This old-world craftsman who makes one-of-a-kind machines understands why cyclists are so crazy for espresso—and wants to help all of us elevate our coffee game.
If you’re cruising along the tree-lined Route 246 in Buellton, California, heading toward the quaint, Danish-inspired town of Solvang, you might miss the unassuming storefront of Salvatore Espresso Systems. Inside, the white-haired Salvatore Cisaria, his eyes glinting behind wire-rim spectacles, welds custom machines into fanciful designs and dresses them in hammered copper, stainless steel, and polished brass and gold.
With clients from all over the world and a business that thrives primarily online (his wife, Wendy Stephen, manages sales and technical support), the 62-year-old Salvatore, who came to California from Italy in 1984, doesn’t need to lure customers into his shop with flavored coffee drinks. But if you do step through the door and onto the burnished-copper floor he crafted himself, you’ll find a cozy showroom crammed with whimsical machines (one shaped like a wine barrel, another a tribute to Ferrari race cars) and a workshop outfitted with tools he has modified to build whatever he (or a client) imagines.
Salvatore will gladly tell you all about it—and he’ll pull you an espresso with the same deft precision he learned back in Italy at his uncle’s cafe. Until then, he offers us a few insights to tide you over:
“I grew up in a coffee shop in a little town called Ostuni, in South Italy. It’s still there—Caffe Trieste—in the main square. Three generations. My cousin took it over.”
“The first time I went there, I was about four or five years old, on a Sunday, these two guys were working on this big, huge lever machine. It was beautiful copper. Oh my god. I never can forget that picture.”
“I quit school at about 13. I did a lot of plumbing and also metal and electric work. I went in the army at 18 for a year and a half (you have to, otherwise you end up in jail). Later, I worked in a high-tech machine shop in Florence. We made bijouterie, little buckles and accessories for handbags and shoes.”
“The Giro d’Italia went through Florence two years ago. Did you see it? Oh my god. It was beautiful.”
“Everyone wants to come to California. They call it the Golden State, right? California! When I first came here, there were only a few espresso machines.”
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