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Almanac: Instant coffee

Almanac: Instant coffee
Almanac: Instant coffee 01:54

On August 11, 1903, 116 years ago today, Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato, of Chicago, received a patent for his method of making instant coffee ... a method that avoided the spoilage that had thwarted earlier attempts.

A brochure for the Kato Coffee Company, from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Winterthur Museum Library

Alas, his brand of instant coffee never achieved commercial success. 

However, the many other brands of instant that followed did create a marketing buzz, not to mention a rich brew of TV commercials, as in a 1981 ad starring actress Lauren Bacall: 

"Mmmm! That wonderful aroma tells you High Point is no ordinary coffee!"

Lauren Bacall High Point Coffee Commercial 1970's by DAN-D-TV on YouTube

In fact, instant is so deeply steeped in our popular consciousness that its absence was grounds for a coffee colloquy of sorts on the TV show "Seinfeld," from the episode "The Library":

Mr. Bookman: "You don't have any instant coffee?"
Seinfeld: "No. I don't normally have –"
Mr. Bookman: "Who doesn't have instant coffee?"
Seinfeld: "I don't."
Mr. Bookman: "You buy a jar of Folger's Crystals, you put it in the cupboard, you forget about it. Then, later on when you need it, it's there. It lasts forever. It's freeze-dried!"

Seinfeld - Jerry and Mr Bookman by Ondkloss on YouTube

Though instant will never win over true coffee snobs with their French presses, it's likely to always be valued by the impatient among us pressed for time.

As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."

Story produced by Charis Satchell. 

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