History of the Unimatic Coffee Pot
The Unimatic coffee pot was conceived in Brooklyn and born in Italy over half a century ago. Brought to the world through the research of United Cookware, Inc., a stainless steel cookware company started in 1954 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn by an Italian immigrant named Peter Cardiello, it was the world’s first drip-percolator.
In the 1950s, waking up to the aroma of coffee wafting through the house was part of the American Dream and percolators were the go-to brew method. These types of pots were heated on the stove and “perked” the water up through a stem inside the pot to circulate the water and spread over the coffee grounds inside the basket to brew your coffee. They were known to be able to make great coffee, sometimes. The downside was that the pot needed to consistently be watched on the stove or it would end up over-perking and taste terribly bitter. Timers were set, fingers were crossed, but the only thing consistent about perking coffee was that the perfect cup was elusive…
As an Italian, and coffee lover, Cardiello wasn’t crazy about American brewing techniques. He’d affectionally joke that American coffee tasted like “dishwater.” That said, he was so proud to be an American citizen that he simply couldn’t dismiss the American way altogether and tout Italian coffee as the best. Instead, as any entrepreneur would, he set out to improve the percolator and augment the sacred ritual of coffee in the US. The result, was a reinvention of the percolator, also known as the “Unimatic” coffee pot.
It’s name was derived from a combination of the word “United” as in United Cookware, Inc., and “automatic” because it was the world’s first automatic drip-percolator. The Unimatic combined the perking process, the drip process and the way old Southern Italian stove from the early 20th century functioned. The invention created smooth, rich, arguably superior coffee - consistently. It evenly distributed heat, allowed the coffee to brew at decreasing temperatures, and incorporated the laws of nature to regulate extraction time and perk the perfect cup, every-single-time. Plus, it’s design allowed the pot to perk, away from the stove without wires or additional heat (a feat for the 1950s)!
From a design perspective, the Unimatic was created at at a time when Italian design was the pinnacle of chic. It’s (now) retro elements, from the mirror finish, to bold the bakelite handle, to the shape of the well and spout, to the type face used to inscribe Unimatic on the collar make it a perfect example of the “high Italian design” so famed from this period.
It’s design and functionality were influenced by the stove that Peter saw his mother cooking on growing up in Southern Italy. In the 1930s, these stoves were essentially fire places set below a row of coils that were meant to transfer the heat of the flame to the pot that sat atop them. Short of a science lesson, the beauty of the way the Unimatic brews is also in the method of heat transfer. The slow warming of the water within the same container that the coffee grounds are also present in allows both to rise in temperature together, and allows the coffee to begin to “bloom” before extraction begins, creating a rounder, smoother, richer brew than you’re used to with American coffee.
Discovery of the Unimatics: A love note from a daughter to her Dad.
The origin story of the Unimatic is one of breathing new life into old world traditions, of finding a way to keep generations of our family present in our everyday lives and reestablishing the sacred ritual of morning coffee in our busy schedules. It begins with my Dad…
A native of San Pietro al Tanagro, Italy who left home and settled in Brooklyn in the late 1940s. An entrepreneur through and through, he managed to do a little bit of everything over the course of his life and his passion for business and creativity greatly influenced mine. From a very young age, he involved me in his businesses. What other six year old has their own business cards? While his simply said, “P. Cardiello” with no additional title, mine boldly read, “Elisabeth Cardiello, Owner”... you can see where my future was headed.
Fast forward to the present, his eclectic life and background made clearing out his old office after I lost him when I was 26 years old an interesting task. I found remnants from all of his endeavors; it was as though he was still with me, walking me through his life. Hiding in this Brooklyn building behind a door I always thought led to a closet, I found boxes (stacked to the ceiling!) with no end in sight. I’d stumbled upon a secret warehouse, containing the last roughly 5,000 original models of a unique invention that he owned the patent on, had made in Italy and marketed from this very Brooklyn site in the both the US and Europe over 50 years ago. Rooms literally overflowing with these “drip-percolator” coffee pots, lovingly deemed “The Unimatic”, both stunned and excited me. These little pieces of history were the first, and likely the only, drip-percolators in the world. They function in a very specific way, which was revolutionary back then and is still (and maybe even more) relevant now! They harness the laws of nature to brew the perfect cup of coffee, right on your table, filling the room with that wonderful aroma - like the old days.
In my opinion, aside from the delicious coffee that they brew, the most compelling attribute is that they are the only ones of their kind left in the world. I am convinced that this treasure trove was his last push for me to jump into the waters of entrepreneurship and never look back... and that’s what I did. The Unimatic made me realize that those moments spent at the table together, asking questions, being brave, telling stories, those were the moments that gave me resilience, confidence and helped me find my voice. Those moments made me who I am.
The only thing I knew upon discovering these little gems was that I now had the opportunity to give those moments to ~5,000 other families - the moment that thought landed for me, I was in. There was no turning back. We at Caffè Unimatic believe that coffee is a fairly universal symbol of connection - to others, to ourselves, to the days of our lives and to the world we serve. As such, we believe that coffee has the power to spark change on a daily basis. Clearly, we think a lot about legacy and to us coffee is also a totem of inspiration, hope and positive forward movement. The Unimatic was always the centerpiece of our family table, as if she was "hosting" our conversations and witnessing our bravery. Now, her legacy is getting to host, witness and inspire yours...
Since becoming the purveyor of these little gems, life has been quite a journey - from the TEDx stage sharing both “How a Coffee Pot Changed My Life” and “The Most Powerful Question You’ve Never Considered”, to “Coffee For All” a documentary on Netflix telling our story and now getting to host Brave Conversations Over CoffeeR inside of companies and colleges in an effort to give the world a framework for how to have the hard conversations that we’re bottling up and letting bifurcate us and hold us back - we’re honored to continue sharing our story and inspiration to slow down, preserve traditions started by generations past and come together to be brave… over coffee.