The History of Espresso Machines

When we think of Espresso machines, we think of a modern luxury that enables us to have our favorite kind of customized beverages. Whether you have your own machine or go to a place like Starbucks, you’re paying for the quality of what you receive. However, have you ever thought of where the Espresso machine started? If not, you’re in luck…

What’s an Espresso Machine?

Before we get started, you may have just Google’d “espresso machine” in hopes to find out more about exactly what they do. In short, an espresso machine is a piece of machinery that brews coffee through a very specific pressure process. The aforementioned process uses pressure to heat up water almost to a boiling point with the coffee grounds inside. When that process is finished, you end up with the thick, liquid substance that is espresso.

How Did the Espresso Machine Originate?

If you’re a fan of espresso, you have Mister Angelo Moriondo to thank. A man and a machine from Turin, Italy, the first ever espresso machine was created and introduced in 1884 – more than 130 years ago! While they didn’t have Starbucks then, the idea and desire behind espresso snowballed after Moriondo’s initial machinery concoction. However, a man by the name of Luigi Bezzera (yes, of the infamous Bezzera espresso machines), patented the idea of an improved espresso machine in April of 1903. The aforementioned patent was no. US726793, and was then bought out by the founder of the La Pavoni espresso machines that we so often see today – just two years later. When this happened, Milan was able to get their hands-on espresso machines just shortly after. Since then, a variety of machines have been created, allowing the taste and consistency of espresso to change.

The Types of Espresso Machines

There are quite a few types of espresso machines that have been created since La Pavoni made them available on a small scale in Italy during the early 1900’s. These types of espresso machines include the following:

Steam-driven: A steam-driven espresso machine is a type of espresso unit that operates through a specific water-forcing process that uses a type of steam. As the title mentions, the pressure is done by steam force, not manual hand force. It’s important to note that the first-ever machines were actually steam-driven, as it was a popular method of machine operation during this time period. Since then, it has been developed on quite a bit.

Piston-drive: Created by a man named Achille Gaggia in the year 1945, the piston-driven machine came about 40 years after the original design. Compared to tweaks and releases today, that’s a VERY long time. However, in earlier times, it wasn’t as easy to do so since products weren’t readily available and everything was done by mind and hand. The piston-driven machine uses a lever, a pump, and pressurized hot water that carries to the grounds of coffee. If you recognized the name of the creator, you wouldn’t be mistaken, as Gaggia is a very famous name in the world of espresso machines.

Pump-driven: Pump-driven espresso machines have a more complex functionality and operation in terms of design. In short, the pump-driven espresso machine is the more popular style, and we still see these in coffee shops around the world. The aforementioned pump in the machine is a motor-driven one typically, and features a cold-water supply from a line. When this pump is “pulled” or used, said water is provided directly for the machine to use, instead of using steam-forced pressure. There are different aspects of these machines, including single boiler, dual use of a single boiler, heat exchanger, and a dual boiler.

Air-pump-driven: This next one might be a bit more confusing, as we’ve already discussed pump-driven, but how can there be an AIR pump driven machine? In simple terms, the aforementioned machine uses air through a compressed fashion in order to get the hot water to the target – the coffee grounds. Instead of there being a hot water supply line, the hot water is usually driven to the coffee grounds through a type of thermos-flask. In these machines, there are also types of pumps or cartridges in order to supply the compressed air. Since we’re discussing history, it’s important to know that the first of this kind of espresso machine came very-late onto the scene in 2005 and was called the “AeroPress”. Designed by Alan Adler, this style of machine was made in America and then tweaked upon in 2007.

What’s the Difference Between Manual and Automatic Machines?

Yes – there are more types than the aforementioned section talked about. There are two types – manual and automatic, that are the basic umbrellas of the above-listed types of espresso machines. There are three types of automatic machines, including:

Semi-automatic: The force used for water isn’t through manual force, rather than pressure pushed through a valve that goes opens up in three ways.

Automatic: While tamping and grinding of the machine is still manual, the addition of water, the pump turning completely off, and virtually everything else is all done through pre-programming. You may see this more in high traffic coffee shops.

Super-automatic: The grinding of coffee grounds are automatic, the tamping, and even the extraction are all automatic – the “barista’ does nothing themselves besides going into the bean hopper and filling it up. Sometimes, machines like this aren’t connected to the line of water, which creates another manual task: filling up the water reservoir. Still, it’s a “super” automatic machine.

If you couldn’t guess by now, manual machines are just that: you literally do everything. For those that are interested in the artisan craft of creating espresso themselves entirely, (hipster! Totally kidding… maybe), then manual machines are the way to go. Those who go to Starbucks or another coffee shop would see something more automatic to control the crowd more efficiently. Either way, there’s a rich history originating in Italy that involves the fight amongst some of the still-famous brands in espresso history. Thankfully, there aren’t any originating big names that have been swept under the rug due to competitors.

Melissa Faulk

Melissa Faulk

More than anything, I love the community and sharing what I know with others. I love to write about all things coffee, whether it's the art of espresso making or the finer points of cappuccinos or the difference between lungo and normale or rhapsodizing about my love of ristretto. For me, coffee truly is a life-long passion.