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Coffee History - The Origins of Espresso

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Coffee as we know it today has come quite far from its origins. Historians have argued by that coffee originated in the 10th century in Ethiopia, however, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of origin between a number of reports and legends. The first substantiated claims of the use of coffee comes from the Sufi (Islamic mystic) monasteries in Yemen in the 15th century.

Coffee then spread to Persia, Turkey, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere by the sixteenth century. From there, it spread into the Balkans, across the Mediterranean, and into Indonesia. Eventually the coffee plant would make its way through the Columbian exchange after the discovery of the new world, and there it would embed itself like it had to the rest of the world, into the cultural and economic foundation (for a map of hot-spots where coffee is grown today, click here). 

Drinking coffee or tea became a social function in early modern Europe, and since its introduction, coffee has progressed, becoming more refined by progressive minds and inventions. 

That brings us to the origins of espresso. Avid drinkers probably don't often wonder of the origins of the drink they love while indulging, but how did we get to this point?

What is Espresso

First off, what is espresso? Is it just stronger coffee? The answer is yes, and the process which makes this stronger coffee is made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans (typically containing about three to five times as much caffeine).

Origins of Espresso

According to La Marzocco, espresso has existed for just over 130 years. The first patent was created for an espresso machine in 1884, and the invention was never successful. Espresso made its real world debut at the World's Fair in Milano, Italy in 1906, under the pretenses that this idea of an espresso machine meant one thing: a quickly brewed, single cup of coffee.

After World War One, an Italian man named Pier Arduino invented an espresso machine and sold them to Parisian cafes and elsewhere. A more successful machine would be created by Giuseppe Bambi in 1927, and he and his brother would sell their first machine in 1930. Working to improve the machine, they turned the boiler on its side creating the first horizontal espresso machine, but none of these survived world war two because metals were scarce and very few espresso machines from the time survive.

Different systems of brewing and steaming refined the espresso machine over the years. An entrepreneur from the US helped generate interest for the machines, and started importing them to the into the US after going directly to Italy to meet with Giuseppe Bambi and his son. He would later acquire Starbucks and create a market for the espresso product, and by the 1990's the espresso bug had bitten citizens of the US hungry for a strong cup of coffee to help them through their workdays. By the end of the decade, Starbucks was a huge corporation, and a wave of culinary innovation came quickly with indie and other local coffee shops that sought to offer high-end coffee and espresso.

Today, espresso makers can be purchased relatively easily, being used by high end coffee seekers right in their own kitchens. Personal machines can range from $40 US and above, whereas commercial machine can easily reach upwards of $5,000.

Further Readings

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