Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the era of spirit-burning machines was bringing us close to the age of modern espresso as we know it today. In 1884, Angelo Moriondo filed a patent and produced a very small number of machines featuring a burner at the bottom of an upright boiler. His machine was equipped with water level and steam pressure gauges, as well as a safety valve and a quick-mount handle. His design allowed the operator (the word barista wouldn’t come into regular usage until the 1930s) control of the amount of water and steam used in the brewing process. BH researcher Tom Hopkinson explains,
‘The most original feature of his machine was separate controls for the supply of water and steam to the coffee. This allowed a measured volume of water to be loaded into the brewing chamber, before a puff of steam was used to push the liquid out, finishing the extraction and leaving a dry puck.’
By the end of the 20th Century, food historians had lost touch with Moriondo and his machines were long forgotten. As far as we know, none of Moriondo’s machines survive, but his patent (shown above) was uncovered by machine collector and author Ian Bersten in 1991. Many years after this key discovery, collector, Sebastien DelPrat found several patent renewals which Moriondo had continued to lodge up until his death in 1913 as well as two pictures which Delprat is certain show us Moriondo’s machine, on display at the Torino trade show of 1898. As Delprat explains in this article, authored by Bersten with an excerpt by Delprat, these could be the only surviving photos of Moriondo’s revolutionary machines.
These days, historians argue over whether Moriondo’s design was ‘the first’ espresso machine. We can at least say, it was very ‘nearly’ an espresso machine, because Moriondo’s machine was in fact a batch brewer. In the following lesson, Barista Hustle’s Italian translation partner, Jessica Sartiani interviews Enrico Maltoni, the founder of the Museum of Coffee-Making Machines (MUMAC), to find out more about how Moriondo’s machine worked. Maltoni explained that the machine could accommodate 500-600 grams of coffee in the basket. When Jessica asked Enrico, what machine for him represents the ‘first espresso machine’ he gave the following response,
For me, the first is the Moriondo machine, even if it is not a real espresso made with a portafilter. Moriondo was the first to create a large steam pressure machine designed for the bar — you can almost call it an espresso machine.
In an ambitious project in 2018, MUMAC commissioned a replica to be made based on the original patent. The painstaking construction process is captured in the film below:
Watch as Officina Maltoni and the Museum of Coffee-Making Machines, produces a replica of Angelo Moriondo’s lost espresso machine design.