COFFEE AWARENESS MONTH, DAY 7: In Memory of Percolators
On a day that many of you spent at church, we should take a moment to pay tribute to percolators — those shiny, bulky brewers of bitter beverages that were staples of many a Sunday school class. Though no coffee lover worth her salt would choose one of these devices nowadays, the percolator was a significant advancement in coffee that led directly to the crisp, clean paper filter brews we typically enjoy today.
The percolating coffee pot was invented by the British scientist and soldier Count Rumford, otherwise known as Sir Benjamin Thompson (1753–1814). He invented a percolating coffee pot following his pioneering work with the Bavarian Army, where he improved the diet of the soldiers as well as their clothes. It was his abhorrence of alcohol and his dislike for tea that led him to promote the use of coffee for its stimulating benefits. For his efforts, in 1791, he was named a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and granted the formal title of Reichsgraf von Rumford. His pot did not use the rising of boiling water through a tube to form a continuous cycle.
Until that time, coffee brewing was either inexact (grounds immersed in water, a la French press) or complicated (siphon/vacpot brewers). Percolators made coffee easier, and generally tastier, though “advancements” aimed at keeping the coffee hot led to the overextracted, overly bitter brews most of us remember coming out of these machines. The principle — “percolation,” meaning water passing through solids (coffee) to extract part of those solids into water — persisted, and is still the most common way we brew coffee. So when the Melitta company invented paper filters in 1903, they were working to advance a method that was born alongside the percolator. And we should be able to toast to that!
(For funsies, check out this old Melitta ad)