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The Melitta tea grinder

When it comes to grinders, especially manual grinders, we think in first place on spice grinders for pepper, nutmeg and other seeds on one hand, and for sure on coffee grinders on the other hand. Manual coffee grinder gained an increasing popularity among specialty coffee lover over the past years. The most sought after ones were - and still are - the Skerton and Mini Mill Slim from Hario (Japan), the tall and small grinder from Porlex (Japan) and the well known Zassenhaus grinders (Germany).

The only manual tea grinder I could find so far is produced by Porlex. It`s called the "Porlex tea matcha grinder", indicating that this grinder is meant to be used for grinding green tea leaves to prepare a Matcha tea (which is used for the Japanese tea ceremony). The grind for a matcha tea has to be very fine, what`s not problem at all for the Porlex`s ceramic burrs.

Interestingly, and little known, is the fact that there is, or better was, a tea grinder that`s only under the radar of some techno-tea-antiquities hunters: the Melitta tea grinder. You read right: Melitta! The company, best known for its invention of the paper-filter for drip coffee, for their cones, coffee-makers and roasted coffee (Melitta, by the way, was the first company, at least in Germany, which produced vacum-packed ground coffee).

But why was a coffee company producing a manual tea grinder? Well, Melitta was from the very beginning a pretty creative company, always opening doors to new markets. So, why not tea, the most consumed beverage in the world (beside water)? And even today "Cilia" is a strong tea brand within the Melitta-group, but from many not recognized as a Melitta-brand. And just in case you make a mess and pour your Melitta tea or coffee on the table, on the floor or (hopefully not) on your laptop: clean up the mess with one of the many products of "Swirl" which is also a brand of the Melitta-group!

But back to the manual grinder! Here how it looks like:

 Melitta tea-grinder: 19.5 cm (height) x 9 cm (max. width).

The materials changed over time from Aluminum to steel Bakelite; the little window was made of glas. The design changed over time only in some details, like e.g. the cup-scale moved from the metall-corpus to the glas-window (see photo below).

 Melitta tea-grinder, cup-scale

The grinder was produced between the early thirties and the early senventies of the last century.You may ask: but why a tea grinder at a time when nobody drank Matcha tea (especially not in Germany)? The reason, mentioned by Ian Bersten in his book "Coffee floats, tea sinks" (1993) and confirmed by Melitta (PS: I sent them an email-request and next day I got an answer!) was: expensive tea leaves could be reduced in seize for a higher extraction in a shorter time. The result was a higher number of brewed cups compared to whole leaves.The scale on the grinder marked the number of cups you could get with the regarding amount of crushed leaves. The grind was not adjustable: only one grind-size was possible (like it was the case with most of the old coffee grinders).

The burrs (source: Gebr. Jürgens, www.http://gebr-juergens.jimdo.com)

I`m personally not a fan of crushing tea leaves as the brew isn`t just depending from the leave-size but from "the whole package", consisting of leave-size, tea-water ratio, steeping time, agitation and water-temperature. It´s not about the maximum extraction, it´s about the perfect extraction to get the best flavour out of (crushed or uncrushed) tea leaves. And depending from the tea you can even steep the leaves a second time - with often quite acceptable results. But I´m not writing this article to judge if it was a good or bad thing to use such a tea grinder. The grinder was basically (for Melitta and a number of customers) a reasonable idea regarding the efficiency of tea-extraction; and the grinder is also an interesting historical device.

The Melitta tea grinder is still available on plattforms like ebay, alando etc. They are offered between 20.00 - 60.00 Euros. If you want to buy one, check if you can find the D.R.G.M. (or DRGM) acronym on the corpus. D.R.G.M. stands for "Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster"; it was the official registration of a design/function of an item within Germany resp. the German states. The D.R.G.M. was in use from 1891 - 1949. (PS: as the registration was valid for 3 three years, D.R.G.M.-products could be manufactures until 1952). For that: if a grinder has the D.R.G.M-mark you can be sure it was manufactured between the early thirties and 1949.


Dr. Hans-Juergen Langenbahn
Dr. Hans-Juergen Langenbahn

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