Image of Perfect Cup of Coffee Research Perfect Cup of Coffee Research
Perfect Cup of Coffee Research, Samuel Cate Prescott, 1930s

“MIT” is internationally recognized shorthand for technological and academic excellence. When filmmakers want to establish a character as a brilliant scientist or engineer, they throw in a line about her MIT education or cut to his class ring. So when advertisements in the 1930s showed a serious white-coated MIT scientist holding aloft a flask with “the perfect cup of coffee,” the American public listened. In 1920, the National Coffee Roasters Association gave Professor Samuel Cate Prescott $40,000 to establish a new laboratory devoted to perfecting coffee. The resulting guidelines—one tablespoon of coffee per eight ounces of water, just short of boiling, in glass or ceramic containers, never boiled, reheated, or reused—were the result of three years of study. More important than the recipe, however, was the refutation of coffee opponents who claimed coffee was a “slow poison.” Wrote Prescott, “Coffee was the servant rather than the destroyer of civilization.” MIT researchers also were active in serious food technologies, working on techniques for preserving taste, nutrition, and texture in canned goods as well as developing nutritional guidelines for preventing nutritional deficiencies.

George Washington coffee can on loan from George Washington Coffee, Port Angeles, WA.

9 comments
RSS icon
  • It is an honor to have a small part in the MIT150 exhibition by loaning the vintage George Washington Coffee can for display. More information on the history of this company can be found on our website (http://www.georgewashingtoncoffee.com/).

    9 Jan 11 at 2:02 pm
  • The guidelines are a bit light on the technical details for MIT (water temperature in degrees, time to brew, method for introducing water to coffee) but I gave it a try and produced a fine cup of coffee. The best part is that this method calls for nearly half the amount of coffee I typically use with little decrease in body and flavor. Thank you Professor Prescott; your research continues to benefit the public.

    For those interested, I use a coarse grind, 195° F/90.6° C water, steep for 90 seconds, and strain through a gold mesh filter.

    David Marks
    18 Jan 11 at 5:26 pm
  • [...] seem to find indispensable." Then there are the marketing projects, such as "the 1930s Perfect Cup of Coffee Research (funded by food industry groups.)" But above all, the MIT 150, which runs through December 31, [...]

  • [...] (highly recommended, by the way), I came across a George Washington coffee can along with this keen bit of trivia: In 1920, the National Coffee Roasters Association gave Professor Samuel Cate Prescott $40K to brew [...]

  • great great great! Thats the best coffee I’ve ever had!

    Marc Stone
    15 Mar 11 at 4:08 am
  • [...] seem to find indispensable.” Then there are the marketing projects, such as “the 1930s Perfect Cup of Coffee Research (funded by food industry groups.)” But above all, the MIT 150, which runs through December 31, [...]

    (highly recommended, by the way), I came across a George Washington coffee can along with this keen bit of trivia: In 1920, the National Coffee Roasters Association gave Professor Samuel Cate Prescott $40K to brew [...]

    Ritvik Bhaskar Sharma
    16 Mar 11 at 2:11 am
  • As a child i remember a jingle on the radio….”G.g.g.washington la la la “….meant to advertise this coffee….but because of this jingle that everyone sung of hummed, somehow or another it became my nickname….g.g.

    Geri@ grind and brew coffee Maker reviews
    1 Dec 11 at 10:09 pm
  • [...] Prescott’s formula, perfected after three years of study? “One tablespoon of coffee per eight ounces of water, just short of boiling, in glass or ceramic containers, never boiled, reheated, or reused,” according to the MIT Museum. [...]

  • I’ve come to understand there’s a perfect ratio if one wants to get the perfect brew. Now I learn how that ratio came about. The MIT professors turn out to be the brilliant minds behind it.

    29 Jan 15 at 8:18 am