Historic monopolies on coffee processing were so significant to the Spanish economy that in 1778, Charles III decreed that no tariffs be placed on American coffee entering Spain, but any export of hand-cranked coffee grinders to America was strictly banned. Today, coffee commerce is so commonplace that coffee processors have a wide choice of mass-produced industrial grinders with water-cooled steel blades that can grind up to 300 pounds per hour.
Coffee bushes are indigenous to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where the ripe berries and seeds were ground together with a mortar and pestle, then mixed with fat and eaten as dried balls. When the coffee beverage was introduced in Arabia after the year 1200, a few beans were roasted at each meal and ground between small millstones. Later, wheat mills used by Romans were adapted for grinding larger amounts. They were hourglass-shaped carved stones that fit over a cone-shaped grinding piece and dropped beans from the upper bin.
In the 1400s in Turkey and Persia (Iran), individual bean servings were roasted in small round perforated metal saucers and then ground in cylinder-shaped mills. At the same time, a hand-cranked spice grinder standing on four legs was invented and adapted for grinding coffee above a bowl. In the 1700s, a drawer was added to catch the grind below the blade. However, innovations were not widespread. As late as 1620, settlers brought a specialized mortar-and-pestle coffee grinder on the Mayflower to the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts
A coffee grinder-boiler design from Damascus, Syria, in 1665 featured a folding handle and a cup-shaped bean bin. At this same time, Nicholas Book, “living at the Sign of the Frying Pan in St. Tulies street” in London, publicized himself as the only man known to make mills that could grind coffee to powder. Coffee mills were used commercially in the 1660s in London, where coffeehouses were popular community gathering places. Establishments such as Nicholas Farr’s “Rainbow” in Fleet Street included a bookstore.
In 1798, the first U.S. patent for a coffee grinder was issued to Thomas Bruff of Maryland, who was Thomas Jefferson’s dentist. His wall-mounted device ground beans between metal nuts with coarse and fine teeth. In 1828, Charles Parker of Meriden, Connecticut, manufactured on contract mills that improved on existing coffee mills. Lewis A. Osborn distributed the first packaged ground coffee in New York around 1860. In 1870, John Gulick Baker of Philadelphia patented his Champion #1, which became the most widely used grinder in grocery stores.
In 1898, Hobart Manufacturing Company of Troy, Ohio, introduced the first electric belt-driven grinder. In 1913, Hobart brought out an improved grinder patent. In 1924, Hobart patented an electric grinder with teeth on a rotating shaft inside housing beneath the bean bin. In 1905, a Kansas City court decided that an exclusive patent on a steel-cut coffee grinder with a fan to remove bean skins was not a patentable invention. However, several patents for improvements on steel-cut grinder blades were granted during the next decade.
- The History of Coffee in Guatemala; Regina Wagner, William H. Hempstead, Cristóbal von Rothkirch; 2001
- All about Coffee; William Harrison Ukers; 1922
- Curiosities of London; John Timbs; 1868
Sara Kirchheimer holds a Bachelor of Science in physical geography from Arizona State University and is currently retired from the transportation and travel industry in northern Europe and the western United States. In addition to commercial writing, she has contributed art exhibit reviews to Phoenix Arts and hurricane update articles to New Orleans Indymedia.