The Fascinating Birth of Espresso

If you really want to understand where espresso came from, Leonato Capello’s work is a great place to start. Capello, an Italian artist who worked in Paris from the early 1900s to the late 1930s, is often celebrated as the father of modern poster advertising. While he’s known for collaborations with brands like Campari, his 1922 poster for Victoria Arduino offers a unique glimpse into the early days of espresso.

The original espresso patent dates back to 1884 and belongs to Angelo Moriondo from Turin. Moriondo aimed to solve the age-old problem of how long it took to brew coffee. Typically, brewing faster required a finer grind, but water struggled to pass through the finer coffee grounds. His solution was to use steam pressure to push water through the grounds more quickly. Although he never commercialized his invention, others built upon his ideas.

Enter Luigi Bezzera in 1903, who made key innovations to Moriondo’s design but lacked the funds to commercialize it. Desiderio Pavoni bought the patents and refined the design further. In 1906, they showcased their inventions at the Milan Fair, introducing the term ‘café espresso’ to the world. This term perfectly described what the machine did: coffee expressed quickly through the machine.

Other manufacturers quickly followed suit, including Pier Teresio Arduino, who eventually commissioned Capello’s iconic poster. The poster not only marked the end of the age of steam but also celebrated speed in coffee brewing. The train imagery in the poster effectively communicated that this coffee could be made fast enough to grab from a moving train. Speed was the selling point, and it resonated deeply with people of that era.

However, what’s most intriguing is what the machine was brewing. Contrary to today’s espresso, these machines produced small cups of filter coffee. This wasn’t a new recipe but an innovation focused on speed. The real transformation occurred in 1948, credited to Achille Gaggia, who took espresso into a new realm with pressure innovations that forever changed its character and taste.

Capello’s poster for Victoria Arduino has become a cliché, an image so common that it’s often overlooked. Yet, it holds incredible details that tell the story of espresso’s fascinating beginnings.

From Moriondo’s original patent to Capello’s poster, the journey of espresso is one of continuous innovation focused on speed. While the essence of what we call espresso has evolved, the spirit of rapid coffee brewing remains its core identity.