The Italian Connection Expressly for You

Espresso In RomeWe used to cringe when someone ordered an “expresso.” That’s like saying you like to play “chest” while I’m checkmating you on the back rank. That’s like the student sentence that offered some “pacific examples” instead of “specific examples.” That’s like singing “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”

But in fact the joke is on us: the Italian word espresso means both “pressed” and “express,” and Italians invented espresso in part to make coffee faster—café-espress. In the late 19th century, steam infusion was both an innovative coffee-making method and emblematic of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of modernity.

Traditional brewing methods involved boiling the water and ground beans together in a large pot, which would then sit around for hours or even days. Brewing one small cup for a single person was impractical and could make you late for work.

The year 1884 was the apex of the Age of Steam, so finding a way to use such a miracle gas to brew coffee seemed logical. Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, applied for the earliest patent for an espresso machine, but other inventors improved on his idea.

By 1905, the espresso machine perfected the brewing problems of the earlier steam brewers, lowering the temperature at the point of contact to brew a tastier cup. And it was a huge hit with the Italian working class.

Clouds of Steam, So Déclassé

Soon, espresso, a concentrated cup of coffee made quickly and “expressly for you” in 45 seconds, was the default method for all coffee in Italy. But espresso was considered déclassé, the drink working class Italians drank standing up on the way to work.

Indeed, the coffee “stand” grew out of business necessity. The Italians taxes coffee at different rates, depending on how it was served and consumed. A cup of joe in a fancy sit-down restaurant was taxed at a higher rate than coffee consumed while standing up. So the original coffee stand had no chairs to avoid a luxury tax.

Back at the factory, Desiderio Pavoni’s espresso patent was mass produced at the stunning rate of one new espresso machine per day, and soon, steam-brewed coffee was making its way to France, Bohemia, and the rest of the world.

No Monks Were Used to Produce This Blog

The Italians preferred their espresso black, and the further down the Boot you went, the darker the roast. But the French like café au lait and figured out a way to use excess steam from the espresso machine to heat up milk or cream, creating cappuccino.

We used to have visions of little hooded Capuchin monks sleepily making cappuccinos before matins. But monks had nothing to do with the invention of cappuccino. The color of the drink where the coffee meets the foam resembled the color of the monks’ famous hoods, so the name stuck like foam on the side of your white cup.

A French drink with an Italian sounding name is par on this caffeinated golf course, where years later a Seattle-based coffee company would commandeer Italian words to describe the sizes of their espresso-based drinks.

We just ask for a medium expresso and smile.