Home » Fiat Once Offered A Car With A Built-In Espresso Machine And Here’s How It Worked

Fiat Once Offered A Car With A Built-In Espresso Machine And Here’s How It Worked

Fiat 500l Espresso Machine Topshot 3
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The Fiat 500L isn’t a particularly remarkable car. Nevertheless, when it was unveiled in 2012, one line in the press release took the world by storm: “The 500L is the first standard-production car in the world to offer a true espresso coffee machine that utilises the technology of the ‘A Modo Mio’ pods. It is perfectly integrated in the car with a deck designed expressly by Fiat.” Everyone from ABC News to Stephen Colbert ran with this story, and that sort of mainstream media attention doesn’t typically happen unless a car has, I don’t know, killed people. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this built-in Lavazza-sourced coffeemaker was never available in America, but that won’t stop us from taking a deeper look into how it works.

The fancy Fiat espresso machine everyone was going ga-ga for a decade ago was substantially similar to the Lavazza EspressGo, but with a more compact form factor. Both machined shared a control layout, which isn’t surprising given their common origin, but they differed in several ways. While the EspressGo plugged into any 12-volt outlet, the Fiat-specific machine drew power from a dock in the center console of the 500L. Likewise, while EspressGo featured a funky ribbed design and a black finish, the Fiat-branded device featured a smooth, light-colored exterior. Still, these minor alterations don’t make a huge difference in how a shot of espresso is pulled.

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So why use one of these machines in the first place? Well, espresso is very fine-ground compacted coffee brewed quickly, yet under intense heat and pressure. Rich, caffeine-loaded, and complemented by crema, it’s a relatively new invention, but it quickly took the world by storm thanks to its rich flavor and lovely texture. It’s also impossible to brew without specialized equipment, which is where the appeal of an in-car espresso machine comes in. Sure, you can get drip coffee at your local service station, but it just isn’t the same.

Fiat 500l Espresso Machine 1

At the heart of any espresso machine worth its salt is a powerful pump to ensure the brewing process goes off without a hitch, all while promoting crema, the foamy layer atop an espresso. After all, crema is just carbon dioxide that’s normally trapped within coffee beans during the roasting process, then released during the espresso brewing process. Anyway, this travel-sized gizmo features a 16-bar pump, which is quite fascinating as you wouldn’t expect such a powerful pump to be in such a little machine. Many consumer-grade countertop espresso machines come with a 15-bar pump as that’s considered the standard, so this little portable gadget surpassing that benchmark is genuinely impressive.

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Fiat 500l Espresso Machine 2

Unfortunately, the Lavazza machine also features the scourge of the coffee industry, single-use disposable pods. Just as Keurig has its k-cups and Nespresso has its pods, Lavazza had its own uniquely-shaped pods meant for machines like this. While the form factor is incredibly convenient and pods eliminate the need to tamp espresso since that task’s already been performed, they create a ton of waste and seriously limit access to the world of coffee. For example, there are some joyous beans grown in places like Oahu and Ethiopia that often don’t get mainstream traction in coffee pod systems.

Despite the facepalm of dedicated pods, using Fiat’s espresso machine was remarkably simple. Users would fill the water reservoir with 50 ml of water, pop a pod into the portafilter at the top, make sure the lid’s on tight, then plug the machine into its dock and press start. From there, the water would come up to temperature, and then the fun started. Simply unplugging the machine, turning it upside-down, and pressing the button to pull a shot would send hot espresso shooting into your receptacle of choice. The video above makes it look easier than ordering at Starbucks, which admittedly, probably isn’t a resume-tier accomplishment. Still, while this machine sounds refreshingly simple, there are some caveats.

Lavazza Pods

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Firstly, because of the heat of the brewing process, removing the coffee pod immediately after brewing seems unwise. Secondly, users are locked into Lavazza’s pod system, and I’ve already detailed why pod systems can be limiting. Finally, the pressure of the espresso brewing process can produce a bit of spatter, so containing everything within the cup might take a bit of practice. Still, what a neat little accessory. I’d love to be able to pull a hot shot of espresso anywhere I went, so bravo to Fiat for making that a reality.

(Photo credits: Fiat; JackStock/stock.adobe.com)

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Zorn Zornelius
Zorn Zornelius
3 months ago

I’d rather have a hot wire straight from the battery I can sizzle my sausages on.

The Dude
The Dude
3 months ago

Still patiently waiting for the car oven from the Simpsons.

Scott
Scott
3 months ago

I should’ve known that something that piqued my interest so sharply would eventually be covered by The Autopian… so, thanks for this Thomas! 🙂

A while back, after catching that Youtube video with the lovely domestic goddess demonstrating the in-car espresso maker and then posting about it (on the old site I think) I then proceeded to try to find one I could install in my car (an ’04 Volvo XC90) not because I’m a coffee snob (I’m not, at least not yet, since I’ve always been at least adequately impressed by Lavazza shots I’ve had in hotel lobbies, etc…) but just because I make espresso at home most mornings, and the idea of making it in the car just seemed like a fun idea.

I’d hoped to source the actual Fiat 500L unit from a parts place, preferably with the cradle the maker affixes to. I assumed that the cradle simply had to be wired to 12VDC via a fuse, though I couldn’t find any info on that detail. After a fair bit of searching, I was unable to find one available anywhere in the states… after all, Fiat didn’t exactly sell a lot of 500Ls here, and only some (probably very) minor percentage of them were optioned with the espresso maker.

There are some other in-car options as have been mentioned below, but for reasons unknown to me at the time, I had set my sights on the specific unit available in the 500L. So, I didn’t wind up doing anything.

I’d still like to get one for the XC90 (and a used tow hitch kit too… the car is already so heavy that I don’t mind adding some additional poundage) but lately, my disposable income’s been allocated to kitting out my first motorcycle, so I guess I’m not in a rush.

There’s always that travel version of the AeroPress, though I’d still have to come up with hot water. I wonder whether it’d be practical to affix a small stainless steel flask to the cooling fins of my single-cylinder Suzuki to heat water… I bet someone makes such a flask with a thermometer on it. A quick google says yes (of course) though they all have a round cross-section, which wouldn’t lend itself to a nice conductive area against the cylinder. I’ll have to give it some thought…

Marteau
Marteau
3 months ago
Reply to  Scott

Tell me you didn’t read the article without telling me you didn’t read the article.

Marteau
Marteau
3 months ago
Reply to  Scott

So, just for you to know, it wasn’t sold with 500L in the US, europe only, and as xritten, there is a non fiat branded similar machine, from lavanza, that plugs on 12v and is available. I’ll let you read the text to find the exact name of it.

Scott
Scott
3 months ago
Reply to  Marteau

While I appreciate what (I’ll optimistically consider to be) the helpful nature of your clarification Marteau, as I stated I learned of this espresso maker from Susanna’s Youtube video quite a while ago, not that long after it was posted. Though it was obvious that she was sitting in a Euro-market Fiat, at that time, I was unaware that it wasn’t an option on 500Ls sold in the states, hence my search.

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
3 months ago

Technically, being extracted at 15 bar means it’s not technically espresso (the espresso ‘standard’ specifies 9 bar). Also, Lavazza coffee, even through a commercial espresso machine, is just dirty brown water – it barely qualifies as coffee! (Am commercial espresso machine technician that at one stage worked with Lavazza Australia).

There’s no real reason a ‘proper’ coffee machine can’t be fitted to a car – I’ve seen a commercial La Marzocco machine set up on a Harley sidecar, and I’ve repaired a 2 group commercial machine mounted in the back of a Fiat 500. There are commercial machines available that have a gas heating option, so the power draw is minimal and they can be run from batteries.

Andy Tarnoff
Andy Tarnoff
3 months ago

Terrible car that looked cute. Had one for a few months while I waited for my BMW 4 Series coupe to get built. However, I would’ve liked it better if it made espresso. All European cars should offer this appliance.

Rafael
Rafael
3 months ago

I got a portable espresso maker, Nespresso compatible. Doesn’t heat the water, but is the same in everything else. Used it only once while camping – but went camping only once since I got it, so the jury is still out 🙂

CRM114
CRM114
3 months ago

Pods are not the scourge of anything. They produce very little waste. If they prevent someone from driving even a short distance to get a cup of coffee, then they are a huge net positive from an environmental standpoint.

Rafael
Rafael
3 months ago
Reply to  CRM114

But their little waste adds up. I saw somewhere that Nespresso alone generates 14 billion of those pods annually, and only 5% or so get recycled. They put the ball of recycling on the user’s court, and we all know how people are lazy… Besides, who wants the hassle of keeping a bag full of moldy pods for recycling when trashing the is so easy?
I won’t pretend I’m not part of the problem, I use them every day and I don’t recycle. Tried once and wasn’t fun. I wish they would offer a discount on sleeves for recycling, – the prospect (or illusion?) of gaining something from it would motivate us to keep and return the little devils.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rafael
Marteau
Marteau
3 months ago
Reply to  CRM114

Pods a a scourge it’s a fact. You can do coffee or espresso without pods, you can get a coffee without having to drive to starbucks, from there, pods are a completely unnecessary waste of ressources.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
3 months ago
Reply to  CRM114

Are you kidding me? each shot comes in an aluminum pod (with cap) that is very rarely recycled (unlike switzerland where the post man would pick them up). An aeropress is the answer.

Matthew Skwarczek
Matthew Skwarczek
3 months ago

Well, I now know my Abarth’s next modification

Sklooner
Sklooner
3 months ago

Can I just get the 16 bar of pressure into the intake manifold

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

That would create an “danger to manifold” warning and mess up your car.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

When the 500L came out I seriously considered it. This car was not the prettiest to say the least, but the packaging was right up my alley. I would have never taken the espresso option, not for me. I tried to overcome FIAT phobia.

One of the things that scared me off was reading that this car was one of the first mainstream production cars to adopt poly carbonate side windows. In this case the rear 3/4s. Something, something, what’s that gonna look like a few years down the road?

I saw one recently and the windows were completely yellowed and foggy like so many headlight units after a few years,

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
3 months ago

On the plus side, it’s a fun surprise for thieves who try to break that window.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
3 months ago

I became a Fiat owner in 2012 and I distinctly remembered my joy in reading about this, even though I hada regular 500 Pop, not an L. A car company that thinks to make a goofy little espresso maker for their cars is a company that could (and did) steal my heart

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
3 months ago

Hot coffee at 16 bar pressure in a moving vehicle. What a great idea. /s

In 2012, Karen doing her mascara at speed on the interstate got some douchebag hipster competition. I’m quite pleased that this never made it to the US.

Last edited 3 months ago by PaysOutAllNight
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

Related, is anyone aware of any aftermarket options for hard-wired coffee or espresso machines for cars? Either mount to or replace a center console

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I doubt there’s anything actually designed for that, but it should be possible to cobble something together. Either a full-sized espresso machine and an inverter, or something like the handpresso spliced into a 12V line somewhere plus a 3D-printed mount for it. I’d lean towards the latter, since it could at least be removed for cleaning and won’t require running wires to the battery.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

12V coffee makers are common in truck stops. Not sure about espresso machines. FWIW Makita makes a 1 cup coffee maker that uses 12v or 18V tool batteries which can power all kinds of stuff

Scott
Scott
3 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

James Hoffman reviewed the Makita espresso maker on his coffee-centric Youtube channel, and AFAICR, a full battery would barely manage between one and two pulls of espresso. He was confused as to the intended audience for such a limited device.

What me?
What me?
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Yes, for a vw bug, didn’t Jason do an article on these once?

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