After speaking at the 2013 Nordic Barista Cup, Sprudge Assistant Editor Alex Bernson and photographer Kate Beard traveled to Italy with our partners at La Marzocco. This virtual tour of the La Marzocco factory is the first in a series of pieces from that trip. The LM factory is quite the experience–we recommend a visit, especially if you're going to be in Italy for La Marzocco's Out of The Box event October 17-19th.
Driving the 30km up narrow, windy mountain roads from Florence to La Marzocco's espresso machine factory in Scarperia, you quickly come to understand the Italian preference for tiny, highly maneuverable cars. Dodging trucks and negotiating turns, the lively bustle of Florence falls away behind you, giving way to gardens and villas on the hillsides of Fiesole. You crest the hills and come down into the tranquil Mugello Valley, nestled at the base of the Apennine mountains.
The last three years have been busy ones for La Marzocco, with the small company nearly tripling in size as they introduced their line of next-gen Strada and Linea PB machines. To accommodate this growth, while maintaining their focus on by-hand production, they moved from a tiny factory in the hills (we passed it on the drive up) to their spacious new Scarperia manufacturing center in 2009.
La Marzocco was founded in 1927 by Giuseppe and Bruno Bambi, two brothers with a focus on meticulous design and manufacturing. Seeing the historical progression of their machines side-by-side in La Marzocco's lobby, you can sense how a focus on design has always been at the heart of the company.
Needless to say, we've come a long way from charcoal-fired vertical steam boilers. From introducing what I'm told was the world's first horizontal boiler, to pioneering saturated groupheads and dual-boilers, La Marzocco claims to have been there at every phase of the espresso machine's evolution.
La Marzocco is big on preserving that sense of history, from the beautiful antique and custom machines tucked into every corner of the factory, to these doors you see above, which they saved from the old factory and now lead to the corporate and engineering offices. On the doors you can see Il Marzocco, the iconic lion of Florence from which La Marzocco takes its name. (The “La” comes in because in Italy the espresso machine is, unsurprisingly, feminine.)
Walk past the offices (and the tantalizingly off-limits R&D department) and you enter the factory proper. We can only assume La Marzocco kept us out of the R&D rooms because they didn't want any pictures leaking out of their next generation foam-head profiling BeerS3, or the hotly awaited La Mar-Smoke-O PID-controlled line of barbecues and vaporizers.
The first actual station you see as you turn the corner is the hydraulic testing of assembled brew-boilers. Testing and verification is a big priority for LM, and is integrated at every stage of production.
Giuseppe and Bruno Bambi started off as tin-smiths, a production trade involving manually hammering complex shapes out of metal, and this focus on by-hand production is still at the heart of the La Marzocco approach. They do as much of the production work as possible in-house, including cutting and welding their own stainless-steel boilers.
La Marzocco does not maintain back-stock of their machines–each machine is assembled for a specific order and carefully tracked as it moves through the different assembly areas in the factory. Below we see a Linea being produced for La Marzocco's distributors in Australia.
The only machine that does not go through different stations across the factory floor is the GS3, which is completely produced and tested in one area.
The GS3 packs a lot of tech inside a small package, requiring specialized staff and a particular attention to detail in assembly.
La Marzocco has recently brought that attention to detail to a new area by focusing on more precisely manufacturing and verifying their portafilter baskets. Every basket shipped goes through a proprietary laser-verification process to ensure uniform hole distribution.
Another new addition for La Marzocco is their training center, where they conduct two to four day classes for distributors and certified machine techs. This training center should be a pretty active and lively place following HOST / Out of The Box 2013 in October.
Thanks to their ongoing relationship with Milan based artists Marco Di Marco and Bicio Zambelli, street-style art is to be found all over the La Marzocco factory, from the murals in the training center to the massive banner from their first Out of The Box event hanging in the downstairs electronics area.
In addition to all manner of electronics installation and testing, the downstairs area is home to the special projects section where they create one-off customizations for clients.
One customization that has now become standard on all La Marzoccos is insulated boilers, which lead to what La Marzocco claims is a 20% reduction in energy consumption.
Increasing sustainability has become a big focus for La Marzocco, and indeed, sustainability and green practices are something you'll notice at the headquarters of several Italian and French espresso machine manufacturers. For LM this means two years ago they installed 1600 solar panels on the factory's roof. These panels were producing 100kW/day from the bright summer sun on our visit, significantly more than the 40kW/day of power the factory consumes. This excess helps offset the winter months when the panels' production falls to around 15kW.
This commitment to renewable solar energy was a big investment for La Marzocco, and they proudly tout it with an emblem on every box they ship, including the super swag wooden crates that encase every Strada leaving the factory.
When you yourself leave the La Marzocco factory, I highly recommend stumbling the 150-odd meters to La Torre Osteria et Bottega for a fantastic lunch of classic, simple Tuscan fare. A sense of pride in regional specialties pervades Italy, from the mouth-watering finocchiona and pane toscano at La Torre, to the hand-crafted espresso machines at La Marzocco.
Alex Bernson (@AlexBernson) is an assistant editor for Sprudge.com. Photography by Kate Beard for Sprudge.