I downed my daily ritual with a contented sigh.
Coffee, they say, is an institution. And within every institution lies a small group of devout followers, I being the chief among them. Coffee purists around the world, though, probably don’t know that the answer to the perfect cup of coffee is not at their local fair trade shop but at a small factory in the little canton of Glarus, Switzerland.
That’s why I sought out a conversation with Christian Sagehorn, Director of Olympia Express, a company that produces exclusive Swiss made, hand crafted Espresso and grinder machines. Founded in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Olympia Express is the perfect blend of Italian passion and Swiss precision.
I was keen to ask how Olympia Express espresso machines compare with the big market players like Nespresso or Bosch. Sagehorn was quick to clarify. The Olympia Express product is in an entirely different league; it’s like comparing a Roles Royce with a Volvo. “Our customers are not button pushers,” he said. “They like to create their perfect espresso, and this is the machine that makes perfect coffee”.
Like the many delicacies of life, reaching a high-quality product also involves a bit of elbow grease. How does a coffee machine make the perfect coffee?
Olympia Express produces only 500 units per year. Each machine is made up of more than 300 parts. Only high standard manufacturing materials such as stainless steel, brass, and glass are used. Every part of the machine is collected and assembled by the skilled hands of Ymert Krasniqi and Fatima Dorado, Olympia’s duo assembly team. 90-percent of the parts of the machine are produced within Switzerland.
Stainless steel and brass parts are used to maintain a temperature of 92 degrees Celsius and reach a constant high pressure for the extraction from the beans, which is an important element in the brewing process. Espresso machine parts are laser cut to shape with the greatest precision. Workers fold and weld all the parts of the machine together as part of the assembly process.
The steel exteriors are painted with powder paint at 180 degrees Celsius. When the machine is completely assembled, it is tested for temperature and pressure.
But why the extra mile to produce the heating boiler for steam with all metal parts? Sagehorn explained that any parts that reach contact with water are made from stainless steel to ensure that lead does not affect the quality of the water. The pump, maintains a high and consistent temperature for extraction, which is why Olympia Express can say that it’s able to capture 95-percent of the valuable substances in coffee. I couldn’t wait to taste.
How it All Started
Olympia Express was founded in Ticino in 1928, originally producing machines for bars and restaurants. Founder and passionate inventor, Luigi Bresaola, continued to innovate until his machines where producing a great espresso. In the 1960’s, his son Luigi took over the company and began to offering espresso machines for home use. The home machines received great enthusiasm from buyers. The length and width of the machine is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper; they are compact in size and their reliability saw a steady increase in demand.
In the company’s heyday, Olympia Express manpower reached over 100 employees before times got tough and led to substantial downsizing in the 1980s and 1990s. Olympia stopped producing in 1992, though four years later it restarted and became Moka Expresso, later Olympia Express SA before being bought out in 2011 by Schätti AG Metallwarenfabrik. A small, family owned company, Schätti had been making parts for Olympia Express for a few years and was invited to take over production of the complete machine.
Olympia Express’ president, Thomas Schätti, is a mechanical engineer, and owns the company together with his two brothers. With a staff of 90, Schätti operates mainly for household appliances and furniture manufacturers.
Olympia sells approximately three to four hundred machines every year. The United States makes up around 15 percent of its sales, Germany 20 percent, and another 60 percent is sourced in Switzerland. Sagehorn also mentioned that the last years have seen an increase in sales in the Asian region, as well as in the United State and the United Kingdom. With three main consumer markets, Olympia forges partnerships with distributors around the world that also sell Olympia machines, conduct demonstrations, and take care out any servicing that might be necessary. Machines are not sold online because Olympia wants to make sure it gives its customer’s adequate support and education about the machines before they leave the shop.
Sagehorn says that with such a niche market, Olympia does not want to grow very fast, but rather embraces a sustainable philosophy that ensures personal service from every point of sale, long after the machine reaches the home”. Olympia has three products: Cremina, Maximatic, and Moca. The Cremina is the classic lever-operated espresso machine. The hand driven lever draws out small amounts of water into a piston chamber and forces it into pressed ground coffee, allowing for the coffee to expand. The second its product line is the Maxmatic, which is offered for those who seek a bit more convenience. It’s astonishingly compact and actually the smallest espresso machine in the world with a dual circuit heating system. The Maxmatic has a steaming element for frothing milk. Finally, the Moca is an espresso grinder. It has a powerful 300-watt motor with a mirrorfinished stainless steel outer shell.
I asked Sagehorn who are the most typical clients of Olympia. “Our clients have an eye for quality and design. Many of them are well-educated engineers, architects, or scientists with a true appreciation for precision and functionality.” With a strong and devoted fan base, Olympia machines last for generations. Their signature taste forms a legacy for the families, friends, and communities it serves. And to top it off, with roots in Ticino, it makes for the perfect combination: Swiss-made with a hint of Italian style.
Article by Lindsay Michiels