In 1901 Luigi Bezzera, an engineer from Milan, created the first espresso machine which used steam to make coffee. But espresso as we know it was born in 1947 when Achille Gaggia, a bar owner in Milan, invented a way to brew coffee under pressure.
The first espresso machines were huge and cylindrical, made of copper, bronze and brass and looked like space ships.
They not only sped up the coffee making process, a necessity, as coffee consumption was growing rapidly at the start of last century. They also created a new type of beverage, the strong and creamy espresso.
Some people say the term espresso, one of the best-known Italian words in the world, refers to the particular method of brewing coffee under pressure. Others say it refers to the quickness of the process.
The secret of making the true espresso remains in following a set procedure to create 'crema', – a creamy hazelnut-coloured coffee foam.
Stick to the rulesPressure in the machine should be kept at nine atmospheres, meaning water should be brought to 90-95 degrees celsius, not to a boiling point.
Freshly ground coffee should be used within one day.
The brewing time of a standard 30 ml cup of espresso should be 25 to 30 seconds.
If it takes more time the coffee will have a burnt flavour and dark foam, and if it takes less time the coffee will be watery and will have a light weak foam.
An espresso cup should be warmed to 45 degrees celsius and should be made of special thick porcelain to prevent the coffee from getting cold too quickly and losing its specific aroma.
The cup should be shaped like a shortened cone to keep 'crema' the best, and should be thicker at the bottom to keep the coffee warm longer.
The coffee should be drunk within two minutes after it was prepared or it starts losing its delicate bouquet.
'Crema' is the best indicator of espresso quality, it should be of an even hazelnut colour and be thick enough so that if sugar is added it should float on the surface for a few seconds before sinking. The 'crema' then should close over the sugar after it drops to the bottom of a cup.
Another famous Italian coffee, cappuccino, is made by adding milk emulsion to espresso in a proportion of one unit of coffee to four units of milk which has been stirred by steam.
Here are the rules for making a perfect espresso as explained by Luca Mastantuoni of Lavazza.