Waiting at a coffee bar recently, we overheard a customer watching her pour-over dripping into the cup. She said to the barista: “I wish I could do this at home!”
You can, it’s easy, and a lot less expensive than the pour-over, which took four passes from the barista.
In fact, in our youth…
…there were no specialty coffee bars (your take-out choice was Dunkin Donuts or a deli or diner),
…coffee at home was limited to a percolator or instant coffee, and
…people chose either Folgers or Maxwell House, but
…coffee aficionados made their coffee in a Chemex carafe with their favorite ground beans, usually from the supermarket although the real connoisseurs got mail-order beans from specialty shops.
If they were lucky, they lived in a town with a specialty coffee and tea shop, with loose beans and packaged coffee from around the world.
We were lucky: We lived in New York City, which had McNulty’s Tea & Coffee, established in 1895 and still located at 109 Christopher Street in the West Village (and still not open on Sundays).
A visit to McNulty’s was a trip back to another age. Today, the journey is accented with modern coffee makers and gadgets that didn’t exist at the time.
But the aroma is still the same: an exotic mingling of the many aromas of coffees and teas from around the world, kept in large glass canisters. There were burlap sacks of beans and chests of tea with stenciled markings from far away lands. The brass scale was also from the 19th century.
Amid the tea and coffee was one ultra-modern brewing apparatus: the Chemex drip coffee maker.
THE HISTORY OF POUR-OVER (DRIP) COFFEE
Pour over, also called manual drip brewing or the drip method, is a fashionable new term for an old, low-tech method of coffee brewing.
Ground coffee is added to a ceramic or plastic cone that sits in a paper filter atop a glass carafe, ceramic pot, coffee cup or other receptacle. The Chemex system eliminates the need for a cone by creating a carafe with a narrow neck that holds the filter.
Melitta, The First Pour-Over
The pour-over technique was invented by a German housewife, Melitta Benz, in 1908. Displeased with the grittiness and murkiness of coffee as it was then prepared, she devised a paper filter from a sheet of her son’s notebook paper, and set the filter into a brass cup into which she punched holes for the coffee to drip through.
The commercial version was made in ceramic (today available in ceramic or plastic). As anyone who has used a Melitta drip brewer knows, it became a great success for its superior brew.
Fast-forward a few decades, to inventor Peter Schlumbohm, a Ph.D chemist who had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany. He developed and sold his patents focused on heating and cooling systems, the thermos bottle and dry ice manufacturing among them.
In 1941, he released the Chemex drip coffee system with the coffee filter placed in a glass carafe.
Like the Melitta, the filter was filled with ground coffee and hot water, which drip-drip-dripped into the carafe.