May 05, 2023 3 min read

The  Bialetti Moka Express is the world's most recognised and cherished stovetop espresso maker which produces rich, authentic espresso in just minutes. 

Not many however, know much about the history of this iconic appliance that revolutionised home coffee preparation worldwide. Undoubtedly, even fewer people are aware that there exists a historical link between the Bialetti Moka Express and Faema. 

Renato Bialetti, the moustachioed man behind Moka Express

Renato Bialetti was born in Omegna, Italy in 1923 among a family of inventors. However, contrary to popular belief, he didn’t invent the Moka Express. Instead, it was his father Alfonso, who learned the techniques of aluminium shell casting and patented the revolutionary espresso making appliance in 1933. 

The new stovetop espresso maker was simple, compact and affordable, yet capable of making the power-packed brew previously associated only with the large espresso machine of the espresso bars. A small engineering marvel at that time, its octagonal tank was inspired by Futurism and Art Deco designs, and its combination of boiler, filter,  funnel and tank allow the Moka to shorten the espresso coffee making process at home to just a few minutes.

The famous claim made by Bialetti was that one could enjoy, “without requiring any ability whatsoever,  “in casa un espresso come al bar”  (“an espresso at home just like at the bar".)

And yet, however revolutionary the invention was, sales of the Moka were unimpressive until Renato Bialetti took over the business in the 1940s. It took all the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of Renato, at the helm of Bialetti since 1947, for the commercial breakthrough. 

Renato, the Marketing Genius

The turning point for Moka Express came with television - particularly with the arrival of Carosello - the innovative program invented by the Italian state television network RAI in the late 1950s to broadcast advertisements. This allowed companies to reach new audiences beyond the traditional print and radio and directly into Italian homes.

An astute marketer, Renato proceeded to branding every pot with a charming and adorable character, l'omino con i baffi, or the moustachioed little man, designed by the artist Paul Campani. A symbol of the company since the 1950s, the cartoon is an ingenious caricature of  Bialetti himself, and was designed to distinguish his pots from those of competitors. 

Bialetti moka express affordable stovetop home espresso maker

Not limiting himself to airing commercials on TV, at the same time Renato also aggressively advertised Moka Express around Italy, utilising billboards, radio campaigns as well as newspapers and magazines, and in the process introduced a very well-known slogan in Italy: “Eh yes yes yes… it seems easy! (to make a good coffee).” The result: Bialetti Moka Express became an Italian, and subsequently a global phenomenon, with an estimated 330 million units having been sold worldwide. 

Bialetti’s Moka Express continues to be a respected Italian icon. In a recent survey of notable Italian designs in history, the Moka Express ranked as the fifth-best design to have come out of Italy in the 20th century.

The End of an Empire

Thanks to Moka Express, the small company created by the moustachioed Mr. Bialetti in the 1940s became an empire whose first creaks were only felt in the 1970s, when the competition from low-end moka-like coffee machines became a heavy siege. In 1986 Renato Bialetti sold the business to Faema, bringing to the well-known espresso machine company two hundred employees and an annual turnover of over ten million dollars.

Renato Bialetti died in 2016 at the age of 93.  After cremation, his ashes were placed in a large Moka Express-shaped urn. A fitting tribute to the inevitable little man with a moustache behind an invention that forever changed the way espresso was made at home.