Invention And History
The Chemex, invented in 1941, was arguably the first coffeemaker to emphasize form alongside function. Created by chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, it was intended to be a work of art as well as an effective tool. (He referred to them as “Beautilities.”) Schlumbohm wanted to reimagine the perfect cup of coffee—to strip this basic act down to its very essentials and reshape it from the ground up—and this began with design.
Hand poured coffee, like so many activities, was once the only method of brewing coffee. Then coffee machines were invented, and people were eager to get the machines to do the work for them. Now, interestingly, in a quest for integrity and quality, we are creeping back in the other direction. Pour over coffee, a method begun in 1900s Germany but mostly imported from Japan, has caught on like wildfire among U.S. artisanal coffee drinkers because of three essential aspects: flavor, process and story.
The vacuum pot (also called the vac pot or siphon) method of brewing coffee is one of the oldest techniques still in use today—beautiful with its ornate design and sleek glassware. It revolutionized nineteenth-century coffeemaking in Europe after its invention in Germany in 1830. Much like the Chemex brewer, it fell out of favor in the mid-20th century for what came to be seen as unnecessary requirements in brewing: patience, practice and a steep learning curve. However, also like the Chemex, the vacuum pot is now enjoying something of a renaissance among fans of artisanal coffee.
Of all the different coffee brewing methods, perhaps one of the most enduring is the classic French press, also known as the cafetiere or press pot. It’s the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich of coffee brewers—dependable, utilitarian and affordable. Now ubiquitous in homes across the world, the French press actually has quite a convoluted past, including its invention—by an Italian, technically.
As contemporary as the vacuum pot is classic, the Aeropress is manufactured by the company that brought the world the Aerobie flying ring. It unabashedly embraces 21st century materials and design, and is a triumph of modern production. For around $30, the Aeropress can actually compete with thousand-dollar Italian coffee machines in terms of flavor. It’s been on the market since only 2005; it makes both American drip coffee and espresso; and it brews outstanding coffee in about a minute.
The temperature of the brewing water—cold, room temperature, warm or boiling—has a profound effect on the flavor of the finished product. Steeping time, likewise, has a significant impact on the quality of the finished product. Pressure plays a big role, and even such seemingly trivial factors as filter material and whether to cover the pot while brewing have their say in the final cup. Many people take coffee quite seriously and believe wholeheartedly what others shrug off—that brewing technique has much (though not everything) to do with how good (or bad) that cup of coffee tastes.