Caffè Espresso

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img_2088There is some debate as to exactly when espresso was invented, but most scholars agree that early steam brewing coffee machines first appeared in the late 19th century.

Luigi Bezzera

In 1901, Italian inventor Luigi Bezzera filed a patent for a machine that forced boiling water and steam through coffee and into a cup. With this machine, Bezzera accomplished a fascinating feat: he invented a way for coffee to be brewed with steam while ensuring that the steam does not come into contact with the coffee. Instead, steam pressure at the top of the boiler forces water at the bottom of the boiler through ground coffee. The temperature of the pressurized water drops from 250°F (120°C) in the boiler to the correct brewing temperature. Since the water is pressurized, the coffee can be ground finer than in a regular brewer, reducing the minimum brewing cycle from about four minutes to thirty seconds. Hence, the word espresso, or express.

Bezzera’s invention was not ideal. While it was capable of extracting more coffee than previous coffee makers in much less time, the machine relied on steam, which caused the extraction to taste bitter due to excessive heat. Still, his invention sought high praise from bar owners because of its efficiency, and because it could make a more concentrated cup of coffee. This invention created a buzz among coffee connoisseurs, but Bezzera was not financially prepared to expand for a growing market.

Desiderio Pavoni

n 1903, Desiderio Pavoni purchased Bezzera’s patent and started to manufacture machines based on it through The Pavoni Company in 1905. Though Pavoni did not invent the first espresso machine, he was able to design a few upgrades to fuel his success. Pavoni’s improvements surpassed Bezzera’s original designs, and at the Milan Fair in 1906, Pavoni’s machine, called the “Ideale,” was revealed to spectators as the standard for the first generation of espresso machines.

Though Pavoni’s machine was more successful than Bezzera’s early model, the only major difference was the relief valve. A small addition to be sure, especially on a unit capable of only 1.5 bars of pressure, but Pavoni’s patent can now be found on every modern espresso machine on the market. (In 1927, the first espresso machine, “La Pavoni,” was installed i at Regio’s in New York, where it remains on display)

Achille Gaggia

Earlier espresso machines gave coffee a burnt flavor. From the 1920s through the 1940s, Italian engineers experimented with pumping devices to increase the brewing pressure. The first practical one was developed by Cremonesi in 1938 and manufactured by Achille Gaggia in 1946.

Cremonesi developed a piston pump that forced hot water through the coffee rather than boiling water. This design was used in Achille Gaggia’s coffee bar. World War II hindered any further development of espresso machines, as a bomb destroyed Gaggia’s small quantity of machines. Thankfully Gaggia’s ambitions remained strong and after the war subsided, he was able to continue his work. But because of some problems with leakage in his early models, he began to move away from the rotary piston design.

Gaggia’s true ingenuity was realized on August 8, 1947, when he patented a revolutionary lever-operated piston that eliminated the need for steam during the brewing process. It used a hand-powered piston. On machines of this type, steam pressure in the boiler forces the water into a cylinder; Then it is pressurized further by a spring-powered piston to about 8 to 9 bar (120 to 135 PSI), or 8 to 9 times the pressure that had been developed by the steam machines. The spring that powers the piston is compressed by a lever, which is forced down by the barista. As with the older generation machines, these lever groups are designed to cool the water from boiling to brewing temperature.

Along with a new found sense of control, the lever design brought out a surprising discovery – crema. Though Gaggia had been searching for a fuller, more complete extraction, he could not have imagined this would include the light-colored, creamy foam that has now become the defining characteristic of true espresso. This new steam-free brewing technique transformed espresso into what it is today, and Achille Gaggia went on to successfully engineer and market machines for coffee lovers across the globe, this was the beginning of the espresso machine as we know it today. Faema (Fabbrica Apparecchiature Elettromeccaniche e Affini)

An improvement of Gaggia’s machine was made in 1961 by the Italian company Faema. Faema created a machine with an electric pump that forced water through the coffee. This machine marks the beginning of the pump-driven machines from which all modern espresso machines are derived. Instead of a hand-operated piston, the water is forced through the coffee by an electric pump. Cold water is taken from the fresh water supply before traveling through a tube that is passed through the boiler and then the coffee. This allows the water to be filtered, and to remain at the optimal temperature (~200F) so that it does not have to stay in the boiler for a long period. Almost all modern restaurant machines are essentially this design.

(Stove Top Makers: Also borrowing from Bezzera’s initial concept, Alfonso Bialetti invented the Moka Pot 1933, or caffettiera, which is a stove top coffee maker. It is called an espresso maker, though strictly speaking, it differs from true espresso because it forces steam through the coffee without adding additional pressure.)

Espresso (and its uses)

What makes a good espresso? In Italy, it is commonly said that good espresso is the result of the 5 m’s (la cinque m):

  1. La Mano (the hand, or skill of the barista who is formally trained and serious about the job)
  2. La Misura (the amount of espresso that is put into the machine)
  3. La Macchina (the quality and strength of the machine itself)
  4. La Miscela (the blend of coffee used)
  5. La Macinatura (the fineness of the grind itself)

When the 5 m’s are in unity, the result is one ounce of dark, thick, rich, espresso, covered by a quarter inch ofcrema (the emulsified oils that settle on top).

All of these components need to work together to make good espresso. For example, you need the right dark roast blend of Arabica beans for the flavor to be intense, not burned. The espresso machine needs to produce 9 bars of pressure (135 pound per square inch) to properly force the water through the coffee, at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, for twenty-five seconds. The barista needs to be skilled — often perfecting his skill over many years. The coffee grind needs to be very fine, as courser grounds do not absorb the water. And finally, just the right amount of coffee needs to be used — one-quarter (1/4) of an ounce exactly. Too much or little of any of the above can ruin the espresso.

Italians are relatively strict about which type of espresso to drink, depending on the meal and time of day. Cappuccino is for breakfast and is not consumed after lunch or dinner!

  • Affogato (“drowned”): Espresso served over gelato (traditionally vanilla).
  • Americano (“American”): Espresso and hot water, classically using equal parts of each, with the water added to the espresso.
  • Caffe Latte: equal parts espresso and steamed milk. The steamed milk is poured over the espresso.
  • Caffe Freddo (Iced coffee): Generally refers to coffee brewed beforehand, chilled, and served over ice. In Italy, Caffe Freddo is pre-sweetened and served ice-cold, but never with ice.
  • Cappuccino: One-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third frothed milk.
  • Corretto (“corrected”): coffee with a shot of liquor, usually grappa or brandy. “Corretto” is also the common Italian word for “spiked (with liquor)”.
  • Doppio: (“Double”) Double (2 fluid ounces) shot of espresso.
  • Espresso con Panna (“espresso with cream”): Espresso with whipped cream.
  • Latte macchiato (“stained milk”): Essentially an inverted cafè latte, with the espresso poured on top of the milk.
  • Lungo (“long”): More water (about 1.5x volume) is let through the ground coffee, yielding a weaker taste (40 ml).
  • Caffè Macchiato (“stained”): A small amount of milk or, sometimes, its foam is spooned onto the espresso.
  • Ristretto (“restricted”) or Espresso Corto ( “short”): with less water, yielding a stronger taste (10–20 ml).
  • Solo (“single”) Single (1 fluid ounce) shot of espresso.
  • Shakerato (Shaken) caffe shakerato is made by combining freshly made espresso, a bit of sugar, and ice, shaking vigorously until frothy.


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