My visit to the 2011 HOST Exhibition held at Fiera Rho in Milan,
Italy was both educational and somewhat disappointing. I have
discussed the sheer scale of the exhibition before, as it
showcases just about every manufacturer of commercial espresso
machines in the world. This time I was a bit better prepared than
usual, having spent a couple of weeks in Europe prior to the
exhibition surveying the general state of espresso.
I have written about "The Death of the Italian Barista" before,
http://www.coffeeco.com.au/newsletter/june2010.html . It turns
out that it's not just Italy where this is happening, but most of
Europe. Superautomatic and Pod espresso machines are becoming the
norm rather than the exception in all sorts of venues. Ten years
ago Superautos were mostly found in offices or convenience
stores. 5 years ago they were appearing in McCafes and Starbucks.
Today they are present in ordinary bars, restaurants, hotels and
sandwich shops. "One Button" superautomatic machines and
preground coffee pod machines are rapidly replacing traditional
machine and grinder combinations. By my admittedly rough count,
about one in every two venues offering espresso drinks was using
either a Superauto or a pod machine.
It wasn't that much of a surprise, then, to find this balance
reflected at HOST 2011. Every traditional machine manufacturer
had at least one superauto or pod machine in their lineup; most
had several, a complete range for every situation. By the time
we got to the HOST exhibition, it came as no surprise that almost
all of the "new" offerings from espresso machine manufacturers
were Superauto or pod machines. The quality of the espresso
produced is less than stellar, but people seem to accept it. I
had a brief chat with 2010 World Barista Champ Gwilym Davies
which confirmed my observations that great espresso is no longer
a major Italian goal.
The other really interesting thing was the complete lack of new
domestic machine offerings, with the exception of Lelit. It would
appear that the major machine makers have ceded the domestic
machine market to pods, superautos and Chinese manufacturers for
the forseeable future. The Lelit exception was (Finally!) a PID
controlled, brass boiler, standard 58mm group machine, which
should be available soon.
One surprising "new" small grinder I saw was offered by Casadio,
which is Cimbali/Faema's "second" brand. It looked very familiar,
and turned out to be a slightly blinged up Sunbeam EM0480
variant, so there must already be a certain amount of commerce
between the Italian companies and Chinese manufacturing
Apart from the addition of touchscreens to various Superauto
machines there were virtually no major machine innovations.
Individual group temperature control by PID systems (first
proposed by Greg Scace in 2001) is becoming more common. Brew
pressure control (again, first proposed by Greg Scace and Andy
Schecter in 2002, and fully realised by Greg a few years back) is
the next big thing, but given how cheap the computer and sensor
technology to do these things is, these are natural developments.
I firmly believe that any further improvements to "conventional"
espresso machines are going to happen in tiny increments rather
than technological leaps. My opinion (and I'm sure many people
will disagree) is that the next revolution in consumer espresso
will come via feedback control of the the grinder and extraction
The single most common cause of poor quality espresso anywhere in
the world is underextraction, always caused by pushing too much
water through the coffee in too little time. This is in turn
always a result of incorrectly ground and dosed coffee, and is usually
produced by a person who has no understanding of espresso and no
desire to gain such understanding, as long as customers pay up
and don't complain.
I can forsee a future machine/grinder combination linked by
computerised feedback loops. The grinder will have automated
adjustment and deliver weighed doses; the machine will be able to
measure volume extracted vs extraction time and adjust the grind
and dose to meet the correct extraction parameters. The
technology to do this exists today, but I haven't seen (yet) the
whole package put together, even as a Superauto machine. I
suppose I'll have to have a long chat with Greg Scace next time I
And the role of the Barista? To optimise the taste by working out
the best combination of temperature, pressure, dose, volume and
extraction time for a particular coffee. Oh, and to do "good
milk", which is a whole subject in itself.