The most famous Italian drink in the world has a long history: the coffee plant , in fact as we have seen, it arrived from very far away, Ethiopia probably and the spread of consumption occurred above all following trade exchanges between East and West, but also as a consequence of certain wars.
There are also many inventions linked to its consumption, such as that of the coffee cup, for example.
There is one in particular though, that represented a real revolution: the invention of the espresso machine for bars, which has undergone a whole series of evolutions and changes to become the instrument that we all know today and which we see every day behind the counter.
Are you ready to hear about its history?
The invention of the espresso coffee machine
The first machine for making espresso coffee was built around the end of the 19th century, in Italy.
It was not immediately successful, but many people recognized its potential and so tried to exploit it by registering a patent, over the following years.
If up until 1910 from 1 to 5 patents were granted every year, in 1911 there were 15 and in 1913 as many as 22.
In the years just before and during World War I, the number of patents fell, but at that time the first patent was granted for the portafilter and the automatic machine, both granted to Pier Teresio Arduino.
The first patent of Angelo Moriondo
The first patent for an espresso machine dates back to 1884 and bears the name of Angelo Moriondo, an industrialist from Torino who had understood how convenient it was to be able to prepare coffee in a short time and enjoy it as soon as it was made.
Moriondo, though, never wanted to produce his invention on an industrial scale, he limited himself to the traditional construction of just a few prototypes for use in his business activities.
Indeed, Moriondo had imagined that this device could attract more customers.
The name of this industrialist is actually not known to many, who attribute this invention to Luigi Bezzera instead.
Luigi Bezzera and La Pavoni
Bezzera drew inspiration from Moriondo’s espresso machine to design his own, which he then patented in 1902.
Well aware of the potential of that invention, Luigi Bezzera sold the patent to the company La Pavoni, who started up production on an industrial scale.
How was a bar espresso machine made at that time?
It was very different to the versions that we are used to today: in fact they consisted of a large vertical cylinder with a brass boiler inside, heated by a gas hob.
Positioned at the side of the boiler were dispensers in which the coffee was placed.
In order to produce an espresso, you had to turn a tap: the boiling water and the steam passed through the coffee and the extraction took about one minute.
The innovations after the World War II
At the end of World War II, in 1945, Angelo Gaggia started up production of a different model of espresso machine, based on a system of levers.
This novelty was the basis for the espresso machine we know today.
The characteristics of the drink extracted changed, thanks to two important technical innovations: the reduction of the water temperature from 248 °F to 194 °F– which helped to eliminate that unpleasant aftertaste which was still typical in the coffee – and the increase in pressure which came up to about 9 atmospheres (before it was1,5) creating the froth, the distinguishing feature of the espresso.
The 1960s and ‘70s.
The lever machine was replaced a few years later, when the company Faema launched the model E61, to celebrate the eclipse of 1961, introducing very important evolutions.
In fact, the machine no longer relied on manual pressure, but had an electric pump: this made it much easier for the operator to use.
The most important innovation, though, concerned a particular step in the extraction of the coffee, the pre-infusion, first introduced in these machines.
This phase meant that before the pump applied pressure to the coffee, the hot water stayed in contact with the coffee powder for a few seconds.
The introduction of a heat exchanger was also important, because it stabilized the temperature: this was essentially a tube in which water circulated and, passing through the boiler, was heated up and coming out of the dispenser head cooled down.
The double boiler, on the other hand, was introduced by La Marzocco in 1970 and allowed the production of hundreds of coffees in a day, maintaining the quality of the drinks intact and consistent.
The first automatic coffee machines
After the Second World War, besides espresso machines, the Arduino company also produced a type of transportable trolley – a real automatic coffee dispenser ante litteram– which was called ‘Carrel bar’.
The boiler functioned with the use of a gas canister and this machine, used by street coffee vendors, first appeared on many railway platforms, where travelers leaving and arriving could refresh themselves with a hot cup of coffee.
How many types of espresso coffee machines are there?
As we have seen, the history of the espresso machine is packed with inventions and improvements all attempting to obtain an increasingly better quality drink.
From the first inventions of Moriondo, to today’s latest innovations, the workings of a bar machine for espresso coffee have changed a lot: so let’s see what principles those on the market today are based on.
The piston machines
The piston espresso machines can be lever or automatic machines.
In the first type, the pressure in the dispenser head is guaranteed by a piston driven by a spring.
When the external lever is pushed down, the internal piston goes up and the water from the boiler (which is warmed by a heat source) reaches the pre-infusion chamber and comes into contact with the ground coffee in the portafilter.
When the lever goes back into position, the spring pushes the piston down, the water in the dispenser head is pushed through the coffee cake, producing the extraction.
The automatic piston machines work on the same principle, but instead of a manually operated lever, they have a hydraulic system.
These are the most common type of all and they can be automatic or semi-automatic.
In the former, the dispensing dosage is pre-selected: the machine operator simply presses a button and, while waiting for the extraction, can carry out other activities, because the flow of coffee stops on its own.
In the semi-automatic machines, on the other hand, the operator regulates the measures via a switch.
These machines offer many different and sophisticated functions.
In fact, some models, have a multi-functional display which manages the dispensing meter, the water and boiler temperature, and automatically checks that the pre-set temperature of the steaming arm is reached.
Other models actually have an integrated computer which optimizes energy consumption.
These are the most advanced models of espresso machine available today, that can reduce to an absolute minimum the input required by the operator.
If programmed in the right way, they can grind, dose, compact and dispense the coffee and dispose of the coffee grounds completely independently.
Some are equipped with 2 coffee grinder-dosers and up to 4 hoppers, which allow different types of coffee to be produced.
Furthermore it is possible to have models which include a refrigeration system for storing fresh milk used for automatic production of cappuccinos.
Some of these super-automatic machines also have super-sophisticated software which controls all its activities, even provide information on consumption statistics , and also self-diagnosis of any anomalies and telephone assistance.
Our journey into the world of bar espresso machines does not end here, though.
Soon we will be talking to you about their components and other technical details.
In the meantime, write us in the comments: did you know the history of the invention?