The Story of Espresso

The Story of Espresso
The Story of Espresso

Many people who are unfamiliar with espresso think that "espresso" refers to a dark-roasted coffee, or to any very strong coffee, or to such coffee served in very small cups. While it is true that espresso coffee is very strong compared to the "regular" drip coffee with which most Americans are familiar, and while the Italian custom is to serve it in a demitasse, what makes espresso espresso is the method used to brew it.

Espresso is made by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling, highly pressurized water through firmly packed, finely-ground coffee. A special type of machine is necessary for this, making espresso a child of the industrial age.

The very first machine to brew coffee using heated pressurized water was invented by Angelo Moriondo in 1844. His invention was awarded the bronze medal at the General Expo ot Turin in 1844. Moriondo patented his invention and made successive improvements, but it was never mass produced.

This is Angelo Moriondo

the inventor of the first espresso machine.

Unlike modern machines, Moriondo's invention did not brew individual servings. The precursor of the modern espresso machine was developed by Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni, who introduced their machine to the world at 1906 Milan fair. The Pavoni machine slowly gained acceptance in Italy, but it was still limited by the fact that it was impossible to generate more than a few bars of pressure, insufficient for brewing what we know today as a true espresso: coffee that is brewed quickly in individual servings. It’s still a matter of dispute among espresso historians whether such coffee came to be called "espresso" because it could be brewed quickly or because it could be made expressly to order.

The man who overcame this obstacle was Achille Gaggia. In Gaggia’s machine, invented in 1947, a boiler is connected to a cylinder that houses a spring-operated piston. When the piston is in the lowered position, no water can enter the cylinder. When the lever is pulled down, the piston is raised, and the steam pressure in the boiler forces the water into the cylinder. When the lever is released, a powerful spring forces the water through the coffee, which is in a filter basket securely locked to the bottom of the cylinder. This drastically increased the water pressure from 1.5-2 bars to 8-10 bars, thus adding the further pressure required to make a true espresso while eliminating the need for the large boilers the earlier machines required. In addition, the extra pressure gave birth to the mark of a true espresso: the crema, the fine layer of creamy foam on the surface of the coffee, the one thing that no espresso can be without. Modern espresso was born.

The machine invented by Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni.
Moriondo's Machine

The lever machine was eventually superseded by the Faema E61, which was introduced by the Faema company in 1961. Invented by Ernesto Valente, the E61 used a motorized pump instead of a spring-operated lever to provide the nine atmospheric bars of pressure needed for brewing espresso. The pump sends water through a spiral copper pipe inside a boiler before putting it through the ground coffee. A heat exchanger keeps the water to an ideal brewing temperature. With its technical innovations, smaller size, versatility and streamlined stainless steel design, the E61 was an immediate success.

The Faema E61.

The original Med used a beautiful four-group lever-operated machine manufactured by the Aurora company. This machine is lovingly preserved at the Espresso Museum at Mr. Espresso in Oakland, California. The new Caffee Medirterraneum uses the Faema E61 Legend, a modern and up-to-date homage to the original Faema E61.