Espresso Coffee Makers and Their Evolution

  • Author Ron Frey
  • Published September 19, 2011
  • Word count 743

It has taken over one hundred and twenty five years and the efforts of many brilliant minds to develop the state of the art espresso coffee makers we enjoy today.

The first espresso machine was invented in the late 1800’s and was steam operated. It was merely a closed vessel with a flame beneath it, a few valves to let water in and coffee out and a chamber where the coffee grounds were contained. When the water in the vessel boils the steam is created and the pressure within the vessel increases. Upon opening the valve, water and some steam is released and pushed through the coffee grounds brewing a cup of espresso much faster and also much stronger than normally brewed coffee. Today we will discuss the three types of espresso coffee makers that have evolved from those early years; they are steam, piston and pump operated.

The steam operated espresso coffee maker:

While the original patent for the first espresso machine was granted in May of 1884 it was not until 1905 that the manufacturing process began. Desiderio Pavoni purchased one of the original versions of the patent and founded his company La Pavoni and production started at the rate of one machine a day.

As mentioned earlier the steam type espresso coffee maker is very basic in its operation. Still in use today, it has been improved upon substantially over time now using electricity instead a flame for heating the water. The machines produced today are attractive, easy to use and very inexpensive. The downside, due to less engineering and features is a lack of quality in the shot.

The piston/lever operated espresso coffee maker:

Achille Gaggia developed the piston operated machine in 1945. It was later introduced as a lever type; piston operated espresso coffee maker by La Cimbali. LaPavoni became for the first to produce this machine for home use.

Although not for everyone this machine is the absolute classic. It is blessed with that throw back look of old Italy and can be a conversational piece as much as an exceptional espresso coffee maker. These are machines that require some study and some practice if you are not already accomplished in what is considered by many a true art form. The end result can be amazing but can also be botched if not taken somewhat seriously.

It is worth noting that there are two types of lever/piston machines, the non-spring loaded and the spring loaded. The non-spring-loaded type requires the operator to exert and maintain the pressure on the lever. This leaves room for inconsistency and varying quality of shots. The spring-operated machine uses a spring to control the pressure once the lever has been pulled and eliminates that human element. The shots now become more consistent.

The pump operated espresso coffee maker:

The advent of the piston driven lever type machine only opened the door for more technology and hence the pump operated machine arrives. This machine was introduced in 1961 by Faema and is the model E61.

The primary difference when it was first introduced was that the pressure of the water through the coffee was provided by an electrical pump instead of a lever. As years have passed there have been innovations and improvements leading to three new categories of pump driven machines. These are the semi-automatic, fully automatic and super automatic espresso makers.

The most distinct differences between these three categories are:

The semi automatic must be started and stopped manually and does not have as much programability as the others. Grinding and tamping are done externally.

The fully automatic can be programmed to start and stop the process and has a much broader range of program options including drink programming. Grinding and tamping are done externally in this machine as well.

The super automatic espresso coffee maker will basically do it all. It measures, grinds, tamps and brews the espresso and will create many of your favorite drinks with the push of a button or touch of a screen. There are even machines that will read finger prints and program the users drink selection accordingly. These machines are also mostly self cleaning.

The pump operated machines are now the consumers favorite with many choices of very high quality manufactures such as Gaggia, LaPavoni, Rancilio, Pasquini and Saeco.

As you can see from the original steam machine first patented in 1884 to the super automatic espresso coffee makers of today there has been a true evolution.