I live in the US. During a recent trip to France, I was struck by the fact that espresso is the default coffee configuration there (i.e., if you order "coffee" in a restaurant without specifying further, espresso is what you get). And Nespresso-compatible coffee pods are sold in the supermarket for use in Nespresso-compatible machines, whereas in the US Nespresso hasn't licensed their system to any third parties, so it's still a specialty item. Presumably the same situation prevails in Italy, where espresso originally comes from.

In the US, meanwhile, you can get "espresso drinks," but that usually means espresso diluted in a large quantity of milk and syrup. Espresso per se is an esoteric beverage consumed mostly by a small number of enthusiasts.

Part of what motivates this question is that in some ways espresso seems tailor-made for the American market:

  • Invented out of a desire for fast service
  • Involves large, complex machinery
  • Lends itself to quick consumption

And yet here we are. So the question is: are there specific factors, beyond "different countries do things differently," that kept espresso from catching on in the US?

3 Answers 3


Drip coffee is the mainstream coffee drink in America because of the popularity of the drip brand Nescafe introduced in 1938, the large scale fight for market share, wide promotion and advertising created a huge market for brewed and specifically instant coffee.

Add to that that GI's acquired a taste for coffee after experiencing it in wartime rations and the surging popularity of American supermarkets having myriad instant coffee brands. The wide scale and aggressive marketing of instant coffee was a much more American than European phenomena.

Europe was less inundated by this marketing deluge and had a longer history of coffee shops. Espresso came into vogue in Europe after WWII and integrated well into Italian and European cafe culture. A high quality coffee beverage that could be prepared fresh on the spot (with or without a pastry).

  • Can I add that an espresso is, in a way, not a real drink? Is more a taste, a complement, a kick. I think of this since once a german colleague told me that is impossible to get a coffee in Italy. I was astonished to hear that. But realized that if you look for a beverage, espresso is not. In a way we could say that he was right. Or alternatively, espresso is liquid but it is not a beverage. Plus 1
    – Alchimista
    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:05
  • And espresso it might be too small. There is not an item called espresso doppio in Italy, tough occasionally you might ask for two of them.
    – Alchimista
    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:53

Coffee spread throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th C and was brought over to the United States by colonialists and immigrants. Coffee was already a fixture here by the time espresso was invented in the early 20th C.

Coffee arrived in Italy in the 17th century.It was made in the Turkish manner andconsumed in elite coffee houses such as Florian in Venice.Cappuccino was madeby adding the froth from warm milk to the coffee.However it was only in 1905that the first espresso machine entered into production. https://www.academia.edu/379110/The_Cappuccino_Conquests._The_Transnational_History_of_Italian_Coffee_2007_

Espresso did not become a staple of Italian or European culture until after WWII.

By the late 1950s, most Italians consumed coffee at home, in the traditional moka pot—first built by engineer Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, and now an icon of Italian design worldwide, as Morris explains in his 2008 essay “A History of Espresso in Italy and the World.” But there were exceptions. A young Calvino was a regular customer at Caffè Talmone, a café in Turin where he met with other intellectuals to discuss books and politics. There, he drank Italian espresso with a layer of foam on top, the result of a patent registered by bar owner Achille Gaggia in 1947. https://qz.com/992879/the-curious-tale-of-how-italy-became-the-world-capital-of-coffee/

So why did espresso come to dominate European culture after WWII and not the US? Why would any fad or variety necessarily come to dominate the world? Why would a new variety necessarily overcome tradition? For one thing - espressos require specialty machines that were extremely expensive. Until recently it was not something that would be found in an ordinary kitchen whether in Italy or the United States.


This is not an answer but an humble approach or brainstorming on the issue.

Americans like everything big? In Europe, we use small cars, eat small portions... Americans are not used to that.

Maybe, the whole continent was once virgin and free to be used while Europe (more generally, the old world) was already exhausted and crowded. During those days, Americans got used to use everything in big pieces.

Then, came the coffee. A very small concentrated portion. Americans pour water to have bigger portions. Actually, the invention of Americano is quite interesting in that sense. As far as I know, Americans first mass encounter in espresso is around the second world war. Within the same NATO base, together with Italian soldiers, American soldiers are not fond of drinking small shots of espresso. They started to add boiled water. Italians don't like the idea and make fun of it, so call this newly invented drink Americano to contempt. However, Americans like to have their own style and adopted this name with pleasure.

I think, even this story could explain the major difference in perspectives.

See Evan Nowak's legit comment on the story: "If that story is even remotely true, an Americano would have been Americans trying to approximate brewed coffee by watering down espresso, not creating a new drink because they 'like everything big'.

  • I think that's probably part of it, but it does still feel incomplete, especially since (a) espresso was invented in the late 19th cent., just at the time when huge numbers of European immigrants were making their way to the US, (b) the "American" style of coffee was prevalent in Europe before the invention of espresso AFAIK (cf. the French press), and (c) other Italian foods did catch on here (e.g., pizza), albeit in modified form.
    – crmdgn
    Jan 7, 2018 at 11:22
  • @crmdgn You're right on all three. Except, I don't want to put French-press in the same basket with drip-down coffee, except the amount of drinkable cup at once. Other than that, cultural issues is not my cup of coffee ☕. Anthropologists or sociologists might answer better. :)
    – MTSan
    Jan 7, 2018 at 15:09
  • 2
    Brewed coffee is much older than espresso. If that story is even remotely true, an Americano would have been Americans trying to approximate brewed coffee by watering down espresso, not creating a new drink because they "like everything big."
    – Evan Nowak
    Jan 9, 2018 at 0:51

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