The Rich History of Espresso

Shot of espresso on a black background with the text "the rich history of espresso"
In a crowd of people, you're likely no more than an arm's length from someone who drinks (or has drunk) espresso. With its convenience, bold flavor, and reputation for energizing the body, it's no wonder that most people have at least tried an espresso beverage. But how did espresso become so widely recognized? Espresso was the resolution to a common complaint: coffee brewing in the 19th century took way too long.

Espresso coffee origin

The name "espresso," means "fast" or "express" in Italian, and describes how espresso is produced. This is contrary to the popular misconception that espresso is a type of roast for coffee beans. Espresso is made by sending hot water through finely-ground coffee under extremely high pressure. The beans are ground finely to expose more surface area to the water- resulting in a small highly-flavored aromatic beverage.

The focus on quality would come much later in espresso's lifetime, though. In the beginning, inventors were solely interested in producing the beverage as fast and as conveniently as possible. As time continued on, quality was introduced to the equation, which resulted in the modern-day espresso machine and brewing mastery techniques like the 4 M's.

The 4 M's of Espresso

The 4 M's of Espresso are widely considered as the 4 elements that come together to produce the perfect shot of espresso. They are: Macinazione, Miscela, Macchina, and Mano.
  • Macinazione refers to the coffee grind size. The perfect grind is fine so that as much surface area will come in contact with the water for that signature bold flavor.
  • Miscela refers to the blend of coffee. The right blend takes several factors into account like roasting and selecting beans.
  • Macchina refers to the machine. Espresso machines were created to make the process of extracting lots of flavor very quickly. One factor that constitutes a "proper" espresso machine is the ability to produce 9 bars of pressure. Nine bars equals 9 times the amount of atmospheric pressure on the Earth. Using a proper espresso machine is integral to creating a good final product.
  • Mano refers to the barista's skills. You can have all prior 3 M's, but you also need skill and knowledge to pull the perfect shot of espresso. Don't let this discourage you, though. Machines have come much farther and made the espresso process much more achievable for coffee enthusiasts and professionals alike.
a cup of espresso on a saucer with a bag of beans spilling out

Espresso machine history

Espresso machines went through 5 different levels of improvement before we got close to the modern machines. The first iteration in espresso machine history came about in the 1800s. Angelo Moriondo patented the very first version of the espresso machine, calling it "a new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous convection of coffee beverage."

Angelo Moriondo

Now, when you look at Moriondo's machine, which only produced 1.5 bars of pressure (you need at least 9 for proper espresso), you'd probably mistake it for a commercial coffee brewer. It pushed hot water through a large bed of coffee grounds, yes, but it only produced bulk. It was a great step forward, but other inventors wanted to try their hand.

Luigi Bezzera

Luigi Bezzera was next in line. With Bezzera's updates, the espresso machine successfully produced single-serving orders of coffee directly into the drinking cup. Upgrades for Bezzera's machine included adding portafilters, multiple brew heads, and more. The downside was that the machine used an open flame to heat the water, which made it impossible to create a consistent product.

The Ideale

The Pavoni Ideale
In 1903, Desiderio Pavoni bought Bezzera's patent and did more upgrades. He didn't do it alone, though. Pavoni and Bezzera were working together on what would be an iconic version of the espresso machine. They added a pressure-release valve and steam wand for frothing.
Together, Pavoni and Bezzera presented their new machine, The Ideale, in 1906 at the World's Fair in Milan. The Ideale could make 1,000 caffée espressos per hour. This machine inspired many other models that were produced shortly after the World's Fair. At this point, Pavonio started to commercially produce these espresso machines.

Unfortunately, like its predecessors, The Ideale was an imperfect machine. It used only steam and often created a burnt-tasting caffée espresso. Not to mention, it only used 2 bars of pressure.

Pier Teresio Arduino

Next, we meet Pier Teresio Arduino. When he began to make changes to espresso machines, he wanted to change that the espresso machines only used steam. Arduino never really landed on the perfect fix, but he was a talented marketer and hired someone (Leonetto Cappiello) to create the infamous espresso poster. He used his marketing talents to spread the good word of espresso to the rest of Europe.
arduino espresso poster

Achille Gaggia

The next big advancement in espresso machine technology wouldn't take place until the end of World War II. A Milanese cafe owner, named Achille Gaggia, significantly raised the bar in espresso production. He resolved the need for large water boilers, introduced the lever (to pull a shot), increased the pressure used to between 8 and 10 bars, and standardized the size of an espresso.

When Gaggia produced espresso with his new machine, he noticed that there was a layer of creamy foam on top of the espresso. This is now what we call "crema," and is a defining characteristic of "proper" espresso. With Gaggia's machine, we see the early life of the modern espresso machine.

Ernesto Valentine

In 1961, Ernesto Valentine produced the most iconic and influential espresso machines in history. The Faema E61 was a thing of beauty. Aesthetically, it was smaller than its predecessors and sleeker with its stainless steel finish. The Faema E61 used motorized pressure, drew water from a localized plumbing line, controlled water temperature, and was smaller.
The Faema E61

Make espresso with BLK & Bold Specialty coffee

The rich history of espresso is many years in the making. At BLK & Bold, we love selecting beans and curating blends that work well with both traditional (like espresso's) and modern brewing processes. When you use BLK & Bold beans, you can be sure that the Miscela is on point for a creamy, flavorful espresso shot. Shop BLK & Bold whole bean coffee to stock your home coffee bar today!

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