Cafetières are probably the most commonly used method of brewing coffee. Many coffee lovers swear on the fact that the cafetiere is the best method, as it preserves the delicate flavors in the oils, giving a smooth, rich bodied coffee.
The exact history and origin of the cafetiere is not clear. Both the French and the Italians lay claims to its invention. What is known is that the first cafetieres appeared in France in the 1850s. These coffee pots were made of metal and fitted with a metal screen attached to a rod. The metal screen would be plunged down, using the rod, forcing the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot.
One story of how the cafetiere was invented involves an old man from Provence. The story goes that the old man used to go for a walk up a hill every day to get some peace and quiet from his nagging wife. No matter how bad the weather was, blistering heat or driving rain, the old man would make the journey. As he sought to escape his wife for as long a period as possible he would take with him a small amount of food, some firewood, and his favorite old coffee pot. When he reached the top of the hill he would take an extended rest, taking time out to light a fire, eat his food, and brew some coffee.
Now coffee back then was typically strong, bitter, and tasted dreadful. It would be made by adding water and coffee grounds to a pot and then placing the pot on an open fire or stove until the water boiled. Little did they know back then that boiling water destroys the oil in coffee, from which coffee gains its flavor.
One day the old man was making his coffee as he always did. But this time he forgot to add his coffee grounds to his coffee pot. It was not until the water started boiling away in the pot that the old man realized his mistake. He quickly removed the pot from the flames and added in his coffee grounds. Of course, the old man did not know that making his coffee this way would result in the coffee grounds floating to the top. Made the usual way, the coffee grounds would have sunk to the bottom of the pot by the time the water had boiled. The old man took one look at his coffee and thought, “I can’t drink this. I’ll end up swallowing the ground coffee.”
As if by chance, as the old man contemplated going without his coffee (he had only brought enough water and coffee grounds for one pot), an Italian traveling merchant appeared on the horizon. Among the many goods, the merchant was carrying was a metal screen. The old man saw this screen and quickly hit upon an idea. He swiftly brought a section of this screen from the merchant and carefully fitted it over his coffee pot. Using a stick that lay nearby, he plunged the metal screen down to the bottom of the pot, thus trapping the coffee grounds. He then took a sip from his pot and immediately a big smile broke out across his face. The merchant, keen to find out why the old man was smiling, asked if he could try some of his coffee. After taking a big gulp from the pot, the merchant gave the old man a knowing look. This was the best coffee either of them had ever tasted!
The story goes on to say that after trying this fantastic coffee, the two men decided to open a small factory manufacturing their new invention: a coffee pot with a fitted plunger. Their cafetiere made them both a small fortune.
Stories aside, we know that the first registered patent for a cafetiere was lodged in 1929 by a Milanese man called Attilio Calimani. Over the years, Attilio refined his “apparatus for the preparation of infusions of coffee” to quicken the filtration of the coffee.
The next significant step in the history of the cafetiere came in 1958, when another Italian, Faliero Bondanini, was granted a patent for his version of the cafetiere. Bondanini’s version became very popular in France, and by the early 1960s, it was seen as a must-have item for every French home. It was around this time that a British company, Household Articles Ltd, realized the potential for the cafetiere and introduced their version, the “Classic”, to the UK. Drawing on the French influences on this coffee maker, they marketed it as “La Cafetiere” (The Coffee Pot). This is where the generic term “cafetiere” for French-press or “plunge-filter” coffee maker comes from.