A Brief History of Espresso Machines

Sanremo espresso machine pulling double shot at The Lab by Royal New York

The RNY Lab is proud to be sponsored by Sanremo Espresso Machines.  The state of the art technology housed in our Sanremo Opera machines would probably make the innovators of the first espresso machines pass out from disbelief.  Let’s look back at the history of espresso machines and how they evolved over the years to create what we know today.

History of Espresso: 1822

Edward Loysel de Santais created his coffee machine. He commercialized and marketed the machine by 1843.  Santais machine wowed visitors at the Paris Exposition of 1855, producing one thousand cups of coffee an hour.

His machine used steam to help raise the water in the machine above the bed of coffee.  It wasn’t quite an espresso machine and it was also dangerous to operate, resulting in very bitter coffee.  It was, however, a coffee machine able to keep up with demand cup after cup, like what we depend on our machines today for.

the history of espresso


They granted Angelo Moriondo a patent for a new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverages.

This machine consisted of a large boiler, heated to 1.5 bars of pressure*, that pushed water through a large bed of coffee grounds on demand, with a second boiler producing steam that would flash the bed of coffee and complete the brew.

Except for the patent, little is known about Moriondo and his machines.  There are no existing machines or photographs of them.  This machine also wasn’t quite what we think of as an espresso machine today, but it was the inspiration for the espresso machines that came after it.

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Luigi Bezzera’s machine was unveiled.  In order to make coffee faster, he added pressurized water to push water through the coffee bed.  He made other improvements to Moriondo’s machine, including a portafilter**, multiple brew heads (also called group heads) and heat radiators to lower the temperature from 250°F to an optimal brew temp (195°F).  Although Bezzera had the mechanical mind for creating this machine, he lacked the marketing ability or finances to promote his invention.

In 1905 he sold the rights to Desiderio Pavoni.  At first, Pavoni and Bezzera worked together to further improve some technical logistics of the machine. Many credit Pavoni with creating the steam wand to access the built-up steam that collected inside a machine’s boiler.  They introduced the world to cafe espresso at the 1906 Milan Fair.  It is also cited that the name espresso machine was created in the spur of the moment by Pavoni.

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Eventually, Bezzera dropped out of the picture (he was possibly bought out by Pavoni) and Pavoni continued to produce and market the machine.  Many espresso machines began to appear, all taking after Pavoni’s machine, though Pavoni dominated the espresso market for more than a decade.

Despite the technology of Pavoni’s machines, they only reached 2 bars of pressure.

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Achille Gaggia files for a patent for his espresso machine.  Steam pressure in the boiler forces the water into a cylinder where it is further pressurized by a spring-piston lever operated by the barista.  This eliminated the need for massive boilers and also increased water pressure to 8-10 bars, which we still use today.

It also standardized the size of espresso, since the lever groups could only hold an ounce of water. Perhaps most importantly, water under that much pressure going through the coffee produced crema, the foam floating over the coffee which is now a defining characteristic of espresso.

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For many years after, espresso machines continued to have some quality issues and were not easy to use.  They needed an experienced and skilled operator who controlled many important, but finicky, aspects of the machine that directly affected the quality of the resulting beverage if not done correctly.


Ernesto Valente introduced the Faema E61.  It used a motorized pump to provide 9 bars of constant and precise pressure without needing a lever.  It was also the first heat exchange machine.

Heat exchange machines have a large boiler that keeps water around 240°F, ideal for producing steam for the steam wand.  Brewing water makes its way to the group head through a coiled tube inside this boiler.  This fresh water is flash heated as it makes its way through and is up to temperature for coffee brewing by the time it reaches the group head.

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Modern Espresso Machines

Sanremo espresso machine

The espresso machines on the market today are all about executing precision even in the highest volume cafes.  They are also the ultimate barista friendly machines and are customizable in every way.

The Opera has just about every feature you would want in a commercial espresso machine. It contains 5 boilers, 3 for each group head, one for the steam wand and a pre-heater that circulates water over the top of each group to constantly maintain their set temperature.

Each group head can save six customizable presets.  This feature is fantastic for a lab or training center, but also for cafes.  It makes it easy to offer multiple espresso options on your menu and have a custom profile for each.

As a barista, I personally love the built in scales under each group head.  These scales sit flush with the drip tray, are totally waterproof, and display the weight on an LCD screen above the group head.

You can also connect the machine using Bluetooth and make setting adjustments via an app. With so many customizable features, this machine may sound like it’s hard to use, but it was designed with busy baristas in mind.  The ergonomics of the machine feel very natural and making your custom adjustments while dailing in your machine is easy to do.

We will be posting the date for our first Barista Professional Series workshop in the upcoming weeks!  Stay tuned by joining The Source to stay up to date on upcoming classes and events at The Lab. To learn more about this history of espresso and the Sanremo Opera, please email

sanremo espresso machine

History of Espresso Definitions

* “bars of pressure” refers to the unit of measurement for atmospheric pressure. Atmospheric pressure is caused by the weight of the atmosphere pushing down on itself and on the surface below it. 1 bar of atmospheric pressure is roughly equal to 14.5 pounds per square inch.

** portafilter: a “portable filter.”  A part of the espresso machine that detaches from the machine and holds the ground coffee for brewing.