Our modern civilisation owes much to the Italians, from ancient Rome to the Renaissance and beyond. But perhaps that nation’s greatest and most lasting contribution is that punchy, caffeine rich hit known as the espresso.
Legend has it that Italy’s coffee culture first started in nineteenth century factories, where the bosses noticed that workers were far more productive after a good hit of coffee. Of course, in the days before the espresso machine, the coffee was brewed in a pot over a flame in small batches and was consumed as a thick, grainy drink much like today’s Turkish coffee.
Angelo Moriono is credited with inventing and patenting the first machine to separate out steam and water for making coffee, in 1884. But he didn’t invent the espresso machine – his version still made coffee in bulk and he only ever had a few constructed and used in his own hotels and bars.
Espresso actually denotes the fact that a coffee is expressly and individually made for the drinker, and the first true espresso machine was invented by Luigi Bezzerra of Milan, which he patented in 1901.
Of course coffee machines have come a long way from Luigi’s primitive but ground-breaking invention and the preparation of an espresso is now a culinary art form. And some say espresso perfection comes from mastery of the four Ms – Macinazione – grinding the beans correctly; Macchina – having the right espresso machine; Miscela – the perfect blend of coffee; and Mano – the skilled barista who brings it all together.
The perfect espresso must comprise finely ground coffee, hot pressurised water forced through it to extract the flavour and caffeine and the delicate foam, or crema, on top.
On November 23rd, World Espresso Day, we all have the opportunity to celebrate this little, influential drink which has become a way of life for billions of people around the world.
To honour the espresso, there are some rules to keep in mind:
- Understand what it is – it’s not a blend of coffee it’s a way of making it.
- Not all coffees are equal – get the best.
- Get it made to order – expressly for you.
- If you want to have it Italian style – drink it standing up.
- Drink it quickly while the crema is on top.
- If there’s no crema, it’s either decaffeinated or it’s old – leave it alone.
- Embrace the moment and drink it any time of day!
- If it’s got milk, it’s not an espresso. Italians would never have a cappuccino after breakfast or any milk in coffee after eleven in the morning.
Of course, there is another fabulous way of enjoying an espresso – by adding it to a martini and enjoying with friends!