The Coffee-Stained Controversy Over the French Press

Bondanini US patent 2,900,896 Bondanini US patent 2,900,896

Regarding the (not very) French Press

 

There remains a coffee-stained controversy surrounding the French press over one hundred and fifty years after its initial conception by the French. Throughout its history there have been more questions raised than definitive answers regarding this deceptively simple coffee making device. For example, coffee drinkers the world over have wondered what to call it. Is it a French press, a coffee press, a press pot, coffee plunger or cafetiere? Is it French or is it Italian? Then there is the more metaphysical problem: do you actually enjoy the coffee produced by it? These are all questions to consider...over multiple cups of coffee with friends of course.

 

In the Beginning, There Was Coffee

The French and Italians argue over the creation of the French press and hence the bragging rights. Patent documents show there was a nascent design in 1852 by two Frenchmen: Mayer and Delforge. However, the plunger manufactured from their patent did not rest firmly against the interior walls of the carafe. This meant the resulting brew was no more technical or patent-worthy in my opinion than cowboy coffee made in the Old West. Not many people appreciate gritty coffee and so enter the next (and in the my opinion) true working version of the French press patented by Italians Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta, in 1929. This patent added the flexible spring or rubber around the edge of the plunger to create the seal that keeps spent grounds below and brewed coffee above. In other words, Italians made the French idea a tasty reality. The iconic outline of today is not too far removed from the original prototype though.

Further Refinement

An upgraded mesh design for the plunger was patented (US 2,053,021) by another Italian, Bruno Cassol, in 1935. This is still commonly used inside French press designs today. Together with a coarser grind this expanded mesh design brewed a cleaner cup of coffee. Two decades later Faliero Bondanini of Lausanne Switzerland received a patent (US 2,900,896) for his version of the French press. The design appeared on paper like a flexible colander and it worked a bit like overlapping bird wings. This offered no relative improvement over other coffee presses of the day but he received a patent and was able to successfully market his design back to the French under the name “Chambord.” By the early 1960s the Chambord was so prevalent in French homes that the name became inextricably linked with a French pedigree.

 

Corporate Discord

The factory that made Bondanini's version of the Chambord was located in France. Factory owner Louis-James de Viel Castel wanted to market the French press to the UK so he began distributing the same model under the name La Cafetiere Classic. This literally means “coffee maker” in French. A brilliant marketing ploy in multilingual Europe, then name La Cafetiere was then, and is now, as closely linked to the associated product as the U.S. company Xerox was to copy machines in their heyday. No one gave it a second thought when the Danish company Bodum asked to distribute the Chambord model in Denmark in the 1970s. Eventually though Bodum purchased the company in 1991, Louis-James de Viel Castel sold rights to the Chambord trademark with the factory but not the name or distribution of his La Cafetiere concern.

 

In 2008 La Cafetiere started selling the Classic model in the U.S. Bodum already had a solid hold on the U.S. market for French presses. They sued La Cafetiere for trademark infringement. While the La Cafetiere Classic and Chambord are nearly identical products, a judge ruled that they were different enough and furthermore that the wording on Bodum's contract was too ambiguous to enforce. La Cafetiere continues to sell the Classic in the U.S. but Bodum has not backed down. Other trademark infringement cases have been tried and Bodum did win in Australian courts in 2011.

 

Who Wins?

In the end, as in the beginning, it all boils down to coffee. The French press (or whatever you would prefer to call it) is an affordable manual and highly portable style of making coffee. With fresh ground coffee and boiling water you can create a carefully crafted cup of coffee at home or wherever the day takes you. Many people begin their life-long love affair with coffee via a French press. Although the current pour over coffee craze has eclipsed the French press, it remains relevant. You don't need to pick sides in the French press controversy to enjoy a freshly plunged pot of coffee. French? Italian? Swiss? Vive la différence! +Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee!

 

 

About the Author: +Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee. Samantha is also one of our newest Over Coffee members and you can visit her profile and drop her a line here.

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