To discuss the history of the Espresso Machine, we have to go back in time to the 19th century. At that time, as now, coffee took a while to brew – and even then, nobody liked to wait.
This was the perfect time, and a wonderful opportunity, for the inventors of that era to take advantage of the latest technological process-steam. And presto! Steam based machines were born, including the best espresso machine.
In 1884, Angelo Morionda of Turin, Italy applied for a patent for the first espresso machine – his idea being to produce coffee both economically, and instantly. This machine used both water from a large pressure boiler, and then steam to force the water through a bed of finely ground coffee. The man, and the machine, have largely been lost from espresso history, only the patent remaining to prove their existence. Although it was the first, this machine didn’t go on to claim fame in espresso history.
A few years later, Luigi Bezzerra invented the single shot espresso machine. He based his machine on Morionda’s and added his own innovations, two of which were the porta filter and the use of multiple brewheads. These innovations are still associated with the modern espresso machines of today. For the first time, coffee could be brewed , and served in just a few seconds – no waiting.
All was not as could be desired, however. The problem was that the heat that was necessary had to be derived from an open flame. This created issues with ability to regulate the temperature and pressure, which in turn lead to inconsistency of both the quality and taste of the shot produced. Sadly, the crux of excellent espresso lies in the consistency of the shot – in fact, the consistency of the shot is everything in the world of espresso.
Bezzerra was unable to market his machine due to lack of funds and marketing know-how. But soon after, in 1903, Desiderio Pavoni bought Bezzerra’s patents and added his own brand of innovative changes. One of the things he added was a pressure release valve that allowed the Barista to access the shot without getting sprayed with hot coffee every time he did so. Barista’s everywhere were enormously grateful.
In 1906 Pavoni presented his machine at the Milan Fair, calling it the ‘Ideale”. This machine was the first real step toward our modern day espresso machines. After the Milan Fair, espresso machines began to crop up all over the place, and espresso began to become the culinary cult it is today.
Even these early espresso machines were able to brew up to 1,000 cups every hour – a far cry from the traditional brewing of coffee which took five minutes or more But there was still a problem with the vague burned flavor associated with the heat source – an open flame. However, as the 1920’s entered the world, so did electricity which was to become commonly available to everyone. Now we find that the problem of the omnipresent bitter taste of burned coffee was eliminated for good.
After World War II, a man by the name of Achille Gaggia was to create the true ancestor of the modern espresso machine. He was able to substantially increase the water pressure, while significantly reducing the unwieldy bulk of the size. In addition, for the first time, his creation produced a uniform shot size, and consistent quality.
It is here, with Gaggia that we see the lovely golden ‘creme’ first appearing on the surface of each tiny shot. Gaggia also added a lever for the ease of the Barista, making the production of the shot a breeze, rather than an effort.
With the consistent pressure, and the appearance of the delicate golden ‘creme’, we can say with conviction this machine marks the birth of the first modern espresso machine. Finally, in 1961, Erneste Valente delivered the final coup de grace. Valente added many more innovative additions to Gaggia’s machine, making it immediately successful and widely acclaimed for it’s versatility, a motorized pump and heat exchanger to keep the water at the perfect brewing temperature, and markedly smaller size – making it much easier for the average espresso aficionado to use right at home.
The espresso machine has evolved constantly over the last century. However, even though the technology of the espresso machine has improved so dramatically, never forget it’s not the only ingredient of the perfect shot of espresso. Brewing great coffee is an art, and excellent beans, as well as the ‘hand of the Barista’ must be included along with the dynamic modern machine to create the elegant and bold delight we call espresso.
More: Making your Espresso How it is done