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Espresso in transition: Italy yesterday, tomorrow the world.

Espresso in transition: Italy yesterday, tomorrow the world

Espresso continues to be one of the most intriguing stories in the coffee industry. Foremost this is so because espresso consumption is continually expanding, and where there is growth there is money, keen competition and an emphasis on innovation. Espresso is also of special interest because it can be raised to a fine art in the details of its production, preparation and serving. Yes, espresso does well as a fast food item and even in the humblest of home kitchens, but it can also be something of a ceremony, and that too is attractive.

Espresso is coffee; it is also machines. Although once deemed a purely Italian affair, like Opera before, espresso is now swiftly becoming internationalized. When a leading multinational like Jacobs puts considerable effort behind an espresso brand for Germany, and promoting the machines to make it, one knows that the hour has come round for the drink and the brewing machine. Although a relatively young coffee drink, having emerged in the form we know in Italy only after WWII, espresso has spread to commercial foodservice markets around the world and is now poised for significant acceptance in home markets as well.

Mainstream though in Italian coffee circles is divided between "purists" - those wishing espresso everywhere to have the same tastes and standards as in Italy - and those who support a process of international espresso adaptation and interpretation. But the tide of worldwide interest and commercial potential gives support to the latter school. Lavazza, for example, the leading espresso marketer, adapts its products and marketing strategies on a country by country basis, always mindful of cultural differences. The same is true for the leading Italian espresso machine manufacturers: Gaggia, Cimbai and FAEMA.

But espresso philosophy is not the bottom line. The projected profits speak loudly as there is probably no coffee consuming nation where espresso use is not increasing, with important expansion underway in the U.S., Japan, Australia, the U.K. and across northern, Continental Europe. With this comes the interest of the multinational marketers as well as the growing reputation for such distinctly Italian companies as Lavazza, Segafredo and IllyCaffe.

Where espresso coffee goes, so do the machines. Some 100,000 commercial espresso-making machines are now being sold annually around the world. Each of these sales is noteworthy because they give added momentum to espresso acceptance in the home - the person who learns to love the drink in the cafe will also want it at home. The volume of professional machine sales, and the sizeable investment that can be involved, give further proof to the rising fortunes of espresso coffee.

Looking at FAEMA

One company with a particular investment of its own in espresso is FAEMA. Although FAEMA is becoming increasingly active in the home market for espresso machines, its fame has been built and remains in the commercial foodservice sector.

FAEMA's renown - not to be taken lightly, as the company's logo, Milan's catheral dome in outline, is known to millions - rests solidly on a portfolio of in-house patents and an army of running machines from Rio to Rome. The Italian company pioneered in both espresso machine technology and commercialization. In fact, the company regards itself as the developer of industrial-scale commercial espresso machine manufacturing.

In the 40's, FAEMA was an early leader in the leverstyle machine. In the 50's, it led in introducing the revolutionary hydraulic system. But it was the E61 model, created in the early 60's, that put FAEMA on the world coffee map.

The E61 was the first espresso maker to use a water pump. It also incorporated such FAEMA patents as the thermosyphon system (granting constant temperature to the cups served) and the infusion system (whereby the coffee bathes as it cooks to bring forth its potential). In sum, the E61 was a turning point in the history of espresso.

The great international success of the E61 propelled the company into further research and development, leading to the first `super' automatic, or push button espresso unit in the early 70's. This was followed in the early 80's by the first fully electronic machine - the company's stressing `fully" in the sense the FAEMA had electronically integrated all machine functions.

Most recently, about two years ago, FAEMA has provided another first with its patent for Capuccino Magic, a disarmingly simple device that provides instant and automatic milk frothing for cappuccino. Cappuccino Magic is a standard feature on all FAEMA models.

FAEMA now produces a wide range of models, semi-automatic and fully automatic, from compact editions up to its top-of-the-line FAEMA Tronic model. It also manufactures a line of acclaimed coffee grinders. A home division was created in 1983. Two years ago, the company also entered the moka-making market with the acquisition of Gialetti, the leading Italian manufacturer. In addition, the company now has a line of Italian-style bar equipment from ice-makers, dishwashers, air filters, etc.

Nevertheless, the commercial espresso machine remains number one production at FAEMA, and the company takes great care to protect its reputation in the field, both as to fighting patent infringements and maintaining its own high standards in manufacturing. FAEMA machines remain expensive, perhaps the most expensive available. But then again, the company is unique among its competitors in producing more than 75 percent of all machine parts inhouse, meaning everything from nuts and bolts to plastic knobs. The key components are all produced at the company's factory in Milan, and each machine is individually tooled and assembled to order.

As a result, FAEMA's number-one competitor is the longevity of its own machines, several thousands of which - some 25 years old and older - are still running well in restaurants and cafes the world over. In Milan alone, the company reports, there are more than 700 E61 models still in daily use.

Even given this tradition of careful workmanship, it is still surprising to visit the factory and note that it is still surprising to visit the factory and note that testing procedures take up as much floor space as machine assembly.

FAEMA machines are something of a status symbol in Italy, where they are number one in sales to the commercial market. The company holds about 20 percent share of the annual commercial espresso machine sales in Italy, and some 30 percent of all machines now in use are believed to be sold by FAEMA.

Last year, the company produced more than 14,000 espresso making machines, of which some 6,000 were sold in Italy. The majority of the FAEMA production now goes abroad, to help satisfy the world's rising third for espresso.

PHOTO : A true espresso enthusiast, Marco Gamboni is ceo of Gafin, the holding company for the Gamboni family which has the controlling majority in FAEMA. Gamboni is also chairman of FAEMA.

PHOTO : Benito Vetrano (left) and Assaad Benabid along with a week's production of espresso machine boilers, in the boiler testing area of FAEMA. Vetrano probably knows as much about espresso machines as anyone living, having worked in the company's technical department for the past 38 years. Benabid is a Faema export manager, and also a vice president of FAEMA Corp. America.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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