History of Italian Espresso

Did you know that espresso has been around for over 100 years?

The origins of Italian espresso

To go back to the origins of Italian espresso, we must talk about the following key moments:

19th century

The coffee business was very good in Europe, there were even hundreds of coffee houses across the continent. However, preparing the coffee was a very slow process, so customers had to wait a long time.

With this in mind, inventors across Europe began exploring new ways to reduce brewing time through the use of steam engines.


Inventor Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, applies for a patent for the first machine that can brew large quantities of coffee using steam and water. This happened at the 1884 General Exhibition in Turin, where he received the bronze medal.

Moriondo was considered a pioneer of espresso machines because he built an innovative machine that had the potential to change the way baristas worked.

The machine consisted of a kettle that forced the water through a disc of coffee at a pressure of about 1.5 bar, while a second kettle loaded the disc and completed the extraction.

Moriondo’s idea was to offer a larger quantity of coffee in less time, thus offering better service to customers.

Moriondo limited himself to the traditional construction of a few prototypes for his company. He never wanted to produce his invention on an industrial scale.

Many said Moriondo lacked entrepreneurial spirit and industrial vision.

Others defended him by saying that he only wanted to speed up the process of making coffee and had no intention of creating a special drink.


Luigi Bezzera takes inspiration from Moriondo ‘s espresso machine and patents his own design, consisting of a large vertical cylinder with a brass boiler inside, heated by a gas stove. He also placed coffee dispensers next to the kettle.

To prepare the coffee, a tap had to be opened: boiling water and steam flowed through the coffee and the extraction took about 1 minute.

While better than Moriondo ‘s, Bezzera ‘s machine had problems with pressure and temperature control, making it difficult to produce a consistent shot. Having said that, consistency is an important issue in the world of espresso.

Bezzera built some prototypes of his machine, but did not have enough money or ingenuity to expand his business by marketing the machine. However, he knew someone who could.

That person was Desiderio Pavoni, the founder of the Milan-based company La Pavoni.


Pavoni buys Bezzera ‘s patent and begins producing machines for the mass market.

It is worth noting that these machines were made in a small workshop on Via Parini in Milan.


Pavoni starts manufacturing his own machines based on Bezzera’s patent. For this reason, he begins manufacturing the first espresso machine with a mass production program, the Ideale.

This machine actually had little in common with today’s machines, as its group heads reached temperatures of up to 140°C at a lower pressure than today’s machines. Consequently, the ideale extracts a drink that is more like a filter coffee than an espresso.


Bezerra’s creation was presented as the first espresso machine at the 1906 Milan Universal Exhibition.

The machine featured a vertical kettle that could brew a cup of coffee in seconds. It also featured some improvements over the Moriondo patent relating to the safety valve and milk steam lance tip.

It is said that Bezzera’s machine can produce up to 1000 cups of coffee per hour.


After the First World War, coffee spread throughout Italy, with a per capita coffee consumption of 1.2 kg/year.

At this point, Pier Teresio resigned Arduino, a strong competitor to Pavoni, is on the scene.

Arduino was an inventor who dreamed of building a machine that didn’t rely on steam to generate the pressure needed to brew coffee. However, he did not succeed in this.

However, Arduino didn’t give up and used its marketing skills to develop a campaign that made espresso fashionable.

To implement this strategy, he turned to the illustrator Leonetto Cappiello, who applied a futuristic artistic style to design a visual image that combines both the idea of the coffee maker and the steam-powered locomotive.

In other words, the poster captured the essence of espresso and modern speed.

On the other hand, you should also know that Arduino was among the first companies to export machines from Italy to other countries in the world.

This inventor had a larger workshop than Pavoni in Italy and was therefore in a better position to export machines outside of Milan to spread the espresso to the rest of Europe.

He even opened a shop in Paris to sell machines to Parisian cafes.


The first espresso machine is installed in the United States. This machine was of the La Pavoni brand and was installed in New York City.

On the other hand, Giuseppe Bambi developed his own espresso machine, the Fiorenza, which did not sell.

L’Occitane with his brother Bruno Fratelli Bambi. Together they developed their first espresso machine, which they named “La Marzocco ” after Donatello’s famous sculpture of a seated lion with the symbol of Florence on its shield.


Coffee consumption drops to 0.8 kg per capita. Import problems and shortages have reduced Italian coffee consumption.


Coffee consumption is becoming more popular again.


The word barista is born.

The success of fascism also included a campaign to Italianize words, so that the word ” barman ” was replaced with “barista”, creating a much stronger connection between espresso and Italian identity.

In the same year, Milan bartender Achille Gaggia developed the first pressure espresso machine.

It was an innovative design because it worked with a piston mechanism that pushed the water through the ground coffee at high pressure, making it possible to prepare an ideal espresso with crema in just 15 seconds.

The first reactions to the crema were not positive as people were not used to seeing it in their cup. However, over time, people began to see this as something positive and it became a hallmark of the drink.


The Bambi brothers are still working on developing a machine that makes better coffee and is also easier for the barista to use.

They achieved this by turning the vertical kettle on its side, creating the horizontal espresso machine, the Marus.

Unfortunately, the patent expired during the bureaucratic upheavals in Italy after World War II.

No specimens of this machine have survived, as the materials were used to make weapons during the years of the conflict. In fact, few machines survived this period.


Achille Gaggia invents the manual pump machine that puts more pressure on the disc, extracting more colloids and oils, and also creating crema, an indispensable part of modern espresso.

The characteristics of the extracted drink have changed thanks to two important technical innovations:

  • Lowering the water temperature from 100°C to 80°C.
  • Increasing the pressure to 8-9 bar.

Gaggia has managed to develop this machine thanks to the work of Marco Cremonese, who, before the Second World War, had worked to improve the process of making coffee with pressure.

Cremonese developed a spring plunger but were never able to build an espresso machine using this technology. Gaggia, on the other hand, does.

It should be noted that the spring plunger is very important because it creates a froth on the espresso, also known as crema.


Ernesto Valente, director of Faema, buys Gaggia’s invention.

Gaggia and Valente didn’t want these high-pressure machines to hit the market.

Gaggia viewed this machine as a luxury item intended only for high-end establishments.

Valente, on the other hand, decided to work with the aim of making cheaper machines, as we would see later in the 1960s.


Ernesto Valente from the electrical company Faema launches the famous F E61.

Remember that the E61 is the father of modern espresso, as it was the first semi-automatic machine that allowed the user to control the extraction parameters.

This machine featured a horizontal boiler instead of a vertical one and required no manual effort from the barista as it used a motorized pump that generated the 9 bars of pressure needed to brew espresso.

The main innovation was also a special step in the extraction of the coffee, the so-called pre – infusion, in which the hot water stays in contact with the coffee for a few seconds before the pump puts pressure on the coffee.

These details clearly increased consistency and made the baristas’ job easier.


The double boiler is introduced by La Marzocco and allows hundreds of coffees to be made in a day while maintaining the quality of the drinks.

This machine had two independent boilers, one for steam and one for making coffee.

The Marzocco GS, as the machine was called, was to be the basis on which future Marzocco espresso machines would be built.


Kent Blakke, an American entrepreneur, traveled to Italy with a group of friends to discover the origin of an espresso machine they found in a Seattle sandwich shop.

Upon his arrival in the European country, he met Giuseppe Bambi and his son Piero.

After a brief chat, they agree that Blakke will begin importing La Marzocco machines into the United States.


Howard Shultz travels to Italy where he works for Starbucks (then a roastery) as director of marketing and operations. There he was inspired by the Italian coffee culture and tried to convince Starbucks to develop coffee shops. However, the owners only wanted to roast beans.

Schultz decides to leave Starbucks to pursue his dream of bringing Italian coffee culture to the United States.

To achieve this goal, he founded his company II Giornale, working with La Marzocco GS espresso machines.


Starbucks owners decide to sell their roastery to focus on a new business they acquired.

Schultz buys Starbucks, leaving the II Giornale name behind to focus on retail expansion.


Starbucks is growing thanks to the popularity of espresso in the United States.

Marzocoo introduces its new model, the Linea, which is an update of the GS design.

The Linea featured a steam boiler that could easily meet the steam needs of American beverages with a high milk content.

In addition, Starbucks business partners certify the safety and hygiene of the machine, which gives it a great advantage over other Italian machines.


Starbucks decides to sell La Marzocco Linea to switch to semi-automatic espresso machines. Nevertheless, La Marzocco makes it Linea to become a sign of the Third Wave coffee movement.


La Marzocco is the first espresso machine sponsor to compete in the World Barista Championship.

This sponsorship allowed La Marzocco to develop important relationships with baristas who provided valuable feedback for further development.


La Marzocco GB5 is launched, a machine with a thermal stability system, a preheating system that heats the cold water before it enters the boiler and a PID system that keeps the water temperature within 0.5 degrees.


The owners of La Marzocco are developing the GS3, a machine similar to the GB5 but smaller and running on 100 volts, making it ideal for home use.

Italian espresso – what should be considered?

  • According to the American Specialty Coffee Association, espresso is a coffee of about 25 to 35 ml, prepared from 7 to 9 grams of finely ground coffee, which is subjected to water at 90 to 96 degrees Celsius and 9 to 20 atmospheres of pressure for about 20 to 25 seconds circulates.
  • The main characteristic of the espresso is its intense flavor with notes of citrus and chocolate. In addition, it has a creamy texture.
  • Espresso is thicker than coffee made using other methods.
  • World Espresso Day is celebrated on November 24th.
  • The exodus of Italian communities to major world countries such as the United States and Australia in the 1970s was one of the key factors in the worldwide success of Italian coffee culture.
  • Under the fascist regime, espresso coffee drunk while walking was subject to price controls.
  • The rise in espresso consumption has coincided with industrialization and urbanization, particularly in cities like Turin, Genoa and Milan.
  • Espresso culture was spread by the Italians in their colonies in East Africa, Italian Somalia and Italian Eritrea.
  • In the city of Naples, it is customary to leave an espresso on the counter so that someone who cannot afford it can enjoy it without any problems.
  • The consumption of espresso has become the second most popular product in most specialty coffee shops.
  • The espresso is one of the most consumed drinks in Italy and in the world.
  • The Italian espresso industry generates around 1 billion euros annually.
  • The price of an espresso is $2.22 in Italy while it is $3.2 in other countries like the United States.

Coffee culture in Italy

Italians continue to visit their local coffee shop during their daily routine. The coffee culture that emerged in the 1940s is still very much alive despite globalization.

It is evident that espresso has almost become a way of life for the people of Italy.

Many believe this is because espresso evokes fond and distant memories for many Italians when sipped at the beginning of the day to recharge their batteries or when they simply want to take a break and relax.

There is no doubt that this drink has become an element of identity for the Italian land and even one of its main attractions.

What is the relationship between Italian coffee culture and world coffee culture?

World coffee culture has been heavily influenced by Italian coffees over the years. So much so that the Italians wanted to control the intellectual property of the espresso.

The Italian Parliament has even sent inspectors all over the world to check whether the espresso produced in different places meets Italian quality standards.

This shows that Italians take great pride in their espresso, as it is an important part of their culture. However, coffee is a global beverage and Italy does not have sufficient cultural hegemony over coffee to exercise control on such a scale.


We can say that espresso has become a tradition that is passed from generation to generation to accompany Italians and everyone who enjoys its taste. And it continues evolving in different ways such as Espresso Muerto, Blonde Espresso or Cold Espresso!