Written by Emma Harrington (Guest Post).
In Italy, espresso is bitter, but Italians themselves drink it almost on the run. And while the speciality coffee industry develops all over the world, robusta continues to be drunk in Italy. Even the first Starbucks in Italy only opened in 2018. We will tell you how the Italians created the first coffee machine, made espresso and why its flavour profile has not changed for 80 years.
The first espresso machines made a drink similar to modern filter coffee.
In 1884 Angelo Moriondo designed the coffee machine and presented his invention in Turin. He wanted to satisfy the ever-rushing customers at his bar. The drink prepared in such a machine was called “espresso”.
Espresso means “squeezed out” in Italian. Also, the name was consonant with the word expressly, which means “specially”. That is a drink prepared separately for each guest.
It was a two-boiler machine that prepared espresso with a steam pressure of 1.5 bar. The drink from the coffee machine took about 40 seconds, was loose on the body and more like a modern filter coffee.
It is believed that in those days there were the most people in Italy who were keen on creating mechanical coffee machines. One such inventor was an engineer from Milan, Luigi Bezzera.
In 1901, Luigi Bezzera improved the “steam” coffee machine and patented his invention, making it much more compact and practical. His invention was the semi-automatic espresso machine.
This coffee machine made it possible to quickly prepare coffee in cafes and restaurants throughout the country. Beezer’s machines were of a rather large cylindrical shape. They were made of copper, bronze or brass, richly decorated in the fashion of the time.
However, they were much smaller than Loisel’s machines and, in addition to making coffee, heated milk and cream with hot steam from a boiler.
1901 – Milanese inventor Luigi Bezzara modified Moriondo’s car. Beezer’s most important development was the system for attaching the filter holder to the dispensing group, which is now used in all coffee machines today, which made it possible to prepare coffee in portions as a specific order was received. At this stage, a specific amount of ground coffee has been used to make a coffee portion.
He installed several brew groups and came up with a portafilter, or holder, – a compartment for ground coffee. The water was heated with burners, so it was impossible to make a stable espresso.
Also, due to the unstable pressure, hot coffee spilt out of the workgroup, so it was sometimes dangerous to work behind the counter.
1903 Desidero Pavoni bought the patent for an espresso machine. He launched the first commercial coffee machine, the Ideale. In its development, a valve for pressure relief and a pipe for releasing steam that accumulated inside the boiler appeared. Now hot coffee was not spilling out of the working group.
1920 – The word “espresso” entered the lexicon of Italians. Alfredo Panzini, an Italian lexicographer, wrote in his dictionary: “Espresso made using a pressurized machine is now commonplace.”
The 30s-40s of the 20th century – due to wartime, coffee consumption in Italy decreased, but the modernization of coffee machines continued.
1938 – Achil Gaggia, the owner of the family-run café Caffe Achille, developed the new Lampo coffee machine, which made espresso using water pressure, not steam. A cream appeared in the drink because essential oils are boiled out of coffee due to pressure. The bitterness in taste also decreased.
1947 – Achil Gaggia develops the first Gaggia coffee machine with a spring-piston mechanism. This system increased the pressure for making espresso to 8-10 bars. Due to this, the preparation time was reduced, the drink became denser.
After that, the manufacturing companies continued to develop new espresso machines. For example, in 1961, the famous semi-automatic Faema E61 was released. But the principle of preparation and taste of the drink has not changed much. Variations of espresso have just appeared: ristretto and lungo, as well as milk drinks based on it.
Italian coffee changed the world, but itself hasn’t changed
The culture of speciality coffee is growing all over the world, but the Italian coffee culture, created in the 30s, remains the same. For most Italians, it is a daily habit to run into a local cafe, order an espresso at a low price and immediately go to the next meeting.
In Italy, they have always appreciated the high quality of service in a cafe and the opportunity to cheer up from coffee, rather than its taste. For roasting, Italians have chosen natural Brazil for decades.
In 2009, 43% of Italian coffee imports were robusta, while, for example, the United States imported only 22% of robusta. The Italian market is still dominated by large manufacturers such as Lavazza.
While the world’s speciality coffee culture has little to no impact on Italy, the country’s coffee culture itself has had a profound impact on the rest of the world. Espresso quickly sold around the world. From Seattle to Sydney, espresso has become the mainstay of most coffee drinks.
That being said, Italy is fighting fiercely for its espresso. The Italian government approached the World Trade Organization in an attempt to restrict the use of the phrase “Italian espresso”, but this attempt failed.
The Italians invented the espresso machine, but they have no power to influence the distribution of the drink in the world.
Nonetheless, it demonstrates the fierce Italian pride in their coffee. The inability of major coffee brands to penetrate the Italian market comes down to a long-term coffee culture that has been formed.
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