This time I take the stand, because Stefano Tesi, whose turn it was, is snowed in and emailed to say that the only power in the house was the fading battery of his Blackberry. So here we go:
Different people have different obsessions, and Enrico Maltoni's is espresso machines. Not just espresso pots, though he also has plenty of those, but espresso machines of the kind one finds in Italian bars, and also their precursors. He has hundreds of the things, and also gives talks about them.
The first machines for making large quantities of coffee, he says, were built in the late 1800s - early 1900s, while the first true espresso machine that used steam pressure to force hot water though the coffee grounds was made in 1901 by Ingegner Luigi Bezzera. It was an imposing machine, essentially a tall column of boiling hot water (there was a safety valve too) with cup holders on either side. But it did make espresso, and machines based on the design quickly became popular, though they were expensive enough that only larger locales in larger cities could afford them. Soon all the elegant bars were offering espresso, made by a barrista whose primary job was to tend the espresso machine.
Carefully, because the espresso machines based on Ingegner Bezzera's design could explode -- in 1946 one did, causing enough of a stir that a drawing of the scene made the cover of the Domenica Del Corriere.
One big problem with the Bezzera design is that it produces the same sort of espresso coffee one gets from a home pot, be it a Mocha pot or a Neapolitan pot. The coffee is strong, and black, and bitter, and that's it.
In 1946, however, Achille Gaggia had a brilliant intuition and built a machine with pistons to collect the steaming hot water and force it through the coffee grounds under a pressure of about 8 atmospheres. The resulting coffee is creamy, a revolutionary advancement, and indeed the early piston machines say Caffé Crema Naturale to emphasize this fact.
The piston machines require a fair amount of physical strength to use, and barristi must have greeted the introduction, in the early 1960s, of machines with electric motors to work the pistons with considerable joy. And now, thanks to new technologies, the barrista can tailor each cup of coffee to the client's tastes.
We have come a great ways since 1901. And the place of the coffee machine has changed too. The early machines were objects of considerable pride, designed by stylists, made with brass and chrome puffed to a high shine, and placed on the bar, between the barrista and the client. The first piston machines were too, but things began to change in the 1960s, with the introduction of less expensive materials (plastic entered the picture in the 1980s), and during this period the position of the machine also changed -- no longer front and center, but rather on the shelf behind the bar; the change freed space on the bar so more people could enjoy coffee at once, and also, I think, allowed a closer relationship between barrista and client: the machine is no longer in the way.
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.