Showing posts with label coffee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coffee. Show all posts

4 March 2024

Alfonso Bialetti – engineer

The genius behind one of the most quintessentially Italian style symbols

Alfonso Bialetti (right) pictured in his workshop at his Crusinallo foundry in the 1920s
Alfonso Bialetti (right) pictured in his workshop
at his Crusinallo foundry in the 1930s
Alfonso Bialetti, who became famous for designing the aluminium Moka Express coffee maker, died on this day in 1970 in Omegna in Piedmont.

Originally designed in 1933, the Moka Express has been a style icon since the 1950s, and it remains a famous symbol of the Italian way of life to this day.

Bialetti was born in 1888 in Montebuglio, a district of the Casale Corte Cerro municipality in Cusio, Piedmont. As a young man, he is said to have alternated between assisting his father, who sold branding irons, and working as an apprentice in small workshops.

He emigrated to France while he was still young and became a foundry worker, acquiring metalworking skills by working for a decade in the French metal industry.

In 1918 he returned to Montebuglio, opened a foundry in nearby Crusinallo and began making metal products. This became the foundation of Alfonso Bialetti & Company.

Moka pots made today have the same design and still carry the L'omino con i baffi logo
Moka pots made today have the same design
and still carry the L'omino con i baffi logo

He came up with the brilliant idea of the Moka Express, which was to revolutionise the process of making coffee in the home.  The process by which hot water in the pot’s lower chamber is forced by the pressure of steam to percolate through a funnel containing coffee grounds is said to have been influenced by Bialetti’s observations of a washing machine used by his wife.

The name given to his invention was inspired by the city of Mokha in Yemen, one of the world’s leading centres for coffee production.

The Moka’s classic design, with its eight-faceted metallic body, is still manufactured by the Bialetti company today and it has become the world’s most famous coffee pot. The use of aluminium was a new idea at the time because it was not a metal that was traditionally used for domestic purposes.

The design transformed the Bialetti company into a leading Italian coffee machine designer and manufacturer.

At the start, Bialetti sold the Moka coffee pot only at local markets, but many millions of Moka coffee pots were to be sold throughout the world during the years to follow. The Moka express was small, cheap to produce, and easy to use, and made it possible for many more people to brew good coffee in their own homes.

When Alfonso Bialetti’s son, Renato, took over the business, he initiated a big marketing campaign to boost the profile of the Moka coffee pot and to ensure the popularity of the Bialetti brand in the face of many copy-cat products coming on to the market. 

Key to that campaign was the introduction of a Moka ‘trademark’ on every Bialetti coffee pot in the form of a cartoon caricature - L'omino con i baffi - the little man with the moustache - his right arm raised with finger outstretched as if summoning a waiter, based on a humorous doodle of Renato drawn by Paul Campani, an Italian cartoonist.

Alfonso Bialetti was the grandfather of Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi Spa, the famous Italian design house.

In 2007, Bialetti’s company was listed on the online stock market of the Italian stock exchange.

Montebuglio sits on a hillside a short distance from the picturesque Lago d'Orta
Montebuglio sits on a hillside a short distance
from the picturesque Lago d'Orta
Travel tip: 

Montebuglio, where Alfonso Bialetti was born, is a tiny village occupying a hillside location overlooking the valley of the Strona river in Piedmont, a short distance from Lago d’Orta, one of the smaller lakes of the Italian ‘lake district’ but no less picturesque than its better-known neighbour, Lago Maggiore, which lies a few kilometres to the east, the other side of Monte Falò.  Montebuglio is a parish of the municipality of Casale Corte Cerro, located 15km (nine miles) from Verbania, 50km (31 miles) from the Swiss town of Locarno and 100km (62 miles) northwest of Milan.  The popular Lake Maggiore resorts of Baveno and Stresa are within a short distance of Casale Corte Cerro. The largely wooded countryside around the area is crossed by a dense network of paths, by which walkers are able to reach vantage points on the steep, mountainous slopes from which, in clear weather, it is possible to enjoy a view that includes the Orta, Maggiore, Varese, Monate and Comabbio lakes. 

Stay in Casale Corte Cerro with

Omegna is a beautiful and lively town on the north side of Lake Maggiore's neighbour, Lake Orta
Omegna is a beautiful and lively town on the north
side of Lake Maggiore's neighbour, Lake Orta
Travel tip: 

Omegna, where Bialetti spent the final years of his life and where the Alessi company still has its headquarters, is a lively town on the north side of Lake Orta, an area of outstanding natural beauty where tree-lined mountains meet the shimmering water of the lake. Omegna’s civilisation dates back to the Bronze Age, with settlements subsequently established there by the Ligures - a tribe from Greece - the Celts and Romans. Omegna, which is popular in the summer months, when it hosts many festivals and concerts, is sometimes referred to as the Riviera di San Giulio, named after an early Christian saint buried on an island in Lake Orta.  Among places to visit are a museum of the town’s history, the Romanesque church of Sant’Ambrogio and the Porta della Valle, sometimes called Porta Romana, one of five ancient protective gates still standing. 

Find accommodation in Omegna with

More reading:

The Turin bar and hotel owner who invented the espresso machine 

The former peasant farmer who founded the Lavazza coffee company

The opening of Venice’s historic Caffè Florian

Also on March 4:

1678: The birth of composer Antonio Vivaldi

1848: The first Italian Constitution is approved by the King of Sardinia

1916: The birth of writer and novelist Giorgio Bassani

1943: The birth of singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla

(Picture credits: Montebuglio by Bart292CCC; Omegna by Fabio Pocci; via Wikimedia Commons)


24 September 2018

Riccardo Illy - businessman

Grandson of Illy coffee company founder who became firm’s chairman

Riccardo Illy is president of
Gruppo illy Spa
Riccardo Illy, whose paternal grandfather, Hungarian-born Francesco Illy, founded the world-famous illy coffee company, was born on this day in 1955 in Trieste.

Illy is president and former chairman of Gruppo illy and vice-chairman of illycaffè. Under his leadership, the company has expanded to include Domori chocolate, Dammann Frères teas, Agrimontana - which makes fruit preserves, jams and confectionery -  and Mastrojanni, a winery located in the Montalcino region of southern Tuscany.  It also holds a stake in Grom, a chain of premium ice cream parlours.

The company now has a presence in 140 countries and as well as coffee shops the company also operates ice cream stores in Italy, as well as in New York, Malibu, Los Angeles, Paris, Dubai, Osaka, and Jakarta.

Although the company’s roots are in Trieste, where Francesco opened for business in 1933, Gruppo illy Spa is based in Rome.

Riccardo’s first job was as a skiing instructor at the Piancavallo resort in the Dolomites and a sailing instructor at Monfalcone, near Trieste. He married the food and wine journalist Rossana Bettini, with whom he had a daughter, Daria.

He joined the family firm illycaffè in 1977, as the company's business director and for the first time gave the firm a marketing department. Now the company’s annual revenue is in the region of €400 million and reckons to serve more than seven million cups of coffee per day in around 100,000 outlets worldwide.

Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee company in Trieste in 1933
Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee
company in Trieste in 1933
Parallel with his business career, Riccardo also spent 15 years as active politician. He was elected Mayor of Trieste twice, in 1993 and 1997, became a member of the Italian parliament in 2001 as an independent and in 2003 was elected President of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, with the backing of the Democratic Coalition Party, remaining in office until he failed in his bid to be elected for a second term in 2008.

Away from business and politics, Illy’s passion is for fast motorcycles, an interest which began when he would ride along the Italian and Yugoslavian coastlines as a teenager and continued when he and his wife traveled to Greece on his Kawasaki 900 soon after they were married. As regional president, he rode to his office each day on a 1200cc BMW.

As a music lover, Illy is president of Trieste's Theatre Giuseppe Verdi.

Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region,  officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.

The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce
The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce

Travel tip:

Trieste’s coffee house culture dates back to the Hapsburg era. Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830. Within a short space of time, more than 100 had opened, including Caffè degli Specchi, on Piazza Unità itself, which was popular with the authors James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Franz Kafka, who at different times were part of Trieste’s thriving literary scene. Another favourite of the Irish writer Joyce was the Caffè Pirona on Largo della Barriera Vecchia.

More reading:

How Turin shopkeeper Luigi Lavazza built a coffee empire

Angelo Moriondo - inventor of the world's first espresso machine

Trieste becomes part of Italy

Also on this day:

1934: The birth of exiled royal princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma

1954: The birth of footballer Marco Tardelli


31 May 2017

Angelo Moriondo - espresso machine pioneer

Bar and hotel owner invented way to make coffee faster

Angelo Moriondo owned a hotel and a prestigious  bar in the centre of Turin
Angelo Moriondo owned a hotel and a prestigious
bar in the centre of Turin
Angelo Moriondo, the man credited with inventing the world’s first espresso coffee machine, died on this day in 1914 in Marentino, a town in Piedmont, about 20km (12 miles) east of Turin.

Moriondo, who was 62 when he passed away, was the owner of the Grand-Hotel Ligure in Turin’s Piazza Carlo Felice and the American Bar in the former Galleria Nazionale on Via Roma.

He came up with the idea of a coffee machine essentially in the hope of gaining an edge over his competition at a time when coffee was a hugely popular beverage across Europe and in Italy in particular, but which still depended on brewing methods that required the customer to wait five minutes or more to be able to raise a cup to his mouth.

Moriondo figured that if he could find a way to make multiple cups of coffee simultaneously he would be able to serve more customers more quickly. He hoped that word would then get round in Turin’s commercial district that his bars were the ones to go if the pressures of business did not allow time for leisurely breaks.

The design for his machine for which Moriondo  was granted a patent in 1884
The design for his machine for which Moriondo
was granted a patent in 1884
He never contemplated industrial-scale production of his invention, his ambitions never extending beyond the needs of his own businesses and, unlike later espresso machines, his device was not designed for making individual cups.

But experts say that his invention was undoubtedly the first to use water and pressurised steam to accelerate the coffee-making process and it was therefore reasonable to declare it to be the world’s first espresso machine.

Moriondo was delighted with it but missed a fantastic opportunity to become the person whose name is synonymous with coffee machines.

He presented his invention at the General Expo of Turin in 1884, where it was awarded the bronze medal.  It was awarded a patent for a period of six years on May 16, 1884 under the title of "New steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage, method ‘A. Moriondo’."

The machine consisted of a large boiler that pushed heated water through a large bed of coffee grounds, with a second boiler producing steam that would flash the bed of coffee and complete the brew.

One of Desiderio Pavoni's early espresso machines
One of Desiderio Pavoni's early espresso machines
Conceiving and creating this matchine was an unprecedented achievement. Yet Moriondo did nothing to commercialise the idea and it was left to two others, the Milanese duo Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni, to tweak his method and repackage it for the market place.

Moriondo limited himself to the construction of a few hand-built, machines which he jealously kept under lock and key at one house or another, convinced that advertising them was a bad idea.

Within a couple of years, Bezzerra and Pavoni had developed a machine that could produce up to 1,000 cups an hour, brewing an individual shot of espresso.

Moriondo made a comfortable living from his business ventures, following in the family’s footsteps as an entrepreneur, but could have been both wealthier and more famous had he seen the potential in what he had created.

The Via Roma in modern Turin
The Via Roma in modern Turin
Travel tip:

Turin was once the capital of Italy and its shopping streets reflect its former prestige, with 18km (11 miles) of arcades. A key shopping area is around Via Roma.  As well as the high street names, shops feature specialists in chocolate, fashion, and antiquarian books and records.

Travel tip:

The small town of Marentino really consists of three ancient villages – Marentino, Avuglione and Vernone. It is well known for its locally produced honey.  Marentino is built on a hill with the church of Maria Vergine, which has a baroque façade and a substantial bell tower, at its pinnacle. An interesting feature of the town is the number of houses whose walls are decorated with colourful murals, the result of a project in 2005 involving 20 artists from all over Italy.

24 April 2017

Luigi Lavazza - coffee maker

From a grocery store in Turin to Italy's market leader

Luigi Lavazza - former peasant farmer and humble shop worker who built a dynasty
Luigi Lavazza - former peasant farmer and
humble shop worker who built a dynasty
Luigi Lavazza, the Turin grocer who founded the Lavazza Coffee Company, was born on this day in 1859 in the small town of Murisengo in Piedmont. 

He had lived as a peasant farmer in Murisengo but times were hard and after a couple of poor harvests he decided to abandon the countryside and head for the city, moving to Turin and finding work as a shop assistant.

The Lavazza brand began when Luigi had saved enough money to by his own shop in Via San Tommaso, in the centre of Turin, in 1895.  He sold groceries and provisions and where other stores simply sold coffee beans, he had a workshop in the rear of the store where he experimented by grinding the beans and mixing them into different blends according to the tastes of his customers.

He travelled to Brazil to improve his knowledge of coffee and his blends became an important part of the business, after which he moved into wholesale as well as retail as a coffee merchant.  When the first automatic roasting machines went into production in the 1920s, he was one of the first in Italy to buy one.

The economic climate in Italy improved after the First World War, Turin in particular enjoying prosperity after Fiat opened its factory in Lingotto.

Luigi Lavazza's original Turin grocery shop
Luigi Lavazza's original Turin grocery shop
Luigi Lavazza S.p.A. was formed in 1927, with its headquarters in Corso Giulio Cesare, to the north of the city. Luigi, his wife Emilia, and children Mario, Pericle and Giuseppe set up the company, with share capital of 1,500,000 lire. They bought a fleet of vans and trucks and began to sell all groceries all over Turin province.

The coffee side of the company’s business stalled in the 1930s after the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions against Italy, a consequence of the Mussolini regime’s aggression towards Abyssinia.  Coffee beans was one of the commodities that could not be exported to Italy.

Production did not resume in earnest until after the Second World War, when the company was effectively relaunched as a coffee specialist.  Luigi has retired in 1936 but in the hands of his sons the business boomed. They commissioned the design of branded Lavazza packaging, introducing the distinctive logo with the large middle ‘A’. As well as paper packaging, the company introduced vacuum packed tins to preserve their product's freshness.

Lavazza's familiar silver and  red packaging
Lavazza's familiar silver and
red packaging
In 1950, the first Lavazza television commercial was aired with the slogan “Lavazza – paradiso in tazza” – “Lavazza – heaven in a cup”.

Luigi Lavazza died in 1949 at the age of 90 and did not witness the huge expansion that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The company’s new headquarters in Corso Novara - on the north-western outskirts of the city began to produce 40,000kg of coffee per day, outstripping other Italian coffee producers, and in 1965 Lavazza opened Europe’s largest roasting plant in Settimo Torinese, from which the company’s Qualità Rossa blend was introduced in 1971.

Today, run by the fourth generation of the Lavazza family, the company is the seventh largest coffee roaster in the world and the retail market leader in Italy with more than 47 per cent of sales, employing 2700 staff in six production sites, four in Italy and two abroad, and sells coffee in more than 90 countries.

Travel tip:

Luigi Lavazza’s original store in Via San Tommaso is now a coffee shop and restaurant, aptly called San Tommaso 10 Lavazza. The café’s coffee corner is the place in which to taste the company’s major blends, while the restaurant at the rear, offering modern Italian dishes, almost doubles as a museum, with displays of photographs tracing the history of the company. Via San Tommaso is in the heart of Turin’s commercial centre, a short walk from the elegant grandeur of Piazza Castello.

Murisengo is in the hills to the east of Turin
Murisengo is in the hills to the east of Turin
Travel tip:

Murisengo, where Luigi Lavazza was born and grew up in the farming community, has a population of under 1,500 today but used to be much larger and was a thriving spa town in the 1700s, when visitors came to take the sulphurous waters from the Fontana Pirenta, which supposedly could cure gastric disorders and treat skin conditions.  The village, in the hills to the east of Turin at 338m (1,100ft) above sea level, also has the remains of a castle that originated in the early 13th century.

More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

How fruit farmer Karl Zuegg made a fortune from jam

Francesco Cirio - market trader who pioneered food canning

Also on this day:

1966: The birth of AC Milan footballer Alessandro Costacurta