A Brief History of Italian Espresso & How to Make It from Home

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From lattes and cappuccinos to espressos and the latest Dalgona coffee — the world loves its coffee. The International Coffee Organization estimates that  1.4 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day worldwide. That’s 64 percent of Americans that drink a cup of coffee each day, with the popularity of coffee shops and at-home coffee machines soaring. In fact, in a National Coffee Association Study, 79 percent of people admitted to brewing themselves a cup of coffee at home the day before while Pittsburgh coffee houses are frequented listed as some of the country’s go-to places for America’s fix of caffeine. While America has certainly explored the different ways to drink coffee each day, it is often said that American coffee does not compare to the real thing in the capital of coffee: Italy. In fact, if you are want to taste what the Italians call a good cup of coffee, most recommend you start with an espresso.

The Italian Love For Espresso

The espresso debate has long been raging in the United States, with many barista and Italians alike claiming the American version of the espresso is not the real deal. Dating back from as early as the 16th century, the city of  Venice began its love affair with coffee. Later on in 1901, Luigi Bezzera came up with the idea to produce a very concentrated, small coffee beverage- now known as the espresso. 

Fast forward to today, and locals are still fiercely protective of their place as true coffee connoisseurs. In Italy, there are no size differentials or low-fat options like the ones popularly offered on American cafe menus. When it comes to the quality of the brew, consistency is key. That doesn’t mean there aren’t variations however. Each of the country’s 20 different regions has its own coffee culture- their own twist on the revered espresso. In Sicily its caffè d’un parrinu, flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. In Fano, espressos are enjoyed with a blend of rum, anise, and brandy.

Getting Your Espresso Fix In Pittsburgh

If you are  looking for the perfect espresso in Pittsburgh, they are small coffee shops that have garnered positive reviews for their Italian style coffees. A simple browse of nearby coffee shops on review websites like Foursquare could mean you are sipping on a true Italian style espresso in a matter of minutes. Among the favorites are Cancellation Coffee on Penn Avenue, Espresso A Mano, and the popular chain La Prima espresso. However, don’t neglect some of the smaller coffee shops like the Buon Giorno Cafe or the Arriviste Coffee Bar. Many of them turn out to be Pittsburgh’s best-kept coffee secret thanks to their high quality, specially sourced coffee beans and specialty brewing machines.

Replicating The Perfect Espresso At Home

Of course, you can also opt to test out your barista skills at home. All you would need is a decent espresso machine and great quality freshly roasted coffee beans. While an at-home espresso machine is a bit of an investment, there is now a range of models on the market to fit most budgets and preferences. Manual espresso machines are often preferred over automatic ones since it is said that they offer customization and overall better quality. However, most coffee businesses opt for a push-button coffee maker since it takes the guesswork out of brewing the perfect espresso- something you can consider when choosing your at-home espresso maker.

Other tips for creating the perfect espresso at home include using bottled water and nailing the measurements with the help of a scale. You also want to keep up with the regular cleaning of your machine. Neglecting to do so not only compromises the taste of your coffee but reduces the lifetime of your espresso machine. Lastly, get to know your brew ratio for the length of the shot. For instance, a regular shot / ‘Normale or Espresso’ has a ratio of 1: 1.5 while long shots (often preferred in Italy) would have a ratio between 1:2.5 and 1:3. 

So whether you are new to the espresso crowd or want to try the ‘real deal’ as Italians call it, start with these tips. From brewing the perfect cup at home to getting a great espresso on the go, it pays to do your research so you know what a great espresso ought to taste like.