Coffee drinking is almost as old as civilization, yet most of us never think about what coffee brewing devices were first used, and how those devices evolved into the ways that we prepare coffee beverages today. In this article, we will touch on some of the most well known coffee brewers throughout the centuries.
Coffee drinking has always been somewhat of a social activity. Not surprisingly, as many women as men were involved in its evolution and the evolution of preparation techniques over the centuries. At one point, as for our own prohibition era, women tried to outlaw coffee. This was in 1674 in England. At that time, many women were angry because they felt that their men spent too much time in coffee houses drinking coffee and socializing.
Right from the beginning, coffee pots were used for brewing coffee. They had sharp pour spouts to block most of the coffee grounds from escaping, and a squat bottom for good heat absorbtion. There were the first coffee pots, and they have been evolving since the seventeenth century. There is no evidence that filters were used in the coffee houses of the time.
Then, evolution struck when someone poured hot water through sock containing ground coffee. This was the first known use of a filter. For quite some time, filters were made of cloth. Still today, in many parts of the not so civilized world, socks are still used to filter coffee.
The filter evolved and it got a commercial name: “Mr. Biggin.” In 1780 “Biggin pots” appeared for the first time. But they had a number of problems. For example, if the coffee was ground too fine, the water would run out the sides of the lid because it couldn’t penetrate the coffee quickly enough. But if the coffee was ground was too coarsely, the water would flow through it too quickly, and the brew would be too weak.
Does this sound familiar? (See our article “How to Calibrate Your Coffee Grinder…” in our “Commercial Espresso Machine…” articles section.) But the real problem was that back then, coffee grinders were not very good, so it was not so simple to simply adjust the coffee grinder.
After the Biggin pot, there came the metal filter baskets with spreaders that would evenly distribute the coffee grounds and the water. The “water filter spreader coffee brewer” was used to spread the water evenly into the coffee while the coffee dripped through the filter. In 1802, the metal coffee filter was patented in France.
A couple of years later, in 1806, another patent used a metal disk hardened with a rammer to compress the level of the coffee grounds in the coffee pot. This was obviously the precursor to the “French press” coffee pot.
Many coffee brewing devices evolved after that. One of them was the vacuum pot, patented by Madame Vassieux of Lyons. Coffee percolators appeared around the same time. In a percolator, water is pumped into the filter compartment via a siphoning action within the coffee pot.
For the early vacuum pots, glass pots prevailed because people liked to see the coffee being brewed, although the pots would sometimes explode due to the internal pressure. Another vacuum coffee pot used was the “balanced beam coffee pot.” The basic coffee percolator is still used today, although it has been losing popularity in the last couple of decades.
Along with the vacuum pot and the percolator, the plunger filter came into use. The plunger filter is in fact the French Press we still know today. The main advantage is the short brewing time.
In 1901 Luigi Bezzera, invented the espresso machine because he wanted to make the time to brew coffee shorter, so that his employees would not spend as long on their coffee breaks.
The drip brewer is yet another kind of coffee brewing machine that evolved in the early part of the nineteenth century. In a drip brewer, hot water is slowly dripped into a filter full of coffee grounds. It drains through the grounds and drips into the coffee pot which is kept warm on a heating pad. The drip brewer has become a preferred method for making plain American coffee in most American homes and restaurants today.
In 1945 Gaggia simplified the espresso machine, increased the extraction pressure, and made numerous innovations in espresso machines. In 1961, FAEMA made many more advances in espresso brewing, and built the legendary E61. Most of the revolutionary features of the E61 are found in any top-notch espresso machine today.
...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers