It’s a big big day for Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, the man who has dominated, and I mean really dominated, Italian politics for the past two decades is about to get kicked out of the senate. He is also due soon to begin a year of house arrest or community service.
But alas up here in Milan we are far from the halls of power down in Rome and as such we can concentrate today on other things, namely the opening of an exhibition to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Bialetti of coffee pot (moka) fame.
As with many exhibitions of this type there is plenty of Bialetti marketing, but being such an iconic Italian brand it’s actually interesting. They also throw in some excellent general coffee background including the history of coffee, how it’s transformed from the plant to the cup and that sort of stuff. A few interesting tidbits you learn along the way: 1.6 billion (with a “b”) cups of coffee a day are consumed around the world, in Italy adults on average consume 5 kilograms of coffee a year, in The Odyssey Homer mentions a bitter liquid that some claim was coffee and in the Bible Abigale gives David coffee beans (not sure I buy these last two).
In addition to some interesting and particular Bialetti coffee pots such as ones dedicated to football teams, the Giro d’Italia, the Alpini (Italian Alpine troops) and Italy’s 150th anniversary in 2011, there are excellent historic coffee pots dating back several hundred years. These latter pots, including a silver “la Napoletana” that is said to have just preceded the first Bialetti pot of 1933, are compliments of Andrea Moretto who has what is surely the greatest collection of coffee paraphernalia in the world.
Of course pride of place at the exhibition (runs through December 8 at Museo della Permanente on Via Turati in downtown Milan) goes to the first Bialetti coffee pot, what they say is the first ever of its kind where pressure forces the steam goes up through the coffee grinds to then be converted into liquid coffee.
It’s striking how little the Bialetti moka has changed in the past 80 years (the handle is the only thing that has evolved) which from a marketing perspective could prove quite challenging, especially considering that the typical moka will last you at least five years and sometimes ten.
Bialetti has been very inventive and in addition to myriad colors and special editions they now have ones in the colors of five Italian football clubs that play the team anthem when the coffee is ready. They also have dived into the world of coffee capsules for instant espresso machines. Sounds kind of like a car manufacturer giving people free bus passes, but Bialetti Chairman Francesco Ranzoni says the moka doesn’t compete with the coffee capsules. In his presentation at the exhibition he also said, evoking Winston Churchill though I suspect unintentionally, that no other thing in the house is used so much, costs so little and lasts so long. I’m not sure he’s been to Ikea lately.
To close, some wonderfully revealing old Bialetti advertising.