James Mason, the guy who (sort of) invented the coffee percolator

I am sure today is important for any number of reasons, but personally the key innovation for the day comes from the American James H Mason.

OK, so perhaps on the universal scale of great scientists and innovators he doesn’t rate up there with some of our recent blog-featured personalities (Newton, Joule, Edwin Armstrong, even Steve Jobs) but to me his contribution has brought much enjoyment – Mason is the guy who first patented the coffee percolator in the US in 1865. (Actually a British soldier and scientist, Sir Benjamin Thompson, came up an earlier version of the percolator some years before, but I couldn’t find out much about his invention.)

The classic coffee percolator - essentially unchanged for the last 120 years.(© All Rights Reserved)
The classic coffee percolator – essentially unchanged for the last 120 years.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Mason’s patent was for a downflow method, which didn’t use rising steam and water, but it did pave the way for another American, Hanson Goodrich who, in 1889, came up with the classic percolator system similar to the stove-top percolators still produced today.

Traditional stove-top percolators have lost some ground in recent years, with the rise in popularity of, firstly, the automatic drip style coffee makers, and more recently the very simple and practical French press devices.

And yes, a French press is great for your daily brew at home, but more than a century after its invention, a classic stove top percolator on a camping stove under a starry sky remains a wonderful thing.

Celebrating your favourite brew on International Tea Day

Today, 15 December, is International Tea Day, observed mainly in the world’s tea producing countries in the East (Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India) and Africa (Kenya, Malaysia, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi) . This is the day when even the coffee lovers among us should acknowledge that other beverage that many, many people enjoy so much.

In fact, after water, tea is said to be the most widely consumed beverage in the world. While its exact origins are unknown, tea drinking was first recorded in China, as early as the 10th century BC. It remained an oriental delicacy until it was first imported to Europe by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. The habit of tea drinking hit Great Britain around 1660, but only gained widespread popularity with the Brits around the 19th century, from which point they pretty much claimed it as part of their national culture.

Have a cup of green tea, and drink to your health.(© All Rights Reserved)
Have a cup of green tea, and drink to your health.
(© All Rights Reserved)

One of the great things about tea is the wide range available. ‘Standard’ tea, made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is available as green tea (made with the unfermented tea leaves) or black tea (made by post-fermented leaves). The tea plant is also used to produce white tea, oolong tea and pu-erh tea. Then there are all the so-called herbal teas – chamomile, mint, rooibos, rosehip and more. All teas have distinctive flavours; different types of tea can be blended together, and all the teas can be blended with various other additives – herbs, citrus skin, and much, much more.

Chemically, tea is filled with bioactive chemicals – amino acids, vitamins, caffeine, flavinoids, polysaccharides – which have been associated with a range of health benefits, including protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Green tea, in particular, appear to have significant protective effects against a range of cancers.

Tea may also boost your immune system and increase your metabolism.

Pretty impressive – maybe I should swop more of my daily coffee shots for some health-boosting tea beverages!