Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bialetti's coffee revolution

Moka Express
Coffee has been an Italian passion since it arrived to Europe and everything revolving around it has become a rite.
Of all the Italian cities Turin is definitely the one where more coffee brands originated - think of Lavazza, Vergnano, Costadoro, just to name three, and where you can enjoy your coffee break in a different historical café each day of the week.
Given the local passion for coffee, it doesn't come as a surprise that even Bialetti, the famous Italian percolator brand is from Piedmont!

Now a wider industrial group, Bialetti as a brand took its name from Alfonso Bialetti, the original founder of the company in 1919, in the Northern part of Piedmont.
Following the trends, back then Mr Bialetti produced aluminum products and it was only in 1933 that he completed Luigi Da Ponte's design for a modern stove-top coffee maker.

Up to the 1930s only the middle and upper class families could afford brewing a high quality coffee at home, normal people enjoyed their coffee al bar or in a coffeeshop where there were large coffee makers and the barista was a vital professional figure.
Bialetti's new system made coffee brewing affordable and user-friendly, igniting a real revolution in many fields: from its engineering to design, marketing to sociology.

Moka Express parts
Legend has it that Mr Bialetti got inspired by his wife's washing machine: a bucket of soapy water that had been heated by the fire and got sprayed over the laundry by a central pipe.
Such a simple concept made him think that espresso coffee could be produced in the same way at home. Years of prototypes and tests went by and finally, he realized the first coffee percolator in aluminum following the design of the silver coffee sets in use at the time.

Moka Express diagram
Since then people have been able to make their own espresso easily at home, hence the coffee pot slogan in casa un espresso come al bar or "at home the espresso like at the coffeeshop".
As after WWII, the house took a more central role in the Italian society, the democratization of the art of coffee making helped in the society transformation because people could finally enjoy a coffee as good as at the coffee shop's in the privacy of the home, with the advantage that the percolator was so simple, even men could do it, taking over the somewhat magic aura that had always shined around baristas. 

Moka Express vintage ad
However, the original Moka Express design, with its eight faceted body is the most fascinating part of the story as it stayed the same for over 70 years! In fact, after the Nutella, the 1957 Fiat 500 and the 1946 Vespa, the Bialetti percolator has been one of the top 5 best Italian designs that marked the 20th century!

Not to mention the Bialetti logo: l'omino coi baffi or the little man with the mustache and the raised finger to demand attention and to order another espresso. Following the exponential success, this little man was commissioned in 1953 and placed ever since on all the company products as a quality mark to differentiate them from other competitors'.
little mustachioed man
It was Alfonso's son, Renato Bialetti who actually commissioned Paul Campani a mascot and even though most people see in it Alfonso's caricature, according to the records, it's really Renato's.

Renato was in fact a real key figure in the transformation of the family company and expansion of the Moka Express market beyond Piedmont. He reduced the company production to just one product (Moka Express) and invested in a full advertising campaign all over Italy, invading the cities with billboards and the houses with TV commercials.
He had commissioned the little mustachioed man also for advertising purposes as it became the protagonist of many TV commercials like the one below ;)

As many coffee pot producers have changed materials, Bialetti keeps using aluminum because the coffee just tastes better, and as any espresso aficionado will tell you, you shouldn't wash your percolator too thoroughly because the coffee residue adds flavor to your cup of coffee.
True or not, tea drinkers say the same about tea pots and definitely Italians are true coffee experts since 90% of them have at least one stove top coffee pot and their homes have been infused with espresso aroma every day, more than once a day since the 1950s. And since then, over 300,000,000 of percolators have been sold around the world.
Today, the design of the percolator might have slightly changed, there can be more contemporary brewing methods but the Bialetti quality is always the same and Bialetti keeps being one of the most authentic and known symbols of the Italian lifestyle.

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