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The La Marzocco Leva was another hugely innovative release for La Marzocco around their 90th anniversary of operating in the field of high-quality-only espresso equipment.
This time it took the most iconic symbol of old school espresso (the lever pull machine) and brought it well into the modern era of speciality coffee. As usual it did so in more than one unique way, and it’s not as simple as simply modernising the build. Technology levels have gone through the roof, bringing a manually pulled espresso into the world of human error correction and reduction, consistency improvements, workflow boosts and recipe damage control.
The Leva is the only machine we have ever seen that has been able to bring lever-actuated espresso into the modern world without missing a trick.
It marries everything baristas loved about literally ‘pulling’ a shot of espresso with all of the hugely innovative modernisations in machine design. ‘Pulling a shot’ is a phrase we baristas often use, yet rarely actually do anymore, given that most machines out there in the modern espresso market have their dispensing mechanisms operated by buttons or small switches rather than the manual pulling of a lever.
For us, the Leva brings old school barista skills back with a lot of style and substance, that which you can literally see inside the machine through its transparent panelling exposing the expertly crafted lever actuation systems, including the new ‘gear selection’ system never before seen in a lever espresso machine.
Here are some of the key features that were immediately notable to us, and valuable from our own testing:
– Adjustable water quantity with no menu options or programmability needed. This is something a lever machine has never offered, and is where the groundbreaking innovation in brewing tech comes from in this build. A simple system not dissimilar to selecting a ‘gear’ on a bicycle has been included in the design of the protruding lever, to allow baristas to quickly and easily select which amount of water they would like to add to each particular ground dose of coffee. It is independently selected for each espresso on each group head, meaning none of them are intrinsically linked to each other. Of course, it’s not a feature you absolutely need to use all of the time, but it essentially allows a bespoke espresso recipe to be made per customer, which can be a truly powerful way to adapt your coffee brewing to meet individual preferences.
– Purging of the group head. This is by no means a ‘new’ feature of espresso machines as most of us baristas do this without fail as a habit between each espresso shot being made on any machine. However, doing this on lever machines previously required a lot of physical strength. It also came with a severe risk of taking a hit on the chin from your machine’s lever, if the manoeuvre was improperly executed. Not exactly the kind of punishment that baristas deserve for attempting to clean between shots. Now your lever machine allows a quick and gentle purge, meaning you can continue to operate with a relatively speedy, ergonomic and truly high quality approach to brewing clean espresso.
– Independent boilers – again, not at all a unique feature in espresso machines nor in La Marzocco’s range. But, something newly introduced to any lever machine, and something so intrinsic to espresso and steam quality per head that it was a real need for machine of this style. In the past, the: boiler fill level; amount of steam leaving the machine; number of group heads in use; and temperature setting all affected the pressure profile of each coffee being brewed But, with independent boilers, all of those problems are no more. Now, every espresso is handled separately by its own boiler (by default, not an additional extra to the machine) and steam is also produced from its own dedicated boiler. It has revolutionised the cup quality possible with a lever machine entirely. With the Leva, you get one boiler for steam production and hot water dispensing, and an espresso boiler per group head. So, in a 2 group machine your left hand side group head has its own boiler and your right hand group head as its own too. So, all tasks are independently controlled and not conflicting with one another at all. To you, that manifests as perfectly consistent espresso no matter how fast you dispense steam, hot water or espresso, nor how much you prioritise the use of any particular group head on the machine. Continuous steam, consistent espresso, all at the desired pressure and temperature.
– Graphic display with timers and live pressure indicator. A machine that comes with pressure profiling and this level of technology needs a way for users to interact with it and understand it in real time. It’s a complex beast, but a graphic display with live readings of the key indicators for a lever machine (temperature, pressure and brewing time) is a standard on the Leva, bringing it all together so baristas in the world of quality control are not left puzzled by the machine nad what it is doing. It means baristas are accountable too, because you can see when you accidentally selected the wrong ‘gear’ for water quantity, or used an incorrect pressure profile. Recipe saving for repeatability and consistency is easy too, easier than we find on some of LM’s other machines in fact.
– PID temperature controls – for a machine to emulate something so traditional, you might assume it has missed important modern and advanced technologies. The Leva hasn’t. It houses a PID temperature control in every boiler (even the steam boiler) to optimise each boiler maintaining the desired pressure and temperature. Boilers do this automatically but with a PID in each, they do so to a much higher degree of accuracy (and with a much faster response time than any lever machine has managed to do in the past). It matches the stability and consistency of temperature and pressure seen in all La Marzocco machines despite a very different style of user operation. If you’re unfamiliar, a PID aids pressure regulation with an algorithm, in effect managing the boilers during use. To you this means not having to worry about your machine being capable of producing statistically identical shots time after time. Is statistical shot accuracy a big concern for? If so, speak to Ollie about further helping to avoid this issue by also choosing the right grinder.
– Adjustable pre-infusion. Again, under no guise are La Marzocco claiming to have innovated this particular feature industry-wide, but they certainly have done so in its introduction to the lever system machines, at least in a way that is consistently repeatable. In the past, pre-brewing was difficult albeit impossible on most lever builds, and required both a little too much patience, alongside a little too much physical strength. This is a very useful feature for dealing with roast age variances seen as your stock rotation turns through it’s usual cycle. On most machines it is simply far too expensive to implement as an extra relative to the marginal gains in quality provided. Here, it’s a standard capability and something that can be controlled manually. We usually opt for pre-infusion systems of regular water pressure, but with a nice long pause introduced to mitigate aggression in espresso brewing. Here, we’re able to truly master this quality improvement and up the barista’s ability to work with any given coffee, at any given roast degree, at any given age and more, by not having the choice of pre-infusion pressure affect the brewing pressure that follows it.
– Ergonomic lever pull angle, with rotating grips. Anyone unfamiliar with lever machines will wonder what we are on about here and why we’d even mention it. But, if you’ve used a lever pull machine at length in the past, we’re sure you’ll understand how the ergonomics of a lever pull system could be improved. The La Marzocco design for this does seriously increase your ability to work at speed for a good length of time, particularly without repetitive motions straining or otherwise upsetting the body’s natural balance. Rotating grips mean you do not have to adjust your hand position so awkwardly as you pull the lever, and the assisted movement means a gentler force is used to pull the lever than has ever been seen on a lever build. Big leaps forward in making this art form a more practical reality. The lever itself is also a little shorter than some have been in the past, meaning less steps backward in a busy bar space. This will undoubtedly save the lives of many pieces of crockery passing behind baristas during service, while likely saving the precious contents of any plates on the way past too. A big win for the utility of a lever machine in a working environment. The Leva quite easily surpasses the ease of use of any lever machine you may have tried in the past. It has a lower profile on the counter and a slim casing relative to the amount of technology and boiler sizes, meaning baristas are more likely to be able to see around and above the machine to greet and converse with customers during coffee service. Perhaps most importantly, La Marzocco intelligently designed a ‘clutch’ for controlling the lever movement too. Finally you can prevent staff from hitting themselves in the chin with a lever under immense pressure, but it really does mean you can pull an all-day shift without the risk and fatigue that lever operation had always been renowned for.
– Extraction time displays – again, nothing new for a La Marzocco machine. We see most of the range displaying the all-important overall brewing time of coffees made, but it has never been shown on lever machinery in the past. Lever machines were introduced in an era where you didn’t ‘need’ to understand the importance of extraction times. Roasts were dark only, flavours were bitter and heavy only, and grinders were much less consistent and rarely providing you a fresh starting point. Now, with our modern need to extract freshly ground, high quality coffee with a consistently sweet, balanced flavour, we wouldn’t dream of making a coffee without either having a timer to hand or one built into our equipment. The Leva allows you to see that brewing time. Be aware that do still play a part in actually creating the correct timing with your own skill and barista technique though!
– Stainless steel portafilters – as standard, La Marzoccos arrive with stainless steel portafilters. This means clean, taint-free espresso for you all day, every day, with minimal maintenance required too. No more tarry espresso taints building up below your espresso basket, tainting every shot with heavy, bitter flavour and reducing clarity and sweetness in each cup.
– Performance touch steam wands – steam wands are notoroious for scalding the hands of any unsuspecting barista. The Leva creates another level of ergonomic usage in its specification by offering steam arms that are cool to the touch, both to allow easier cleaning at speed and reduced risk during operation. You’ll notice that steaming milk on a Leva feels just like the silky smooth process found on any Strada or La Marzocco GS3, with its easy lever operation and identical overall timing pattern.
– Exposed, saturated groups – just like with the GS3 and Strada range, we see the group heads of the Leva brought forward from the ‘body’ of the machine to allow baristas easier visibility of espresso pouring from the machine. It’s a feature that won’t seem like a gamechanger if you’ve never worked any other way, but is one which will bring about a real posture benefit if you work in long shifts at the group heads, particularly for the taller baristas out there. Monitoring espresso shots as they pour from bottomless aka naked portafilters is a big part of assessing barista technique and grinder quality, and this feature can really make the day to day quality control and any staff training much easier for the long run.
– Adjustable drip tray (only available on 2 or 3 group models)– useful for suiting the machine’s ergonomics to your café’s cup sizes (particularly taller, narrower takeaway cups). This is crucial if you wish to avoid RSI or excessive strain for any staff using the machine too, at any low-medium counter height.
Optional features worth thinking about:
– Cup warmer – though the machine will gently warm cups by default, an additional cup warmer is available on special order for the Leva. If you’re used to fielding orders for extra hot drinks, this will be a serious must have for the Leva upon purchasing, to ensure a smooth, stress-free workflow for all staff on shift.
– Custom colour – order this machine in any RAL colour of your choice for an extra fee. This can make your kit truly unique and eye-catching, and may be the difference between someone simply walking past your shop without noticing your coffee set-up, or walking in after being drawn to the La Marzocco machine. This is something that regularly occurs now in the UK, as La Marzocco have built an excellent reputation through building quality machinery that performs and stands the test of time.
So, as the above list isn’t exhaustive (we’ve only managed to get around 3 hours of full testing on the Leva to date) we’re happy to say we endorse the Leva as the gold standard lever action machine on the market, by a long, long way at the time of writing. Lever pulled espresso remains to be a different art form altogether than brewing on programmable button-press machines, but if you are looking to try it, or simply further improve barista skill levels in service, the Leva would be an excellent choice to get going with. It ought to be the only option considered now for a bespoke espresso service, where one might claim to offer a service that is truly individual to each customer and their preferences. It can also be a great machine for building multi-tasking abilities into a team that currently has a narrow path of espresso capabilities. It will likely be the only machine able to take service quality to the next level for a lot of stores with the most advanced levels of weight-based manual brewing, and for this and all of the above, we love it.
Click here to see the La Marzocco Leva brochure or watch the video below for a sneak preview of what the Leva offers.
If you’re wondering whether the La Marzocco Leva is right for you, or if a different model would be better for your specific circumstances, we can lend a helping hand. We’ll listen to what you want out of an espresso machine and discuss all the different options to ensure you end up with a machine perfect for your needs.
We can also guide you through all the various options, from renting espresso machines, to buying them outright, or finding second hand ones. We can also ensure you have all the necessary accompanying equipment, such as commercial grinders.
Buying an espresso machine is a big decision so let us help you understand everything you need to consider. We can guide you through the whole journey so you end up with a machine that works for you.