We're in Italy. It's definitely around 1929, maybe it's May. It sure smells like May. A young man named Attilio Calimani is testing out his newest contraption, a metal screen on a rod in a glass beaker. Attilio is a designer. He fills the beaker with coffee and hot water, lets it brew for a couple of minutes, then pushes the filter down in one swift move, trapping the grounds, and pours the black liquid into a cup. Maybe it's for his lover. She's probably smiling. She likes being his muse. The flavor's rich and earthy, and she loves it. He thinks he should patent it. He has no idea that, ironically, it's going to be known as French press around the world.
Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz is 35, and all she wants is a no-fuss cup of coffee. She doesn't want grounds in her drink, and she doesn't want to spend her whole day cleaning the linen bags typically used as filters. Passion for the drink and having time on her hands (she is a stay-at-home mom) one day find her perforating a brass pot with a nail and cutting a filter out of blotting paper. Her son Willi won't miss it. People try the coffee, it's pure and not as bitter. She decides to set up her own business. It's 1908, of course, so a few wars are bound to halt production in the near future, but she'll never quit. She'll give her workers better vacation time than anybody else and set up a social fund for them. She'll have her name, Melitta, stand for a brewing method well into the 2010's. We may use other materials these days, but it's still a filter in a cone over a cup, with water slowly pouring over the cup, through the grounds, and into the cup. Hence the other name, the pour-over method, and it's all the rage now.
Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, a German chemist who moved to the US in the early 1930's, didn't get it right at the first try. The first coffee brewer he patented in 1939 had multiple uses, and was actually a rather complex filtering device made out of laboratory funnel and an Erlenmeyer flask, both heavily modified. It's two years later, however, and he has figured it out, creating something simple and beautiful, something that could match the quality of the drink it produced with its aesthetics. A glass carafe with a proprietary, extra thick filter. The coffee, first "bloomed" with a little water, then poured over with just the right amount, takes a couple of minutes. The drink is worth it, pure and flavorful. What about the aesthetics? Those are still in high regard, with the brewer, called Chemex, a part of permanent exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the Smithsonian, as well as several museums of glass around the world. Schlumbonm's recipe for good design? "Eliminate everything that's wrong, and what's left will be right"
What about the 21st century? Well, let's move to 2005. Here's Alan Adler, a Stanford University lecturer and inventor of the Aerobie flying ring. He holds 40 patents in the US, and another 40 across the globe. Until a year ago, he'd been using paper filters in a mug for his coffee. He's always liked it rich but not bitter. It just took way too long, so he thought he'd do something about it. A year later, here he is. He's finalizing his design, it's just two cylinders and a micro-filter. He adds water to the coffee in the tube, a little cooler than regular, stirs it for a bit, and presses it into a cup. He's happy with the outcome. Rich, smooth, purest he's ever drunk. In under 30 seconds. Time for a new patent. He'll call it AeroPress.
Man and coffee, our common history is at the 1200-year mark. We've experimented so much, we've learnt so much, it would be a shame to ignore. There are surely other ways, maybe even better ways. For now, we'll just start with these four, ones born out of love and curiosity. Isn't that the key to a long-lasting relationship? Love and curiosity. French press, pour-over, Chemex, AeroPress. Served daily at the Brewcoff bar.