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In France where a coffee-maker is a Cafetiere, it is a Cafetière à Piston. It is called simply Cafetiere, a brand name in the UK, and likewise in high-tone US dining rooms where some still lift their pinky when sipping coffee. The folks call it a Coffee Press, Press Pot, Plunger Pot, and sometimes a Coffee Plunger, but most often now it is recognized as the French Press.

On Sunday June 1s, 2014, The New York Times Magazine published Who Made that French Press, by Jens Mortensen. Mr. Mortensen sought in William H. Ukers seminal coffee resource, All About Coffee, Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, New York, 1922, for a French Press reference but did not find one. On Monday, The Times, and I were reminded by coffee friend Melissa Pugash (Melissa J. Pugash & Associates, Los Angeles) That Ian Bersten, Australian author and coffee & tea inventor and innovator, in his Coffee Floats Tea Sinks: Thorough History and Technology to a Complete Understanding (1993) has the answer. Bersten wrote, “In 1852 Mayer and Delforge invented the first of the plunger or French Press coffee makers. The filter was forced down to compress the coffee at the bottom of the pot. The idea was simple but the technology of the times made it difficult to make the moving filter which was fitted tightly enough to the container to ensure that the coffee grounds were separated and kept in the lower suggestion and prevented from floating around the filter in the upper section.”

“At the turn of the century (sic) the French Cafeolette was well-promoted by Louis Forest and was popular for making milk coffee. The Melior brand was introduced in the 1930’swith a stainless steel filter and metal pot. Later models had a glass pot in a metal frame. In the 1970’s a Danish company introduced a glass pot with coloured plastic support and lid and plunger….The Japanese Hario Company in the 1980’s introduced its own models with nylon filters and mesh bodies. The luxury design of these plungers incorporating gold and silver became a major feature. There are several other modern brands that use plastic.”

Mayer and Delforge’s invention was singular, but the pot had a weakly designed filtration disc, producing a beverage with a significant amount of floating coffee matter in the brew. This was addressed by Attilio Calmani and Giulo Moneta of Milan Italy who were granted US pat.# 1797672A in 1931 for a coffeemaker whose description is obviously a press type coffee brewer with the innovation that a wire spring retains the filter disc assembly in position along the inner wall of the cylinder preventing leakage of coffee particles into the brewed beverage. In 1959, a Swiss national, Faliero Bondanini received a patent (US 2,900,896) for a Coffee Filter Pot having a filter support resembling a stainless vegetable steamer, with overlapping metal flaps like wing feathers, or the metal flaps on an airplane wing. He marketed this design in France under the brand name “Chambord. In the 1950’s Bondanini began to market the made-in-France Melior® which is a Latin word meaning among other things, noble, useful and valid.

Bondanini subsequently received additional patent EP 0167423 B1, in 1987, for improvements to his screen design. A later innovation, permitting the stopping of the brewing cycle at a desired point by encapsulating the particles at the bottom of the brew cylinder won US Pat # WO1996007347 for Jill Portman. While an interesting design idea, Ms. Portman’s innovation has failed to be incorporated by manufacturers into the designs we see on the market to date.

Charles F. Lamalle, a dealer in fine French culinary tools and utensils located in New York, was the first, I think, to bring Melior® to the US. It was through Mr. Lamalle that many in the rising New York specialty food trades of the early 1970’s, including myself, and the buyers at Zabars, Macy’s Cellar, and Bloomingdales street level gourmet department (coffee and its accessories didn’t move to “The Main Course” on 6 until the later) were introduced to the plunger pot. It was the beloved coffeemaker of Jerry Baldwin , who beat the drum for it in his less-than-a-handful of Starbucks locations in Seattle.

Bodum Inc, a Danish maker of table and kitchenware, founded by Peter Bodum in 1944, launched into coffeemakers with the vacuum coffeemaker, Santos. Their first Press Pot was the 1974 Bistro model, made of plastic and glass. To support North American sales, Bodum USA Inc. obtained a Canadian trademark on French Press, but In 2012 Canada’s Federal Court ruled that Bodum’s claims to the phrase were invalid and unenforceable, making the phrase a descriptive for use by anyone.

Bodum marketed Melior® products in the US in the 1990’s along with Chambord®. Sometime after 2003 Bodum® stopped offering the Melior® model in favor of Chambord® in the traditional French Press shape with black bakelite look handle, domed chrome lid and slender-armed self-footed chrome cage on its website. Today Bodum® dominates the French Press world of coffee with a strong line of products. For instance, the Chambord® is offered in five sizes, each in four colors and no less than nine other models including the 1.5L. (51 OZ) Bean Set French Press iced coffee maker. Melior® is marketed by Melior® Housewares AG, Triengen Switzerland.

Florence Fabricant, writing in The Times on July 17, 2012 reported on the Espro, a Vancouver BC innovation with a double mesh filter that contains the grounds and cuts down sediment, while the insulated container retains heat in the beverage.

Minibru makes a cylinder-in-glass mug single serve French Press mug that is an interesting idea. I have not used one yet, and I’m not sure about the idea of staring down into the slurry at the bottom of the cup while drinking. But I will reserve my opinion until I have played with the Minibru.

Aeropress is another single-serve take on the French Press. It is an acrylic cylinder and plunger press using a paper filter permitting a finer grind than other French press techniques, and screening out many of the fine particles that come through French Press screens. For those who like the fines screens are available for retro-fitting your Aeropress so that it will brew more like a traditional Plunger Pot.

A walk on the internet produced scores of worthy French Press contenders. There was a Vacuum insulated French Press by Nissan®. And several models by the excellent Ontario, Canada manufacturer, Grosche. Freiling, Ft. Mill, SC, specializes in insulated stainless steel presses, of clean fresh design. La Creuset®, founded in 1925 in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France markets a sturdy stoneware French Press in a variety of glazes, but oddly not in white, or cream. Others crowd the field with interesting design ideas, and some with very competitive price points including, BonJour®, Planetary Design®, Primula® OXO Good Grips®, SterlingPro®. The most mouthwatering price was the Mr.Coffee ® 8-cup (32 OZ) Coffee Press offered on Bed Bath & Beyond at $9.99.

Grounds in the brew is a reason, given by some, for avoiding the French Press. The design necessity is for the stem to be true, and the layers of screens and support for the screens to be sturdy. Play in the stem, and over flexibility in the sandwich of filtering screens and their support cause leakage of particles into the beverage holding area. According to Cook’s Illustrated, in their November 2013 review of French Presses, presses that used a silicone washer around the filtering disc had less leakage of particles than those that used a tension spring to keep the screens tight to the side walls of the beaker.

Cook’s Illustrated also says, “there are potential drawbacks: The mass of steeped coffee grounds creates pressure, making it hard to push down the filter, sometimes shattering glass pots or spewing coffee out of the pot’s spout. Also, heat escapes glass pots quickly. Some people dislike suspended coffee particles in their brew. And spent grounds are messy, wet, and hard to dislodge from the bottom of the pot when it’s time to clean up”

Not withstanding negative feelings by some Americans affection for the brewing method is strong. Bersten, this morning (06.03.14) in a letter to the Times, on which he was kind enough to copy me, writes, “The biggest problem with the French Press is that its use is based a 3-5 minute brewing time with medium coarse ground coffee which is scientifically incorrect. This can easily be demonstrated by brewing the coffee and pouring off the resultant brew after 30 seconds and then pouring boiling water over the spent grounds. There is very little color in the second brew. The extraction is proportional to the surface area of the particles which means that espresso ground coffee produces much more flavour and 35% less coffee can be used to achieve SCAA Gold Cup extraction. This is true for all coffee makers. It is also true for tea where large leaf tea produces very little flavour compared to small leaf tea. In all cases a larger surface area and a shorter brewing time produces a better and stronger cup with a shorter brewing time using less tea. The antioxidants will three times greater weight for weight”

Melissa wrote to The Times, “The biggest challenge I find with the French Press is that there is no way to keep the coffee hot except with a “tea cozy!” It is true that The glass beaker pots lose their temperature rapidly, dropping to lukewarm within an hour, but stainless steel insulated pots retain their heat for a full hour, or as long as the life of the beverage. The Stainless pots also have the advantages of taking a bounce, and the pressures of brewing without bursting. They are also easier to clean and less likely to break in the sink. So, why do I still prefer a traditional glass Chambord®? It probably has something to do with why I still wear cuffs on my trousers, and ties.



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