· By Boutique Limoilou
Amalie Auguste Melitta & the invention of the paper filter
Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz (née Liebscher) was born in Dresden, one of the major cities of Saxony in Germany, on January 31, 1873. Her father was a bookseller and her grandparents owned a brewery. At the age of 35, she was one of the first women to have her own invention protected and registered at the Imperial Patent Office ( Kaiserliches Patentamt ) in Berlin. She then marked the history of coffee with her paper filter.
In the West, coffee was prepared, in the 17th century until the beginning of the 19th century, by decoction from ground beans and water mixed and heated. We are then inspired by the traditional method used in Turkey ( cezve or ibrik ) or in certain regions of the Arabian peninsula. In 1819, Joseph-Henry-Marie Laurens, a Parisian tinsmith, invented the first percolation system. His invention is copied and modified by others, then becomes a standard in Europe. In 1884, it was the turn of the invention of the espresso machine attributed to Angelo Moriondo living in Turin, Italy. All that remains of him is his patent for “ a new steam engine for the economical and instant preparation of coffee ”: a large boiler reaching 1.5 bar of pressure and pushing water through a bed of coffee. This figure having lasted very little over time, we remember more two men from Milan who perfected the machine – Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni –, since having made their name their trademark.
As the espresso machine took off, Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz (née Liebscher) tried out a completely different method of preparation in her home: filter coffee . It is this vein that interests us. We are at the beginning of the 20th century: the coffee prepared using a percolator is bitter and its texture, muddy due to the lack of filtration. Dissatisfied with her cup of coffee, Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz will make an alternative prototype from a perforated brass pot and notepad paper as a filter. In June 1908, she signed a patent and launched the Melitta company. The first productions of paper filters are made at his residence. Her two sons then made the deliveries using a cart, then her husband, Hugo, prepared a showcase to show the public how this brand new device worked. For many, it has to be seen and tested to be believed. The concept really took off after the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1909. That year, Melitta Bentz sold 1,250 units.
You should know that cotton filters have been used for years in Latin America and parts of Asia. In Costa Rica, the device formed by a wooden support ( chorreador ) and the fabric filter which resembles a small bag ( bolsita ) is called the chorreador . Devices also incorporate the fabric filter for better filtration, including the Harvey Ricker's Half-Minute pot (Brooklyn, 1901) or the Kin-Hee Coffee Pot (Cincinnati, 1899). We even see the use of the paper filter for certain devices such as the Private Estate Coffee Maker (New York, 1905) or the Finley Acker's percolator (Philadelphia, 1905).
Melitta Bentz is in tune with the times. If the idea of better filtration is beginning to gain ground, we can however say that it innovates by developing, marketing and popularizing the paper filter which completely changes the experience and taste of coffee. In the 1930s, it also introduced the conical shape for the paper filter (#4) as well as the infusion cone which first had eight openings at its base, then only one in the 1960s.
Now we only have to look at the variety of cones available on the market to see the influence that Melitta Bentz has had on the world of coffee: Kalita in 1959, Hario in 2005, Origami in 2014 and Cafec in 2016 just to name a few. The offer continues to be fueled by various innovations in order to make the manual filter an accessible, malleable and ever more exhilarating method.
Research and writing: Chloé Pouliot