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Did you know women helped shape many of the ways that you enjoy coffee today? Most coffee lovers know about Achille Gaggia, who held the patent for the first modern espresso machine, or Samuel Glazer, who invented the first domestic automatic drip coffee maker, the Mr. Coffee. And while most people have heard of the Melitta Coffee Company, far fewer know the background of its founder. With the approach of Mother’s Day, we thought it would be nice to salute women who were the mothers of coffee invention.
Back in the early 1800s, most coffee roasters used heavy iron machines to roast their coffee beans before serving them. Unfortunately, the metal tended to taint the taste of the coffee. Elizabeth Dakin married to London tea and coffee merchant, William Dakin, found the iron taste especially objectionable. In her words, the iron “imparted noxious qualities” to the coffee roasted in it. She set about creating a new kind of coffee roaster, using precious metals like gold, silver and platinum — metals that don’t impart off flavors to coffee. The design of the new roaster is credited to William and Elizabeth Dakin, and the new design for coffee roasters became the norm.
However, the husband-and-wife team didn’t stop with revolutionizing the way coffee is roasted. Up until that time, coffee was brewed by mixing water and ground coffee in a pot, and then pouring out the mixture while trying to avoid including too many grounds in the cup. In 1848, Elizabeth patented a new design for a coffee maker consisting of a coffee pot with a perforated cylinder that fit inside and held the coffee grounds. After the coffee steeped, you’d turn a screw on the top of the lid to force a metal disk down along the inside of the cylinder, forcing the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Dakin’s device was an early progenitor of both the percolator and the modern French press.
Looking for a great gift for your coffee-loving mother? A French press is still one of the most popular ways to make excellent coffee. We found this gorgeous Francois et Mimi Stainless Steel Double Wall French Coffee Press that’s similar in style and use to Elizabeth Dakin’s original invention. It performs as well as the upscale Frieling French Press at a fraction of the price. And make your gift even more special by telling your mom about the invention of the French press.
At just about the same time that Elizabeth Dakin was developing her coffee brewer in London, a woman in Lyons, France was refining a very different coffee-making invention in France. We know her only as Mme. Vassieux, the name on the 1842 patent for a “Glass Balloon” coffee maker. The Glass Balloon was a variation on the vacuum pot, a coffee brewing method that was becoming popular in Germany. Mme. Vassieux’ variation was an elegant showpiece designed as much for appearance as for function. It consisted of a pair of hand-blown glass globes fitted into a metal stand. The upper globe was topped with an ornate filigree crown, and the bottom one featured a spigot to dispense the coffee.
The Vassieux coffee brewer was the first commercially successful siphon coffee brewer, but it was far from the last. If your mother is a fan of French Provincial elegance, she might love the Yama Glass Tabletop Ceramic Syphon. The double glass balloons, ceramic base and metal stand are reminiscent of Mme. Vassieux’ invention, but are made with thoroughly modern materials.
On the other side of the ocean, a pair of Massachusetts sisters were about to revolutionize coffee making in America. Mrs. Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton didn’t invent a siphon brewer, but the canny business women acquired a patent for a siphon brewer they dubbed the Silex. It was made of oven-proof glass similar to Pyrex. Unlike the Glass Balloon vacuum pot, which was an ornate, gilded affair designed to sit in the drawing rooms of high society, the Silex took its design aesthetic straight from the laboratory. Mrs. Bridges and Mrs. Sutton contracted with a local manufacturer to produce their design, and the two sisters found a ready market for their siphon brewer among hotels and sandwich shops. By the early 1920s, the Silex was one of the best-known coffee makers in the United States.
The design of the Silex was so utilitarian that you’ll still find many vacuum coffee brewers that have the same aesthetic. If your mother is a fan of utilitarian designs that might have come straight from a science lab, she might love a Hario “Technica” 5-Cup Coffee Syphon.
There is one woman’s name that most coffee lovers know well — but only her given name. Back in 1909, Melitta Bentz was a German housewife who loved coffee, but hated having to pick coffee grounds out of her teeth after drinking it. The only option for filters back then were cloth, and Melitta also was not a fan of the extra work required to keep them from mildewing. She was certain there must be a better way to make coffee, and she set out to invent it. She took a hammer and nails to an old copper pot, poking holes in its bottom, then cut a circle of blotter paper from a page of her son’s notebook. She fitted the paper into the pot, added coffee and voila! The first pour over drip coffee maker was born. Melitta patented her idea and worked with a local metal worker to refine the shape and materials for her filter cone. Today, the Melitta Coffee Company still bears her name and is still owned by the Bentz family. Melitta coffee, cone filters and coffee makers are among the most popular in the world.
While Melitta makes many kinds and styles of coffee makers, including automatic drip coffee makers, but we particularly love this simple, sleek and elegant Melitta Porcelain Pour Over Coffee Brewer. It makes up to six cups at a time and uses standard Melitta cone filters, which can be found in just about any supermarket.
Next time you brew yourself a coffee in a pour over cone, French press or siphon pot, remember the contributions of women to the coffee industry — and pour your mother another cup of coffee.