I recently read an interesting introduction to espresso in Mary Palmer’s cookbook in which she talks about the origins of coffee in Ethiopia. Palmer states that in the 15th century coffee was introduced to the Europeans by way of the Venetians. In 1855, a Frenchman thought up the idea of making quick coffee to be served aboard trains. But the Italians thought the process was too long and devised a way in which to make fresh coffee quicker. In 1903, the Gaggia family in Milan improved on the idea of quick coffee. In 1948, Gaggia perfected espresso by inventing the modern espresso machine using steam, thus allowing the barista to make hundreds of cups of fresh coffee in no time!
La Cucina Italiana has a nice overview on the history of espresso as well as a quick guide to make the golden nector (though they don’t specify equipment).
If you’re looking for the best espresso machine for home use you can go two ways:
- For $20 you can buy a simple stove top espresso machine that yields decent coffee (Bialetti is the standard) or,
- Splurge and purchase a $550 brass boiler infused machine like the Rancillo Silvia (the best bang for your buck semi automatic machine on the market in my view).
- Recently, a few handheld machines have entered the “home use” category, including the Handpresso Wild ESE, Handpresso Domepod, and MyPressi Twist
Nevertheless, if you can find a real deal espresso bar in the U.S. (sorry Starbucks doesn’t get it right) then you’ll be in heaven. If you’re in the NYC/Westchester area go to Cafe Latte in Dobbs Ferry for southern Italian style espresso or Hastings Station Cafe in Hastings on the Hudson (the owner Avi is a great guy and takes espresso seriously) !