Today, talking about coffee in general, we most likely imply espresso, but the preparation of this drink is impossible without a special equipment – the espresso machine.
To be honest, rewriting history is not my favorite pastime, because there are lots of different historical facts that may be set forth in their own way. As is often the case, one and the same event may be based on several completely proven historical versions. As a result, every historian brings forward his own arguments and exact dates. However, some events stand out, as they have dramatically influenced the entire existence and development of mankind.
In 1763, the Russian mechanic Ivan Ivanovich Polzunov created the first stationary steam engine of continuous action. By 1784, his colleague from England James Watt invented its more perfect analogue, the so-called universal steam engine. This was one of the greatest inventions for the entire humankind, and it laid the foundation for the creation of the first mechanical coffee machines.
At the beginning of the 18th century, numerous experiments were carried out to improve and apply the steam engine in various fields.
In 1822, a Frenchman Louis Bernard Babaut tried to pass a steam-water mixture through ground coffee under pressure. The result of such an experiment is unknown, since no working models were created at that time. However, his experiment is a solid historical fact proven by the drawings he sent to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris.
In 1843, another inventor, Edward Loysel de Santais introduced the first steam coffee machine, and this model was produced for commercial use. At the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1855, after 12 years of improvements, this miracle device caused a real sensation. The machine was exhibited in the open air, as it let off a huge amount of steam. Two people operated the machine to make coffee. One of them was a stoker, constantly throwing coal into the furnace, the other monitored the pressure in the boiler. When water boiled in the cauldron, the operator (commonly known today as barista) filled a special container with several kilograms of pre-ground coffee and pulled an immense lever, causing a ready-made drink to pour from the tap almost non-stop. Such a machine made it possible to prepare huge amounts of coffee at once. With several operators working, up to a thousand cups of coffee were made in an hour.
As it turns out, the first coffee machines were invented by the French, not the Italians.
If you believe the story, that’s the obvious conclusion! Although most coffee coaches never say a word about Loysel and fail to remember his machine, I believe that this inventor contributed immensely to the introduction of modern coffee machines.
Experiments to mechanize coffee preparation were conducted not only in France, but all over Europe, though not all of them were successful.
It is believed that Italy of the time boasted more people involved in the creation of mechanical coffee machines than any other European country. One of these inventors was an engineer from Milan, Luigi Bezzera. In 1901, Luigi Bezzera perfected the “steam” coffee machine and patented his invention, making it much more compact and practical. He invented a semi-automatic espresso machine, which sped up the process. This coffee machine made it possible to prepare coffee in cafes and restaurants throughout the country. The Bezzera machines were cylindrical and rather large. They were made of copper, bronze or brass and richly decorated in the fashion of the day. However, they were much smaller than Loysel’s machines and, in addition to coffee preparation, heated milk and cream using hot steam from the boiler.
The most important Bezzera’s development was the system of fastening the filter holder on the distribution group. It is used in all coffee machines today, allowing to prepare coffee by portion, after the order is taken. At this stage, a specific amount of ground coffee was used to prepare a cup of coffee.
Bezzera’s patent led to research and technical improvements carried out by many Italian companies, such as La Pavoni and Victoria Arduino based in Turin.
In 1903, Desidero Pavoni seriously considered mass production of coffee machines. In 1905, he acquired Bezzera’s patent for production and started the process in his workshop.
In 1912, Giuseppe Сimbali opened a small store in Milan. Giuseppe had a good reputation as a copper solderer, and despite the fact that his store was located in the city slums, Сimbali’s business was gradually developing. Until the 1930s, Сimbali mainly produced parts for coffee machines, but in 1930, he created his own machines “Rapida” and “Albadoro”. The essence of his models was a heated copper boiler (coal-fired). In the 1940s, Сimbali developed “Harmony”, “Gioiello” and “Brillante”, changing the obsolete coal system to a gas one. In the 1950s, Cimbali patented the “Ala” model, the first La Cimbali machine with a horizontal boiler. At the same time, it was calculated that the optimum pressure for coffee preparation is 9 atmospheres.
In 1958, La Cimbali patented the automatic hydraulic group, operating on the same principle as the lever system, except that the lever spring was replaced by a linear pressure system.
In 1960, La Cimbali patented a thermal compensation system (based on the use of a heat exchanger for each group to obtain a constant water temperature), used in the “Granluce” model.
In 1948, Achille Gaggia perfected a piston model of the espresso machine replacing the steam engine model, thus offering to prepare coffee “under pressure”. This innovation made it possible to prepare a more concentrated and flavorful drink with a thick foam – espresso. At the same time, besides technological innovations and the use of new materials, espresso machines also attracted the attention of some leading designers of the time. In the 40s and 50s, the growing consumption of coffee made the manufacturers of espresso machines to strengthen production, which increased to industrial (factory) quantities. In 1949, an architect and one of the most outstanding designers of the twentieth century Gio Ponti invented the first coffee machine with a horizontal boiler for La Pavoni. This led to a dramatic change in the appearance of such coffee machines, which gradually replaced the previously used models with vertical boilers.
Coffee preparation continued to develop with the creation in 1961 of the “Faema E61” model. This coffee machine is known today as “Faema Legend”. The main characteristic of this machine, named after the solar eclipse, which occurred the same year, is the brew unit (the group head), which is separated from the boiler and remains warm due to the hot water full circle. This circulation heating system provided a constant water temperature, which was an ideal condition for espresso preparation, even if the coffee machine was off for a long time. Since then, espresso machines have never stopped improving, although the goal has always been the same – to ensure that cups of coffee are served one by one.