La Marzocco: Handmade in Florence

Wednesday, 25 June, 2014
The train ride to the La Marzocco factory was so pleasant, 35 minutes into the Tuscan countryside and you feel a renewed sense of vigour after the frenetic pace of Firenze.

I was excited. La Marzocco has always held an idea of magic for me, so a visit to the site was a fantastic treat. And in the end it felt a bit like going home.

Hit the rails and head to La Marzocco.

Sylvie greeted the small group in the entrance hall. She has only been part of La Marzocco a short time, but as she said, “you can’t help but get drawn in here” and she’s already part of the family. And what a talented family it is.
Begun by the Bambi Brothers, Giuseppe and Bruno, in 1927 after they got a taste for it when they, metal workers by trade, were commissioned to make an espresso machine. The contraption and result captured their imagination and they began experimenting with their own designs, creating the Marzocco company. Marzocco means lion and was the symbol of the Florentine Republic, so it is fiercely patriotic.

The artisan craftsmanship has always been what La Marzocco has used to set themselves apart. The Bambi brothers were the first to invent the horizontal boiler in 1939, this is now used is most every espresso machine in the world. They have also become famous for the dual boiler system, a boiler each for the groupheads and the steam wand, a feature that many coffee professionals believe puts the La Marzocco machines in a different league.

We were getting our history lesson when part of the history walked into the room, eager for his afternoon espresso. Mr Piero Bambi, the only surviving Bambi and the current honorary president of La Marzocco, then preceded to use us as his guinea pigs to dial in his grind with a new coffee on the Strada present. The Linea Classic in 1990 was the first machine Piero designed in it's entirety and is still very active when it comes to design today. Sylvie explained that this is because Piero believes the youth of today have lots of fancy ideas but they don't have the practical know-how to make it work. The Linea PB is named after Piero Bambi. In fact all of the machines are named after or dedicated to a member of the Bambi family.

When I asked him which machine has been his favourite through the years he replies, "Tutti!!" emphatically. Obviously each one holds a special place in their history. Eventually Piero is ushered away, "otherwise he will stand and talk to you about espresso all day!" and we are led down hallways covered with hand drawn original sketches of the La Marzocco products on the way to the factory.

The first thing we are greeted with is a host of custom designed machines that are all waiting to be properly displayed. Oh my, what beauties. Among them the last machine that a Bambi ever hammered.

The La Marzocco brand was given a huge boost by none other than a young Starbucks corporation, but even at those volumes they never wanted to change their philosophy that each machine is handmade. There are 80 people who work on the machines and each can build them from start to finish. Recently they've seen a huge influx in orders for the GS3, the one group machine that has all the technology, design and needs the same amount of skill as the commercial Strada. There is a whole section dedicated to these machines alone and if you order one now, you'll get it in about November. In 1994 with no Bambi heirs, the company , La Marzocco International, LLC., a formal partnership between the Bambi family and a team of American coffee enthusiasts and Italian partners, lead by Kent Bakke, was established, but they still stay true to the original ethos of the family.

What overwhelmed me here was the sense of family and dedication to the artisan, the feeling of magic lingers in each machine.

This hangs on the wall as you enter: "The frontier is a zone typically touched on by artisans. Difficult and dangerous to the naked eye, and practically inscrutable to market research, the frontier can at best be sensed by using qualities that are rarely accepted by present day industrial culture: intuition, sensitivity, and a desire to accept managed risk as an essential part of our work."

One of the earliest Bambi made espresso machines. The coals and manual steam pressure mechanism meant these early models were pretty much bombs ready to explode without the proper handling, well done to those brave baristas!

La Marzocco through the ages.

Piero Bambi is the last surviving Bambi and the honorary president of the company.

We were treated to an espresso from the man himself. He is meticulous in setting his grind and determined to use the machines to the best of their ability.

Custom making machines is one of the things that the La Marzocco team prides themselves on and man, do they have some gorgeous ones..

A glass panelled GS3 sits next to one with a Vespa design!

An FB80 that got the artistic treatment.

The last machine hammered by a Bambi.

Everything in these machines is stainless steel. The welding is all done at La Marzocco and only has three joins to prevent wear and tear. Boilers are also stainless steel as opposed to the popular copper variety.

The GS3. Exactly the same, just smaller. The most common comment from the people who buy it, "I can't make coffee on it!" Ja, you need a bit of training for this masterpiece.

The archives. The history. Every machine.

A remake of the original van that Piero used to drive around in with his dad, cross country selling espresso machines. It was a gift from the company to Piero.

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