Espresso is expressly made just for you and immediately served by the barista. A quintessential drink that must be drank at the bar before losing its flavor. For many coffee lovers, espresso was considered the “best” way to drink coffee. When it was introduced in the United States, it revolutionized the American coffee industry and brought a new way to experience coffee.
Café espresso was originally discovered in the late 1800s out of the need for speed, and it literally translates to “pressed-out coffee” in Italian. At that time coffee was a booming business in Europe. However, it was a slow process to brew and limited the potential growth of sales, thus hindering the success of coffee industry. In fact, it took approximately five minutes to brew just one cup of coffee. Imagine the waiting line at the coffee bar!
Enter the era of steam inventions: an exciting time for inventors across Europe in which to explore new ways of using steam machines to reduce brewing time.
Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy was the first inventor of the “steam coffee machinery” and was granted a patent for his creation in 1884. He brought espresso to life, but he failed to brand his product or bring it to industrial-scale production. Sadly, there was no photographic evidence of his espresso machine asides from his patent.
Luigui Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni were the pioneers next-in-line to industrialize their machine and dominate the coffee industry. They improved on Moriondo’s design and succeeded at reducing the brewing time for baristas by building a single-shot espresso that directly poured into a cup and inventing the first pressure release valve.
Primarily, they made certain that their invention was well marketed and that their technical design and styles stayed current with the whims and trends of the times. Once they introduced their cafe espresso at the Milan Fair in 1906, their business flourished. They dominated the espresso market throughout Italy for more than a decade.
By 1910, espresso machines produced up to 1,000 cups of coffee per hour, but relied exclusively on steam. However, the challenge to create a machine that would produce more than 1.5-2 bars of pressure without burning the coffee remained elusive.
Pier Teresio Arduino, a businessman and a master marketer became Pavoni’s growing competition. His contribution to the history of espresso was in the exportation of his machines outside of Milan and to spread espresso throughout Europe. He was also famous for designing posters that “captured the nature of espresso and the speed of modern era”.
Achille Gaggia, a Milanese café owner, was the man to finally surpass the two-bar brewing barrier. He increased the steam pressure in the boiler from 1.5–2 atmospheres to 8–10 atmospheres and designed the spring-piston lever to further increase the pressure of the water in the boiler. Not only did this method improve the taste of the espresso, but it also created the crema — the foam floating over the coffee: the exact espresso drink to what we know today.
Gaggia continued building his machines during World War II and in 1948 he exported his machines to the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
Espresso is a complex drink with a complex history, but you can now enjoy and appreciate the masterpiece of espresso in a matter of seconds.