History of the Coffee Filter

Friday, May 4, 2012
Its early morning. You stumble into the kitchen, desperate for that first drop of good, warm, dark caffeine. You reach into the cabinet for the coffee filters and in your morning fog wonder to yourself, “why didn’t I think of this?” After all, with your drip coffee maker the paperfilter is a necessity, and it’s not reusable. On a conservative estimate you’ll need 365 of those in a year.
Up until the early part of the 20th century, in the roughly 300 or so years since the discovery of coffee, preparation methods had not really improved. The earliest devices proved merely decorative and did not serve to improve the taste and flavor of the coffee. Not to mention there were always coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup.
So you can thank a German housewife named Melitta Bentz. Born in Dresden in 1873, Melitta was the daughter of a publisher. She grew up and married Hugo Bentz. Together they had three children.
Melitta and Hugo enjoyed their morning coffee, but were not fond of the coffee grounds that often escaped into the cup. Melitta found that percolators over-extracted the coffee and affected the taste. Not content to settle for inferior coffee, she set out to find a better method. So she performed an experiment using blotting paper to filter the coffee. She realized that not only did this on alter the taste of the coffee; she came up with a better result.
Melitta also invented the paper coffee filter holder. She put small holes in a brass pot and lined it with blotting paper. In 1908 she patented her invention as the “Filter top device lined with filter paper.”
Not long after the patent a company was formed under the name “M. Bentz.” Only family members were employees. The company was a big success at the Leipzig Trade Fair. It truly was a family run business for quite a while. Hugo gave up his job and the two sons worked there after school. As the company grew, they improved the filters.
The onset of World War I slowed things down for Melitta Bentz. Hugo was involved in the water effort. But after the war, the company grew and additional buildings were purchased. In 1929 the company moved from Dresden to Westphalia Minden.
In 1925, the Hugo Bentz created the green and red packaging you can still find in stores today as the Melitta brand.
The filter top was tapered into a cone-shape in the 1930s. This provided a longer area for filtration. A few years later the patented cone-shape to fit inside the filter was introduced. Not only did this provide the right amount of filtration to bring out the best in coffee flavor and aroma, less coffee was needed in the process.
During World War II, the company facility was claimed for the war effort and used to house Allied troops. The company continued to produce filters using any available space, with some workers even working from pubs. But production continued and after the war, the company continued to grow.
Nearly 100 years since Melitta Bentz first filtered her coffee through blotter paper; the company Melitta Group KG still manufactures coffee filters and now employees more than 4,000. It’s still a family business run by Melitta’s grandchildren. The company was also the first company to introduce natural brown filter paper made from unbleached pulp in 1989.
When you think of Germans and revolution in the 20th century, your first thought probably isn’t of coffee. But Melitta Bentz did revolutionize the way coffee is brewed and consumed. The rest, as they say, is history. Warm, rich history.
Melitta Bentz passed away in 1957 at the age of 77.


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