The start of the 19th century saw the development of a huge number of devices. Dozens of engineers, tinsmiths and silversmiths, not to mention inventors, competed to produce the “perfect machine” that made the best cup of coffee, was easy to use, reliable and automated. Many ideas and projects remained just that though, never leaving the various patent offices. Some adopted solutions that the technology of the age was unable to put into practice in any reliable way. And yet others just added useless complications to existing models.
The year that saw the true beginnings of the espresso coffee machine story was 1884: Angelo Moriondo, the founder of a well-known chocolate factory and owner of two cafés in Turin, officially presented his patent for the first café machine.
Moriondo’s invention, presented on the occasion of the World’s Fair in Turin, was the result of the need to produce a tasty drink for his clientèle, at the same time speed up the extraction process and making it more practical. Constantly improved over the years and jealously used only in the cafés owned by its inventor, Moriondo’s machine was never manufactured and sold.
In 1901, Luigi Bezzera – the author of some technical improvements – obtained the patent for his coffee-making machine, presented to the public during the first International Fair in Milan in 1906. This was the beginning of the regular production and sale of these devices, soon to be mass-produced.
The history of the coffee-making machine can be subdivided into three main periods which, associated with the same number of technical revolutions, mark the 20th century.
The first step was taken precisely by Moriondo and Bezzera. Their machines were shaped like a vertical cylinder, with the groups arranged around the entire circumference to ensure the immediate dispensing of the coffee in the moment when the customer requested it. The machine was somewhat rudimentary: low water pressure (just over 1 bar) and very high temperature (about 100 degrees). This meant that every cup of espresso required 12-14 grammes of coffee (compared with the 7/8 used today). The layout of the groups meant the operator had to make laborious manoeuvres around the machine. In addition, the use of gas and the absence of safety devices made it rather complex and dangerous. The resulting drink was very different from what we enjoy today. And yet this boiling, black espresso, slightly burnt and without any type of crema, was a success. We’re at the beginning of the 20th century. Faith in scientific discoveries and progress encourages the public to adopt an affectionate approach towards every type of automation. Enthusiasm, combined with the exotic appeal of the coffee, guarantees the growing popularity of the drink.
This success is demonstrated by the numerous coffee-making machine companies founded in that period; nearly 20 between 1901 and 1930, including Officine Giuseppe Cimbali. The years between the two wars didn’t come up with any great innovations in the espresso world, apart from the appearance of the first horizontal machines with all the groups on one side only; the aim was to facilitate the operator’s work in the face of growing consumption levels. The second period of espresso began in 1948, when FAEMA (founded three years earlier) produced the Gaggia Classica model – the first machine with lever technology – to Achille Gaggia’s registered patent.
The idea was simple and yet ingenious: a piston activated by a lever-loaded spring applies a pressure of about 10 bar to the water, thereby ensuring that all the aroma is extracted from the coffee panel. This reduced the amount of coffee to 7-8 grammes per cup (as used today), with notable economic savings. In addition, the high pressure water emulsified the natural oils of the coffee, generating – for the first time – the coffee crema that has since become inseparable from the very concept of espresso. With the aid of the economic boom, the new product wins over the Italians and becomes a new symbol for the country.
In 1960, FAEMA launched the Tartaruga model – a machine fitted with a volumetric electric pump able to apply a pressure of 9 bar to the water. This technology replaced the laborious use of the lever and established the main cornerstones for the production of machines even today. And so the third phase of espresso coffee began. The Tartaruga was presented to the market the following year, with the name of E61. It’s a model that has put its indelible stamp on the history of this sector, and is still produced now.
In the ’80s, the arrival of electronics made the machines even simpler and guaranteed even better performance levels. Their style followed that of the period. Today, the latest technological evolution – and perhaps the start of the fourth espresso period – is Gruppo Cimbali’s M100. It’s the only machine that can control, on each dispensing group, all the parameters (pressure, temperature) affecting the optimum preparation of an Italian espresso.