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Our partners at Unic Espresso pulled out all the stops at last week’s World of Coffee conference in their hometown of Nice, France. Theirs was undoubtably the most visually arresting booth of the week, featuring a spacious suspended circular white espresso bar lit from above by a very unique series of textile cloth chandeliers. Best of all, the booth was circled by twenty vintage espresso machines on display, a veritable pop-up museum gallery installation featuring several rarely seen pieces from the 20th century. Here are five of our favorites.

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5. The Perco Express – 1930

On the far left sits an optional decorative crown for this column-shaped coffee machine. The column in the middle is a one-group espresso machine, which feeds into the batch coffee brewer on the right. This machine was very popular in hotels. We just love the claw feet and the enameled French coat of arms flourish.

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4. Bar – 1947

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This two group machine boasts an early horizontal boiler, but just look at those French Bakelite handles! We’re quite fond of the pressure dial at top right, with its echoes of racing design.

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3. Stella – 1954

This is the first edition of the company’s Stella line, which continues today with the Stella DCL. It’s a manual piston machine, and the first to shirk the 30s and 40s bakelite look for black handles. It’s hard not to be charmed by this machine’s polished silver exterior, punched Stella stars throughout, and futuristic fifties build. Many of UNIC’s machines echo a mid-century modern design aesthetic, and this one in particular would look great at a cafe in Palm Springs, California.

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2. E32 – 1972

A few things blew us away about this model. Number one, the buttons and switches feel like a classic Midway pinball table. Second, this two group espresso machine has a tower above the left group. Why? Because that group is capable of making one liter of espresso per shot! The ES2 was used widely in hotels in Paris, and its unique hydraulic system allowed for 9 bars of pressure at a very high volume. The E3 logo is also just gorgeous…we hung around this machine for a while, taking photos and toggling its satisfying switches.

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1. Contact – 1972

This is the very first Contact model – a fully automated espresso machine. It featured a slick pop-up top for an operator to throw in a dose of “decaf” beans (or now, perhaps, some single-origin coffee?). Again, the mechanics behind this remind us of some early Midway Pinball electronics blended with some NASA Space Station technologies. If this were dialed-in and working today, we’d love to have one on our home countertop.

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It’s a treat to see machines like this, so rare in America, yet so in tune with the mid-century modern design elements we go nuts for in different environments around the United States. Many espresso machine companies have a proud design history, but opportunities for public presentation like this one are too rarely taken advantage of, so kudos to UNIC for showing off these beauties to the World of Coffee crowd.

Our only unfulfilled wish at the show would have been to catch a glimpse of the Stella Diva, a home machine from the 1980s that’s been replaced by the Pony and Rumba 1 group. Improved technology is important, sure, but we know a member of the specialty coffee industry or two for whom the Diva would surely be an appropriate pairing.

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