Gaggia Classica 1948

by Simone Forgia
Gaggia Tipo Classica

In the history of coffee, many important innovations have been able to improve this sector, solve problems or simply alleviate them. Among all these inventions, some have even managed to revolutionise the beloved black drink. These latter are very few and can probably even be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you don't have to be audacious to say that the introduction of the lever was one of them. It has allowed us to know the espresso as we know it today and has given rise to an immensity of new possibilities. Among all the lever machines produced, both for cafés and households, there is, however, one that plays a particularly important role; that of having been the first; the Gaggia Tipo Classica produced in 1948. It is for this reason that we decided to start The Lever Magazine with this specific model.

The origins of this machine can be traced back to 1938, when Achille Gaggia, a barista from Milan, registered the patent for the Lampo grouphead. This innovative grouphead still did not have a lever, but allowed the use of hot water alone to extract the coffee, instead of a mix of hot water and steam as was normally the case. From this invention, the motto: "Crema caffè naturale" (natural coffee cream) was born, because it allowed to obtain a creamy coffee. However, the commercialisation of this group was not very prosperous because it was expensive and difficult to install. Achille understood therefore that he had to create a model that would already incorporate it; bad luck wants, that in the meantime, World War II broke out and therefore production was stopped.

The year 1947 came when, with the end of the war and the resumption of activities, Achille filed the patent for the hydraulic lever system. It is an evolution of the previous patent and it is said that he was inspired by the engine piston of an American army Jeep that had a similar hydraulic system.

Since the Milanese bartender did not have a factory to produce his machines, he relied on Faema and the following year he presented the first model of "Officine Faema Brevetti Gaggia" (Faema workshop Gaggia patents); the Tipo Classica. The machine develops horizontally, so as not to obstruct the view between the person who prepares the coffee and the customer. Moreover, the horizontal orientation also allows to have more groupheads in line and the presence of a cup holder ensures that the cups are kept warm by the heat coming from the two boilers. They were two, so one was dedicated to steam, while the other could keep the water at a constant temperature of 90°C.

Original patent of the lever system

Original patent of the lever system.
Sebastien Delprat, Caféob

The coffee was no longer extracted at 1.5 bar, but as many as 9 were applied, thereby managing to extract the natural oils from the beans. Until then, the use of steam implied a burnt, bitter drink, but with the use of a dedicated boiler for water, this problem was solved. In addition, the lever and consequently the piston system was also safer. All these innovations made possible the preparation of an espresso in less time, passing from 45 seconds to the well known 25-30 of today and allowing to drink a warmer coffee.

After a slight hesitation and fear towards all these novelties, the public welcomed this new system with joy and the trend of espresso was born. It was a technological and aesthetic revolution. The bartender moving the levers looked like an artist dancing on stage. It is therefore no coincidence that the undulated casing of the Gaggia Classica recalls the curtains of the theatres, as if to highlight the idea of a show. It was still a handcrafted machine and not mass-produced, which is why it was expensive and not all bars could afford it. For this reason, it also represented a status symbol and appeared in the most prestigious venues. Its chrome plating, which was well suited to the furniture of those years, recalled a modern design and its shapes were reminiscent of the American Streamline movement, accentuating its internationality. This aesthetic will be further highlighted by the Gaggia Internazionale model. In addition, this style used a lot in the automotive world, brings the machine closer to the world of engines, from which Achille took inspiration for patenting the lever system.

The Gaggia Tipo Classica was, therefore, a model that revolutionised the coffee world like few others, both technically and stylistically. Born from the desire of a barista to not serve a bitter espresso, it led to the birth of one of the most prestigious brands in this sector which, in the following years, was able to produce many other models worthy of its name. It is then thanks to Achilles' futuristic vision that coffee consumption has doubled in the years to come.

Gaggia Tipo Classica 1948 with 3 groups

Gaggia Tipo Classica 1948 with 3 groups, courtesy of Enrico Maltoni