In a recent blog we gave a brief rundown of coffees history as a beverage and proliferation around the globe as an agricultural endeavor. In that piece we touched on the OG method of coffee brewing: “Turkish Coffee,” a process in which coffee is roasted over a flame (roast level: real dark), very finely ground, and then boiled – typically several times) and consumed as a think, gritty, very strong beverage.
And we kind of just left it at that because that blog wasn’t about the history of coffee brewing and espresso.
But this one is.
As it turns out, innovation and technology have had a couple of impacts on the world of coffee brewing over the last several centuries, so let’s take our seats and crack the book for
Coffee History 201: Coffee Brewing & Espresso.
Coffee, native to Ethiopia and first cultivated there and in Yemen, was first intentionally cultivated by the 15th century, although likely earlier. By the 17th it had spread throughout the Western world and by the early 1700s, folks were looking to up their brewing games.
Around this time, French cooks isolated the solid beans within the liquid by enclosing the grounds in a cloth bag, essentially a sock, thus, filtering the coffee and producing a clean, less gritty beverage as a result.
This innovation brought with it several advancements in the process of brewing coffee.
- It allowed the temperature of the brew water to be kept below the boiling point.
- It limited the contact time between the coffee and water to a period of several minutes.
- It produced a cup that was free from sediment and could sit without continuing to extract the coffee grounds.
In 1780 the first commercial coffee maker was released: the “Mr. Biggin”. These brewers attempted to solve some of the issues of brewing with these “socks” – such as drainage difficulties and would brew by pouring water through a bed of coffee beneath which was a tin or cloth filter. The major flaw of this brewer was that due to primitive grinding technologies at the time, controlling flowrate was next to impossible.
Throughout the early 19th century, the French patented several designs for coffee-brewing related equipment, including a metal plate which would distribute water more evenly over grounds in a drip-brewer in 1802 and a drip-pot that could filter coffee with water below the boiling point in 1806, both important steps toward more efficient brewing and filtration.
By the 1830s, a patent had been filed in Berlin for a siphon-brewer design, the first becoming commercially available in the 1840s. Several patents occurred throughout Europe and the United States at this time for percolator brewing devices as well.
While they may seem more primitive, brewing devices similar to a “French Press” design didn’t begin to hit the market until the mid 19th century and did so in Italy and France at about the same time. A design that more closely resembles what we still use today, the Chambord, was patented by a Swiss-Italian man named Faliero Bondanini in 1958 and produced in France.
In 1908, came one of the most important innovations to brewing technology that is still widely utilized to this day: the paper filter.
Frustrated housewife, Melitta Bentz, as the story goes, was tired of cleaning the residual grounds from her coffee maker and used a page of blotter paper with some holes poked through it to the line the bottom of the pot. Within a year, her filters were in production she was on her way toward developing and marketing the first modern commercial pour-over device, the Melitta dripper, which are still available today (check the coffee aisle of your local supermarket).
What about espresso?
In 1884 Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy was granted a patent for a
“new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage.”
This bulk brewer, created for the Turin General Exposition, used hot water and steam at a pressure of ~1.5 atmospheres. There are no photographs of this machine or surviving models and to a large extent any other info about Angelo Moriondo has been lost to history.
The first breakthrough in Italian espresso machines came in 1901 when an Italian engineer named Luigi Bezzera filed a patent for a coffee machine in the shape of a tall column constructed of brass and copper. The machine consisted of a water boiler that was heated over an open flame and had 1-4 brewing groups with insertable filter baskets available to produce several cups of coffee at a time. It utilized hot water and steam pressurized at about 1.5 atmospheres to brew coffee. The major breakthrough this machine provided was the ability to brew several coffees quickly and many believe this machine to be the first iteration of caffe espresso (fast coffee).
Due to lack of money to expand or any idea how to market the machine, Bezzera sold the patent to Desideria Pavoni, founder of La Pavoni espresso machines in 1903. Pavoni began producing the machines, which were large, copper and bronze vertical cylinders topped with eagles, in 1905.
A notable addition to the design of this machine was the first pressure release valve, which prevented hot coffee from splashing the barista when preparing coffee due to the sudden release of pressure.
Another iconic innovation of this machine - perhaps you’ve heard of the steam wand?
Bezzera and Pavoni worked together to perfect this machine, called the Ideale, which they introduced to the world at the 1906 Milan Fair.
Pavoni had no shortage of competitors, one of the most prominent being Pier Teresio Arduino, who was determined to find a method of brewing espresso that did not rely exclusively on steam. He came up with many ideas including incorporating screw pistons and air pumps but was never successful in bringing any of these ideas to fruition.
He did end up influencing the history of espresso in other ways, mainly in the area of spreading awareness and increasing popularity. One such contribution: he commissioned graphic designer Leonetto Cappiello to create the espresso poster below, which has become world famous.
Due to the fact that in the 1920s Arduino had a much larger workshop than Pavoni’s in Milan (and much greater production capabilities as a result) as well as greater marketing savvy, he became largely responsible for exporting machines out of Milan and spreading espresso across Europe.
World War I interrupted the production of espresso machines, however, by 1920 nearly a dozen companies were producing these machines and the espresso drinks they produced were becoming exceptionally popular in Italy as well as beginning to spread throughout Europe and to the United States. These early machines could produce up to 1,000 cups an hour and were not yet very similar to espresso machines of today.
Shortly before World War II, a Milanese inventor by the name of Cremonesi introduced another breakthrough in the history of espresso machines with his invention of a lever-piston driven machine that created pressurized brewing water without the use of steam. This resulted in a considerably less burnt-tasting coffee.
He adapted this style of group to a machine in use at a bar owned by a man named Achilla Gaggia. The outbreak of war again halted production of the machines and unfortunately Cremonesi died before the war ended.
After the war, Gaggia resumed Cremonesi’s project and in 1946 began production of a piston-lever machine capable of producing 10 atmospheres of pressure, a giant leap forward for espresso machines.
KLLR Trivia: The act of pulling the lever on these new machines is where the term “pulling a shot” of espresso originated.
This machine not only allowed for much greater control of temperature and pressure during brewing but marked the first extractions of the intensely flavored, rich, buttery coffee foam, or crema, that has become synonymous with great espresso. Since these machines brewed with a set amount of water (the volume of the brew chamber with the lever lowered), they also helped to standardize the size of an espresso to some degree.
By 1948, Gaggia was in production manufacturing machines in this style. Other manufacturers quickly adopted the lever design and the popularity of espresso worldwide increased dramatically.
In many ways, the espresso made from these Gaggia machines marks the birth of contemporary espresso.
A historical anecdote claims that early consumers were dubious of this “scum” floating on their coffee until Gaggia began referring to it as “caffe crème” suggesting that the coffee was of such quality that it produced its own cream.
Faema the Famed
In the 1950s Ernesto Carlo Valente, who ran a Milanese espresso machine manufacturing company called Faema, produced one of the most famous espresso machines ever created: the E61 (it was named after a solar eclipse that occurred that year).
This machine made a couple monumental advancements.
First of all, rather than using a lever system it used an electric pump to maintain a fixed pressure during brewing and secondly, rather than pull potentially “stale” water out of the steam boiler to brew with, it pumped a small quantity of water through heated tubes called heat exchangers.
This machine was more consistent, faster and less laborious to use.
More Boilers = More Better
Another advancement in espresso machine design was produced by the Bambi brothers at La Marzocco and came in the form of a machine with two boilers, one for steam and one for brewing coffee. The result was a machine significantly more temperature stable than the heat-exchange style machines.
Horizontal boilers, which allow for the compacted espresso machine design were another La Marzocco development around this time.
Automatic for the People
By the 1970s many companies were producing “automatic” espresso machines, which would dose the desired amount of water and shut off automatically. These initially used timers and then moved on to increased accuracy with the implementation of volumetric flow meters.
We contend that these machines, now known as “auto-volumetric” machines are the best choice for any traditional espresso application.
United States of Milk Beverages
Not all espresso machine innovation has originated in Europe. One way that the North American market has changed the design of espresso machines over the last couple decades is the dominance of the steam boiler. Huge steam boilers with large heating elements have been implemented to accommodate the large quantities of steam required to produce “Seattle Style” milk-based drinks that are often up to four times the size of the cappuccinos enjoys in Italy.
Starting in the 1970s, several Swiss companies began to pursue the creation of a “super-automatic” espresso machine, or one that would grind, dose, tamp and extract the coffee to set parameters all at the touch of a single button. These machines are pretty much the standard in Switzerland and have become increasingly popular in the United States and around the world thanks in large part to their adoption by Starbucks.
We’ve posted before about our relationship with Eversys, a brand whose super-automatic machines have really blown us away and we feel will be an integral part of the future of the industry.
Where will the future of espresso and brewing systems take us?
This brief history hasn’t even brought us to within several decades of where are at right now, and it seems like with each year’s trade-show season (hopefully something that exists again sometime soon) we’re introduced to a new cast of machines with the latest bells, whistles, gimmicks, and engineering innovations. Some of which will stand the test of time, and some which will not.