17th
Dec
2014

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Humanity's conquest of space appears to have been going really rather well of late. There was the comet landing back on the 12th November and no more than a fortnight later the International Space Station received its first espresso machine. No prizes for guessing which event Kafevend votes the more exciting! We've explored the subject of space refreshments before, but it turns out that while we were absorbed by the possibilities of 3D printed food, the Italians were working on delivering astronauts the most quintessential of their nation's drinks.

The very first espresso machine was made by one Angelo Moriondo of Turin who patented his device in 1884. Then at the turn of the twentieth century another Italian, Luigi Bezzera, worked on several improvements, amongst which was a system for dispensing single shots. His patent was bought a few years later by a third Italian, Desiderio Pavoni, who had both the means to go into commercial production and the marketing savvy to extend the machine's audience. It proved highly popular with workers who didn't have time to wait for their coffee to brew the slow way, and so the convenience of the espresso spread throughout Italy.    

The espresso machine has continued to undergo improvements ever since and in today's version water heated to around 94°C is forced through ground coffee under high pressure. However, gravity is key to the process, meaning the space version needed considerable adaptation. Rather fittingly, just as the original espresso machine was designed by a Turin resident, the model developed for the International Space Station (ISS) is the work of two Turin businesses; well known coffee company, Lavazza, teamed up with Argotec, the engineering firm already involved with developing space food for the European Space Agency.

Combining technical expertise with coffee wisdom, Argotec and Lavazza came up with the aptly named Isspresso; note the use of the International Space Station's acronym! We've all marvelled at footage of liquid floating around in big droplets in zero gravity conditions, but realistically water or coffee droplets could seriously damage the space station's equipment, let alone burn the astronauts, so the Isspresso makes full use of airtight pouches and pipes built to withstand very high pressures. The final drink is presented in a pouch and has to be sipped through a straw. The end result is less concerned with sophistication, than with delivering an authentic espresso to improve the quality of life in a contained environment.

The Isspresso arrived on board the ISS last month along with Italy's first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. As well as being amongst the first cohort of astronauts to enjoy an authentic espresso, she'll also benefit from Argotec's work to preserve the station's food supplies in a way that doesn't alter their flavour, smell or colour. Hopefully her six month stint orbiting the Earth will prove more appetising than it has done for astronauts in the past.

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