On a trip to Nice, France that saw Sprudge cover the first-ever World Roasters Summit, the World of Coffee Nice event, the winners and finalists at the World Latte Art, World Coffee in Good Spirits, and World Cup Tasters competitions, we also found valuable time to visit the nearby factory and HQ of UNIC. Alongside around 20 fellow visitors from South Korea, we toured UNIC’s state of the art facility located just outside of Nice, France, and had a chance to learn about the company’s history and production in the process. This feature is a photo diary of that visit – enjoy!
Sweet retro UNIC machines abound at the factory, some of which wound up being exhibited on the World of Coffee Nice show floor. Check those out in a separate feature here.
UNIC’s story is pretty, well, unique. The company was originally founded in Italy in 1919; UNIC’s founders fled to France in 1928 to escape persecution from Mussolini (they were Jewish). The company’s Italian roots make sense in the wider context of espresso technology and culture, but today their identity and history is proudly French. They are a third-generation family owned company, and privately owned.
65 people work in the factory in Nice, and they produce 6500 machines annually. We saw all manner of machine construction happening during our factory tour, everything from electrical pre-assembly (“Pre-Montage Electrique”) to bench testing of final machines.
Not to mention all the welding.
We had a chance to check out how they cut their own copper boilers. This is done in-house, which means UNIC never have to wait for more boiler parts, giving them a high degree of control over the finished product. This practice is relatively rare in the espresso machine production world.
UNIC prides themselves on personalizing machines for different markets, allowing for a customization of both technical specs and cultural norms. Our tour group was led by a man named Norbert Ramirez, who has been with UNIC for 30 years. He talked us through the step by step process of producing these espresso machines. Below we see a factory worker constructing machines.
After checking out a variety of parts processes step by step – including enormous, hotel room sized pieces of manufacturing equipment – we were shown a line of uncased, skeletal UNIC machines. These ones you see below are in need of paneling, but ready to test.
Dials and doodads abound, ready for their final installation.
There’s definitely a hands-on approach here, with lots of employees and techs in various states of production around the factory. Tours like this are cool when they feel like a slice of life; this attractive young Frenchman is just part of the tableau.
We’d mentioned being part of a larger tour group, featuring a delegation of folks from South Korea’s booming coffee scene. The presentation we enjoyed was multi-lingual, switching from French to English to Korean through a series of translators. Tri-lingual espresso machine factory tours are proof you’re attending an interesting specialty coffee moment.
The cool shades indoors were more than just a fashion statement, as we saw lasers, welding torches, and all manner of bright construction wizardry throughout the day.
At left is KyeongWoo Jung, of Corea Coffee Belt – Mr. Jung was South Korea’s delegate at the 2013 World Latte Art Championship, where he placed in the finals.
We saw many UNIC machines being built specifically for Cafes Richard, a storied French cafe brand who saw great success themselves at the World Of Coffee Nice. A gentleman named Victor Delpierre outright won the 2013 World Coffee In Good Spirits competition, on behalf of Cafes Richard. We just so happen to have heaps more info on Mr. Delpierre in a feature from earlier in 2013.
Our UNIC tour was fascinating in unexpected ways. The modern and retro machines are cool, of course, and it was a privilege to be given an inside look at how they’re constructed, from top to bottom, at the UNIC facility in Nice. It was also a bit of a multicultural slice of life: UNIC is the braintrust behind the Barista Nation event series, with whom we’re proudly partnered. They’re hoping to host the first-ever Barista Nation event in Korea in 2014, in partnership with some of the Korean guests with whom we shared our tour. It’s all exciting stuff, and we got to be flies on the proverbial wall.
Thanks for coming along with us on this photo tour of the UNIC factory in France. Read more of our sprawling coverage from in and around the World of Coffee Nice, made possible by direct support from the Specialty Coffee Association of Euorpe and UNIC.