How do you make your daily cup of java? Do you brew it in a pot? Use a french press? A percolator? A one cup drip brewer? There are so many different coffee brewing methods, makers, and styles that I thought it would be fun to take a look into the history of it. After all, those of us who run by a shop every day for our “fix” may not know how it all got started.
As the story goes, an Arab farmer in the 5th or 6th century B.C. noticed his goats acting strangely and discovered they had been eating a certain red colored berry from plants nearby. He was intrigued by this berry and tasted it himself, only to immediately spit it out because of the horrid bitter taste. However, when he tossed them in the fire, a wonderful aroma filled the air, and they could not help but wonder if the now cooked “beans” would be better. He put them in water, let them seep…and thus the first cup of coffee was made. Of course, it spread widely and quickly and became a staple in the cultures of the Middle East.
The first machine that brewed coffee was a percolator, invented sometime before 1791 by an American scientist named Sir Benjamin Thompson, but his design did not use a tube that pulls water through to brew in a continuous cycle. Actually, neither did the first patented percolator, made by James Mason in 1865. The percolator as we know it today (if you actually know it…I know I have used one when I was younger and I’m nearly 40, so many of the youth today may not have ever even seen one) was built in 1889 by a farmer in Illinois named Hanson Goodrich. It has a base at the bottom that holds a reservoir of water. The coffee grounds sit in a basket at the top. The water travels from a tube at the bottom and splashes over the grounds, falling back to the reservoir, and creating the coffee. Of course before there was electricity, the machine had to be set near enough a hot fire to to cause the water to boil so it could travel up the tube. Still, it left some of the grounds in the finished drink, and that was a problem. In the twentieth century, paper filters were used inside the basket of the percolator to keep the grounds from falling into the water.
The modern-day espresso machine was developed and patented by an Italian inventor, Angelo Moriondo who demonstrated it at the Grand Exposition in Turin, Italy in 1884. Over the years several changes and variations have been made to the machine. The coffee brewing method it uses is forcing pressurized hot water through what is called a “puck” of ground coffee in a filter. It produces a thicker, concentrated, very strong coffee drink that is the base of many of the beverages we see in shops like a caramel macchiato or cappuccino.
The next appliance made for coffee brewing was a french press. It was first patented in 1929 by another Italian designer named Attilio Calimani. It is believed that the very first one was made in France by an unknown inventor. I’m assuming that’s why it’s called a “French” press even though an Italian patented it. Brewing in this device requires a larger coarser ground bean than most of us buy at our local grocers today. The reason is the brewing process involves mixing the ground beans and hot water together, then pressing a plunger to the bottom to trap the grinds there while you pour out a delicious cup of java. For this reason it has also been called a “coffee plunger” (among many other aliases) and the resulting drink called “plunger coffee”. You can see if you had fine grounds they would seep through. Those that like really strong coffee enjoy the french press because not only can you use more grounds for a stronger flavor, you can leave the water and grounds together longer. This can make the final drink taste bitter, but there are those who actually prefer that. For a non bitter drink, you should only leave the beans and water mixing together for not longer than twenty minutes.
Although some people today enjoy an espresso or cappuccino machine in their homes, the most widely used coffee brewing method in homes these days is a drip brewer. Hot water is poured in a reservoir much like the percolator, but instead continually going back up the tube and out into the reservoir, the water comes up the tube, gathers in the filtered basket, and drips into a pot underneath. The first electrical drip brewer came from Germany in 1954 and was called the Wigomat. In my day, “Mr. Coffee” was the most popular brand name brewer, and in this day and age, it’s now the “Keurig”, as they produce convenient coffee makers that will conveniently brew one cup at a time.
I hope you have enjoyed our journey through the making of coffee. Go enjoy a cup with one of those awesome flavored creamers. Or have it strong and black, however you prefer.