Monday, 19 March 2012

History of the Espresso Maker

You’ve tied the green apron strings round your waist, ingredients are lined up on the work surface on the first day of your cookery class in Italy and perhaps the best way to begin is with a freshly brewed cup of espresso!

Pick up the quirkily designed, octagonal Moka Express machine, designed to ape wealthy Italian silver coffee sets years ago, add the best Nani coffee and water and in just a few minutes that thick treacly shot of wonderment is releasing its heady scents into the atmosphere of a Tuscan kitchen – ah sniff the air!

It’s funny how having access to fresh espresso has become such an everyday part of our lives and we don’t even have to go all the way to Italy or take a cookery class to enjoy one!
If you look carefully, it is likely your own espresso machine will bear the famous ‘Bialetti’ mark on it. What you probably won’t know is that we are celebrating over 70 years of its production with hardly a tweak of change.
Alfonso Bialetti & Company was already making aluminium products way back at the beginning of the twentieth century. But it was in 1919 that Alfonso’s extraordinary thought processes and commercial eye transformed his ordinary aluminium workshop based in Conchiglia into a design studio and production area for aluminium products.

This was just the beginning; it took almost fifteen years before the Moka Express was born. Like all highly successful things the technology was born of observational skills, a case of men watching women at work again!

Alfonso kept his eye on the local Crusinallo washer women who at that time, washed laundry in a sealed boiler. The canny thing about this little machine was the fact it had a small pipe going straight through the middle and its role was to bring up soapy water from the bottom of the boiler and pump it all over the washing. Hey presto! The espresso machine was born!
Alfonso Bialetti scuttled back to his workshop and set about adapting the concept so ordinary people could enjoy the magic of the coffee bar espresso at home without having the need of fancy machinery or any barista skill. With clever advertising, the little machine went on to sell and sell and sell. Today’s machines still bear the ‘little man with the moustache’ icon which is now over 50 years old. Bialetti took the coffee world by storm and the Moka Express is still the most popular of stove top espresso makers, I bet you have one at home!

You may be wondering why aluminium was Bialetti’s choice and not stainless steel, sometimes design iconography can be a product of historical necessity. Mussolini’s administration had placed an embargo on the importation and use of stainless steel to necessitate the exploitation of Italy’s bauxite, which is another name for aluminium ore: ‘The National Metal of Italy’ was born and the Moka Express plays its part in the kitchen of Flavours cooking course in Italy.

Sometimes an original concept or design is so perfect it doesn’t need changing and this is the case with the Moka Express which still functions in exactly the same way as it has always done. Aluminium also plays its part, as the residues from the coffee coat it easily and thus adds to the infusion, so one less thing to wash up!

I guess you’ve finished your coffee now and it’s time to prepare the tasty dishes for lunch, after all you are supposed to be in a cookery class in Italy; it’s not a holiday you know!!

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