The first espresso machine in Australia, according to the Massoni family, was installed by Rinaldo Massoni at the Café Florentino in 1929. With a mixture of Italian family pride and good Aussie idiom, a Massoni descendent says: “The first commercial espresso machine was installed in the Café Florentino, Burke Street Melbourne by my grandfather Rinaldo Massoni in 1928. Patrons were delighted as this large machine hissed, plumed gushed streams of aromatic coffee, and promptly drank copious amounts of this delicious liquid. Any other claim in this regard is pure southern matter dropped from a north bound bull.”
“Caffè espresso” was introduced at the 1906 Milan Fair, by Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni. Their design was based on one patented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin in 1884. These early machines, however, passed steam through the coffee and operated at a lower pressure than subsequent designs. The machine at Café Florentino was most likely some variation on the Pavoni design. The lever-operated machine we’re familiar with today was invented by Achille Gaggia after WWII. This operated at a much higher pressure and forced water, not steam, through the coffee. This process improved the taste.
The first lever-operated machines in Australia were installed not by Italians but by Greek immigrant Sam Akon (Economopoulos). He introduced the Italian espresso machines – La Carimali – in two of his Sydney milk bars (both called Patricia’s) in 1948 and 1949. Others have claimed to have the first espresso machine in Australia. Three Greek brothers, the Andronicus brothers, had established one of Australia’s first coffee roasting businesses in 1910. They installed a machine in their George Street, Sydney café in 1952. Two years later, the first lever-style espresso machines in Melbourne were installed at the Università Café in Lygon Street, Carlton and at Pellegrini’s in Bourke Street.
According to Alan Preston, a Queenslander who ran a series of cafés in Sydney from the 1980s, it was North Queensland’s sugar barons who were responsible for the import of most of the espresso machines in the early 1950s and ’60s. Cafés in the sugar towns catered for the mainly Italian cane growers, who demanded a good cup of coffee. “Sydney and Melbourne Italians and Greeks always crap on about how they own coffee but it was their North Queensland cousins who had the cash back in the day,” Alan says.