Bury St Edmunds based Butterworth and Son founder Rob Butterworth visits the company said by the coffee industry to make the best espresso machines - La Marzocco in Florence
It is said in the coffee industry that La Marzocco make the best espresso machines. Last month, I was invited to their factory just outside of Florence to find out why. Founded in 1927 La Marzocco began making espresso machines having drawn their roots from engineering. Their first machine was a vertical unsealed, manual fill boiler, pictured, that relied on the weight of the lid to act as a pressure release valve once the water achieved a temperature high enough to produce steam and pressure enough to force water through espresso ground coffee. These days machines achieve 120C and push the water through at 9 bar of pressure.
With these kind of figures the machines were extremely hot and sometimes quite dangerous for the user, but throughout the 1930s this style of machine was produced by all early espresso machine manufacturers.
On February 25th, 1939, La Marzocco registers patent number 372525 for a horizontal boiler machine with pressure release valves and an encased boiler for protection for the user, but the Second World War comes and the factory is turned in to munitions factory for the Axis Powers.
After the war, La Marzocco, like the rest of Italy, is financially broke and can not afford to reinstate their horizontal boiler patent. It is now that other manufacturers begin to produce them.
1951 saw the launch of their lever pull machine. A spring-loaded lever is used to allow water to saturate the coffee on the pull-down and the release is managed by the grind size of the coffee and the spring-loaded lever forcing water through finely-ground coffee at up to 12 bar of pressure.
Later on in the 1950s, the introduction of a motorised pump and electronic valve was to be the shape of things to come for the next 70 years, but what really put La Marzocco on the global map for the best machines was the inception of a double boiler system and clever water distribution, known as a saturated group, that allowed for the more finer sweeter flavours of coffee to be released from the ground and captured in the cup.
With an exceptional build quality and reliable reputation it was Starbucks, in its infancy stage, that bought and used La Marzocco equipment exclusively for its stores, and only due to great expansion and the desire for ease of use over quality of product did the companies part ways seeing La Marzocco stick true to its roots for passion and design rather than button pushing.
Fast forwarding to today, La Marzocco’s choice to create, innovate and inspire has been a good one. They now produce 18,000 machines a year from their family feel factory. With cutting edge concepts that include a modern-day lever-actuated espresso machine, the Leva®, a home espresso machine, the Linea mini and The Modbar®, where most of the machine is under the counter and only modules that look similar to beer pumps are above the counter, pictured below.
To this end, the La Marzocco brand is hailed as the best, rightly so, and is the sign of a café that understands the product it cares about and serves the best coffee.
Rob owns Butterworth & Son coffee roasters and tea smiths, based on Moreton Hall, and Guat’s Up! café in Guildhall Street.
His job takes him around the world visiting coffee farms to source great coffees.