Espresso – the aromatic, concentrated coffee drink that kickstarts so many mornings – has come a long way since its beginnings in early 20th century Italy.
While the modern espresso experience remains founded on the same principles used decades ago, many incremental innovations have led to noticeable differences between espresso then and now. Let’s explore the progression of this beloved beverage from classic to contemporary.
The Origins of Espresso
Legends abound regarding espresso’s exact origin, but most agree that the earliest forms of espresso emerged in Italy in the early 1900s.
The first espresso machines used steam pressure to produce a concentrated, intense coffee drink Unlike drip coffee preparation which exposes ground coffee to hot water for several minutes, espresso passes pressurized hot water through finely ground coffee in just seconds. This rapid brewing yields the thick, concentrated espresso we know and love.
Early espresso was all about efficiency and standardization. The fast prep time and consistent results made it the perfect drink for busy urban cafes.
The machines were large, clunky and purely mechanical, but they got the job done. The espresso itself was served simply – just a small shot of coffee in a diminutive cup.
The Middle Years: Mid-1900s
In the middle of the century, the espresso scene progressed but stayed relatively consistent. The Italian immigrant population in America grew, bringing their coffee culture with them and popularizing espresso stateside.
The iconic Italian espresso bar took hold as a social gathering place. But the drink itself remained fundamentally the same.
The biggest upgrades came in the form of improved espresso machines with more automation and stability.
Lever-driven manual machines transitioned to pump-driven models, which brewed espresso with more consistent results.
However, shots were still short – generally 1-1.5 ounces. Little variation existed between cafes or baristas. Espresso was espresso – a singular, concentrated beverage.
The Rise of the Modern Coffeehouse
By the 1980s and 90s, Starbucks and other chains brought espresso to the mainstream. The world fell in love with the strong little coffee shots, ordering them as long drinks with steamed milk and foam.
New machines like superautomatics made espresso more accessible. But a greater shift came in the way people perceived and consumed it.
Espresso became a craft, an artisanal good. Baristas became espresso artisans, each brewing with their own style and flair. Customization options expanded dramatically.
Drinks could be made short or long, with varying milk amounts and flavors. Dozens of new derivatives joined staples like cappuccinos and lattes.
From Commercialized Commodity to Artisan Craft
Most importantly, espresso transformed from a standardized commercial product into a true artisanal craft with endless diversity.
While dark roasts are still popular, there’s a growing trend towards medium and light roasts in espresso.
Brewing methods spotlighted new flavors from light, fruity notes to rich, chocolatey tones. Roasting profiles became just as important as bean origins and varietals.
Classic espresso had been a singular, consistent item. Modern espresso is a spectrum – no two the same. Cafes and their baristas distinguish themselves with their own styles, methods, and menus.
Beans are sourced from specialty roasters for unique flavor profiles. Espresso today tells a story – about its origins, its brewing, its preparation.
This artisan approach has created an espresso renaissance. As technology improves, so does our ability to extract boldest flavors and craft increasingly complex drinks. Yet baristas balance this innovation with a respect for tradition and handcrafted care. The future of espresso promises even more diversity paired with a celebration of its rich history.
Modern vs Classic Espresso…What’s The Difference?
Modern espresso emphasizes precision, consistency, and often features lighter roasts to highlight nuanced flavors, while classic espresso leans towards darker roasts, producing a bolder, more traditional taste with a focus on crema and robustness. The distinction reflects both a shift in coffee roasting trends and advancements in brewing technology.