease, what they did know was that observant people had noticed that those who drank alcoholic beverages tended to live longer and be healthier lives than those who drank water.
However, this article is not about Georgian era medicine. Instead, we are going to survey just what it was that folks in the Georgian era drank in English-speaking societies. Through this and future posts, we are going to look at the documented drinks of the period and try to understand the history surrounding some of them. Undoubtedly, we will miss some drinks, and if we do miss one that you know about please tell us about it in the comments section of our posts. So, let us begin!
Non-alcoholic Georgian Era Beverages
According to recent botanical evidence, the history of the coffee bean began on the plateaus of central Ethiopia and somehow found its way to Yemen where it was cultivated beginning in the 6th century. (Coffee Research Institute, 2015) The modern version of roasted coffee originated in Arabia. During the 13th century, coffee was extremely popular with the Muslim community for its stimulant powers, which proved useful during long prayer sessions. By parching and boiling the coffee beans, rendering them infertile, the Arabs were able to corner the market on coffee crops.
In 1616, the Dutch founded the first European-owned coffee estate in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, and later in Java in 1696. The French began growing coffee in the Caribbean, followed by the Spanish in Central America and the Portuguese in Brazil. European coffee houses sprang up in Italy and later France, where they reached a new level of popularity. (Avey, 2013)
Oxford, having the unique combination of exotic scholarship interests and a vibrant experimental community, was the first English city to set up a coffeehouse. A Jewish entrepreneur named Jacob established the first English coffeehouse in 1650, which he named the Angel. (Cowan, 2005) Another Oxford coffeehouse, The Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. The Oxford-style coffeehouses, which acted as a center for social intercourse, gossip, and scholastic interest, spread quickly to London. There, English coffeehouses became popularized and embedded within the popular and political culture. Pasqua Rosée, the Greek servant of a Levant Company merchant named Daniel Edwards, established the first London coffeehouse in 1652.
Towards the end of the 18th century, coffeehouses had almost disappeared from the popular social scene in England. The rise of the exclusive club contributed to the decline in the popularity of English coffeehouses. Snobbery reared its head, particularly among the intelligentsia, who felt that their special genius entitled them to protection from the common herd. Strangers were no longer welcome. The government also had a hand in the decline of the English coffeehouse in the 18th century. As competition for coffee heightened internationally with expansion of coffeehouses throughout the rest of Europe, the British East India Company had a greater interest in the tea trade than the coffee trade. Government policy fostered trade with India and China, and the government offered encouragements to anything that would stimulate demand for tea. (Ellis, 1956)
The method of making coffee in the Regency Era was as follows:
To make Coffee.
“To two ounces of the best coffee, fresh ground, put eight coffee-cups of boiling water, let it boil six minutes, pour out cupful two or three times, and return it again; then put two or three isinglass chips or few harts horn shavings into it, and pour one large spoonful of boiling water on it: boil it five minutes more, and let the pot stand by the fire ten minutes, for the coffee to settle. It will then be clear and bright. If it is wished to be particularly strong, three ounces of coffee must be used for eight cups; and if it is not fresh roasted, let it be made perfectly hot, and dry, before or over the fire, before it is used. tea-spoonful of the best mustard flour added to every ounce of coffee, greatly improves it, both in clearness and flavour. Serve hot milk or cream with it, and pounded sugar-candy, or fine Lisbon sugar.” (Scott, 1826)
Coffee plants reached the New World during the early 18th century, though the drink wasn’t really popular in America until the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when making the switch from tea to coffee became something of a patriotic duty.
All tea sold in Europe in the eighteenth century came from China and Japan, with most from China. Tea production in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) began after the ‘discovery’ and propagation of tea in Assam in the 1820s by the Scots brothers Robert and Charles Bruce. Before that, the East India Company imported tea, sometimes described as Indian tea, although the origin was China. In the early years, before the British established their own trade routes to the Chinese mainland, they purchased tea on secondary markets outside China, such as through the Dutch East India Company factory in Batavia, or from Chinese merchants in India.
Bohea was the most famous tea in the early eighteenth century. It was mentioned in many poems of the period, including Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1714). The tea took its name from the Wuyi Mountains between Fujian and Hokkien province: ‘Bohea’ is an anglicized pronunciation of Wuyi. The Chinese considered Bohea an inferior grade, but the European traders at Ningpo, Amoy and Canton purchased it with enthusiasm. Bohea was most likely a form of oolong or wu lung: the harvested leaves were wilted slowly in the sun, allowing a period of enzymatic oxidation to occur before being panned, rolled, and dried. The semi-oxidized flavors of oolong are somewhere between green tea and what is today called ‘black tea’ by Western consumers (the Chinese term is hung cha, or ‘red tea’). Bohea was darker and browner than green tea, especially in the English preparation, but was not a fully oxidized black tea, of the kind now most widely consumed in Britain. According to the research of Huang Hsing-Tsung, which uses Chinese documentary sources, Hung cha black teas were probably not developed in China until the nineteenth century. (Ellis M. , 2011)
The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1797 divided tea into three kinds of green tea, and five kinds of bohea. Among the Green teas, there were: “1. Imperial or bloom tea, with a large loose leaf, light green color, and a faint delicate smell. 2. Hyson, so called from the name of the merchant who first imported it; the leaves of which are closely curled and small, of a green color, verging to a blue. 3. Singlo tea, from the name of the place where it is cultivated.” Among the Boheas were: “Souchong, which imparts a yellow green color by infusion. 2. Camho, so called from the place where it is made; a fragrant tea, with a violet smell; its infusion pale. 3. Congo [congou], which has a larger leaf than the following, and its infusion somewhat deeper, resembling common bohea in the color of the leaf. 4. Pekoe tea: this is known by the appearance of small, white flowers mixed with it. 5. Common bohea, whose leaves are of one color.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1797)
There are other varieties, particularly a kind of green tea, done up in roundish balls, called “gunpowder-tea.” By the end of the century, bohea had gone from a prestigious élite beverage to the most common variety of tea. It is interesting to note that one of the more popular teas today, Earl Grey Tea, was not created until late in the Georgian era. Bergamot-flavored teas were known in England as early as 1820 but Earl Grey Tea comes at the end, if not after the reign of George IV. The Earl Grey blend, or “Earl Grey’s Mixture,” is thought to be named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832. According to the Grey family, the tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand. (Howick Hall Gardens)
Green Tea exported from China was first introduced in the coffeehouses of London shortly before the Stuart Restoration. In 1657, a London coffeehouse in Exchange Alley, London offered tea as an item for purchase. (Mair & Hoh, 2009)
Black tea overtook green tea in popularity in the 1720s with the addition sugar and milk to tea, a practice that was not done in China. The growth in the import of tea parallels that of sugar in the 18th century. Tea consumption rose in English society, from 800,000 lb. per annum in 1710 to 100,000,000 lb. per annum in 1721. (Ellis, 1956) Between 1720 and 1750, the imports of tea to Britain through the British East India Company more than quadrupled. By 1766, exports from Canton stood at 6 million pounds on British boats, compared with 4.5 on Dutch ships, 2.4 on Swedish, 2.1 on French. (Braudel, 1981-84) By 1829, find that tea landed in the United Kingdom for domestic consumption had reached 32,933,680 lbs. (MacGregor, 1850)
Tea is not only the name of a beverage, but also of a late afternoon light meal at four o’clock, irrespective of the beverage consumed. During the 18th century, dinner began to be served later and later in the day until, by the early 19th century, the normal time was between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m. To fill the midday gap between breakfast and dinner, an extra meal called luncheon began being served, but as this new meal was very light, the long afternoon with no refreshment at all left people feeling hungry.
Although some families may have been in the habit of taking tea and a light repast during the afternoon, it was not something that had been “formalized” within the Georgian Era. Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with first making ‘Afternoon Tea’ into a formal social occasion in the 1830s. (Fortnum & Mason, 2015)
Finding herself understandably peckish in the gap between luncheon and dinner, the Duchess began inviting her friends to enjoy tea and ‘a light refreshment’ in her rooms at Woburn Abbey. She continued the practice upon returning to London and the ‘Afternoon Tea’ became an increasingly fashionable ritual among the social hostesses of the middle and upper classes.
Each of the two main “types” of tea available during the Georgian Era, Green and Bohea/Black, need to brew in water of different temperatures to bring out the best flavor. Green tea should brew in water between 176° – 185° F for 2-3 minutes, while Bohea/Black tea should brew in water at 203° for 3-5 minutes. (Ito En, Inc., 2014)
Many sites on the internet tell us that Chocolate came to Europe through either Columbus or Cortéz but I have not been able to find any period documentation that supports those claims. It is unlikely that Columbus ever saw chocolate being used, since he never ventured on the Mesoamerican mainland. According to Columbus’ second son, Fernando, on his fourth voyage he did see chocolate beans, in a captured Maya trading canoe, but had no idea what they were. We also know about what Cortéz brought back to Spain, because everything was inventoried, and chocolate beans are not mentioned in any of those documents. So who did introduce chocolate to Europe?
Well, the earliest account of chocolate appears to point to a Dominican priest who took a group of K’ekchi Maya nobles, high-ranking ones, to Spain to visit the court of Philip II. King Phillip welcomed them, they made chocolate for him, and that is the first time we have mention of chocolate in Europe. The Spanish court loved it, especially the women, but the Spaniards had to figure out to add sugar to the drink before it became popular there. (The True History of Chocolate – a conversation with Michael Coe, 2006)
Chocolate use spread from Spain to Italy, Germany and then to France, where Physicians advocated its use as a cure for many diseases. From France the use of chocolate spread into England, where the first English chocolate house, similar to today’s coffee houses, opened in London in 1657. Chocolate must have gained public favor by 1673 because, in that year “a Lover of his Country” wrote a missive, documented in the Harleian Miscellany, demanding its prohibition (along with brandy, rum, and tea) on the grounds that “this imported article did no good and hindered the consumption of English-grown barley and wheat”. (Knapp, 1920) Hydraulic and steam-driven chocolate mills that produced chocolate faster were invented in the early 1700s and not long after, cocoa prices dropped, and chocolate transitioned to a little luxury nearly everyone could afford.
It is good to keep in mind that the chocolate of the 18th and early 19th centuries was a very different animal than what we know today. The following recipe for preparing of hot chocolate comes from the Harleian Miscellany, Vol I:
For preparing the drink of chocolate
“ you may observe the following measures Take of the mass of chocolate, cut into small pieces, one ounce; of milk and water well boiled together, of each, half a pint; one yolk of an egg well beaten mix them together, let them boil but gently, till all is dissolved, stirring them often together with your mollinet, or chocolate-mill afterwards pour it into your dishes, and into every dish put one spoonful of sack.” (Oldys & Park, 1808)
The first person to add milk to the traditional cacao drink was English physician Sir Hans Sloane, who in the late 1600s was introduced to the chocolate drink during a trip to Jamaica. He found the drink “nauseous” but by mixing it with milk made it more palatable. He brought this chocolate recipe back to England where Apothecaries sold his milky concoction as a medicine. Beginning in 1824, the Cadbury brothers used his recipe to manufacture hot chocolate.
Another milestone in chocolate production came in 1828 with the invention of the cocoa press, and with it, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The cocoa press lowered prices further, it made hot chocolate smoother and it paved the way for solid chocolate. Unfortunately, for those of us who reenact the colonial and Regency era, the chocolate bar came along after the Georgian Era. An English company, Joseph Fry & Sons, was the first to market a chocolate bar, in 1847. To do so, these early chocolatiers added to cocoa powder some melted cocoa butter and sugar—a vast improvement over the coarse-grained chocolate that had been the norm. Switzerland’s Daniel Peter, with help from his neighbor Henri Nestlé, created the first milk chocolate bar in 1875.
Orgeat is a sweet almond drink, which in the past, was commonly based on barley. The word itself comes from the old Occitan (Southern France) word orge for barley. Orgeat was enormously popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, and the Italians still enjoy their version, orzata, today.
Orange flower water was a common addition, and the base, as mentioned, was originally barley, but they use of seeds such as melon and pumpkin was not unheard of. Orgeat could either be made ready for drinking, in the form of a sugar syrup, or a simple paste of ground almonds and sugar, and either of these added to water or milk to make a refreshing beverage, or to an alcoholic mix to flavor a punch or drink. As with Chocolate, it was also used medicinally.
Here is a period recipe for making Orgeat that shows its medical uses:
“Beat two ounces of almonds with a tea-spoonful of orange flower water, and a bitter almond or two; then pour a quart of milk and water to the paste. Sweeten with sugar, or capillaire.( Any simple syrup flavoured with orange flowers.) This is a fine drink for those who have a tender chest; and in the gout it is highly useful, and with the addition of half an ounce of gum arabic, has been found to allay the painfulness of the attendant heat. Half a glass of brandy may be added if thought too cooling in the latter complaints, and the glass of orgeat may be put into a basin of warm water.” (Rundell, 1814)
For those who wish a recipe for the older, barley-based version of orgeat we have:
“Take pound of barley, which you soak in water; and, having peeled it grain by grain, make a knot of it in bit of linen. Put this knot in pot over the fire with about quart of water. After having boild it gently three or four hours, put into the water one pound of sweet almonds, which mix and dilute well in it. Then take off the knot of barley, which you pound like the almonds and mix like them in the water. Strain alt together through piece of linen; then pound the grounds well and pour all the water over it again, which stir all together and strain again. This water will look very thick. Put one pound of lump sugar in powder, to that liquor, and boil it into syrup over moderate fire. You will know that the syrup is done to its right degree if, letting one drop fall on the back of your hand, it remains in the form of pearl. Then take it off from the fire, and when cold, give it what flavour you chuse whether amber, musk or other odour. Such is the syrup of orgeat, which you bottle and keep for use.
To make the draught which, in coffee houses or other places of refreshment, is called orgeat, put at the bottom of decanter half an ounce, or one ounce, of that syrup and pour common water over it, then shake the decanter well to mix the water and the syrup together. It is fit for drinking directly. In the summer you may cool it, if you chuse, in a pailful of ice and water, and you may add syrup, or water, to the first mixture, according as it wants to make it agreeable to the palate.” (Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1775)
One last recipe, from just after our period, that adds a bit of spices to the drink:
“Boil a quart of new milk with a stick of cinnamon. Put to it two ounces of loaf-sugar, and let it cool. Blanch and beat to a paste, with a little rose water, three ounces of sweet almonds and two bitter. Stir them to the milk; boil it up again, and continue stirring till cold. Then add half a glass of brandy.” (Sanderson, 1846)
It is worth noting that bitter almonds contain the enzyme emulsin, which, in the presence of water, acts on soluble glucosides, amygdalin, and prunasin, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde, the chemical causing the bitter flavor. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond and contain 42 times higher amounts of cyanide than the trace levels found in sweet almonds. All commercially grown almonds sold as food in the United States are of the “sweet” variety. The US Food and Drug Administration reported in 2010 that some fractions of imported sweet almonds were contaminated with bitter almonds. Eating such almonds could result in vertigo and other typical bitter almond (cyanide) poisoning effects. Based on this, although you can sometimes find bitter almonds for sale at health food stores, one should probably avoid using them and stick to sweet almonds if you attempt to make any of these recipes
Switchel, also known as switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, and switchy, is unique in our survey of Georgian era beverages, in that it seems to be a distinctly American drink. The origins of the drink are fuzzy. Some sources say it was brought to the colonies from the West Indies. Others credit it to Amish communities, who still serve it. It may also be related to oxymel, the medicinal mixture of water, honey, and vinegar that dates back to Hippocrates. Whatever the case, it does not seem to have been a popular drink in England during the Georgian era.
Regardless of the origin of switchel, it had become a popular summer drink in the American Colonies by the late 17th century. By the 19th century, it had become a traditional drink to serve to thirsty farmers at hay harvest time, hence the nickname haymaker’s punch. The drink became so associated with America that, according to legend, when Captain James Dacres, captain of the HMS Guerriere, battled with the USS Constitution during the War of 1812, Dacres jokingly called for the drink to be prepared for the Americans whom he hoped to capture. However, Dacres’ fantasy of serving the Americans their own drink as they surrendered went down when his ship, not the Constitution, was sunk. One can make switchel as follows:
To one gallon of water, add one cup of brown or maple sugar, one cup of unsulphered molasses, and one cup of cider vinegar. Add grated fresh ginger to your taste if desired. Stir until well combined. This may be sealed and lowered into a well or stream to cool the drink before serving.
The term shrub refers to both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink during the Georgian era. We will talk about the non-alcoholic version here and then address the alcoholic version in a later posting.
In 17th century England, vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices for preserving berries and other fruits for the off-season. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America. In searching period cookbooks, it seems that as the Georgian era progressed, the term Shrub came to be more and more associated with the alcoholic version and the non-alcoholic versions came to be called fruit vinegars. By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days. Afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup was mixed with water to make a refreshing drink. Mary Randolph, in her 1838 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife” provides the following recipe for making Raspberry Vinegar:
“Put a quart of ripe red raspberries in a bowl; pour on them a quart of strong well flavoured vinegar – let them stand twenty-four hours, strain them through a bag, put this liquid on another quart of fresh raspberries, which strain in the same manner – and then on a third quart: when this last is prepared, make it very sweet with pounded loaf sugar; refine and bottle it. It is delicious beverage mixed with iced water.” (Randolph, 1838)
Do you know of a Georgian era non-alcoholic drink that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments section below and maybe we will research it and pick it up in a later post!
In Part II of this series, we will take a look at brewed and fermented beverages that were popular during the Georgian Era.
© 2015 Chuck Hudson
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