Source: Perfect Daily Grind
Technical evolution: How have espresso machines
changed in the 21st century?
The espresso machine is the centrepiece of coffee
shops all around the world. It is a symbol of technical expertise and innovation,
as well as a representation of the art of making good coffee.
The first prototype espresso machine can be traced
back to the late 19th century. Over 130 years later, espresso technology has
changed and evolved in a number of key ways. […]
To learn more about how espresso machines have
changed, specifically in the 21st century, I spoke to two Dalla Corte brand
ambassadors, Cole Torode and Fabrizio Sención Ramirez. Read on to find out what
they told me.
HOW HAVE ESPRESSO MACHINES CHANGED IN THE 21ST
Espresso machines development has come in four main
area over the past two decades: boiler technology, flow rate control, a greater
degree of automation, and design.
A boiler revolution
[…] Cole says that in 2001, Dalla Corte launched its
world-first multi-boiler technology. This allowed the groupheads and steam
wands to be used at the same time, allowing the barista to create more drinks
in a shorter timeframe.
“The beauty of this system is its quick response time,
certainty of temperature control, and the ability to shut down one grouphead or
the steam wands while using the rest of the machine,” Cole says. “This is
helpful if you need to shut off part of the machine for maintenance or
cleaning, for instance.”
[…] Cole tells me that in early 2019, Dalla Corte
added a grouphead with 0.75 litre water capacity to its Zero machine. “This
grouphead is designed in a way that the inbound cold water equalises the
outbound hot water,” he says. “This means the grouphead is always consistently
“The beauty of this design is not just the certainty
of temperature control, but also lays the foundation for Dalla Corte’s
revolutionary Freestyle Water Flow.”
Flow rate & extraction
“The relationship between a barista and espresso
machine is often the heart and soul of a coffee shop,” Cole says. “If this
relationship isn’t strong, the quality isn’t likely to be great either.
“If a barista doesn’t know how to tame the espresso
machine, how can they control their coffee?”
Newer espresso machines come equipped with systems
that allow the user to control two key variables throughout the extraction
process: the volume of water passing through the puck, and the level of
pressure at which the water is dispensed. This allows the barista to carefully
manage the rate at which water flows through the coffee.
Fabrizio Sención Ramirez is a barista at Caffé Estelar
and 5pm in Guadalajara, Mexico. “By controlling the flow rate, the barista can
present water to the coffee more intentionally,” he tells me. “This allows you
to carefully target unique and specific flavours.”
Many newer models have adjustable valves between the
boiler and the grouphead which can restrict water flow. This is especially
helpful during pre-infusion, a key stage of extraction where the puck initially
comes into contact with the water.
Pre-infusion prepares the puck for the sudden intake
of high-pressure water, reducing the likelihood that it will become disrupted
and cause channeling.
Channeling is when water finds the path of least
resistance through the puck, creating “channels” which are unevenly saturated
in comparison to the remainder of the coffee. This leads to underextraction and
sour or watery flavours in the cup.
“Flow rate makes coffee soluble in different ways,”
Fabrizio explains. “By using the Zero you can access amazing recipes and unique
espresso constantly.” Dalla Corte’s Zero machine includes two flow profiling
tools: Fixed Water Flow (preset rates between 3 and 9g/s) and Freestyle Water
Flow (which allows the barista to customise flow rate at any stage of
“The ability to control the flow rate through espresso
extraction [provides] ultimate control to the barista,” Fabrizio concludes.
Digitalisation & automation
Digitalisation and automation have come to characterise
the modern coffee sector, and espresso machine technology is no exception.
Fabrizio says: “We have technology involved in every
single parameter of the machine, not to mention the different operational
[styles]: automatic, semi-automatic, and fully manual.”
Integrated displays and digital touchscreens improve
the barista’s access to key machine functions, allowing them to make swift
changes to extraction variables while interacting with colleagues and
These developments have also spread to energy
efficiency, which has become especially pressing thanks to a wider consumer
focus on sustainability.
“There are more espresso machines idling in
off-service time and holding their temperature than we can comprehend,” Cole
explains. “Part of this is due to insufficient boiler technology and the fact
that heating an espresso machine takes an hour on average.”
As such, many coffee shops leave their espresso
machines running continuously to prevent prolonged waiting times when they do
need to heat up and pull a shot for a customer. This wastes energy.
However, Cole notes that newer machines such as the
Zero are helping to change this trend. “With [the] Zero, it takes around 15
minutes to heat up from cold to fully operational,” he tells me. “You can comfortably
power it off or you can flip on the energy-saving mode to reduce power usage by
Finally, a greater focus on digitalisation also means
that baristas can now use dedicated apps to communicate with their espresso
machines, such as Dalla Corte’s Online Control System. “If you forget to turn
your machine off or set the energy-saver, you can use the Online Control System
to make any adjustments from a distance,” Cole adds.
Design & style
Alongside changes to overall machine performance, espresso
machine design has also evolved throughout the 21st century.
“This evolution of design combines several innovative
features, such as ergonomic design, the use of quality materials and… overall
ease of use,” Fabrizio explains.
Visual appeal has come a long way in the coffee shop
more widely, so it’s no surprise that machine design has followed suit. Today,
café interiors must be striking and broadly “social media friendly”. Branding
and mind share are more important today than they ever have been.
“Hospitality remains a centrepiece of every modern
café – the setup is important, but the service and the way [your coffee shop]
makes [the customer] feel makes the real difference,” Fabrizio says. “Customers
[get] the full experience [when] every aesthetic and functional detail gets
taken into consideration.”
From a functional perspective, espresso machines have
also shrunk over the years as boilers and pumps have become smaller. This
optimises counter space, and can even allow for better communication between
the barista and consumer at times.
“An important part of the Zero’s design was finding a
way to encourage interaction between customers and their barista,” Cole
explains. “The solution lied in lowering the machine’s height as much as
possible to reduce the amount of physical barriers.”
Today, the espresso machine is often the focal point
of a coffee shop, and is one of the first things a customer notices when they
enter the space. In line with this, customisable design features have also
become popular in recent years, allowing coffee shop owners to express their
brand in a more personal way.
Through innovation in boiler technology, digital
accessibility, flow profiling, and many other areas, the espresso machine has
evolved in a number of incredible ways over the last 20 years. Extraction
control and barista “usability” remain high on the agenda.
What will happen next remains to be seen, but one
thing is for sure: manufacturers will continue to focus on making sure their
machines produce the best espresso they possibly can.
LINK TO THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Technical evolution: How have espresso machines changed in the 21st century? - Perfect Daily Grind