Last Updated on January 18, 2021
Drinking a cup of coffee is so common that we rarely think about what’s behind the preparation of such a beverage. But behind a simple cup of filtered coffee, there is an amazing story of entrepreneurship.
More than half of the coffee consumed in the world is prepared through the dip method using a disposable paper filter. Even though we take these filters for granted, they were not always available. It took the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of a German woman to develop them. This is the story.
Melitta Bentz (née Liebscher) was born in Dresden, where she used to lead an uneventful life as a housewife. She loved to drink coffee. At the time, the most common method to prepare it was using a geyser coffee maker. However, with this method, the resulting beverage had many particles of ground coffee suspended. It was necessary to re-brew the coffee to tackle this issue. This process used to lead to over-brewing, which gave a bitter burnt aftertaste.
Sometimes, linen filters were used to catch the mentioned particles. However, such filters needed frequent washing. Besides, they used to add a disagreeable taste. Melitta set out to solve this problem. She tried different materials that could serve as a filter for brewed coffee. None worked. For example, she tried metal mesh to no avail.
But one day, Melitta had a strike of luck. She entered the room of her eldest son. She found one of his school notebooks open and covered with blotting paper. This type of paper was commonly used to absorb the excess of ink. She immediately saw the potential of this porous material as a coffee filter. She borrowed a clean sheet of blotting paper and made a funnel out of it. She improvised a funnel holder using a brass saucepan. She drilled several holes on the bottom using a nail and a hammer.
The idea was extremely successful. She got a patent for her disposable coffee filter on June 20, 1908. She founded M. Bentz six months later. Her first employees were her husband and two children (aged 9 and 4). The company’s headquarters were located in Melitta’s room. She invested an initial capital of 72 pfennigs.
Melitta used to invite friends to drink coffee prepared with her novel method. It was her early advertisement strategy. Soon, the news was picked by a radio station, which gave more publicity. Also, the invention was a success in two German trade exhibitions. The company prospered and changed its name to Bentz & Sohn in 1923. Nine years later, it was renamed ‘Melitta.’
Nowadays, the Melitta Group is a large enterprise with approximately 4,000 employees. A part of its business is the production of disposable paper coffee filters (it makes 18 billion of them a year). The enterprise, with an annual turnover of 1.3 billion Euros, is still owned by the Bentz family.
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