Melitta Bentz: Housewife Extraordinaire

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a paper coffee filter. Now put both hands together and give a round of applause to the woman who invented them. Introducing the one and only Melitta Bentz.

Born in 1873 in Dresden, Germany, Melitta was not a coffee expert or an engineer. She was a housewife who liked coffee but was frustrated by the methods available to her. Percolators tended to over-brew coffee and espresso machines spat grinds into the drink. The other common method was loading coffee grinds into a linen cloth and boiling them, but she was fed up cleaning them.

The coffee was bad and the methods were messy – so Melitta started to experiment.

In the end she found the solution by combining two household items – a brass cup and a piece of blotting paper from her son’s notebook. She punched holes in the cup, placed the sheet of paper inside then loaded her new invention with coffee grinds. Boiling water was added, and then she waited.

Seconds passed. The water drip-drip-dripped into the cup. Then, the moment of truth. The taste test.

To Melitta’s delight, the coffee was clean and well-brewed.

Just like that, she’d invented the cone cup and paper filter.

So what happened next?

To cut a very long story short, Melitta registered her invention in 1908 and launched a business selling modified and improved versions of her paper filters and the drip cone that goes with it.

Twenty years later she’d sold 100,000 cup filters – and her company continues to thrive despite suffering during both world wars. In fact, the Melitta Group now employs more than 3,000 people.

So next time you use a cone and filter, give a nod to Melitta Bentz: German housewife extraordinaire.

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Cover photo by Patrick Fore.