The perfect shot

The Smithsonian Blog

According to Mr Illy, the chemistry of good espresso coffee goes something like this:

A diffused jet of hot water at 88°-93°C passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a 7-gram cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee. Done right, the result is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml of pure sensorial pleasure.

It’s all about precision and consistency and finding the perfect balance between grind, temperature, and pressure. Espresso happens at the molecular level. This is why technology has been such an important part of the historical development of espresso and a key to the ongoing search for the perfect shot. While espresso was never designed per se, the machines –or Macchina– that make our cappuccinos and lattes have a history that stretches back more than a century.

In the 19th century, coffee was a huge business in Europe with cafes flourishing across the continent. But coffee brewing was a slow process and, as is still the case today, customers often had to wait for their brew. Seeing an opportunity, inventors across Europe began to explore ways of using steam machines to reduce brewing time.

One of the early prototypes is usually attributed to Angelo Moriondo of Turin, who was granted a patent in 1884 for “new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage.” Angelo lacked a PR person, so his brand, along with his water and steam driven brewing solution has been lost to history.

The giant leap forward came with Luigi Bezzerra (the inventor) and Desiderio Pavoni (the investor). These guys were the Wozniak and Jobs of espresso. Milanese manufacturer and “maker of liquors” Luigi Bezzera went looking for a method of quickly brewing coffee directly into the cup. He made several improvements to Moriondo’s machine, introduced the portafilter, multiple brewheads, and many other innovations still associated with espresso machines today.

Apart from Francesco Illy’s 1935 hardware patent and packaging innovations, susequent design improvements from Pier Teresio Arduino, Achille Gaggia and Ernesto Valente have combined to bequeath one of the world’s my enduring pieces of machinery.

Read more about the history of the espresso machine at The Smithsonian Blog …