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A Quick History of Coffee Brewing

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

Coffee brewing history spans hundreds if not over a thousand years. The brown aromatic beverage that some of us consume daily, probably several times a day, has been a part of human history that dates back to the first millennia.

Ethiopia has been accepted as the birthplace of Arabica coffee, and coffee still plays a significant role in Ethiopia's economy and coffee consumption around the world. Legend has it that in the 800's Kaldi, a goat herder discovered coffee which he took to a monastery where it was brewed.

Whether the legend is true or not, Ethiopians have been using coffee as a part of their diet for centuries, not only as a brewed beverage, but also using the cherry, seeds, and leaves in food preparations. The Ethiopian traditional brewing method uses a clay pot called a jebena in which water is boiled over a coal fire. Once the water starts to boil, freshly ground coffee is added to the water and allowed to brew for a few minutes. This brewing method is still widely used in Ethiopia.

It wasn't until the 15th century that coffee was readily consumed outside of Ethiopia when coffee started being cultivated in Yemen. Throughout the Arabian peninsula, coffee drinking became popular. Initially, coffee was brewed simply by seeping ground coffee in hot water which could take hours.

In the 16th century, coffee started spreading to Turkey, Egypt, and Persia (nowadays Iran). During this period, the Ibrik brewing method was developed. Water and ground coffee (and often sugar and spices) were added to a small metal pot called ibrik or cezve which was then brought to a boil. The mixture was then allowed to cool down before bringing it to a boil again. The process was repeated several times.

Coffee finally made its way to Europe in the 17th century. Initially, coffee was brewed similarly as the Ibrik method by simply seeping ground coffee in water in a pot over the fire. As coffee became increasingly popular, brew methods started to develop. Filtration of ground coffee from the brewed coffee liquid began to develop as well. At first, socks or other cloth were used to filter coffee grounds from the brewed liquid. Later on, coffee pots were developed with a porous, usually metal, filter. Commercial coffee makers like the "Mr. Biggins" which was patented in France, became readily available towards the end of the 17th century. The invention of new brewing methods quickly began to emerge throughout Europe.

In Germany, the Siphon brewing method was initially patented in the 1830s but was popularized by Marie Fanny Amelne Mossot's design a decade later. The invention of the Siphon brewing method led to the creation of other brewing methods such as the Moka Pot which was invented in Italy in 1933. During this period, a new brewing method also emerged - the percolation method.

Before the percolation brewing method came along, most of the brewing methods used immersion which relies on ground coffee seeping in hot water. The percolation method allowed better filtration of coffee grounds from the brewed liquid by passing the water through the ground coffee. The percolation method has led to the development of the majority of the common brewing methods we use today such as V60, December, espresso machines, etc.

The espresso machine uses the percolation method but uses finer ground coffee and pressurized hot water to speed up the brewing process. The first espresso machine was invented in 1884 in Turin, Italy by Angelo Moriondo. Moriondo's design used steam to brew a batch of strong coffee instead of a single cup of espresso like the espresso machine we use today. The single-cup espresso machine was developed by Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni in Milan, Italy. But these espresso machines also used steam to brew the coffee which produced overly bitter espresso. The espresso machines we use today can be attributed to Achille Gaggia who used increased pressure to produce an espresso instead of steam resulting in an espresso that is strong and smooth.

The espresso machine and other brewing devices have developed over the last couple of decades adding variety and possibilities to where and how we brew our coffee. Every year, the Specialty Coffee community is experimenting, innovating, and showcasing new and fascinating ways to brew coffee, but it is the history of coffee brewing that has created the foundation on which Specialty Coffee stands and builds upon.

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