Where does the word espresso come from?

Let’s discover the origins of the word ‘espresso’ and find out why it might be an expresso after all…


Close up of espresso in red coffee mug


History of Espresso Coffee

Before you can name something, you’ve got to invent it, right? So who created espresso coffee?

Multiple people, is the answer. Of whom Angelo Moriondo was first (whoop whoop!). Moriondo’s early espresso machine was the first device to make coffee using both water and steam. He invented the machine, described on its certificate as a ‘[n]ew steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage,’ in 1884 but it was limited to producing coffee in bulk.


Close up of dark roasted coffee beans


Next up comes a Milanese businessman called Luigi Bezzera. Tired of waiting for his caffeine fix, Bezzera invented the world’s first single-serving espresso machine. This speedy device made strong coffee in just 30 seconds – and could make it per uno! Bezzera introduced the portafilter to the espresso machine, plus several other ‘espresso-y’ elements.

But, again, there was an issue. Bezzera’s machine used pressurised steam, which only produced a limited amount of pressure.

Enter Giovanni Achille Gaggia! In 1938, this super-smart Italian invented the ‘Lampo’ system, which made espresso coffee using hot water pressure rather than steam. Previous espresso makers could only climb up to 1.5-2 bars of pressure. Now, 8-10 bars (and awesome coffee) were totally possible!


History of espresso coffee infographic


What is an espresso?

Don’t worry. You’re not being daft if you’re not sure what an espresso is. There’s quite a bit of confusion…

Espresso simply describes a way of brewing coffee. It’s one of a jolly family of methods also including cafetiere, AeroPress and filter. Espresso is a pressure coffee method that sees us using high pressure to force hot water through ground coffee. Espressos take a high coffee to water ratio to give us a small, concentrated cup that’s roasty in flavour and thick and buttery in texture. They are small (about one fluid ounce) and you can enjoy them alone or use them in drinks such as a:

  • Latte
  • Cappuccino
  • Mocha
  • Flat White
  • Americano
  • Macchiato


Latte sitting on espresso machine


Where does the word ‘espresso’ come from?

Considering all those italiano inventors, it’s no surprise that the word espresso comes from… Italian!

Espresso is the past participle of the verb esprimere, which means ‘press out’. This verb stems from the Latin exprimere, which means ‘press out’ or ‘squeeze out. Still with us? Grab an espresso if not. ?

Caffè espresso is the full Italian name for this punchy maestro, although it’s often called ‘espresso’ for short. The caffè espresso first appeared in the Italian dictionary in 1920 for Luigi Bezzerra’s invention. Sorry, Moriondo, we’ll have to keep calling yours the great ‘instantaneous confection’!


Espresso machine in Two Chimps Coffee roastery


What does espresso mean in English?

Espresso is very close to the English word express, which refers, amongst other things, to speed. Although the term caffè espresso arrived in Italian dictionaries in 1920, espresso didn’t make its way to England until Gaggia patented his machine in 1938. We’ve been ordering espressos ever since. We’ve also made a fair few misspellings along the way…



Is it espresso or expresso?

Don’t worry if you get confused. This letter dilemma causes problems amongst the experts. Why? Because, contrary to what you may assume, the eXpresso spelling isn’t entirely wrong

Earlier linguists didn’t believe that the name of this little coffee drink had Italian origins. They thought that espresso was the correct spelling, and saw expresso as a misspelling. And they might, to be fair to them, have had a point.


Making double shot in manual espresso machine


This is because it’s not a simple timeline of espresso = exprimere = press out:

  • Our English express verb also stems from the Latin exprimere and can mean (as well as ‘articulate’ and ‘fast’) ‘to force out by pressure’. So express (and expresso) isn’t a million miles away from your little pressure brewed cup.
  • Espresso is linked to the idea of speed, too, because Italians use the term in restaurants with the sense of ‘quickly made to order’. This helps them to distinguish speedy espresso coffee from coffee brewed in a whole pot. So espresso can mean express quick – even in Italy!


Spooning ground coffee into portafilter from Two Chimps coffee tin


What does crema mean in coffee?

Crema is key when talking espresso. It tells us a lot about the freshness and strength of the drink and the skill of the barista. Crema means ‘cream’ in Italian, which makes sense, because it is pretty creamy.

Order a quality espresso, and you’ll find a dense, caramel-coloured foam sitting on the top. It’s something of a scientific miracle, really, created by gases reacting together. Water dissolves more carbon dioxide when it is subject to pressure in the machine.

As the lovely drink dribbles into your cup, this pressure then returns to normal levels, and the gases take on a new life as a foamy crown. The CO2 bubbles attract the coffee’s natural oils and fats, giving your crema it’s luxurious richness.


Espresso pouring from a portafilter head


Now you know the meaning of the word espresso, why not find out how to make this gutsy little drink on your espresso machine? Top-tasting caffeine, coming up…


Make espresso at home!

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