La Marzocco, one of the most prolific and well-known commercial espresso machine manufacturers in the world, is taking a big step into the kitchen, but with a very small appliance. Meet the Linea Mini, a less expensive (though still expensive) home model of La Marzocco's prized commercial Linea line of espresso machines which adorn counters at better coffee bars throughout the world. Currently available for pre-order at $4,495, the Mini is scheduled for delivery around May or June 2015.
Pressure modeling, pre-infusions, auto-volumetric. They're all tools that empower modern baristas to create the perfect cup of coffee. But any seasoned pro most likely learned to pull shots on something simpler, oftentimes La Marzocco's iconic Linea, a flat-paneled beauty that revolutionized the way coffee bars brew espresso and steam milk. And now the Italian company has designed something that will not only look great on a kitchen counter, but enables the home barista to pull nearly perfect shots.
But how user-friendly is this thing? Eater jumped at the opportunity to preview and try out the Linea Mini at Counter Culture's New York Training Center in SoHo. The results are pretty darn impressive, despite the machine's pricey tag.
I first watched La Marzocco's own Ryan Wanslow show me around. The entire machine is designed to work in a home, which means standard power and a built-in water reservoir (though it can be tapped into plumbing). Measuring 14 inches wide and 21 inches deep, it's not exactly a Mr. Coffee, but compared to La Marzocco's other models, the Linea Mini leaves a relatively small footprint. It's sort of like putting a Banker's Box on your kitchen counter, but of course, a little prettier, and much more capable.
A step down from La Marzocco's über-machine GS3, which is geared more toward the well-heeled espresso geek who wants it all and comes loaded with all the digital gizmos (PID temperature controller, digital displays, etc), the Linea reverts back to the basics, potentially giving the home brewer a little bit more in the way of joy. Consider the pleasure of vinyl versus a standard-issue Spotify account.
Nonetheless, the Linea Mini is equipped with a beefy dual-boiler, which makes steaming micro-foam milk an absolute cinch. Wanslow ground a shot of Counter Culture espresso into the wide portafilter, tamped, and pulled away using the heavy-duty paddle. There's an automatic one-second pre-infusion before the thing silently starts to spill out some amber espresso. It's surprisingly quiet, not the garishly loud rattle that an older heat-exchange machine like the Rancilio Silvia would belt out. Swing back the paddle to end the brewing, then prime the steamer to create some quality foam.
After a few attempts, I took a ride on the machine myself, pulling a shot on La Marzocco's push-activated Lux (cool!), flattened the espresso with my fingers, and tamped away (you can get the branded La Marzocco tamper or geek out with your own). The paddle has a heavy-duty feel and espresso seeps out slowly, methodically, and precisely. It's all about feel here, though there's a barometric gauge for those who want to ensure that the pressure's within range.
Admittedly, I'm not very good at steaming milk, but with a little guidance from Wanslow, I was able to steam a few ounces and pour it non-artfully into a cappuccino cup. Success! And the taste? Thanks to the deliciously rich Battenkill milk, the cup was virtually as good as one made by a pro.
Wanslow was quick to point out that the Linea Mini is pared down to the kind of basics that an every day brewer would want compared to newer machines that offer more in the way technology. Sort of like an early '90s manual transmission Jeep Wrangler: sleek yet rugged on the inside, powerful, capable, and a lot more durable. Though there isn't complete customization like the GS3, the Linea Mini comes in stainless steel, black, white, and even bright red.
The Linea Mini has the stolid feel of a tank with the smoothness of a well-oiled kitchen appliance. It's impressive without being overwhelming, and it's intuitive enough for the espresso neophyte, though I and La Marzocco both recommend hands-on or video training before test driving the thing.
Pushing the paddle, turning the steam dial, hearing the sounds —there's a deep sense of satisfaction from preparing espresso of this caliber. But does that make it worth dropping $5K as opposed to skipping over to your local coffee bar? Only for those open to pulling a handful of shots to dial the machine in properly, then filling the grinder's hopper with a steady supply of beans. At an average of $4 a cup, the home barista will need to make well over 1,000 drinks to even get close to breaking even. But for those with a bustling household or a coffee-obsessed office, this might be a worthy investment.