Throughout the history of coffee, women have played an integral role in shaping the specialty coffee industry. Alice Foote MacDougall, Melitta Bentz and Erna Knutsen are 3 of the many women that have made a notable impact on how we enjoy our coffee today...
Alice Foote MacDougall began a coffee roasting and retail business in New York in 1907 under the name A.F. MacDougall since many during that time didn't like the idea of women in business. When she struggled to get foot traffic into her coffee bean store in Grand Central Terminal, she started selling waffles and hot coffee. Another coffee shop soon followed, followed by another - until she had several restaurants in Manhattan. Inspired by European cafes, the coffee shops were designed for people to simply relax and enjoy their cup of coffee. While her last coffee shop closed in the 1930s, her belief that coffee is an experience rather than a chore can be seen in every coffee shop you visit today.
Melitta Bentz, a German housewife, invented the paper coffee filter in 1908. After growing tired of percolators over-brewing coffee, espresso machines leaving grounds in the coffee and linen bag filters that were difficult to clean, she set out to find a better way. She made a two-part filtration system using blotting paper from her son's school exercise book and a brass pot. She was awarded a patent that same year and the company she founded continues to make pour over brewers and paper filters today.
Erna Knutsen was the first person to use the term "specialty coffee" in 1974. She also became a master cupper at a time when women were blocked from the cupping room. However, her greatest contribution to the specialty coffee industry was her willingness to work with small coffee roasters. After years of working as a secretary for a coffee brokerage, she recognized there was an opportunity to sell small lots of coffee to small roasters. Those small roasters recognized coffee drinkers all over the country were interested in drinking better coffee and were willing to pay a higher price. Thus the specialty coffee trade was born.
I'm so grateful to these women and the many others throughout the coffee industry for paving the way for me as a small batch coffee roaster and specialty coffee company owner.