A Brief History Of Coffeemakers, 1600-Present

An epic new book pours over four centuries of gorgeous coffeemakers–designs driven by our need to get out of bed in the morning.

These days, our coffee is usually spat from a black plastic machine with buttons and lights and gurgling noises and delivered in millions of identical paper cups from Starbucks. Modern coffeemakers are practical, but not usually pretty. Once upon a time, though, whimsical contraptions of floral ceramic or embossed brass delivered our caffeine fixes, complete with spouts and spirit-burners and stacked glass vessels.


Such gorgeous old-school machines are the subject of Coffee Makers: Macchine da Caffe, a 776-page encyclopedia of brewing contraptions and their history by Italian coffee fanatics Enrico Maltoni and Mauro Carli. “I collect coffeemakers, and I wanted to know how time has changed how they work and how they look,” Maltoni tells Co.Design.

You could call it an obsession: Maltoni’s personal collection is displayed at the Museum of the Coffee Machine in Milan, and he also created the world’s first traveling exhibition of rare, highly valuable machines, called “Espresso made in Italy, 1901-2010.”

The book, he says, represents two years of research, from “the origins of coffee machines all the way up to today. I went to the homes of the most important collectors in the world to photograph their collections.” Spanning 400 years of history, with 2,700 images, 2,080 technical descriptions, 220 advertising posters, and 60 technical drawings, it’s staggering in scope and detail. Only highly caffeinated people could have written it.

At its heart, Coffee Makers is a celebration of diversity and evolution in design. Humans throughout history solved the same problem–how to make good coffee–in an endless variety of ways. The coffee machine, which first has a practical aim, was often elevated to the level of an art object. Pictured here are glass beakers that look straight out of Breaking Bad, a locomotive-shaped white ceramic machine from 1860, a traditional Ethiopan Jebena, a spherical terra-cotta pot, and Baby Faemina machines of candy-colored die-cast aluminum. The authors also detail 10 methods of brewing, from infusion by boiling to pump percolation to steam pressure.

Now, picking up where Keurig cups and timer-activated coffee makers left off, there’s Briggo, a Texas-based startup that’s created a fully automated, one-stop coffee kiosk that supposedly produces a human-quality brew. This robot may soon be threatening baristas everywhere.

The coffee machine is one of those household objects that tends to blend into the woodwork–we might use it every day, but are too groggy with sleep to even think about thinking about its origin story. Considering how many of us rely on it to get out of bed, though, the coffeemaker should probably have its own holiday. Instead, it got this stunning tribute of a book. You can flip through a wide selection of its pages here, and order it here.


About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.