Coffee has a long history in Italy. Venice was one of the first European ports to import coffee beans in the 16th century, and in the 19th century, men in bowler hats met in Turin’s coffee shops to plan for the country’s unification.
Italy truly emerged as the global leader in coffee thanks to Milanese inventor Luigi Bezzera, according to Jonathan Morris, a coffee historian from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. In 1901, Bezzera came up with the idea of forcing pressurized water through a handful of coffee powder to produce a short, concentrated drink: the espresso, so called because it could be prepared expressly for each customer and because the water had to be expressed through the coffee.
Quick to make and good to wake, the espresso became a futuristic icon at the turn of the century, sharing its name with a high-speed train. Espresso machines found their place in so-called “American bars”, spaces where people would stand at the bar, saloon-style, instead of sitting down at the table.
The first American bar in Italy was Caffé Maranesi, in Florence, nicknamed Caffè dei Ritti after the standing people that populated it (ritti means “upright” in Italian). The person who prepared the coffee was called a barman, until the word barista was coined under the reign of Mussolini. Today, hipsters who work in coffee shops all over the world are called baristas.