As consumers have become more and more engaged with where their coffee comes from, the climate it’s grown in, the way it’s brewed, and all the fine nuances of its taste; so too have the demands for a wide range of tools and equipment, configured to develop the perfect pressure, temperature and channelling, in order to create a consistent cup of coffee every time.
Speciality equipment is now just as important to baristas, as premium beans are in creating the highest quality serve of coffee.
Even just twenty years ago, the modern global demand for speciality coffee which we see today may have seemed unlikely in its growth trajectory, yet the demand for beverages made by expert artisans shows no signs of slowing pace.
The gap between the expectations of high street coffee shops and speciality, independent coffee retailers is closing too, meaning demand for trained baristas and a wide range of sophisticated barista kit has never been so high.
Furthermore, each barista will have their own unique choices when it comes to tools. A flat or convex tamper, wooden or steel? Which variety of jug will they find best for creating creamy, textured milk, and will it vary from wand to wand? How consequential are these choices, and how can we imagine that present and future technologies will offer new tools and opportunities for the barista to express themselves even further?
When the western world was first introduced to coffee in the 17th century, as it travelled out of Africa and the Middle East, carried by Venetian merchants who had first learned of the beverage in Istanbul and other trade hubs, the direct infusion methods used to produce it, using little more than a pot and boiling water often left the drink overexposed. Perhaps not through inattentiveness; more likely a desired outcome as coffee was still such an exotic, rare commodity. If the Venetians could see the way we make an espresso today, the methodical approach would seem so very alien to them; globalisation affords us the luxury of choice of a wide variety of beans, from vastly greater distances than they would have travelled.
Before long, coffee connoisseurs would begin to use cloth filters to separate the grounds from the liquid, and soon after percolators would become in-style throughout Europe as a reliable way to create coffee that had been exposed for a more balanced amount of time. Other methods such as flip-pots and syphon brewers gained some popularity. Much like in our current time, demand for top-grade coffee drove demand for a wider range of coffee making equipment.
As coffee continued to spread throughout Europe, popular among artists, writers and students, so too did the different methods of brewing and roasting it. Grinding the beans into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle was held in favour, and it wasn’t until the early 18th century that the French began experimenting with and popularising mechanical grinders like the burr grinders widely favoured with baristas today.
At the end of the 19th century, the first patent for an Espresso machine was awarded to Angelo Moriondo of Turin, and whilst this was considered a giant leap forward towards the kind of Espresso making preferred today, the method was not fully perfected, his invention not yet pushing even 2 bars of pressure.
It would be almost another 20 years before Luigi Bezzerra would refine his design, to include much of the barista equipment we recognise today. Tamped cakes of ground coffee, inserted in a portafilter, delivering espresso at an impressive rate, to satiate the Italian thirst for coffee, albeit still inconsistent compared to modern standards.
Following the rapid technological advances of the first half of the 20th century, Espresso machines grew exponentially as the premier commercial coffee of choice for consumers. These newer machines were capable of pushing up to 9 bars of pressure, making large boilers obsolete and drawing a rich crema from the grounds, consisting of emulsified oils and rich organic materials which were before lost.
A new wave of innovation pursued; computerised components began permitting for precise measurements of both temperature and pressure, giving baristas more room to improvise and distribute their attention to details across every stage of the espresso-making process. PID control systems began to be introduced, stabilising the water temperature in many machines. This ensured that fluctuations in water temperature, which could lead skilled baristas to pull bad shots – through no fault of their own – became a thing of the past. To expedite espresso making further, most modern commercial machines are fitted with double boilers, allowing for steam and water to be dispensed simultaneously, so attentive baristas can both froth milk and create espresso together.
When considering historic trends and present momentum, there seems little doubt that the modern barista continues to seek ever more precise, reliable and innovative technology. This will in turn enable them and their art to fulfil the thirst of an ever-savvier consumer.
 Kenneth Davids, Espresso: Ultimate Coffee, Second Edition, St. Martin’s Press
 William Harrison, All About Coffee, The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company
 British Coffee Association, http://www.britishcoffeeassociation.org/about_coffee/coffee_facts