Where did coffee brewing begin?
Coffee has a such a vast and comprehensive history, and it’s enough mind boggling information to fill an in depth dissertation. We’ll be focusing on the history of coffee brewing; a sub-topic allowing us to take in useful chunks of coffee education.
Whilst firm evidence and facts on the origin are scarce, strong rumours indicate that coffee may have been discovered in Ethiopia by a goat herder named Kaldi. The legend goes that goats who ate cherries from the tree became so energetic that they couldn’t sleep. After these findings, Kaldi shared these cherries with monks, some of home threw them on the fire which cooked the seeds to release delicious pleasing aromas. Regardless of how valid this story is, it’s absolutely true that coffee comes from Ethiopia, was roasted in a pan, and it’s taste was so radical it prompted the first widely used brewing methods in the 15th century across Ethiopia and the Ottoman Empire.
THE FIRST COFFEE POT
The first known method of brewing coffee was the coffee pot; an immersion brewing method. Not to be confused with a filter drip coffee pot, or a Moka pot, but simply a large pot of ground coffee and boiling water under a flame, which was boiled for several minutes, then served. You may have certainly got 'coffee' tasting notes we're all familiar with, but certainly with a great deal of poor tasting baggage. Forget the chaotic and poor roasting technique, and questionable grinding method, boiling coffee for a long time under a flame is a recipe for drinking burnt quality coffee. Tastes of tyre, smoke, rancidity, strong bitterness and just an overly carbonised characteristic would dominate alongside that classic coffee taste we all love.
Whilst it's easy to critique the poor taste quality, to be fair this was the first radical step in coffees journey from unprocessed and raw fruit to a cooked product with truly unique flavor notes. Despite all the horrible tasting baggage, the taste and aroma of this coffee brew had such gravity, the Ottoman Empire saw the insane potential for this brew to be enjoyed by many thousands of people. Spreading from Ethiopia, across the red sea, to port Mocha in Yemen, and beyond.
In the 16th century, the popularity of coffee continued to flourish throughout the Ottoman Empire, which saw the rise of the ibrik method (immersion brewing method) in coffee houses and households. The Cevze is a small brass or copper pot, with a small spout, and handle attached to the upper side. Add very finely ground coffee, finer than espresso, to the pot. Then, add cold water, and optional sugar and cardamom, and mix until well combined. Heat the Cevze on top of a stove over a medium head for a few minutes. Skim foam into cup, heat up Cevze a little more, then serve.
The resulting brew is a very strong cup of coffee in terms of ratio of coffee material extracted and consumed. Additionally Turkish coffee has very heavy body, no acidity, very bitter and sludgy. Hence sugar and cardamom is often served alongside to mask the bitterness. Whilst it doesn't taste as burnt and carbonised as the first coffee pot, it is considerably stronger given the ultra fine ground, and greater ratio of extraction than any other brewing method. This brewing method is another form of immersion brewing, and is still used and enjoyed by millions today!
By the 17th century, coffee, and coffee shops, had spread throughout Europe. Hundreds of years of tasting grainy sediment in coffee was finally addressed with the first form of filter. Historians believe a sock was the first form of coffee filter used in coffee houses, and the first form of percolation brewing. People would lay ground coffee on a sock, or cloth fabric over the top of the coffee pot and pour hot water over the coffee. Technically this would have been the first iteration of drip or pour over cover by principle of percolation. In 1780, the Mr Biggin was released as a pour over coffee pot. The main issues came from poor grind size, which could cause channelling or water running right past the coffee without even extraction.
By the time the 19th century rolled around, coffee was a global commercial and domestic product. This century was rife with new and exciting coffee brewing devices which brought about better extraction, and more nuanced flavours.
In 1819, the tinsmith Joseph-Henry-Marie invented the first modern percolator, which was later iterated and improved upon by inventor Hanson Goodrich 1889. The design is very straight forward. Heated water at the base of the put travels up through a funnel to the top of the pot. This water drips onto coffee in the filter basket and drips back into the coffee pot, and goes up the funnel again. Rinse and repeat until you achieve desired strength in terms of ratio of extracted coffee material.
Unfortunately this is the fatal flaw of the percolator. There is no separation between the fresh water and the brewed coffee. You run brewed coffee through the grounds again, and apply direct surface contact just above the flame. You are effectively burning the coffee, developing and increasingly unpleasant bitterness and strength.
The French Press became a new breakthrough of immersion brewing that could gain good extraction, without having burnt, or overly bitter characteristics. Although the origin is not exactly known, the French press (or rather this method of brewing coffee) is thought to have been first patented by two French inventors, Mayer and Delforge in 1852, though it did not create a seal inside of the carafe.
The cafetiere which more so resembles the one we use today was created by an Italian designer Attilio Calimani in 1929. Since then it has been through many design changes/modifications. The most common one/well known was created by a swiss man Faliero Bondanini in 1958, and this design was then manufactured and sold in France as the Chambord. Our French Press guide can be found here.
SIPHON/VACUUM COFFEE MAKER
The iconic and chemistry set looking siphon coffee maker came into market around the 1840s by Marie Fanny Amelne Massot. Whilst not the most simple way of brewing coffee, it's very rewarding to achieve a great brew by paying close attention to crucial variables every step of the way. The siphon lends itself very well to lighter roasts, and produces a brew which highlights clean, acidic and bright qualities of African coffees. The drawback is brewing requires extra attention compared to most brewing methods, and it can take more time than other brewing methods to clean all of the equipment afterwards.
The siphon works by heating water on the bottom glass dome, which then forces water through the central tube, and into the top chamber to mix with ground coffee. Then the coffee is passed back down into the bottom carafe chamber, the grinds are filtered out, and the coffee is ready.
MELITTA POUR OVER FILTERS
At the dawn of the 20th century, coffee had become a mainstream commodity for domestic use, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and beyond. Coffee still had serious milestones to reach for brewing quality, and the next big iteration was Melitta Bentz's coffee filter papers. A vastly huge improvement over using socks or cloths, given these filters were made specifically for even extraction of coffee. Bentz also punctured holes inside a brass cup for the filter to rest on.
You gently pour over hot water the coffee resting in the filter, and the coffee collects through the holes of the cup. This was the first brewing method that delivered a very clean and well extracted cup of coffee, and truly stood above all of the baggage that every other brew type had like bitter, carbonised, and burnt flavours. In 1937, a further iteration of the dripper evolved into a cone shape which paved the way for future pour over coffee makers. A big step forward for percolation, and coffee brewing in general.
Angelo Moriondo pioneered the first espresso machine design in 1884; the first of its kind to push pressurized hot water into ground coffee. The espresso machine is the first form of pressure brewing. The design was not commercialised until Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni patented the machine with improvements in 1901. A truly revolutionary brewing method which could brew over 900 cups of coffee an hour! The result was the first form of espresso which could be brewed in a matter of seconds.
The decades that followed saw a rise of commercial and domestic espresso coffee machines, and revolutionised coffee shops to brew a variety of coffee drinks using milk. In fact, the espresso machine is very much the staple coffee shops, and continues to improve in impressive design features that improve espresso quality, ease of use, and long lasting build quality.
The Chemex coffee maker was inveted by Peter Schlumbohm in 1941, and manufactured by the Chemex Corporation in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Peter, an eccentric inventor, was dissatisfied with traditional brewing methods of the 1930s and sought to design a coffee maker thats both practical, and a joy to use. Whilst glass production was initially challenged in 1942 by the war efforts, Peter managed to get the A-5 priority rating; a pass that allowed the Chemex to be ranked as a priority useful wartime object.
The Chemex works under the same principle as most pour over coffee maker, with the added bonus of a focus on visuals. From top to bottom the Chemex just oozes vintage style, and makes coffee brewing as much a visual experience, as a tasting one. Finished with a signature style of the hourglass, and a wooden collar makes for a beautiful addition to the coffee enthusiasts collection. Over the decades, the Chemex has received awards from well respected scientific, design and artistic institutions, and continues to be praised by coffee enthusiasts alike.
The Moka Pot was invented by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. The coming together of aluminium and a coffee pot design was new territory which brought the ability to gain and lose heat quickly. During world war 2 the prices of coffee and aluminium skyrocketed which stalled production of the Moka pot. In 1946 Alfonso's son Renato took over the company, who change Bialetti's product line to a single product. The Moka Express. This was launched alongside an grand marketing campaign across Italy which cemented Moka as the classic brew at home strong coffee maker.
The moka pot works at 3 levels. Firstly at the bottom chamber is where water is heated up to boiling point. Secondly this boiled water rises as steam pressure, into the filter basket containing the ground coffee. Finally hot coffee rises up through the top funnel, and out of the funnel tip, into the top chamber where it's ready to serve. Please see our Moka Pot Guide.
FILTER COFFEE MACHINE
The next breakthrough for coffee by percolation was the filter coffee machine. The first electric drip coffee machine was the Wigomat. Invented in Germany by Gottlob Widmann in 1954. Electric drip coffee makers work by heating up water, then pouring onto filter ground coffee. The water moves through the coffee by percolation, and through the filter to remove any sediment, and coffee is ready to drink out of the pot below.
By the time electric filter coffee makers had became popular in the 1970s, especially in America, percolator coffee makers became less common due to their over extraction and bitter flavours. The electric filter coffee maker had become widely used in office spaces, and domestic environments, and are still very popular to this day. Achieving even extraction can be more tricky if the hot water pours down into set areas on the ground coffee, so more proficient machines have water better distributed across ground coffee.
Coming into the 21st century, speciality coffee was really taking off, and combined with such a variety of brewing methods developed over hundreds of years, coffee had finally become brewed to such high standards, and come so far from being boiled in a pot! The V60 Dripper was designed by the Japanese company Hario. The rise of coffee culture in Japan saw them create their first coffee product, a filter coffee syphon, in 1949. The V60 is a relatively new concept for a percolation brewer, only hitting the market in 2004.
The V60 name comes from ‘vector 60’ due to the 60º angle of the cone, and enables you to brew speciality roasted coffee in your home with ease, producing lovely sediment-free coffee. The process is extremely straight forward, and due to a design focus on heat retention, this enhances extraction. This has led to the V60 becoming the brewing method of choice for many coffee enthusiasts around the world. You can find a full step-by-step V60 guide here.
The following year, Aran Adler invented the Aeropress in 2005, the same inventor as the Aerobie throwing ring! Aran's aim was to reduce bitterness in his coffee. To achieve this, Alan conceptualised the design of a closed cylinder and press to create enough pressure, and reduced brewing time, resulting in strong and less bitter cup of coffee. After a series of prototypes, the Aeropress was launched in 2005, but initially was dismissed by the coffee industry as a novel toy.
It took some years before the Aeropress was embraced as a fantastic brewing method, the results spoke for themselves! In Norway the World Aeropress Championship started with a small group of people as a hobby, then over the years, grew exponentially to the international and professionally recognised standards it holds today.
The Aeropress is great for any coffee, given it's flexibility where you can adjust many variables like brew ratio, grind size, level of pressure, stiring and swirling. This is the only brewing method that brews by percolation, immersion and to a small extent, some principles of pressure/espresso brewing. The Aeropress works by pouring hot water onto the ground coffee in the Aeropress tube, letting it brew, then pressing it down with the Aeropress plunger. Our Aeropress guide is here.
NEW FRONTIERS OF COFFEE BREWING
The story doesn't end here however. We have new coffee brewing innovations coming out rapidly. Whilst some are gimmicky, there's plenty of new brewing devices which fall under immersion, percolation or pressure, or some of these combined! For example the new flair espresso maker is one of the first manual hand pulled espresso maker which doesn't require all the big, heavy, bulky machinery you usually have with a domestic machine!
It's fantastic to look back on the progress coffee brewing has made over 600 years, and to think we're maybe at the tip of the iceberg as new coffee brewing products emerge. The future looks very exciting, and we can't wait to test and try innovations which should be more convenient, fun and ultimately brew better coffee!