Espresso has been around for just over 100 years and in that time there have been an amazing amount of innovations. These have all led to the beverage that we enjoy today. To truly appreciate the espresso machine it is important to see how it got here. Learn the story of espresso and La Marzocco with our interactive timeline.
By 1884, café culture is spreading coffee across Europe. In this year, Angelo Moriondo submits a patent for the first machine to brew large batches of coffee using steam and water. Moriondo’s machine was never produced commercially and no examples survive.
Espresso makes its debut at the 1906 World’s Fair in Milano. Luigi Bezzera and Desidero Pavoni have taken Moriondo’s idea and created a machine with a vertical boiler that brews a single cup of coffee in seconds. It is the first time people experience coffee made expressly for them: espresso.
The espresso these early machines produce is very different from what we know today. The pressure in the portafilter is created by steam at 1.5 – 2 bars. The water is boiling when it comes in contact with the coffee bed. The shots are watery and bitter. Pavoni has some regional success with his Ideale machines, but they don’t gain wide acceptance.
Coffee spreads across Italy post-World War I. Pier Arduino is an inventor who dreams of making a machine that doesn’t rely on steam to create pressure for brewing. He draws and patents screw pistons and air pumps, but can’t make them work.
He is also, however, a master marketer and businessman. He hires an artist to create posters, such as the man in the yellow coat hanging out the train, which remains iconic today. His campaign makes espresso fashionable.
Arduino is among the first to begin exporting machines from Italy to other countries around the world. He opens a storefront in Paris and sells machines to Parisian cafes.
Giuseppe Bambi is a brass artisan living in Florence, Italy. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were also highly skilled metalworkers, Bambi operates a small workshop, fulfilling contracts to design and craft train headlights for the National Railway Company.
Bambi is approached by a businessman named Mr. Galletti, who sees a business opportunity in the burgeoning Italian café culture. Galletti asks Bambi to build 12 espresso machines so he can sell them to cafes in Florence. Bambi creates his first espresso machine, the Fiorenza, but Galletti is unable to sell the machines. Bambi encounters a salesman who has had great success in selling espresso machines, and Bambi is convinced that espresso machines are indeed the way forward. Bambi’s brother, Bruno, a natural salesman, joins Giuseppe’s workshop, forming l’Occicina Fratelli Bambi. They go to work building their first espresso machine. They name their first machine La Marzocco, after Donatello’s famous sculpture of a seated lion with a shield bearing the symbol of Florence.
In these early decades of espresso, the sale of each machine is hard won. In one story, the Bambi brothers have a prospective client in Viterbo, near Rome. The only transportation they have is a motorcycle with a sidecar. The brothers along with their salesman load the espresso machine in the sidecar, jump on the bike, and ride toward Viterbo.
The roads are rough, or maybe the driver is exuberant, but for whatever reason, the motorcycle winds out of control around a curve and crashes over the embankment. The motorcycle is banged up, but the espresso machine is destroyed. A truck picks them all up and drives them to the nearest mechanic. The mechanic fixes the motorcycle, and they ride to a relative’s place in Rome. There, they dismantle and repair the espresso machine. They are so broke after fixing the machine that they take out a loan to get home.
On their way, they stop in the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano. A bar owner asks for a demo of the espresso machine. He ends up buying the machine. Still today the bar uses a La Marzocco.
The Bambi brothers are innovative from the start, continually working to create a better machine – to produce better coffee, and to make the machine easier for the barista to use. After years of prototypes, they turn the vertical boiler on its side, creating the first horizontal espresso machine, the Marus. La Marzocco secures the patent on the horizontal espresso machine in 1939. The patent was left to expire during the Italian bureaucratic upheaval following World War II and no examples of the machine survived. Few espresso machines from this time period survived the war, as metals were used to support the war.
Prior to World War II, Marco Cremonese had been working on adding pressure to the coffee brewing process. He developed and patented a spring piston, but was never able to build an espresso machine that used the technology. The story goes, Achille Gaggia meets Cremonese’s wife, and she shows him the patents. Gaggia uses the idea to create the first lever espresso machine. The spring piston adds pressure during the brewing process, creating foam on top of the espresso. Initially, customers are turned off and call the foam “coffee scum.” Gaggia has a marketer’s mind, and starts calling it crema, or “cream.” It becomes a major selling point for his machines, many of which have Crema Caffe printed on them.
Lever machines are the standard configuration for espresso machines for roughly a decade, until Ernesto Valente introduces the Faema E61 espresso machine in 1961. The E61 mechanically pumps water through the coffee bed at 9 bars of pressure. This increases consistency, and is also far easier for baristas to use in a café setting.
The Faema E61 also introduces the use of a heat exchanger to heat the water used for coffee brewing. Through careful calculation, Valente’s system draws cold water through a tube that passes through the boiling water used to create steam, heating the water as it travels through the tube, and delivering hot, but not boiling water to the coffee bed.
In 1970, La Marzocco is the first espresso machine manufacturer to build an espresso machine with two independent boilers — one for steam, and one for brewing coffee. The La Marzocco GS – which stands for Gruppo Saturo, “saturated group” introduces a continuous brewing system, with the grouphead welded directly to the coffee boiler. Water used to brew coffee can be heated to a specific temperature, and can be applied directly to the coffee bed without leaving the group. This system delivers a higher degree of temperature stability than any earlier model espresso machines. The technology introduced in the La Marzocco GS is the foundation on which future La Marzocco espresso machines are built.
In 1978, U.S. entrepreneur Kent Bakke and his friends buy a sandwich shop in Seattle. In the back of the shop is an old vertical boiler espresso machine that Bakke begins tinkering with to see if he can get it to work. Bakke is intrigued by the machine, and a friend suggests that if he can learn to fix them, that maybe they should look into importing and selling them in the US.
Bakke and a small group of friends travel to Italy and meet with a handful of espresso machine manufacturers, looking to become US distributors. He travels to La Marzocco and meets Giuseppe Bambi and his son, Piero. The men work out an agreement to import La Marzocco machines to the US.
A young man named Howard Schulz has recently joined Starbucks, then only a roasting company, as director of marketing and operations. He takes a buying trip to Milan in 1983, and Italy’s café culture inspires him. Convinced that he can create a similar model in the US, Schultz tries to convince Starbucks to develop cafes. The owners want only to roast beans, so Schultz leaves Starbucks and starts Il Giornale, his experiment to bring Italian café culture to the US. Il Giornale uses La Marzocco GS espresso machines.
By 1987, the owners of Starbucks decide to sell their roasting business and focus on a new company they’ve acquired, Peets Coffee. Schultz buys Starbucks from them, rebrands Il Giornale as Starbucks, and begins to focus on retail expansion.
The US is hooked on espresso. Starbucks is growing. La Marzocco introduces its newest model: the Linea. A design update to the GS, the Linea was particularly suited for the US market – and for Starbucks – because of its dedicated (and enormous) steam boiler, which was able to perform flawlessly under the steaming demands of milk-heavy US beverages. It was also well-suited because it could accommodate taller 12- and 16-ounce cups under the groups. Lastly, Bakke and his business partners had the machine certified for safety and sanitation, giving it a large advantage over other Italian machines.
By the end of the 1990s, Starbucks is an institution. A corporation. It transitions away from La Marzocco Linea to superautomatic espresso machines.
But a new breed of coffee roaster and cafes begins emerging around the country and the world. Slowly, at first, and then more rapidly, people inspired by coffee take up the mantle and begin elevating coffee to great culinary heights. These indie roasters and shops swell into the Third Wave of coffee.
Many of these entrepreneurs first experienced espresso coffee on La Marzocco espresso machines. The La Marzocco Linea becomes a signal of the Third Wave coffee movement, communicating a level of experience, expertise, and commitment to the craft.
The community of the Third Wave continues to seek ways to gather, challenge one another to grow and move coffee forward. In an effort to elevate the role and skill involved in being a barista, the World Barista Championship is formed. La Marzocco participates as the competition’s first espresso machine sponsor. Through the sponsorship, La Marzocco develops key relationships with baristas, who provide valuable input that is incorporated into La Marzocco’s development process.
Specifically, a growing demand for highly stable brew temperature drives La Marzocco to develop a machine that will become the most temperature-stable machine on the market.
The La Marzocco GB5 is released in 2005. The thermal stability system introduces a number of features designed to work together to deliver super precise, super stable temperature. These features include a pre-heating system that heats cold water before it enters the coffee boiler, a PID system to maintain water temperature to within .5 degree, and specially-designed boilers to help maximize stability.
During the development of the GB5, La Marzocco’s owners start dreaming about their ideal home espresso machine. They remembered when the original La Marzocco GS was in production, and a one-group GS fit nicely on a kitchen counter, and delivered professional-grade espresso at home – at a time when it was difficult to find high-quality espresso in the US. They encouraged the La Marzocco R&D team to build a machine using the componentry of their newest, most precise model, the GB5, but with a small footprint, and a design reference to the original La Marzocco GS. The result is a truly professional machine that runs on 110 volts, fits on a kitchen counter, and references La Marzocco’s history of design and technical leadership. They create the GS3. The gold standard machine for a barista at home.
Stay in Touch
For updates, special offers and tips, sign up for La Marzocco's newsletter.