Coffee Maker Evolution

Theres nothing like waking up to the fresh smell of coffee brewing in your coffeemaker. So, what do socks, vacuums, rammers, Mr. Biggins and physics have in common? They are all a part of the evolution of the coffeemaker.


Coffee makers started out being pots with a pointed pour spout on the top, a flat squat bottom with a trapper to stop the grinds getting into the coffee, much like the Turkish stovetop coffeemakers of today.

During the 1600s & 1700s, coffee enthusiasts tried different shapes and sizes to create that magical cup of coffee devoid of grounds. This eras shape had a bulging middle with a spout coming out of the center of the pot. It was a technological achievement separating the liquid from the grinds.

In 1780, Mr. Biggin became the revolution of the coffee world. Who is Mr. Biggin? Well, it is not a who, but rather, a what. Mr. Biggin was a coffeepot built with a filter, shaped like a tea cosy, which sat inside the pot. It was originally called bagging and it has been reported that the name Mr. Biggin allegedly came about because of the poor use of English. It was shaped like a tall, oval teapot with a spout at the bottom. Rumor has it that this coffeemaker was invented by someone using a sock as a filter. However, this method wasnt an exact science. If the coffee grind was too fine the water could not break through the coffee filter; it would just swill around the sides. If the coffee was too course the water wouldnt brew the coffee, but it would just run straight through the pot. Another problem with Mr. Biggin was that the cotton, burlap or wool of the filter would rot and flavor the coffee.

So, in 1802, a metal coffee filter was born in France. The metal coffee filter wasnt really like the metal ones we have today. All it did was spread the water more evenly so there were still problems with floating grinds.

Then came the rammer. The coffee maker patent was given in 1802 and it compressed the level of coffee without crushing it.

Madame Vassieux of Lyon, France was one of many women to create technological achievements in the world of coffeemakers. She used the laws of physics to create the coffee maker. It held water in a bottom bowl and boiled it and forced the water to the top bowl to meet the coffee grinds. When it arrived at the top, the heat source was away from the mixture and the steam condensed in the lower part of the coffee pot and created a vacuum to suck the brewed coffee down into the lower chamber. Hence, the evolution of the vacuum pot. Some vacuum coffee makers were made of metal or glass. Glass, wasnt as strong as it is today, would blow up. New patents for safety valves, tilt pour spouts and in 1859 a cup gradiation mark was invented (Raparlier Vacuum Pot); making it easier to know how much coffee would be brewed.

The Raparlier vacuum coffee pot got rid of the problem of rotting, dirty filters by using disposable filters made of hemp. US company, Silex, mass produced the vacuum style coffee pot in the mid 1900s and this type of vacuum coffee pot lasted till the 1960s (also called a hydropneumatic coffee pot).

Another style of vacuum pot was created during the same period. It had the two bowls side by side. It was known as a balance beam pot. However, the difference between it and the original vacuum pot was when the balance beams coffee filled the brew bowl it would extinguish the heat source by changing its weight.

The percolator, created about the same time, was also a technological advancement for its era and its design is still on the market today. About ninety percent of Americans drank coffee using a percolator in the 1930s. This method made the coffee taste burnt as the coffee was continually boiling.

The French had a lot to do with the evolution of coffee makers and are credited with creating the French Press (also known by the brand name, Bodum, by cafetiere or plunge pot) during the same time period as the percolator and the vacuum coffee pot. It combined the boiling water and coffee into one coffee pot and a plunger, with a filter, pressed the coffee grounds down to the bottom of the pot and separated it from the water. It was a great method because you could control the strength of the coffee. It was simplistic and it has survived the test of time.

From Mr. Biggins to Willy Brandl…the evolution of the coffee maker was about to meet high tech. Brandl created the first electric coffee maker. It had a small mercury float switch which turned off automatically when the water was low in the coffee machine.

The drip coffeemaker was created by Melitta Bentz, a German Housewife, around 1910. Bentz found the coffee grounds were always floating in her coffee so she tried using her sons notebook blotting paper as a coffee filter. The Melitta drip coffeemaker was first marketed around 1960 in Germany. There are basically two types of drip coffeemakers: one heats the hot water in the machine and the other has heated water poured into it. Also, one type has a heated plate to keep the coffee warm (and burn the coffee over time) and the other is insulated, to keep cool temperatures out, to keep the coffee warm for a limited amount of time.

Today, there are many different coffee maker styles, coffee maker brands and coffeemaker technologies to choose from and Im sure there are still people using socks to filter their coffee in a pinch.

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