Mr. Coffee

Mr. Coffee box, featuring Joe DiMaggio

We grew up listening to the early morning gurgling sounds of the percolator. Even though we were probably too young to enjoy its taste, the coffee smell and the calming sound made for great kitchen ambiance.

But all of that changed in 1972.

That year, Vincent Marotta released his invention for sale to the general public: Mr. Coffee.

With the help of one of baseball’s greatest players, it revolutionized the way we prepared the essential get-going beverage. Within a few short years, the percolator was nearly extinct.

Our parents drank percolated coffee and were used to it, but the percolation process has issues.

The same water is continuously pumped over the grounds over and over. This is simply not good coffee making form. Plus, the brewed coffee is subjected to 212 degree heat, and that’s bad for flavor. However, it did make for one catchy TV commercial!

Marotta knew that Joe DiMaggio was a noted coffee drinker. But he was also pretty reclusive. Joltin’ Joe had gotten all of the fame that he wanted playing baseball and from his short marriage to Marilyn Monroe. In 1972, he was enjoying retired life in San Francisco.

This NPR interview gives the details on how Joe was convinced to become the spokesman for Mr. Coffee. Basically, it took Marotta tracking down his phone number, then flying from Cleveland to the west coast the next day. The relationship between DiMaggio and Mr. Coffee lasted nearly 15 years.

In researching this piece, I was surprised to learn that coffee filters were not sold until 1975. I assume that a perforated basket was used on models prior to then. Personally, I prefer a mesh basket anyway. It lets just a bit of sediment through, a delicious enhancement to taste.

By the end of the decade, practically every kitchen in America had a Mr. Coffee or one of its imitators. The percolator was hopelessly old-fashioned. Vince Marotta and Joe Dimaggio had managed to change the way we drank coffee.

Nowadays, the percolator is enjoying a bit of a nostalgic comeback. Of course, it never fell out of favor with sportsmen and campers, as you could make coffee on a campfire, no electricity required. The classic percolator requires a coarser size grind, not so easy to find any more.

But give me my Mr. Coffee-brewed morning start to my day. I can’t imagine penning a column without it.

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