The Story behind the Espresso

Us humans have been drinking coffee since as early as the 15th Century. We now consume an estimated two billion cups of coffee each day, and this number is increasing. How we drink our coffee of course is different based on personal preference, but a significant proportion of what we drink is espresso-based (think latte, flat white, mocha). As a coffee roastery we thought the simple espresso, without which we wouldn’t be able to enjoy most of our favourite drinks, deserves a bit of attention.

Before we move on a quick definition of what an espresso is. An espresso is a strong concentrated shot of coffee (around 60ml for a standard double shot), brewed at 9 bars of pressure or more, with a water temperature of around 88-93C.

This is not to be confused with ‘espresso blends’ or ‘espresso roasts’. An espresso is a type of coffee brewed with specific criteria, rather than a roast level or type of bean. Espressos are however traditionally brewed using darker roasted coffee.

Now we’ve defined what an espresso is we can move on to how it came about. Interestingly, the espresso wasn’t created out of a desire to make a strong concentrated coffee. It was created as a solution to a problem. With coffee rising in popularity at the start of 20th Century and coffee taking up to 5 minutes to brew, coffee houses needed a way of being able to serve more people in less time.

In 1903 Luigi Bezzera created the concept ‘espresso machine’ which significantly reduced brew times compared with existing machines thanks to the addition of steam pressure.

Bezzera, and an investor called Desidero Pavoni, introduced the ‘Ideale espresso machine’ to the public for the first time at the 1906 Milan Exhibition.

After this is was Pavoni who brought the patents and largely took control of the business. These early machines were not perfect. Temperature control was difficult as the boiler was controlled by a flame, often resulting in bitter tasting coffee, and the machines only reached 2 bars of pressure. The concept was however popular, owing the time efficiency compared with previous machines, and they started appearing at coffee bars across Italy.

Fast forward 30 years and we begin to see something that more closely resembles the espresso machines today. Enter Giovanni Gaggia (if this name seems familiar it might well be as they continue to make machines to this day). Gaggia’s machines suddenly increased brew pressure from 1-2 bars to 8-10 bars of pressure through the introduction of a spring-loaded piston that was controlled by the barista pulling down a leaver. This is where the term ‘pulling a shot’ originated.  

The increase in pressure offered by these machines meant that the espresso developed its now characteristic crema. Customers were dubious at first, even asking what the ‘scum’ was on top of their coffee. To make the drink sound more appealing, Gaggia coined the term ‘caffe crème’, and a good crema is now associated with good quality espresso shots.

The next leap forward came in 1961 with the introduction of Ernesto Valente’s Faema E61. Although traditional lever machines can still be seen at some bars and cafes, the E61 was the first machine that very closely resembles most of the espresso machines we see today.

The Faema E61 introduced a number of innovations. The first was that of an automatic pump. This provided 9 bars of pressure consistently, compared with lever machines which were more variable. The second was that of a heat exchanger. Prior to being in contact with the coffee, the water passes through a heat exchanger ensuring it is the right temperature, consistently. Thirdly the E61 also introduced pre-infusion. By wetting the coffee grounds prior to extraction, there is better extraction of all the elements of an ideal espresso from the coffee. The Faema E61 was also considerably smaller than previous machines which was part of its appeal.

There have been minor innovations since the E61 but overall, most current manual espresso machines are quite similar. This brings us on to where things might go in the future.

One quite recent development is the switch to super-automatic machines. Pret-a-Manger, Starbucks, and other big names have already largely switched to these automatic machines, such as Pret’s Cimbali E60. These machines provide good quality coffee, consistency, and efficiency. As businesses try and reduce costs, especially in the current climate, we might see more of these machines around in the future.

Other interesting developments include the PuqPress, which provides an automatic tamping system for baristas working on traditional machines. Automatic milk steamers which steam milk to flat white, cappuccino, or latte standard depending on which colour jug is placed underneath are making their way onto the scene.

It is thanks to innovators such as Bezzera, Gaggia, and Valente that we can all enjoy our flat whites, espressos, and lattes today. So next time you are enjoying a freshly-made coffee, give a quick thought to them. In the meantime, feel free to check out our range of over 40 roasted-to-order coffees, bean-to-cup-machines, and plenty more on our website today.

Comment 1

Michael Koo on

Get a sweeter coffee when pressure start at 9 bar and gradually decrease tends to be better coffee in lever machine. There are a load of other factors to change flavours that’s just one of them .
Good things comes to those that wait

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

All Blogs

The Art of Slow Coffee

By Petra Jones on Apr 07, 2024

Slow coffee is more than just a method; it's an experience that emphasises manual brewing techniques, allowing you total control over the brewing variables. Slow coffee...

Read more
Crafting the Perfect Italian Espresso: A Journey Through Beans, Roasts, and Rituals

By Andrea Agostini on Apr 05, 2024

Ah, espresso. It has a deep, inviting smell and a creamy top that promises rich flavours. It wakes you up with a strong boost of energy. But espresso is more than ...

Read more
How Filter Paper Influences Your Coffee Extraction

By Petra Jones on Mar 20, 2024

When it comes to brewing the perfect cup of coffee, every detail matters. From the grind size to the water temperature, each element plays a crucial role in the final flavour of your coffee. One often-overlooked component is the filter paper used in your coffee maker. But how exactly does filter paper influence your coffee extraction?

Read more
Ocean Bottle: Leading the Charge in the Battle Against Plastic Pollution

By Petra Jones on Mar 06, 2024

In today's environmentally conscious society, Ocean Bottle stands as a shining example of innovation and hope. Launched in 2018, this visionary social impact company has set its sights on a monumental missio...

Read more
What is Filter Grind for Coffee?

By Graham Jones on Feb 29, 2024

Filter grind refers to the consistency of coffee grounds optimized for use in filter brewing methods. This encompasses a broad spectrum of devices from the classic drip coffee maker to pour-overs and the Aeropress. The grind size for these methods is typically medium, resembling coarse sand. This size ensures that hot water can properly extract the coffee's flavours and aromas without passing through too quickly, as it might with a finer grind, or too slowly, as with a coarser grind.

Read more
How to Fine-Tune Your Coffee Grind with Baratza ESP

By Petra Jones on Feb 20, 2024

As avid coffee lovers, we can all agree that the secret to a perfect cup of coffee is largely in the grind. With the right grind size, coffee flavours and aromas are accurately extracted, resulting in a delicious cup of coffee. For many of us, there is an ultimate grinder that perfectly accomplishes this task - the Baratza ESP coffee grinder. 

Read more
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Coffee Beans in the UK: 2024 Edition

By Andrea Agostini on Feb 14, 2024

Embark on a gourmet journey with our comprehensive 2024 guide to the UK's most exceptional coffee beans. This essential read takes you through the nuanced art of selecting beans that resonate with both the palate and the principles of sustainability. From the aromatic heights of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe to the robust depths of Brazilian Santos, we cover the beans that define the coffee landscape. We also spotlight the craftsmanship of leading local roasters like Redber Coffee, whose dedication to quality ensures your espresso is a luxurious ritual of taste and aroma.

Read more
The Best Valentine Gifts for Coffee Lover

By Petra Jones on Feb 06, 2024

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and if your loved one is a coffee enthusiast, you're in luck! We've curated a list of the best Valentine gifts for coffee lovers that are sure to make their heart s...

Read more
Exploring Baratza Grinders: Which One is Right for You?

By Graham Jones on Jan 28, 2024

Choosing the right coffee grinder can significantly impact the quality of your coffee. With so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is best for you. Baratza, a company dedic...

Read more
Tips for Making a Better Cafetiere Coffee at Home

By Petra Jones on Jan 14, 2024

Making a great cup of coffee with a cafetiere can be tricky especially if you are new to the world of coffee. But don't worry, with a few tips and tricks, you can make a delicious cup of coffee every time.

Read more
Top 5 Coffees to Try If you Love Cappuccinos & Lattes

By Petra Jones on Jan 02, 2024

When selecting the best coffee beans for cappuccinos and lattes, it's essential to choose beans that are medium-bodied and have a balanced flavour profile. Some of the our most popular coffee beans for cappu...

Read more
Coffee Of The Month January 2024 - Kenya Bora

By Petra Jones on Jan 01, 2024

Grown at high altitudes, between 1500-1700 meters above sea level, the coffee beans benefit from the perfect combination of rich volcanic soil, ideal climate, and skilled farmers. The coffee is made of varie...

Read more
Introducing Yes! Definitely Bottled Water with Breath-taking Illustrations from Independent Artists

By Petra Jones on Dec 05, 2023

Yes! Definitely, the bottled water brand that is making a difference in South Africa, is now making its big debut in the UK. And it's not just any ordinary bottled water - each bottle is a work of art, showc...

Read more
Best Tea Gifts for Tea Lovers

By Petra Jones on Nov 16, 2023

If you have a tea lover in your life and you're looking for the perfect gift, look no further. We've curated a list of the best tea gifts that are sure to delight any tea enthusiast.

Read more
35 Best Gifts for Coffee Lovers

By Petra Jones on Nov 05, 2023

If you know someone who can't start their day without a cup of coffee, you can surprise them with the perfect gift. Whether they prefer iced coffee, espresso, or a filter coffee, there are plenty of ways to show your appreciation for their caffeine addiction. From flavorful grounds and beans to coffee subscription and gift sets, and coffee accessories like mugs, grinders, and coffee storage canisters, we've rounded up the best gifts for coffee lovers to make their morning cup even more enjoyable.

Read more