Italy may be the country that gave us pizza, pasta, and pesto, but arguably the most quintessentially Italian of them all – and the most inextricably associated with Italian culture – is the espresso. Here, we look at the development of Italian coffee machines to see if and why they are still best.
The history of the espresso machine
What may be considered the very first espresso machine was invented in Italy by a man named Angelo Moriondo of Turin, which he demonstrated in the General Exposition in his home city in 1884. This novel machine brewed coffee by forcing water through the grounds as steam.
Following this, there were three other notable events in the history of the development of the modern espresso machine, all three of which also took place in Italy.
The next step forward came in 1901 when another Italian, Luigi Bezzera, bought the patent for the original machine and created the first commercial espresso maker, which was given the name Tipo Gigante.
It is said that his motivation for the invention was the belief that a faster way to brew coffee would shorten his employees’ coffee breaks and so increase productivity.
Only four years later, the patent for the Tipo Gigante was purchased, again by another Italian by the name of Desiderio Pavoni.
He realized that the bitter taste of the coffee the machine produced was due to the high temperature of the steam that was used in the brewing process.
His innovation was to lower the temperature to around 195°C and to use pressure to force the steam through the grounds instead. This is still the same principle that is used in espresso machines today.
No further significant developments occurred on this basic design until 1946 when another man, Achille Gaggia (once again an Italian), developed an espresso machine that worked through the use of a piston.
This allowed the espresso to be brewed under higher pressures, creating the crema that is so prized on a good espresso today. Thus, the modern espresso as we now know it was born in that year – 1946.
Why are Italian machines still considered among the best?
So it is that we have four Italians to thank for the development of the drink that many consider the highest expression of the art of coffee, the espresso.
While it can no longer be said that the Italians have a monopoly on the development of espresso machine technology, it is a country that still contributes significantly to innovation and improvement – and still produces many high-quality espresso makers.
This is partly because espresso is so ingrained in the Italian way of life, something that has driven Italian developers and manufacturers to keep pushing forward, coming up with machines that produce ever-more delicious espresso.
Behind this are the traditional values of Italian design and workmanship. The same Italian quality that is familiar in the worlds of fashion and automobile manufacturing that has given us brands such as Versace and Armani or Ferrari and Alpha Romeo is present in the best coffee machines too.
In a world that increasingly favors home-grown products above “foreign” ones, the label “made in Italy” still has the ability to convey a sense of luxury and top-end manufacturing. But is this justified?
Italian style and quality
Of course, to suggest that something is intrinsically a high-quality product simply because it comes from any particular country is clearly nonsense, but if we look at the makers of the top coffee makers, we quickly notice that Italy is a country that features prominently.
To take one example, Gaggia, the same company that developed the original crema-producing espresso machines, is still a major player in the home espresso maker market.
They produce a range of machines from the more budget-friendly to the top-end, but all their machines are characterized by sleek design, intuitive functionality – and above all, the ability to produce a great tasting authentic Italian espresso.
De’Longhi is another long-established Italian company that has been around for over a century and still makes some of the most popular home espresso machines on the market.
Headquartered in Treviso, Italy, the company now produces well-regarded mid-range coffee machines as well as models for Nespresso. Again, their products feature that unmistakable Italian style and again, are an excellent choice for making delicious espresso at home.
There are many other examples and the list goes on, but what they all have in common is that sleek and stylish Italian design and the ability to brew delicious, aromatic espresso.
Modern Italian coffee machines for the home are also including new ideas to keep them at the forefront of development.
For example, the coffee maker with grinder models, it fully automates the brewing process, reducing all the steps to the touch of a single button. You only need to place the beans inside and the machine does the rest.
Others are able to produce coffee shop-style drinks like cappuccinos and lattes – again, at the touch of a single button.
What gives Italian machines the edge?
What is it that gives Italian coffee makers the edge over their competitors? Is it down to the superior quality or is it just their reputation?
It is a fact that the strong association between Italy and coffee makes anything Italian seem somehow superior.
Think of the names and sizes of coffee drinks everywhere from Starbucks down to the smallest independent coffee shop – it is not for nothing that we are all now so used to saying “grande” rather than just “large”.
However, it is undeniable that unrivaled years of experience coupled with their passion for coffee, along with their tradition of high-quality design, all give Italian machines an advantage over their competitors. Even if this is helped along by some clever marketing that plays heavily on these ideas.
Italians know how it’s done
The bottom line is, with their long history of coffee culture and their years of experience making coffee machines, the Italians know how to do it. Just because it’s from Italy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great quality – yet somehow, very often, it still is.