What Is Espresso? – History And Evolution


What Is EspressoIn recent years, it appears that our tastes have turned toward upgrades of some of the most basic of life’s pleasures. We like our water purified and bottled and we like our coffee’s flavor to be enhanced. One of the most widespread trends in enhancing the flavor of coffee is enjoying fine espresso. It’s one of today’s most popular beverages, and in fact has been around for many years.

Dating back to 1901, it has never before enjoyed the popularity in the US that it has gained over the last decade. Whether you like it straight and unadulterated, or you enjoy it as a base for other types of beverages, like cappuccino or café latte, you may have wondered what is espresso, and how is it made.

So What Is Espresso Exactly?

Espresso is created by using steam to force very hot water through finely ground compacted coffee, with a great deal of pressure. Simply put, it is concentrated pressure brewed coffee. Because the process is pressurized, the flavors and the chemicals of the coffee are highly concentrated, and it creates an especially thick, strong, nearly syrupy coffee beverage, with a delicious layer of foam, called crema, on the top.

The process of concentrating the coffee is what makes this beverage unique, as any type of coffee can be used, as long as it is finely ground. The water’s temperature should be just below the boiling point, and it is typically served in one to two ounce shots.

The Grind is considered vital to the quality of the final beverage, as the more finely ground the powder is, the more of the flavor can be extracted in the process. Many consider the grind to be more important even than the quality of the blend of coffee.

Early History Of Espresso – Who, Where, When, And Why

The very first recorded invention of an espresso machine was in 1822 by a French man named Louis Bernard Rabaut. His machine was steam powered, and was succeeded in 1833 by Dr Ernest Illy who invented the first automatic espresso machine.

In Milan Italy, Luigi Bezzera first patented his espresso machine in 1901. It was designed more as a matter of convenience and time saving than as a tool for creating gourmet coffee. Some say that Bezzera was simply looking for a way to make coffee faster, so that the employees in his manufacturing company could take shorter coffee breaks.

To make this quickly brewed coffee, Bezzera created his machine using the same concept of steam and pressure forcing hot water through the grounds that is used today. However, the result was far more bitter, as Bezzera’s invention still needed some refinement.

Bezzera sold the patent on his machine to Desiderio Pavoni in 1905. It was Pavoni that realized that the bitterness of the coffee was due to the high temperature of the water and the steam pressure that Bezzera had been using. Pavoni experimented with different water temperatures until he discovered that 195 degrees Fahrenheit combined with 8-9 bar of pressure produced the best cup of coffee. This combination of hot water and pressure is still widely used today.

Other notable personalities include Angelo Moriondo, Ian Bersten, and Lino Meiorin. For a more detailed chronological discussion of the history and evolution of espresso see this page on Wikipedia.

More Recent Espresso Evolution

The espresso machine that was the true forerunner to what we use today was invented in 1947 by the Gaggia Company. They were the first to manufacture a machine that could force pressurized water through the grounds without having to be steam driven. This advancement allowed the espresso machine to be produced cheaply enough that restaurants and some consumers could afford their own machines. This innovation was responsible for making espresso much more widely known.

Over the years, different companies have experimented with different types of machines, including hydraulic machines and, later, piston operated machines, which are still quite common. In fact, it was the piston technology that made creating espresso machines designed exclusively for consumer use easier and more cost effective.

Today, there are a myriad of machines on the market, for commercial and consumer use. You don’t have to be rich, or have a great deal of counter space in your home to house one. Today’s models can make the perfect cup of espresso every time, and most have features for steaming milk (called an aeroccino), so that you can make all sorts of coffee creations using an espresso base.

Too Strong, You Say?

Espresso does produce a very strong shot of coffee, with a high level of caffeine for such a small serving. However, many people who drink it regularly don’t drink it straight. It is the base for many of the most common beverages served at today’s coffee houses.

Café latte, cappuccino, mocha and many other popular coffee beverages are made with a base of espresso. The addition of steamed milk and flavorings allows a wide variety of drinks to be made that appeal to many people who find straight espresso to be too strong.

Some include

  • Traditional macchiato
  • Modern macchiato
  • Cortado
  • Piccolo
  • Galão
  • Flat white
  • Cappuccino
  • Latte

There is a much more comprehensive list, including details of the mixtures at Wikipedia here.

Nespresso Citiz ReviewAs espresso and the many other drinks made from it have become more popular, more people have turned to making the coffee at home. The Nespresso Citiz is one of the favored models, with great user feedback. Read my Nespresso Citiz review here.

A home brewing machine allows you to make espresso drinks any time. In addition to the added convenience of being able to make the beverage whenever you want, having a home brewing machine is a great way to save money. In case you haven’t noticed, those coffee house drinks are pricey, especially if you’re stopping in every morning before work. Your home brew machine will pay for itself in no time with the money you save by making your own in the morning.

Home espresso machines are easy to find, and come in a wide variety of price ranges and features. It’s worth your time to evaluate the different models available so that you find one that suits your needs without breaking the bank.

If you’re new to espresso, be sure to try making it from different roasts and different coffee beans. Though many people assume that this beverage is always made from a dark roast or other heavy coffee, it actually can be made from any coffee variety. Experimenting at home with several different kinds of coffee in your espresso machine will allow you to learn how to brew the perfect cup for you.

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