The word 'espresso' has a particular spelling that people frequently get wrong.

What is the root language of the word? (I'm sure it's Italian - but do the components of the word come from Latin or Greek?) (The 'Es' makes me think of Spanish)

What is its origin?

I can see 'press' in the word - as in to 'press coffee'. Are there other parts in the word that I haven't observed?


2 Answers 2


Espresso comes from the Italian name for the coffee, in full caffè espresso, literally "pressed-out coffee". Wikipedia explains:

Espresso (/ɛˈspɹɛsəʊ/ /eˈspresō/) is coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans.


The OED has it first from 1945 but I found a 1919 in a magazine called The Living Age (v. 301, p. 805, in "Rome Revisited" by Dr. Arthur Rosenburg:

After a few weeks under the cloudless
skies of Rome, where the bright Jan-
uary sunshine gilds the yellow marble
palaces and bestows its genial warmth
upon the crowds that circulate through
the Corso to the Piazza Colonna and
the Piazza del Popolo, or sitting in the
open in front of the cafés sipping their
coffee espresso or their glass of ver-
muth, the icy estrangcment melts.


The OED also lists a variant form expresso from 1955. This can be found in the Italy section of the 1911 book The Gourmet's Guide to Europe (plain text / read online) (third edition, April 1911, p.261) by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis:

I drank a small flask of the red wine of the house, Ruffina, a Café Expresso, and a glass of Anisette, and my bill was just under l. 5.


And also in an 1869 book called Rome and Venice: with other wanderings in Italy, in 1866-7 (p.294) by George Augustus Sala:

worthy rushlights weekdays halfpenny dips on Sunday and one short six on Christmas day Thu rt Coney's the most aristocratic caffc in Florence if you ask for eaffe ordi nario they bring you a very washy decoction with white sugar in dust 1 ut if you pay an extra halfpenny you can have eaffe apposto which is slightly stronger and accompanied by sugar in small lumps and finally by ordering the mighty eaffe espresso you are entitled to a positively palatable cup of coffee and four big lumps of sugar According to Sir Pitt Crawley's charwoman

Thus at Doney's, the most aristocratic caffè in Florence, if you ask for caffè ordinario, they bring you a very washy decoction with white sugar in dust; but if you pay an extra halfpenny you can have caffè apposto, which is slightly stronger, and accompanied by sugar in small lumps; and, finally, by ordering the mighty caffè expresso, you are entitled to a positively palatable cup of coffee and four big lumps of sugar.

However, this 1869 pre-dates espresso machines as we know them today. About.com says:

In 1822, the first espresso machine was made in France. In 1933, Dr. Ernest Illy invented the first automatic espresso machine. However, the modern-day espresso machine was created by Italian Achilles Gaggia in 1946. Gaggia invented a high pressure espresso machine by using a spring powered lever system.

Wikipedia adds:

Angelo Moriondo’s Italian patent, which was registered in Turin in 1884 (No. 33/256), is notable. Ian Bersten ... describes the device as “… almost certainly the first Italian bar machine that controlled the supply of steam and water separately through the coffee” and Moriondo as “... certainly one of the earliest discoverers of the expresso [sic] machine, if not the earliest.” Unlike true espresso machines, it was a bulk brewer, and did not brew coffee “expressly” for the individual customer.

Home-Barista says:

The term café-espress has been used since the 1880s, well before espresso machines existed. It means coffee made to order, expressly for the person ordering it. It also means coffee fresh in every sense of the word:

  • Made from fresh beans roasted at most two weeks prior to use,
  • Ground just before brewing,
  • Brewed just before drinking.
  • +1 - Has my answer beat, hands down! :)
    – Ste
    Dec 2, 2013 at 12:29
  • 1
    You quoted the Home-Barista etymology without comment, but as it appears to contradict the other etymologies (expressly versus pressed-out), it might be worth some discussion. Dec 17, 2013 at 13:47
  • @GarethRees: I wonder if the (pre-espresso machine) 1869 is an example of coffee expressly made, and therefore it's not a contradiction but two different etymologies for two different types of coffee.
    – Hugo
    Dec 17, 2013 at 13:53

Etymonline has espresso as:

1945, from Italian caffe espresso, from espresso "pressed out," from past participle of esprimere, from Latin exprimere "press out" (see express). In reference to the steam pressure.

So your observation regarding possible Latin origins is correct.

  • There are two possible explanations for the meaning/ origin of espresso.
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2013 at 14:33

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