Have you ever wondered what makes espresso so special?! Its taste, aroma or its tradition?!
Although I am not a fan of history lessons, the truth is that espresso wouldn’t have such an important place in coffee culture without its exciting history.
So, in order to understand its true value it would not be bad to start from the very beginning.
People tend to believe that espresso bean is responsible for espresso coffee popularity. But, there is no such thing as espresso coffee bean.
Espresso is made from classic coffee beans (in most cases from quality arabica coffee types).
The truly “secret ingredient” of espresso coffee is espresso coffee machine.
History of espresso and the espresso machine
The story of espresso started back in 1884, in Turin, Italy, when a man called Angelo Moriondo, presented first steam machine for coffee brewing. It is believed that this particular invention was the ancestor of today’s espresso machines, but, although it was unique and innovative, Moriondo never started its serial production.
About 20 years later (1901) in Milan, Italy, Luigi Bezzera made an espresso machine patent based on Moriondo’s steam machine. Bezzera’s patent, which was officially registered in September, the 19th of 1903. is today known as a first espresso machine. The name of this machine was “Ideale”, which means ideal.
In 1905. a man called Desidero Pavoni bought the rights for Bezzera’s coffee machine and brewed the first cup of espresso.
This first espresso machine was a vertical machine. It had a filter for ground coffee and a boiler which was kept under pressure. The system was simple: water and then steam would go through the filter with coffee which resulted in a full cup of coffee in just one minute.
This is why Italian style coffee got the name espresso (fast, express).
Some people use the word espresso wrong when they order their coffee. Although espresso means express in translation, this coffee has an Italian name. So, the right expression is espresso. If you say expresso, your word doesn’t mean anything, since word expresso doesn’t exist in Italian nor in English language.
Now, to get back to the story.
The fact that you could get a high quality coffee drink in less than a minute made espresso so popular worldwide in a short time. Demand for this particular drink grew rapidly which made manufacturers constantly search for new improvements and designs.
One of the prominent espresso machine manufacturers in the thirties, was Giuseppe Bambi. In 1927, he, and his brother, founded an espresso machine workshop called Officina Fratelli Bambi, today’s respectful La Marzocco company.
Besides the production of standard vertical boiler coffee machines, Bambi decided to follow new social and design trends. New trends and growing customer demands gave him the idea to make smaller machine which would be easier to handle and which would brew coffee with even higher quality.
Then, in 1939. Bambi registered first espresso machine with horizontal boiler. This machine made it possible to add more brewing groups, which meant more cups of fresh coffee at the same time.
Although espresso was considered as a perfection at the time, the truth is that sometimes, espresso drink did have little burned taste. This happened because machines would in addition to water also let steam through the coffee.
Once again, Pavoni (La Pavoni Company) did something remarcable. In 1948, they introduced a new system in which water was taken from the boiler under pressure. The water was filtered through coffee by a piston pushed by a spring. Since only water was let through the coffee, it no longer had that burned taste.
At the same time, in Milan, a bar owner called Giovanni Achille Gaggia was also trying to improve espresso making process by using a piston (lever).
Since Gaggia was not satisfied with espresso coffee taste completely, he experimented with different piston positions and movement directions. First he made a rotating piston based on existing piston patent, and later he improved it into an up and down piston.
In 1947, he finally managed to join the spring and the lever. The spring provided pressure that forced the coffee trough water in just 15 seconds. Because of the lever, the pressure applied to the coffee was independent on the pressure in the boiler. Also, the water temperature was independent of the temperature in the boiler. This resulted in less steam, which was for the first time used just for milk and not for coffee brewing like today.
Most important, this new system resulted in intense flavor and aroma of coffee which has nice, light colored cream on the top. Today, espresso coffee has exactly the same look.
Coffee Take Out
A long time ago when I heard these stories for the first time, I must say I was really amazed. It just never occurred to me that some people have spent their entire lives just to make something so small that it can fit into a cup… but still so perfect. Now I honestly believe that espresso can’t be truly appreciated without knowing this story.
And I am so glad to see that companies like Bezzera, La Pavoni, La Mazocco and Gaggia foster espresso coffee culture. Having the opportunity to brew coffee using their espresso machines can be considered a true prestige.