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Although coffee was first discovered in the 15th century by Ethiopians, it was only in the 1880s that the first known coffee machine was invented. Angelo Moriondo from Italy patented the first machine – a bulk brewer – but never manufactured it at an industrial-scale. Despite his machine’s ability to produce about a thousand cups of espresso, one criterion was lacking: it couldn’t brew efficiently for an individual customer.
That was until, Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni from Milan, Italy took up the challenge in the early 1900s to develop coffee machines that would brew “at the spur of the moment”. But it wasn’t that easy. Roasting and brewing espresso is a pure chemistry. The temperature and pressure must not be compromised in order to get thick syrupy texture with crema – emulsified coffee oil – on top.
Both Bezzerra and Pavoni worked together and first introduced the concept “cafée espresso” to the world in a 1906 Milan Fair. After the fair, eclectic choices of machines began to appear throughout Italy and their first functional espresso machines evolved into new-fangled works of art.
Other than these interesting facts, I thought it would be nice to drool over these vintage espresso machines which to me, are a collection of some of the amazing crafts of mankind.
1. The 1920s
The 1920s was not just about the flapper headbands, chemise dresses and long necklaces; it was also decade of trial and error for Espresso machines when one of them became an excessively expensive collectible that could cost up to US$20,000! *falls dramatically to the floor*
Prior to the electronic version of the Kaiser Espresso Machine, ground coffee was hermetically sealed in an airtight container-like machine. The earlier method was particularly hazardous because the ground coffee was extracted under a high-pressure steam. It is no longer mass-produced today and can only be found displayed in some European Museums.
2. The 1930s to 1940s
Let’s just take a moment to look at these beauties, shall we? These are still available but difficult to find and can cost up to US$3000.
The designs of these Espresso Machines are mostly inspired by Bezzerra and Pavoni’s machines where the “Jules Verne” ornaments are the integral part of the brand. But a barista, Achille Gaggia innovated the design by replacing the ornaments with a flat top counter-like head with a lever mechanism.
Achille Gaggia was among the earlier ones who patented a steam-free coffee and the first to use a piston mechanism to force water at high pressure machine into the ground coffee – a revolutionary method still used today. In fact, the lever of this high-pressure machine led to the discovery of “caffe creme”. When some early customers suspected an odd layer of liquid floating over their coffee, Gaggia started referring this as crema and was formed due to the quality of the coffee. Hence, the birth of contemporary Espresso.
4. The 1950s
This “Martian” espresso machine made by Giordano Robbiarti is a rare all-alloy that gives a futuristic sci-fi style of design. Notably in the same decade, Sputnik 1 – the first artificial satellite – was released by the Soviet Union at the elliptical low Earth orbit. I can’t say for sure if this machine was inspired by Sputnik, but they both look relatively similar, in my opinion.
5. The 1960s
This retro espresso machine was innovated by Ernesto Valente and inspired by Gaggia’s early machines. It is more advanced in the way that it has motorized pumps and a heat exchanger that would keep badly brewed espresso at bay.
If I had to go back to any time in the past – for the sake of the espresso machine – it would easily be either the 1940s or 1960s. Then again, we’ve come so far with the espresso machine; it would be hard to not want to go back to the future for your favourite cup of coffee. Other than that, some of the earlier machines got me thinking: what would it be like to struggle just to have a nice cup of coffee or espresso?