Coffee filter

The fruit of a Sunday Kaffeeklatsch

Melitta Liebscher (Dresden, January 31, 1873 – Minden, June 29, 1950)

Melitta Liebscher was born in 1873 in Dresden. She was married to Hugo Bentz, manager of a local department store, and had two sons, one aged nine and one aged four.

On a Sunday afternoon in early 1908, together with some friends during the 'Kaffeeklatsch', she came up with the idea of banning the coffee grounds from her favorite drink.

In those days, coffee was still brewed the Turkish way, with the coffee grounds in the cup, as it is today in some countries around the Mediterranean. Melitta took a tin can, made a number of holes in the bottom, cut a suitable circle out of her sons' sheet of blotting paper, scooped up some freshly ground coffee and thus invented the first paper coffee filter. Melitta tested the idea at the coffee party and it was very popular.

The process could not be called ideal, if only because the dense blotting paper allowed the coffee to seep through very slowly.

Melitta went in search of types of paper that were more suitable for filtering, she had the can technically improved and made of brass and she set the height at 13 centimetres: the original filter was ready, time to apply for a patent.

Women's names are rare in the patent books of the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin. On the date of July 8, 1908, 'Melitta Bentz, born Liebscher' stands out among all those men's names.

The then 35-year-old housewife received a patent for 'a coffee filter that works with filter paper', according to the text, 'with a curved bottom and with obliquely directed through-holes.'

A few months later, she set up her company in a small room measuring two by four metres. Her husband gave up his job to cooperate. Over the next twenty years, the family would be in constant need of money, often because the business grew too quickly.

A typical working day at the Bentz family began at five in the morning and rarely ended before midnight. Many nights, husband and wife continued to work to complete all orders. And according to family history, it was only during the weekend that the real weeping took place.

Father Bentz packed and shipped the filter leaves himself.

He wrote the bills himself and handled all the correspondence, supported by Melitta, who also took care of the household. He straightened every bent nail Bentz found in an incoming shipment.

He collected ends of rope to tie them together into a more convenient piece. For the first five years, they didn't even have the money to buy a typewriter. Hugo Bentz and his children delivered the orders with a handcart in the city.

The First World War paralyzed the company. Father and son had to do military service to fight in Belgium. In 1919 they started from scratch again. In 1927 they bought their first car, a second-hand Audi that broke down after every hundred kilometers. That year, the couple, aged 54, made their first tourist trip, to the Rhine.

When she turned 63, Melitta patented the filter bag with a conical shape, the shape most familiar today. At the outbreak of the Second World War, she employed more than a thousand people. Afterwards, the company rose from its ashes for the second time.

Until the last day of her life, the elderly Melitta remained the driving force of the family business. She died in 1950, aged 77. Nutrition researchers in Rotterdam discovered in 1991 that the paper filter removes fatty acids and cholesterol-raising elements from the coffee.