Pressure + Flow In LA: La Marzocco On The Sunset Strip

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“The Kardashians are downstairs,” someone whispers in the elevator. Of course they are. This is Siren Studios, home of Emmy’s after-parties, where papparazzos shot some infamous photos of Lindsay Lohan, and where a Southwest Regional Barista Competition crowned Pete Licata.

In the main floor garage sits a welcome desk, just past the fleet of Lexuses (Lexi?) and assorted luxury vehicles in VIP parking. It’s 10am on a Wednesday in Hollywood, and we’re here with a couple of hundred other folks throughout the day to attend La Marzocco’s “Pressure + Flow” event on Sunset Boulevard.

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When La Marzocco throws events, folks turn out in droves, be it in Chicago, Atlanta, New York City, Seattle, or pretty much anywhere else. The sun is shining, and you can see the Hollywood sign from the rooftop deck. This shindig in LA is the first in an ongoing tour of La Marzocco events happening in the next few weeks, with dates set for San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. Folks are particularly well dressed here in LA – lots of nice shoes, smart jeans, collared shirts, color-coordinated baseball hats (the LM t-shirt for this event just so happens to be Dodger blue).

The format and information they’re offering is pretty different from what we’ve seen before. Like previous events we’ve covered, the La Marzocco’s Strada EP takes center stage. It’s a fascinating new piece of equipment with a story behind it, and LM wants to tell that story. But Pressure + Flow LA was about much more than that. It’s a showcase for some seriously delicious Atlas Coffees. It’s a primer on water quality. It’s a call-in talk show, ala “Loveline”. One thing’s for certain about La Marzocco: they definitely know how to work a crowd.

If you want to know more about the EP, these events are a great way to learn. It’s also the only place we’ve ever had the opportunity to taste three espressos pulled by Michael Phillips on three GS/3s equipped with three different varieties of water. If you want to hang out with some coffee folks, network, drink some beer in a gorgeous setting and ask Scott Guglielmino embarrassing questions, you can totally do that too.

Here’s our five take-aways from Pressure & Flow in Los Angeles.

5. Ryan Willbur is great on stage.

Ryan Willbur – a sharp son-of-a-gun and one of the newest members at the La Marzocco team newest. Mr. Willbur gave a zippy presentation on the Strada’s history and functionality. He’s positively TED-esque on stage, with the same kind of cool confidence and professionalism that served him well as a highly regarded barista competitor.

Mr. Willbur talked the audience through the formation of the “La Marzocco Street Team”, an informal group of industry leaders – some 300 in total – whose feedback and insight helped inform the creation of the Strada. His remarks anchored the “Pressure” portion of the event programming, leading directly into hands-on EP demos using four distinct coffees imported and roasted by Atlas Coffee: Permato Gayo Cooperative Sumatra, Las Praderas Nicaragua, Don Amado Honduras, and Techno & Wolenso Cooperatives Ethiopia. The team at LM had X/Y pressure parameters for each, and they used them to demo the EP’s prowess.

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4. The Strada has a story.

The Strada has a story, beginning with the “change in coffee vocabulary” that started in high-end coffee around 10 years ago. The folks at LM see this a shift from “traditional mentality”, in which coffee is roasted specifically for an espresso machine, to a kind of “new mentality”, in which the espresso machine serves to express all that’s good about coffee in the first place. You could argue this sentiment captures a lot of popular sentiment for how folks think about coffee these days, as seen by a wide variety of brewing trends, espresso machine advancements, and new roasting mentalities. Simply put, coffee itself – and the sourcing, processing, and roasting of coffee – is getting better, and La Marzocco built the Strada EP to reflect that. “Strada” means “street” in Italian; the Street Team literally gave the Strada EP and MP its name.

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3. You gotta know your water.

The “Flow” portion of this event was handled by Scott Guglielmino, La Marzocco USA’s resident machine tech guru and man of many trades.  show. Scott compared and contrasted water from three different sources: Seattle water, Los Angeles water, and water dialed in to meet SCAA approved water specifications. The main idea behind this was to show how important water is, and how wildly it varies from aquifer to aquifer. Mr. Guglielmino discussed a variety of methods for dialing in your water source, including mechanical filtration, activated carbon absorption, and ion exchange.

Scott also talked about “scale”, the white powder-like stuff that appears wherever there are temperature or pressure differentials. Scale is a “crystalline matrix”, we learned, which means that scale begets further scale, as crystals latch on to each other and multiply. Mr. Guglielmino had some positive words for those concerned about scale in their espresso machines: “The thing to remember about scale is that some scale isn’t necessarily bad. Scale is a problem when it prevents something from working, and only when it prevents something from working – until then, I don’t care! And neither should you! You should never be concerned when you pop off your group cap and see scale, so long as it’s working.”

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2. You can pull shots with sugar and you can make scrambled eggs with a steam wand.

These were just some of the questions asked of Scott Guglielmino during the “Espresso Loveline” portion of the event, an informal Q&A hosted by our own Jordan Michelman. Other questions included:

“Should I turn off my espresso machine at night?” (Not recommended, says Scott.)

“How can I learn about preventative maintenance?” (Go here, says Scott.)

“If you were a rap star, would you be Pressure or Flow?” (Scott would be Flow.)

“What’s a great book for me to read about espresso machine science?” (Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality by Andrea Illy.)

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1. The LA coffee scene is sizzling.

Los Angeles makes perfect sense as the home of an event like this, because the coffee scene there is red hot right now. It’s a city where last year’s NKOTB are this year’s forefathers, and we saw it first hand on the days leading up to this event. Top shops right now in Los Angeles include Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City (one of the better multi-roasters we’ve ever visited), SQIRL with G&B (coffee brunch heaven, with a seat at the church of Charles Babinski), and Short Cake (home to the world’s best scone and delicious coffees from Verve & Handsome). We were blown away by our coffee experiences in Los Angeles, and that sense of something special came to a head at the Pressure + Flow. Both sessions were packed; questions came fast and furious; the hands-on demos were lined up deep; and folks seemed convivial, friendly, and ready to learn.

Angelenos have this funny kind of reverse chip on their shoulders. They’re worried that outsiders will have to hunt and peck to find worthy new experiences, and they hate operating within stereotypes and negative expectations about their fair city. Well, we’re a couple of outsiders, and we think Los Angeles is the freaking bee’s knees, packed full of interesting people do interesting things, running fantastic and quality-focused businesses, and reveling in the diversity and weirdness of it all. Los Angeles is awesome, and Pressure + Flow fit right in.

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