Sunday, June 16 2024

 

It was 1933 when Alfonso Bialetti had the brilliant insight that led to the invention of the moka, a device that would change the lives of millions of people, especially in Italy.


In fact, not everyone knows that this coffee maker, which was later produced in over 300 million units, was invented almost by chance, as in the best stories.

And it was an Italian, Mr. Bialetti, who, thanks to it, became one of the greatest entrepreneurs in our country.

Let’s retrace the most important stages of the coffee machine that the whole world knows, an iconic design – Bialetti’s – officially included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) in New York on a permanent basis and copied all over the world.

 

The Moka: Bialetti’s Invention

Going back almost a century, we find ourselves in Crusinallo di Omegna, on Lake Orta, the birthplace of Alfonso Bialetti.

Here he returned in 1919, after working for 10 years in the aluminum industry in France, and founded in Italy the eponymous company Alfonso Bialetti & C, which produced various aluminum objects for the home.

A small workshop, next to a washhouse called “lisciveuse” in those areas: a pot with a hollow tube in the center where clothes and detergent were placed, called “lisciva” at the time.

Thanks to boiling, the water rose along the tube with the lye and then descended onto the laundry evenly.

Observing this mechanism, the revelation came to Bialetti: he thought of replicating the system for the coffee maker.

 

Bialetti prevailed over the large companies already producing coffee machines at the time, such as Gaggia, Pavia, and Cremonesi, because of the materials he used: aluminum, instead of the heavy metals like copper and brass used by his competitors.

Another strong point was the size: small, manageable, useful, and practical, thus replacing bulky machines with a household-sized one.

It was 1933, and Bialetti, together with the inventor Luigi De Ponti, patented the moka consisting of three main parts: the boiler where the water is placed, the filter where the ground coffee is placed, and the upper part where the beverage rises when it’s ready.

Aluminum made it popular, also thanks to the propaganda of the Fascist regime, which saw the future of the nation in this alloy.

 

It’s also worth noting that in those years, coffee consumption increased due to the invasion of Ethiopia, which began to supply the product to Italy.

And in an instant, the moka entered the homes of Italians.

The Moka: a design object towards the future

It was Renato Bialetti who launched his father’s company towards stellar revenues.

During the war years, the company closed, only to reopen in 1946 with a larger plant capable of producing 18,000 coffee makers per day, or 4 million per year.

Renato Bialetti
Renato Bialetti

A long history of passion and entrepreneurial commitment that also suffered setbacks: in the second decade of the 2000s due to capsules and pods.

But the charm of the moka cannot be diminished, as evidenced by the many designers who have redesigned its shapes and lines over the years.

Among them, we remember the brand Alessi, which brought together the greatest designers of the 20th century to reinvent this coffee maker. Aldo Rossi, Michele De Lucchi, Mario Trimarchi, David Chipperfield, among the best interpreters of the moka, are still on the market today.

Another curiosity that speaks in favor of using the moka.

According to a recent study promoted by the Accademia dei Georgofili – the historic Florentine institution that has been promoting agronomy studies for over 250 years among scholars and landowners – the moka is much more sustainable and ecological compared to capsule and pod machines.

Three reasons: lower electricity consumption, fewer packaging materials, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Therefore, let’s not put it in the cellar.

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