Innovations In Espresso History

Take a trip around the world of espresso with us!

After our last blog post about the history of coffee, we thought we'd talk about the history of espresso and how it has changed over time. Espresso, as we know it, was originally a revolutionary drink that changed the way people thought about coffee, and extreme changes in the way people make and drink coffee were brought about by its arrival.

Espresso is now used as the base for all freshly filtered, high-end coffee drinks.

What do you mean by "espresso"?

Espresso is the finest type of coffee beverage and serves as the base for all non-filter coffees. Your Lattes, Cappuccinos, and Flat Whites all start with espresso.

When someone asks you how strong you like your coffee, it is possible that you will hear the phrase espresso referred to as a "shot" more frequently in today's jargon. One ounce of espresso is what we call a shot.

Any self-confessed coffee fan will tell you that espresso is a beloved method of savoring their coffee.

What is the origin of espresso?

The history of coffee is quite interesting. Coffeehouses date back to the 1600s, but before that, traders and travelers brought coffee from one part of the world to another. But espresso didn't come into being until the early 1900s.

Evolution of Espresso

Coffee was widely available in European cafés and restaurants by the turn of the 20th century, but Italy was the country where it was most prevalent. Coffee became an integral part of the everyday routine for Italians.

The need for coffee, and more specifically coffee of a high grade, has gradually started to make its way to the forefront. When coffees were brewed to order for individuals, the phrase "cafe-express" was invented in the 1880s.

Coffee was soon seen as a need. As you might expect, ordering coffee on demand improved the coffee experience for customers. To be prepared, coffee roasters must start two weeks beforehand; roasting, grinding and brewing the coffee so that it is fresh.

When was the first espresso made?

Waiting more than five minutes for a cup of coffee was considered undesirable (much like today's world of rush and go, go, go). As a result, researchers looked at techniques to make coffee more quickly.

Instead of water, steam was used in the early attempts. Despite the steamer's outstanding speed (3,000 cups of coffee per hour), the quality of the coffee was compromised due to the high boiling temperatures required for coffee.

But alas, a practical solution for a rapid, flavorful cup of coffee was ultimately discovered in 1901 by an Italian inventor, and the espresso machine was born.

Exactly who came up with the espresso machine?

In the context of history, the early 1900s were among the most inventive decades in which people could have lived. The espresso machine was one of many astonishing inventions from Europe's Industrial Revolution.

"Espresso" means "rapid" or "express" in Italian (something that can be prepared quickly). Amazingly, Luigi Bezzara had done just that. Group heads on which compressed coffee can be clamped were registered as a patent by the inventor, who patented the machine's features. For the first time, coffee was produced just for the customer, in the correct quantity, at the correct temperature, and with the proper extraction.

In order to speed up the brewing process, Bezzara had devised a means to pressurize the steam enough so that it didn't touch the coffee itself. Furthermore, his method allowed him to significantly shorten the brewing period and avoid over-extraction.

Desidero Pavoni purchased Bezzera's patent for the "rapid coffee machine" in 1905, and it was Pavoni's marketing and sales skills that revolutionized the way we consume coffee today.

A powerful mechanism for the espresso machine

Did you know espresso machines haven't changed all that much throughout the years, despite how quickly technology has progressed? The sign of an excellent design, I suppose. One of those design elements still holds true today, the portafilter. 

The portafilter retains the ground coffee in the group head while steam pressure from the boiler's top pushes water from the boiler's bottom through the ground coffee. This pressure-cooked water is then heated to an ideal brewing temperature by use of an insulated piping system.

Most espresso machines today come with a built-in coffee grinder, which allows the coffee to be ground quickly and conveniently. But it was in Italy that this feature originally became the norm for preparing a cup of coffee. After Italian immigrants introduced it to other regions of the world, it caught on.

Coffee that has been finely honed

The first noticeable and unique quality to emerge from the espresso machine was coffee with a thin layer of foam. Advocators at the time referred to the froth as 'scum'. By renaming the drink 'cafe crema,' Gaggia was able to counteract any negative perceptions of the beverage. Rebranding at its finest.

But we humans rarely accept "good enough". Soon we were seeking a higher level of productivity from our new instrument of coffee. "We want our fast coffee...FASTER!" So, we discovered that cold water could be conveyed through heat exchangers using electric pumps instead of employing piston boilers. These new electric pumps could hold far more water than lever group cylinders, which were limited by their storage capacity.

Consequently, electric pump machines made it possible to make a drink with the same concentration and taste by using two times as much water, which means two times as much coffee.

Today's drink is espresso (21st Century Espresso)

Since the early days, espresso has traveled across various platforms and formats. Yet, after a century, espresso rightfully remains the basis for various creative takes on coffee. From novel cold brews to unique hot coffees, espresso serves as the beautiful foundation to countless coffee drinks.

You may be surprised that after 100 years, espresso machines remain complicated and not very user-friendly. If anything, they are more complicated now! A barista's performance and the customer's wait time have been fine-tuned through the addition of extra functions to espresso machines over time. New technology invariably comes at a higher price. A commercial espresso machine can easily reach prices upwards of $30,000. Phew!

All of this is to produce a brown liquid but a brown liquid which many societies rely on. So sip some coffee and make it a communal activity. We have been doing it since we found it and we don't see much changing.