Archive for October, 2012

A Short Dive Into Coffee Maker History

Most people are in love with coffee. There’s something comforting when you smell freshly brewed coffee in the morning.

Ancient Beginnings

Coffee originated from the Sub-Saharan region in Africa. Originally, the green coffee berries where chewed and sometimes mixed with animal fat. A quick energy boosting snack at the time. Based on history that was around 300 AD. Around 500 AD Arabian traders brought the coffee bean to the Arabian Peninsula. The first coffee houses were established around 600 AD in Cairo and Mecca.

Coffee Making History

Coffee Making History

In those early days of coffee making the green coffee beans were taken as a whole together with some leaves and steeped in water. The result was a rather weak tea. In the 1100’s folks in Arabia found out that roasting the green beans over fire and then grinding the roasted beans resulted in a much stronger and more flavorful beverage. This was a true breakthrough in coffee making which we all should be thankful for!

Turkish Coffee

Shortly after this the first coffee making devices were invented. They consisted of a metal pot with a long handle. These devices were called an Ibrik. Ground coffee was mixed with water and brought to a boil. After it boiled the beverage was poured into a cup. Even today you can find the Ibrik still being used in the Middle East. Most know the beverage that’s brewed with them today as “Turkish Coffee”. This is not that much different from the coffee the settlers and cowboys brewed in the west many years ago except that Turkish Coffee includes a hint of cardamom in addition to sugar.

This new standard in coffee making ensured the successful transition from a weak tea to the beloved coffee as we drink it today. Its popularity exploded in the Middle East and Turkey at those times. The Turkish society at that time embraced coffee and it became an essential part of the daily life in Turkey. It lead to a law that was established in the mid 1400’s that it would be a reason for divorce if a husband wouldn’t provide his wife with her daily quote of coffee.

Coffee coming to Europe

Coffee was finally introduced to Europe in the 1600’s. Italian traders brought the coffee to Europe via Venice. At that time the Catholic priests thought that this “Muslim drink” was “Satan’s gift”. There was even a petition to the pope to ban coffee. Luckily, Pope Clemente VIII, wanted to taste the drink before banning it. He liked the taste and there was no ban on the beverage. This started the increase of popularity of coffee throughout Europe.

Coffee coming to America

The first time coffee made it to America was 1607 on board the ship of John Smith, the founder of Jamestown in Virginia. At that time the coffee had to be imported from England. It was the roasted and ground in the colonies. The roasting technique at the time had evolved into a metal drum which was rotated over a wood fire. The grinding had to be performed with one of the various types of hand crank grinders like you can still see them in the museums.

In the 1700’s the coffee plant made its way to the East and West Indies and through the Caribbean Basin and Central and South America. Even though the popularity of coffee and of harvesting coffee rose during those years, there were no major improvements when it comes to coffee making and roasting for a long time. Roasting had to be done regionally as the shelf life of coffee rapidly decreases once it’s roasted. Due to the lack of being able to transport anything quickly and efficiently over long distances the roasting was done locally and close to the time that the coffee actually was consumed. Coffee at that time often was sold unroasted in bags.

In those days the coffee grounds were mixed with water and a lot of attention was given to find a way to prevent the grounds from ending up in the coffee cup. Some designs included a wide bottom which then narrowed and then expanded again in the middle before narrowing again. The hope was to trap the sediments at the wide bottom and have the clear liquid on the top. The thought was that when one poured the coffee then the grounds would either stay at the bottom or be trapped in the middle. The spout was designed similarly so any grounds that made it through the middle would settle in the spout. In addition others tried to use cotton and other cloths to strain the coffee through but most imparted their own flavor onto the coffee. At the time only hemp proved to be a reasonably good straining material.

The First Coffee Filters

The next leap forward in coffee brewing came from the French in the 1700’s. They came up with the idea of using an oversized teabag which was made from linen. The grounds could be poured into the bag and then steeped in boiling water. Linen proved to be flavorless to coffee and the bag trapped all the grounds. The bag had to be washed from time to time. In 1818 a Frenchman also invented the first percolator. These groundbreaking innovations exponentially increased the consumption of coffee.

It was also the French that invented the first espresso machine which was introduced at the Paris Exposition in 1855. Espresso machines use steam pressure to brew finely ground coffee. James Mason patented the first American made percolator in 1865. These percolators were vacuum percolators which had the advantage that the water temperature stays constant. A stove top percolator recirculates boiling water over the grounds. This results in rather bitter coffee.

Another coffee making invention that the French came up with is the “French Press” coffee brewer. This type of coffee maker contains a filter compartment which contains the grounds and that then is lowered into the heated water. After steeping the filter compartment in the water for a few minutes it then gets extracted from the water with a rod. This prevents building up bitterness. This type of coffee maker was invented in the 1890’s and is still in use today.

Coffee Making in the last century

After around 1900 things really took off. A German housewife named Mellita-Bentz innovated and patented the paper coffee filters as we know them today. It was also the time that Satori Kato invented the instant coffee in Chicago. Instant coffee was further refined and made popular by George Constant Washington from England.

With the improvement of transportation across long distances, namely the rail roads, it became possible to roast and grind coffee and then transport it to distant locations. Hills Bros. was the first company that started to market pre-ground and pre-roasted coffee. This in turn lead to the vanishing of the local coffee roasters and grinders around the country. Additionally, many innovations were made to the espresso machines in the mid 20th century. This time these innovations came from Italy.

In 1972 Vincent Marotta invented a machine that’s the basis for many coffee makers today, the Mr. Coffee coffee maker. It didn’t and still doesn’t make the best coffee but it turned coffee making into an easy and fast operation. That’s probably why people fell in love with this type of coffee maker compared to using other coffee making devices which are not as easy to use even though they make better coffee. Later on single cup coffee makers were invented which overall work on the same principle and thus make the same quality of coffee. They add more convenience to the coffee making process but each cup of coffee also costs more. So, it’s fast, convenient and somewhat expensive.

For many, this is so far the best mousetrap when it comes to coffee making. Folks that drink lots and lots of coffee probably do prefer drip coffee makers as they are cheaper.

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