Raising a Cup to Melitta Bentz

As I drink my second mug of coffee today, I am reminded of Melitta Bentz and feel a series of small joys.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, coffee in Europe was almost always brewed with the grounds loose in the pot. This method has two main issues: the resulting coffee tends to have a bitter sludginess that increases as one goes down the cup; and one is left with a mess of grounds to clean afterwards. Annoyed at how much effort was needed to produce coffee that wasn’t consistently great, and unimpressed with the current solutions such as adding eggs or fish skins to the brew, Melitta Bentz experimented with punching a few holes in the bottom of a pan and lining it with a piece of paper: and thus invented the coffee filter.

And, given it took me seconds to transfer the grounds to the box for compostables and then swill everything clean after making the consistently aromatic and complex coffee in my mug, I find coffee filters a greatly joyous thing.

Melitta Bentz with her hair back wearing a high-necked dress with a lace collar
Melitta Bentz (Photographer unknown)
Public Domain

Of course, while I call Bentz the inventor of the first coffee filter it is more strictly accurate to say she is the holder of the patent for the first coffee filter; there might have been other people who’d come up with a similar workable solution but not gone public with it. However—even if she is “only” the patent holder—she gained that patent at a time when women in Germany (and most of the world) almost never held the patent for things they’d invented; so that too is a thing of joy.

Bentz’ patent was the first step in her co-founding a thriving business that has today grown to be the Melitta Group. Her husband actively supporting her doing this in a time when sex roles were even more rigid than today is a joyous reminder that masculinity doesn’t require women be weak. But, to heap joy upon joy, her company also offered employees a higher number of days leave every year, a five-day working week rather than the six-day week that was ubiquitous at the time, annual bonuses, health insurance, subsidies toward housing, a crisis support fund, and other policies that make her business seem progressive even by today’s standards.

All of which thoughts make drinking this coffee an even more enjoyable experience. Who says talking about equal rights drains the fun from things?

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