Monday, February 19, 2007

Instant Coffee?

V tried to convince me this afternoon that a pair of Guatemalans invented instant coffee. They went to France with their idea and the French got all the credit, she explained ruefully.

Well not all, because according to Wikipedia the inventor of instant coffee was one Satori Kato, a Japanese scientist working in Chicago. It was not however marketed commercially for another 37 years until Nescafé was launched in 1938.

Guatemalans have made significant contributions to coffee-making though. In 1872, Jose Guardiola (actually a Spaniard educated here in England) patented a machine designed to artificially dry coffee: the beans are placed in a large, compartmentalised, rotating drum. A constant flow of hot air is evenly distributed though perforated pipes, and the steady movement and the constant heat combine to make the drying uniform. The Guardiola dryer is apparently still the most popular in use today.

Julio Smout (properly Jules Smout, a Prussian-born Belgian of Scottish descent) also transformed the dry mill phase of the process. His hulling (decorticador) machine replaced the primitive mortar and pestle technique previously used to remove the outer casing of the bean. His design featured a spiral-shaped cylinder that gradually rotates the beans around a casing. As they are caught between the side of the cylinder and the casing the beans are stripped of their husks. Patented in 1881, Smout's invention was originally manufactured by John Gordon in London and has been referred to ever since as the “Smout type of huller.”

Roberto Okrassa, a finquero from Antigua, added a polisher so that both procedures could be accomplished as part of a single operation. He also added some blowers to get rid of dust and parchment, and a more efficient cooling system that reduces the heat the beans are exposed to during milling. Okrassa’s huller and polisher was patented in 1912.

(The slightly loopy bloke that runs the Finca Macadamia just outside Antigua has developed a similar revolving contraption for separating and removing the hard casings of his Macadamia nuts.)

Not sure where V's perfidious French story came from. Anyone have any ideas?


Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is not the most reliable source. TWO other sources support the claim that Instant Coffee was invented in Guatemala, although they cite different inventors. The truth is that it was invented by an international corporation in Guatemala. Several scientists were probably in charge of or doing the research.

The BBC says that In 1910, Guatemalan Doctors Federico Lenhoff and Eduardo Cabarrus invented SOLUBLE COFFEE.

The History Channel, in their "Everything about coffee" (everything because they don't limit their documentaries to "History", said that INSTANT COFFEE was invented by a former British (Naturalized Guatemalan) doctor named George Washington in the 1890's.

Of course, your definition of INSTANT and SOLUBLE may be different... Japan may have a different definition for their invention, for that matter.

Donna Champion said...

Eduardo Cabarrus was my great uncle (my grandmother's brother). I had always heard the story that he was one of the inventors of instant coffee. I believe that Eduardo Cabarrus was the owner of the international corporation that Pablo Arriola refers to. I know that he exported Guatemalan agricultural products internationally. I'll check with my cousin, his grandson, and get back to you.

Unknown said...

Eduardo Cabarrus was my Grandfather. The way the story has been explained to me is that Dr. Federico Lenhoff was the doctor of George Washington. Mr. Washington was intrigued by the fact that a cup of coffee that was left in the sun dried to a fine powder. Once hot water was added again, it regained its flavor and aroma. Mr. Washington shared that with Dr. Lenhoff who was a very good friend of Eduardo Cabarrus. The three of them formed a company with Mr. Washington taking the American market and Lenhoff and Cabarrus the European market. World War I destroyed their factory in Belgium. I am sure that my relatives are going to correct some of my recollections, but for what it's worth, that is what I recall from family history. Raul Eduardo Moreno Cabarrus

Inner Diablog said...

Thank you very much for your contributions to this post with their clarifications of this mystery!