There are many different types of drip brew coffee machines today, and they all come from a long history of coffee brewing development. Most of the current electric coffee machines available today run one the same brewing technique: coffee grounds placed in a paper or metal filter inside a funnel over a coffee pot, while cold water is heated in a separate chamber and poured directly over the grounds.
Coffee making wasn’t always like this, however. Coffee was an incredibly simple process for hundreds of years. Originally and for a long time, coffee was roasted, ground, and then placed directly into a pan or pot full of hot water. The coffee was then boiled with the water until the desired smell and consistency was reached.
Drip brewing is about 125 years old. It started with the invention of the “biggin” in France in the 1800’s. This was a pot that contained two levels: the upper level held the boiled water and coffee, and the second level was were the brewed coffee was dripped into. Shortly after, the “pumping percolator” was developed in France. With this device, the boiling water was forced through a tube that trickled through the ground coffee in the top container, then the brewed coffee went back down to the bottom container.
Vacuum brewers became popular in the late 19th century. The Napier Vacuum Machine was invented, for instance, where water was heated in a lower vessel until the expansion then forced the contents through a tube and into the container holding the coffee grounds. The heat was then removed, and the coffee would be drawn back through the tube and back into the bottom chamber and ready to drink. While this was a more complicated method of household brewing, it remained popular throughout the 19th century.
The percolator was introduced in the early 20th century, where it took a strong hold in the place of kitchens everywhere. Coffee was measured into the metal percolator basket, and water was added to the pot above it. The water was heated, and then forced through a metal tube into the brew basket. The liquid was then extracted and dripped back into the pot. The process is continuously repeated until the grounds have all been steeped to the desired color and strength. While the grounds clean up in the brew basket could get messy, this was remedied with “Max Pax filters” being developed. These filter contained coffee inside them, which virtually eliminated clean up afterwards.
When the electric drip coffee maker was introduced in the 1970’s, it virtually eliminated the use of percolators. Coffee was now easier to make, and tasted better by eliminating the burnt taste so often present with coffee percolators. While drip brew machines share the same basic brewing principles mentioned at the beginning of this article, variations on the machine have developed over the years: larger chambers, higher brew temperatures, brew strength moderations, water filtration, built in coffee grinding, timers, auto-start clocks, and more.