In its early days, coffee was mainly prepared in the form of oriental-Turkish coffee with the use of the ibrik coffee pot. In Central Europe people then tended more and more to filter coffee - as many still know it from their ancestors.
In addition to the Turks, the Italians in particular were always regarded as coffee lovers and they are the ones responsible for inventing the famous espresso.
The first form of preparing coffee under pressure dates back to around 1900. Of course, don’t think for a second that it was the same as it is today. Modern machines work with about 9 bars but back then a maximum of 1.5 bar was reached.
In the case of espresso, success has many inventors: there were a good few people involved until a reliable way of preparing the black stuff - as we know and appreciate it - was actually found.
How was the first coffee machine invented?
Around the turn of the century, Italian coffee lovers complained about very long waiting times in the caffè bars. Necessity is the mother of invention and inspired many tech-savvy minds to experiment.
In 1884, the Italian Angelo Moriondo succeeded in creating the first espresso machine. He developed a large kettle that could generate a pressure of 1.5 bar and transfer it to the ground coffee on demand. This allowed the baristas of the time to prepare coffee faster.
But that's not all, experiments continued, safety valves and nozzles were built into these boiler machines and in 1906 Desiderio Pavoni made the breakthrough with his famous "La Pavoni" coffee machine. His invention allowed for an even faster coffee preparation. As before, however, everyone knew they needed to figure out a way to apply even more pressure.
This is how Achille Gaggia came up with the idea of increasing the pressure using a hand lever. He managed to integrate a spring piston into the machine, which generates between 8 - 10 bar. In 1932 he then presented his hand lever machine. The coffee bar operators were enthusiastic: from now on, hand lever machines shaped the image of a typical Italian coffee bar for many years. The first real espresso was born and set the standard for perfect Italian espresso.
With the emigration of numerous Italians to America, the espresso found its perfect audience in the US, especially at the time of Prohibition, and soon enjoyed great popularity.
Why is the espresso called espresso?
The word espresso comes from Italy and it means 'pressed out' as it is a coffee beverage made by forcing hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. The term espresso can probably also be explained from the context of fast brewing.
The Espresso Revolution
Around 1961 the time had come and nothing stood in the way of the worldwide espresso revolution, because the last hurdle of espresso preparation was also solved by an Italian: hand lever machines achieved different results in the cup.
This meant that depending on the force with which the respective barista pulled the coffee, it was sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, sometimes more intense in taste, sometimes watery, sometimes with less crema, sometimes with more.
Many coffee machine manufacturers and lovers dedicated themselves to solving this problem and experimented. In 1961 Ernesto Valente, who worked for the Italian manufacturer FAEMA, developed a completely new system: he said goodbye to the idea of the lever. The pressure was no longer generated by him, but by boilers that supplied the so-called brewing group on the one hand and the steam lance on the other hand inside the machine.
The so-called portafilter was clamped into the brewing group, which is supplied with the necessary hot water by means of water from the boiler. The ingenious thing about this invention: the entire machine, including the brewing group, withstood the incredibly high pressure that the steam and water created.
And then the first dual circuit espresso machine was invented: the Faema E61. This new approach enables consistent espresso quality: every cup shows the same beautiful result. It was an absolute revolution because it meant that everyone could now make good espresso.
The Classic Espresso Recipe
To this day, the following formula applies as a classic espresso recipe: 7 g coffee (ground) is extracted in +/- 25 seconds to +/- 25 ml espresso. Although this recipe from the Italian Espresso Institute (INEI) defines a brew ratio of 1:3.5, today it deviates greatly from the commonly used brew ratio which is 1:2 to 1:2.5.
Italian Espresso Tradition
This story has shaped the coffee machine industry to this day. Italy is still - and rightly so - the espresso Mecca. Not only because the entire history of inventions took place on Italian soil and this tradition shapes self-confidence to this day.
No, we don't rest on our laurels, but keep quality at the highest level - despite many years of routine - continue to develop and constantly come up with something new. The drive for this is not only economically driven, but largely shaped by the love for the product.
People want to be able to enjoy excellent espresso during their daily coffee breaks as a natural part of everyday life. Everytime and everywhere.
Drinking espresso at Marchesi 1824 in Milano, Italy. Photo Credit: Dimitra Skoura
The espresso machine today and in the future
The future belongs to good coffee and espresso. For a long time now, no restaurant, bakery or pub can afford to serve inferior coffee. We are quite spoiled when it comes to coffee and espresso quality, and because the demands for comfort, variety of flavors and variability continue to grow, the corresponding technical adjustments are already being made eagerly.
It is important to overcome disruptive influences on the reliably good espresso taste, provided these can be remedied technically and are not related to the raw material coffee. Appropriate fine adjustments allow mechanisms that are still considered progressive today to be perfected further and further in the future.
Electronic controls for water temperatures that are accurate to the degree are already on the rise, pressure adjustments during preparation are being fine-tuned in order to nuance aromas, and the grinding of the coffee beans is also becoming increasingly accurate to the second.
However, no amount of sophisticated technical refinement can guarantee the quality of the espresso in an espresso machine based on the classic principle. An espresso virtuoso can sometimes elicit an excellent espresso from comparatively simple devices, while an inexperienced hobby barista may only produce mediocre coffee even with a technically outstanding machine.
This is probably one of the reasons why a growing number of espresso lovers are losing their love of technology – in favor of coffee as a raw material and training in their own skills on the espresso machine. Hand lever machines are "in" again, a retro trend that is particularly evident in Europe, America and Australia.
In Naples, on the other hand, people have always been "retro" - here they have always remained loyal to the hand lever machine and, unimpressed by all the technical innovations, celebrate what they consider to be the world's best espresso!