Melitta coffee filter
by Thomas Stiegler
Melitta coffee filter
by Thomas Stiegler
Around 1900, drinking coffee was no longer a luxury. For many people, it was as much a part of the day as the midday soup or saying grace.
But although it was becoming increasingly popular, its preparation was anything but sophisticated. The coffee powder was simply poured into a pot of water, brought to a boil, and then poured through a strainer to retain the grounds before serving.
For this purpose, either a cloth bag was used (which, however, began to smell musty over time) or ceramic and metal strainers. But even these were not optimal, because if they were too large-pored, the coffee powder ended up in the cup, but if you used screens with too small holes, then they clogged quickly and had to be cleaned constantly.
In addition, no matter which method was used, there was always some crumbly and bitter-tasting coffee grounds in the cup at the end.
A circumstance that the self-confident housewife Melitta Bentz was no longer willing to put up with.
In her day, in the early years of the 20th century, people were already experimenting with blotting paper that could be used instead of textile filters.
But the process was still very laborious, because you had to cut the paper yourself and then fit it properly in the pot.
So Melitta Bentz began to look for a better solution on her own.
One of her experiments involved punching small holes in a brass cup and placing blotting paper from her son’s exercise book on top. She then placed the cup on a pot, filled it with coffee powder and poured hot water on it.
The result was stunning. “The aroma of the filtrate proved to be delicious and digestible. In addition to the grounds, the oils from the roasted beans remained in the paper. This meant that the coffee no longer tasted so bitter.” 
Encouraged by the positive reactions of her friends, she took the unusual step for her time and founded a company under her own name.
In the summer of 1908, she had the “coffee filter with a bottom that is curved downwards and has a drainage hole and a loosely inserted sieve” registered, i.e. patented, in the utility model register at the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin.
And in the fall of the same year, the Melitta coffee filter company was founded with a starting capital of only 73 pfennigs.
The first company headquarters was the family’s apartment in Dresden and the first employees were her husband Emil Hugo and their two sons.
From now on, they busily hammered and drilled, then took the cleaned and finely packaged goods in a handcart to the nearest post office and shipped them to customers throughout the German Reich.
And the first successes were soon to follow.
After the first round filter made of aluminum was produced in 1910, this “Melitta filtration apparatus” won the gold medal at the International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden in the same year.
“In the early years, the novelty nevertheless required explanation,” Martin Möcking reports. “Similar to the vacuum cleaners of the Vorwerk brand, demonstration ladies went around the country to advertise the product.” 4
At the beginning of World War I, the company struggled to survive, as paper was strictly rationed and coffee imports were completely banned.
But after the war ended, the company grew rapidly.
As early as 1920, additional buildings had to be purchased, and over the next few years more than 100,000 filters were produced. Finally, in 1929, the company moved to Minden in eastern Westphalia, as it was no longer possible to find suitable production premises in Dresden.
The demand for the products was now so great that 80 workers had to work double shifts to fill all the orders.
Today, the “Melitta Unternehmensgruppe Bentz KG” is an international company with more than 4,000 employees, managed primarily by Melitta’s great-grandson Jero Bentz.
An incredible triumph for an idea that once began in the kitchen of a simple housewife, with a small tin can and a few sheets of blotting paper from her sons’ school bags.