Both internet and encyclopedia are silent about the origins of serving water with espresso. You will sooner find out why the dinosaurs died out, how many women Bob Marley had or how much Lukas Podolski will earn in Górnik Zabrze. However, specific facts in the history of coffee may suggest certain theories and unravel the coffee mystery.
From our own backyard – in the beautiful country along the Vistula, there are various ways of serving water with coffee. Leń Gdańsk brings the whole bottle to the table as a form of greeting the guests. Typika Warszawa fills the glass as long as we are there. And at Coffeedesk Wilcza we have created a separate self-service table, where everyone can pour water to their liking. In these cafés, the bonus water is primarily about hospitality. Most likely, however, serving water is not just about the courtesy of baristas, but also about the “cosmetics” of your mouth.
Why is water served with espresso and Italian savoir faire
According to some stories, the espresso was initially served with a glass of water so that the customer could make sure that the water was clean and drinkable. After all, it was not always crystal clear in the cities. Over time, tap water was replaced by sparkling water. For the Italians, however, it doesn’t have to be sparkling as long as it is mineral water. The minerals contained in the water cleanse our palate and stimulate the taste buds before the first sip of espresso, which is a sensually saturated and intense drink. After drinking the espresso, you are the boss. If the coffee was great, you give the glass back and enjoy the long aftertaste of the coffee. If what you’ve drunk turns out to be nasty, clean water will save you, washing away the bad taste.
Another argument for “espresso + water” is the question of hydration. For people who are sensitive to caffeine or have not developed such resistance as a barista (who drinks a liter of overflow coffee at the end of the shift so that it does not go to waste), espresso can be a bomb. The black brew has diuretic properties, so it dehydrates and deregulates the body’s mineral balance. A glass of water helps to level up the hydration.
On water’s trail
As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons for serving water with espresso was to rinse your mouth after drinking poor-quality coffee. Here we come to a piece of interesting history. It is 1901. Luigi Bezzera invents the first espresso machine based on the flow of steam and water.
In 1903, the Bezzara’s patent was bought by Pavoni, who made the machine famous all over the world. Despite some minor changes Pavoni made to the design, both gentlemen did not solve a certain problem that concerned the steam coffee machine system. Simply put, it extracted the brew unevenly, which is probably why it was always under-extracted. It was not until 1947 that Giovanni Achille Gaggia replaced steam with a water heating system and thus solved the problem.
Espresso punch line
Taking into account the investigation to date, we can suspect that water began to be served with espresso and popularized in the period 1903–1947, when the extraction system in the then espresso machines was underdeveloped, and the brew could have tasted like brake fluid. It is possible that also around that time a still living tradition of welcoming guests to bars and restaurants with water was born.
Speaking of water: remember to drink plenty of it not only in the summer, but all year round, because it is very important to stay hydrated. And when it comes to espresso, drink it the way you like it – preferably fresh right after brewing.