Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Hogo of Sirreverence

In the 17th century, when coffee came to England, it was attacked by the traditional ale- and beer-men and women because it tasted terrible and stank. It is true that, in those days, coffee was made in a smelly way. The beans were hand roasted very unevenly, and the grounds were left in the coffee for a long time, often ending up in the cup itself. The many pamphlets against coffee said it looked and tasted like soot, or mud, or worse. Indeed, some said it had the "hogo" (haute gout, that is, scent) of "sirreverence." Sirreverence was a euphemism derived from the apologetic way a servant would describe excrement – "save your reverence."

Markman Ellis, who presents this wonderful expression in The Coffee-House: A Cultural History, says that there was a market in those early days of the modern cosmopolitan market for bitter, astringent, tough tastes and smells. The coffee house, which reeked of coffee and tobacco, served that market. This hogo of sirreverence was another part of the reason that the early coffee houses were overwhelmingly male environments.

Modern coffee houses mostly sell sweet, milk-heavy coffee drinks. But they have within them those who want the bitterness of coffee as it comes from the bean. I have been a mocha drinker since the beginning of the specialty coffee boom, but reflection on how little coffee there is in a large mocha has led me to switch this week, at least halfway. Cappuccino, anyone?

1 comment:

Stuart Gordon said...

No thanks, Gruntled. I'll stick with juice with my breakfast : )