Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Mystery of Mocha.

I am confused about two points, on the history of ‘mocha’. The first, which is trivial but nonetheless intriguing, is why the word is pronounced so differently within the English-speaking word. You may say moh-ka or mock-a depending on whether you also say tomayto or tomahto and fanny-pack or bum-bag.  Just don’t say fanny-pack if you come to Australia, please.

The second mystery is – when did the word ‘mocha’ come to specifically mean a mixture of coffee and chocolate?

Mocha was the port on the Red Sea in what is now Yemen, which is part of what used to be called Arabia Felix (Fertile, as distinct from Desert, Arabia) by the Romans. The coffee plant originated in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) but was being cultivated and traded in the Yemen as early perhaps as the seventh or eighth centuries. By the fifteenth century, Mocha was the major marketplace for coffee, and the Arab monopoly on the increasingly desirable product remained intact until well into the seventeenth century.

The coffee from Mocha retained its reputation as a superior product long after fertile beans found their way to the West, and the first coffee plantations outside of Arabia were established in Martinique by the mid-eighteenth century. Eventually, coffee from Mocha became known simple as ‘mocha’. This was certainly the case by 1773 in Britain, if the first reference mentioned by the Oxford English Dictionary is indeed the earliest. The quotation says:

1773    J. Pringle Let. in Encycl. Brit. (1797) V. 124/1   The coffee ought to be of the best Mocco.

By the early nineteenth century, recipes in cookery books for things ‘mocha’ were still exclusively coffee-containing, with no evidence (that I have found so far) for the inclusion of chocolate.
One example is the recipe for A Cream Cake, with Mocha Coffee in The Royal Parisian Pastrycook And Confectioner, from the original of M.A. Carême, F.J. Mason (1834) in which the cake is embellished with a coffee cream   

The OED is certainly at least half a century behind in giving the first reference to mocha as ‘a drink made by combining or flavouring coffee with chocolate’ as occurring in 1977 in the Washington Post. The supporting quotation reads:

1977    Washington Post (Nexis) 20 Jan. f12   The beverages are called (1) Old World Style Swiss Mocha mix, artificially flavored chocolate instant coffee beverage [etc.].

There is an advertisement in the Woman’s World of April 1925 which gives a recipe for Mocha frosting, which includes cold coffee and cocoa powder, and I feel sure there are even earlier examples. If you know of any, please let us know, and we will see how far we can inch the coffee-chocolate combo backwards in time.

For the recipe for the day, I cannot resist the following. It has ingredients and flavours enough to please everyone. The amount of chocolate chips was impossible to read, but one cannot have too many chocolate chips in a cake, even if there are also mini-marshmallows present, so may I suggest one cupful, at least?

Mochamallow Gingerbread.
One cup butter, one cup sugar, 2 cup light molasses, 2 beaten eggs, 5 and 1/2 cups sifted flour, 2 teaspoons soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons each of ginger, cinnamon, and allspice, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 2 cups strong cold coffee, 1 cup miniature marshmallows, [?] cup semi- sweet chocolate chips.
Cream butter, sugar, spices, vanilla. Blend in eggs and molasses. Sift together the flour, salt, soda and add alternately with the coffee. Fold chocolate chips and marshmallows. Bake in a greased and floured pan (13 by 8 inch size) at 325 degrees for one hour. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool.
This makes 50 squares.
Washington Post November 25, 1965

Quotation for the Day.

Almost all my middle-aged and elderly acquaintances, including me, feel about 25, unless we haven't had our coffee, in which case we feel 107.
Martha Beck

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