1889From the French press to the Chemex to the single-cup brewer, we celebrate the joy of java.
Thousands of years ago
Legend has it that humans discover the coffee plant in Ethiopian forests after a goat herder sees his animals moving about with unusual energy. Families originally roast the green beans at home over a fire. "The housewife would buy the green beans, take them home, and fry them in a frying pan," says Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World. She roasts the beans over high heat in a wok-like pan until she hears the first crack, similar to making stovetop popcorn, he adds.
The government taxes tea during the Stamp Act of 1765, adding to its cost while decreasing its demand. And the Boston Tea Party in 1773 makes it unpatriotic to sip tea. Pendergrast found a letter dated 1774 from John Adams to his wife, Abigail, that read: Tea must be universally renounced... and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better.
Housewives pour hot water through an old-fashioned filter - socks or a linen bag filled with ground coffee. Voila: infusion. The coffee is surprisingly fresh because women make it from green beans, not from pre-roasted ones. "In colonial times, you'd go down to your store and buy green coffee, go home, and roast it," says Gregory Dicum, co-author of The Coffee Book: Anatomy of an Industry from the Crop to the Last Drop. "Green coffee is very stable. You can package it and ship it around the world." In 1780, so-called Biggin pots allow people to skip the sock and pour water onto ground coffee, letting it drip into an empty chamber below.18061806
The first French press brews coffee by stirring it into water, allowing the beverage to sit for a few minutes, before pressing a plunger with a metal disk at the bottom to trap coffee grounds. The device, which captures more essential oils than typically get filtered out through paper, remains popular, says Pendergrast. The major drawback? "It's a pain to clean," he says. Dicum agrees, noting that the French press leaves behind "grit and suspended particles."
Percolators, which siphon water into a filter compartment, start appearing after American inventor Hanson Goodrich patents one in 1889. Unfortunately, the pot often exposes grounds to excessively high temperatures, over-cooking the brew and ruining the flavor. "It made such bad coffee," says Major Cohen, senior project manager for the Starbucks Coffee Engagement team.
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Melitta Bentz, a German entrepreneur, invents the first coffee filter when she punches holes in the bottom of a tin cup and lines it with her son's blotter paper, says Pendergrast.
A survey of 5,500 coffee drinkers finds that 86 percent now buy their coffee pre-packaged, according to Pendergrast's book. Another survey by the National Coffee Roasters Association tallies 3,500 U.S. coffee brands.
In 1930, a Chicago woman named Inez H. Pierce files a patent for an automated "vacuum" coffee maker. Later that decade, Sunbeam introduces its Coffeemaster electric version in 1938.
The German chemist Peter Schlumbohm invents more than 3,000 items, including the Chemex Coffeemaker with a one-piece, hourglass-shaped flask made of heatproof, non-porous glass. "It looks good," says Dicum. "You might actually want to leave it out on the countertop." Indeed, it appears in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian -- and on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the James Bond film From Russia, with Love.
The 1909-invention of Silex rose in popularity during World War II because it was made with glass, rather than aluminum, which became scarce during wartime.
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Maxwell House Instant Coffee, which has been supplying grounds to the U.S. military since 1942, starts hitting grocery store shelves. By 1952, instant coffee accounts for 17 percent of all U.S. coffee consumption, says Pendergrast. Later, Maxwell House advertises coarse grinds for percolators, medium for drip, and finer for vacuum.
Bodum's Santos vacuum coffee maker heats water in a lower chamber, creating vapor pressure that forces boiling water up to a second chamber to mix with coffee grinds. The result: no more overcooked coffee - and a fun way to view the process through glass.
Americans watch a classic Maxwell House ad, starring none other than a percolator, despite being "a terrible way to make coffee," adds Pendergrast. When the water heats high enough, it perks up through the tube, repeatedly spraying coffee back over the grounds.
Mr. Coffee becomes the first in-home automatic-drip brewer, "a huge advance over pumping percolators," says Pendergrast. (It's essentially a "home version" of the Bunn-O-Matic restaurant brewer.) By 1974, half of the 10 million coffeemakers sold in America are electric drip. Manufacturers begin to engineer machines that offer a smaller package size.
Coffee houses start popping up across the country. With cafes like Coffee Connection in Boston and Starbucks and Alfred Peet on the West Coast, "people are beginning to understand a gourmet experience," says Cohen.
Eventually, companies such as Cuisinart, Braun, and Hamilton Beach unveil automatic drip makers. Meanwhile, the poor quality of canned coffee impacts per-capita consumption, which declines from 3.1 cups a day in 1962 to 2.2 cups in 1974, says Pendergrast.
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Keurig, which launched its single-cup brewer for the office in 1997, introduces a kitchen countertop-size, ultimate-in-convenience machine to the home market through major retailers across the country. "Why do we brew coffee a pot at a time when we actually drink it a cup at a time?" says Keurig President Michelle Stacy. Good news for couples with different java preferences: They can now coexist happily.
K-Cup packs help prevent coffee from going stale too quickly, while machines automatically set the temperature to 192 degrees. "When you brew it too hot, you lose all the different notes coffee has to it," says Stacy. Among brewers, Keurig is the number one in terms of consumer expenditure and the most popular holiday gift.20122012
Starbucks debuts the Verismo to produce "store-quality" lattes and espressos, says Cohen. Meanwhile, Keurig introduces its Vue series that lets users customize their cups by controlling strength, size (ranging from four to 18 ounces, depending on the model), and temperature (from 187 to 197 degrees). Unlike the traditional Keurig K-cups, Vue packs are made from No. 5 recyclable plastic. The Vue brewer can also froth milk.
Eighty percent of Americans drank coffee at home yesterday, according to the National Coffee Association's National Coffee Drinking Trends 2013. On top of that, about 18 million Americans own single-serve brewers. Many also use low-tech homemade drips, such as the Japanese Hario's Dripper V6, which simply sits atop a coffee mug with a No. 2 filter. Starbucks makes a similar setup. Java junkies can also use high-end single-serve instant packets, called Via, by Starbucks.
- By Karen SpringenMore from Good Housekeeping: