Espresso Machine History: Two Centuries of Home Espresso

Coffee has become one of the most favored items for the Americans. Without a cup of coffee, a majority public cannot think of their days. With the popularity, the home espresso machine has also become a popular appliance in the kitchen. But How it all started, what is the espresso machine history in America?

Well, it all started a few centuries ago. And in the 19th centrally, the espresso has already become a huge business material in Europe and America. Along with the improvement of other kitchen appliances, like the kitchen sink, cookeries, kitchen faucets, the espresso machine has a gradual improvement from that time.

In the latter part of the century, people began to think about bringing the whole machine home. And that is when the small design came out in the market.

2 Centuries of Espresso Machine History

We will discuss the history of espresso machine in two parts. One is the early steam pressure brewer system and the other is atomic stream pressure that has come after 1950. The later one is still functioned in the most coffee shop.

Early Steam-Pressure Brewers

Italian Steam-Pressure Brewer is a design typical of many small tabletop brewing devices. These devices are manufactured in northern Italy throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

An alcohol lamp heated water in a sealed reservoir at the lower part of the device.

The pressure of steam trapped in the reservoir gradually forced the water up. The water then goes to a tube and through a bed of coffee. The brewed coffee exited from the top of the pot via the curved tube into a cup or container.

Steam-Pressure Brewer with Separate Coffee Chamber

Steam-Pressure Brewer with Separate Coffee Chamber

In the later nineteenth century, steam-pressure designs appeared. The machine has separated the filter containing the coffee from the water-steam reservoir. This has been like this in order to avoid baking or burning the ground coffee.

Most of these devices presented a profile similar to this early twentieth-century design.

The water-steam reservoir is at the right. And the trapped steam pressure in the reservoir forced the water up and along the horizontal tube. The tube is at the top of the device. With the pressure down, the water comes through the coffee held in the filter chamber on the left.

This example, like many similar designs, incorporates an additional useful feature. The feature includes a valve controlling the flow of hot water from the reservoir to the filter. And all the way it is holding the coffee, which permitted the user to stop the brewing process at will.

In the illustration, the control valve appears as a small lever at the top of the reservoir.

Curiously, such a means to control the output of coffee. Also, the design was simple despite its successful incorporation in relatively early examples like this one.

Efforts to Achieve Greater Brewing Pressure

Efforts to Achieve Greater Brewing Pressure

Compressed Air Pressure Brewer

In this device from the 1920s, the pressure of compressed air forced the brewing water through the ground coffee. Hot water was placed in the elevated central reservoir.

The water then goes through the ground coffee by means of air-pumps into the top of the reservoir. One could do it by the small hand pump protruding from the base on the left.

A concealed tube is there to hold the air to the top of the reservoir. And then, the coffee was held near the bottom of the reservoir in a metal filter.

 Gaggia Spring-Loaded Piston Brewer

Doubtless is there to extend the popularity of its revolutionary new lever-operated commercial machines. This machine from the 1950s used a spring-loaded piston to force hot water through the tightly packed coffee. And thus it produces a near caffè-quality espresso.

When someone clamps down the handles on either side of the device, it compresses a spring inside the top of the central tower.

The spring then forced a piston down through a reservoir filled with electrically heated water. It recovers it by pressing the water through the coffee. The coffee was held in a commercial-style filter and filter holder. Also, from the collection of Ambrogio Fumagalli.

Pavoni Europiccola

Companies still manufacture these charming devices. Also, the Europiccola combines the belle epoque look of the early Pavoni bar machines. These machines have a manually operated lever reminiscent of the Gaggia machines of the 1950s.

The lever does not compress a spring, however, as in the Gaggia-style machines, but directly acts on the piston. In other words, the operator simply leans on the lever and presses the water through the coffee.

The Europiccola and other larger, somewhat more sophisticated machines like it make excellent espresso when used knowledgeably.

Steam Pressure Brewers 1950s to the Present

Steam Pressure Brewers 1950s to the Present

Steam pressure brewer was there in later part of the 19th century that had the ability to brew coffee quicker. The technology was improving day by day for better taste and time management. Here is the history of espresso machine after the 1950s.

“Atomic” Steam-Pressure Brewer

The name “Atomic” and the shape, reminiscent of a cross between a mushroom cloud and an overstuffed sofa. Both seem to mark this device as a product of the 1950s. Although, the companies had produced similar designs in the century.

A stovetop machine, the Atomic used the pressure of trapped steam and a commercial-style filter and filter holder. The addition of a steam valve and wand for making drinks with frothed milk is unusual

Also, most small European home espresso brewers did not, and still, do not, incorporate this feature, since most Italians prefer their espresso without milk.

The addition of the steam valve made this device a strong seller in the United States and Australia in the 1960s. This time the espresso drinks with milk were first becoming popular in both countries.

My first two home espresso brewers were Atomics, and still feel a pang of nostalgia when I see one.

Manufacturing Atomic Brewer

The manufacturer of the Atomic is now out of business. It was a rather cranky design that required an attentive operator and some crafty improvisation to produce decent espresso; the small electric countertop devices popular today are easier to use.

The illustrated example comes from the collection of the Thomas Cara family, San Francisco.

Thomas Cara, a pioneering West Coast importer, and distributor of espresso apparatus, customized many of the Atomic brewers. He sold them by adding the little steam pressure gauge. The gauge is seen here protruding from the top of the machine.

Contemporary Steam-Pressure Brewer

Little electric countertop machines are changing the way North Americans make their coffee. If you use it carefully, a device like this one can make decent espresso drinks. With the price of  $100 with frothed milk and weak but passable straight espresso.

It uses the pressure of trapped steam to force the water through the coffee.  It is like the “Atomic” machine above and the earlier devices. But it uses an electric element to heat the water.

It keeps the ground coffee from baking by separating it from the body of the machine. And also it incorporates a steam wand for frothing milk and a valve for stopping the flow of coffee. This is done at the optimum moment to avoid over-extraction.

Like many of these small machines and kitchen appliances, the Braun Espresso Master incorporates a gadget on the end of the steam wand. In the broad historical picture, such gadgets are one more indication that espresso has gone American.

The milk-frothing operation has become as important as the coffee-making function in selling the machine in the USA and Canada.

Home Pump Machines of the 1980s and 1990s

The 1980 – 90 was a revolutionary time frame when the espresso machine has seen a lot of changes and improvements.

Baby Gaggia Espresso Machine

This Gaggia machine is the first wave of small home pump machines to reach the North American market. It was enormously successful in Italy. Sturdy and authoritative with its clean lines and cast-metal case, it attempted to bring into the home.

With the capabilities of the semi-automatic pump machines, it is a great improvement. Also, this had come to dominate the caffè scene in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today’s home pump machines tend to be smaller, lighter in weight, and cheaper. Though the manufacturer still makes Baby Gaggia, the cast-metal case is now plastic. However, they work in the same way.

Water is held in a removable, refillable reservoir. And later it flows as needed into a small boiler, where it is heated to brewing temperature. Then the water vibrates electric pump through the ground coffee held in a caffè-style filter and filter holder.

Steam for milk frothing is there by the same boiler, after a transitional procedure in which the temperature in the boiler is raised sufficiently to produce a sturdy flow of steam.

All operations except modulating the steam flow for frothing are controllable by buttons. These machines now have a size, you can easily fit on the kitchen countertop.

Saeco Super Automatica Twin

The Saeco Super Automatica Twin and its somewhat smaller relative, the Super Automatica were there in the late 1980s. They were the first fully automatic home machines that we saw in the United States. Both operate much like the semi-automatic machines.

We have described this above. But Saeco they also grind the coffee, load it, tamp it. And, after the brewing operation finishes, it empties the grounds. The whole operation is very smooth using all at the touch of various buttons.

One still needs to froth the milk. However, using the seco super automatic twin espresso machine has improved the coffee maker to a whole new level. Especially, in the recent espresso machine history. This type of espresso machine can produce quicker coffee out of it and are really easy to use.

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