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Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee, 1961 Style

Apr 18, 2020

“This Is Coffee!” This stylish 1961 film by the Coffee Brewing Institute is a guide to brewing the perfect cup of coffee. The key to successful coffee? Care, care, and more care.

The opening of the 13-minute film sets a menacing mood. An alarm clock ticks and a kitchen faucet drips, over a jazzy film noir score. When the alarm goes off, a tired woman awakes, trudges downstairs, and goes through the motions of brewing a pot of coffee.

She pours water from the dripping faucet into a small percolator. She shovels in a few spoonfuls of coffee from a container that was apparently left open on the counter overnight. When she pours the coffee into a cheap cup, it looks weak and unappetizing.

The narrator asks, “Is this coffee?” As the picture cuts to rich, aromatic coffee being poured into an elegant china cup, the narrator answers, “Why no … this is coffee!”

Since good coffee begins with the bean, the film shows scenes of coffee growing and harvesting, set to a lively Latin score. The narrator says that producing good coffee, “with its secrets of aroma, body, and taste,” requires “the talents of millions of men.” Men, of course, even though women coffee workers are also shown — this is 1961, after all.

The film then presents vignettes of “exotic” coffee being served around the world: cafe au lait in Paris, cappuccino in Venice, spiced Viennese coffee, mysterious Turkish coffee, and vigorous Latin American coffee.

Advice for brewing the perfect cup of coffee

For brewing the perfect cup of coffee at home, the viewer is advised to start with a clean pot. Then the key: carefully measure each of the three ingredients: water, coffee, and time.

  • water: 3/4 cup of cold water for each cup of coffee

  • coffee: one level CBI measure (a Coffee Brewing Institute approved 2-tablespoon measure) per cup, using fresh coffee, properly ground for your coffee maker

  • time: carefully and accurately measured so the coffee is not over-extracted — this varies according to the type of coffee pot you are using:

    • percolator: 6 – 8 minutes

    • drip: 4 – 6 minutes

    • vacuum method – not more than 3 minutes after the coffee and boiling water are in contact

The film concludes with more vignettes of coffee drinking. But this time they illustrate how coffee enhances many parts of the day for “typical” Americans in 1961. Coffee is … “warmth and vigor” at breakfast to start the day … a “pleasant spur” to a woman’s morning work at the office typewriter … an “essential part” of lunch (in the club, accompanied by cigars for the men), that “unhurried hour in a world that often forgets to stop” … the perfect companion to romance in the evening … and after dinner, whenever “good taste is important.”

So good coffee is essential to all aspects of life: it’s comfortable, practical, relaxing, romantic, and tasteful. But as the narrator says, a good cup of coffee, even a “perfect” cup, is simple to achieve. Just brew it with care.