What Does "Pulling a Shot" Mean?
If you’ve immersed yourself in the world of espresso or spent any amount in a coffee shop, you will certainly hear someone talk about “pulling a shot of espresso.” Simply, they are just speaking to the process of brewing a shot of espresso, but why use the word pulling? Well, this term goes back to the early days of espresso in Italy and once you know the story behind this coffee jargon, it will suddenly make sense.
Early Days of the Espresso Machine
The birth of espresso is credited to both Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni who in the very early 20th Century built a pressure-based coffee brewer that was able to quickly extract a concentrated coffee beverage (1). The earliest coffee machines were essentially just large hot water boilers that would heat up and build up enough pressure to force water and steam through a puck of coffee grounds and into a cup below. While this made the process of getting coffee quicker than ever before, the lack of control over the temperature and pressure created inconsistency that would’ve made for a less than ideal drink.
The very early machines were not widely adopted, and it was not until the introduction of the pressure release valve and steam wands that we really saw this newly created espresso begin to spread across Italy. While these machines were quick and could handle a high volume, they were only able to deliver 1.5-2 bars of pressure by relying solely on steam pressure. This tiny amount of pressure produced a drink that would not pass for espresso by today’s standards.
The Birth of Modern Espresso
While a few other players entered the newly created espresso market in the early 1900s, It wasn’t until after WWII that Achille Gaggia, an Italian café owner, introduced a unique way to deliver 8-10 bars of pressure, giving birth to the espresso we know and love today.
Unlike its predecessors, the Gaggia espresso coffee machines enhanced the steam power by combining it with a spring piston lever controlled by the barista. It was these lever machines that are responsible for the term “pulling a shot of espresso” as the baristas needed to pull this lever in order to create the additional pressure needed for the extraction. The higher pressure also gave birth to the crema that we now love and expect in any espresso shot. Fun fact, it wasn’t until Gaggia positioned this golden crema as a mark of the coffee’s quality that consumers began to appreciate this unique attribute.
“Pulling a Shot of Espresso” is Here to Stay
While the term “pulling a shot of espresso” was certainly appropriate when these lever machines took the world by storm in the post-war era, further advancements have been made in espresso technology that has made these lever machines somewhat a thing of the past. Despite a recent resurgence in demand for this retro design, lever machines are still quite uncommon. However, their history is still cemented by this phrase that was coined by their unique and ingenious brewing design. In my opinion, this coffee jargon is just a simple gift we can give to Gaggia for creating one of the most beloved drinks in the entire coffee universe, espresso.
There is no lever here, but you can certainly pull your espresso shots each morning with your Bruvi® espresso B-Pods™ to make your favorite drinks. From specialty coffees from americanos to lattes and everything in between, Bruvi has you covered!
- Stamp, Jimmy. “The Long History of the Espresso Machine.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 19 June 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/.