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The history of espresso coffee starts in 1901. An Italian named Luigi Bezzera, an owner of a manufacturing company in Milan, sought out a way to reduce the coffee break times of his employees.Bezzera had the idea to introduce pressure to the coffee brewing process, reducing the time needed to brew. He called his new machine the "Fast Coffee Machine". Espresso means "fast" in Italian. Not only did Bezzera's espresso machine reduce brewing time it made a better cup of coffee! A faster brewing time allows for the best qualities of the coffee bean to be extracted, avoiding some of the unfavourable qualities associated with over-extraction.In 1905 Bezzera sold his espresso patent to Desidero Pavoni.
There were some disadvantages to Bezzera's original design. Espresso tended to have a burnt flavour that was caused by boiling water and steam being forced through the coffee during the brewing process. This changed when in 1938 Cremonesi developed a piston pump that forced hot (but not boiling) water through the coffee.
It is first installed at Achille Gaggia's coffee bar but World War II prevented further development at that time.
In 1946 Gaggia begins manufacturing a commercial piston machine. The resulting coffee had a layer of foam on top, also known as, "crema."
Faema launches a pump based machine. Instead of a hand operated piston the water is forced through the coffee by an electric pump. Water is taken from the fresh water supply and travels through a tube (exchanger) that is passed through the boiler and then through the coffee. This allows the water to be at the optimal temperature.
Espresso machines are basically divided into these three categories: Super Automatic, Semi Automatic and Manual.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are automatic in the sense water is delivered by a pump, rather than manual force and remaining brew pressure in the basket is dissipated with a three way valve. Coffee grinding, dosing and tamping is prepared manually, and brew volume is controlled manually, resulting in the term semi-automatic. A clear example of this kind of machines, is the Elektra Semiautomatica.
Now mostly characteristic of the showpiece high-end designs of La Pavoni, the piston-driven espresso maker is the archetype of the modern espresso machine, and the origin of the crema, which was originally thought to be an undesirable waste product but is now considered characteristic of a properly made shot of espresso. It was invented in 1938 by Achille Gaggia; while it is still considered a good way to make espresso, it requires some strength to operate, and most such units sold today are as much showpieces as practical devices.