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By: Ollie Sears 01 April 2021
Order a La Marzocco Linea Mini online directly from North Star Coffee today.
For any budding home baristas out there, we’ve finally stopped playing around with the latest spec of the La Marzocco Linea Mini and decided to add to our review for all home baristas out there. Without wasting any time leading into it, we want to first lay down the reasons why this is our recommended tool for the job at home, before explaining them in much more depth:
The Mini is exactly like its commercial counterparts in terms of its ease of operation. La Marzocco have used a minimalist approach to the design without having to sacrifice any quality in brewing or steaming. The simple paddle is easy to use, doesn’t jam or stick etc and includes a programmable pre-infusion to ensure that channelling is minimised, even with lower doses or minor tamping issues added in there. Let’s not forget how slick and fun it feels to use this instead of just pressing a button like on other machinery. You really feel that level of control and influence over your espresso too which is quite satisfying every time (yes, we’re geeks).
To put your mind at rest, we have continually tested the effectiveness of its ever-updating spec (latest updates are the La Marzocco Home app compatibility allowing settings configuration more easily, live shot timing, programmable pre-infusion and the widely loved Pro touch steam wands). We have also got it testing its mettle in a number of commercial settings permanently too, not to mention us bringing it into action at the 2017, 2018 and 2019 London Coffee Festival events.
We have used the Mini with the full range of brews too – extremely bright, floral Ethiopian coffees; caramel, chocolatey coffees and of course our own wide range of fruity juicy coffees. It’s been clear for many years now that the Mini does not detract from any roast’s most desirable flavours and aromas. If you need to be able to brew the highest quality version of any espresso roast, the Mini will do it, all day every day!
On this front too, it brews exceptionally well whether you decide to use La Marzocco’s 14g espresso basket, or their 17g or 21g espresso baskets, with little to no channelling. It is great to see La Marzocco sending VST quality approved baskets with all of their machines, and building their technology to handle a wider range of coffee preferences too.
All in all – with dense, light-roasted beans that are difficult for any grinder to grind uniformly, we were able to produce (based on our evaluation and the overwhelming amount of industry and retail feedback at multiple trade events) consistently sweet-tasting shots of espresso with no noticeable issues of channelling with even a thin 14g bed of coffee, and unnoticeable differences in espresso flow coming from the portafilter spouts – again even through a Wednesday to Sunday service at the busy coffee festivals!
Leading on from there, in terms of ease of use we have been seriously impressed with the flow of service that can be achieved with the Mini. Particularly notable is the fact that you achieve the La Marzocco brewing at top quality, but the machine is ready to go in 5 minutes thanks to its flash boiler (around 4 minutes 44 seconds for our machine in the roastery unit…which is a cold place!)
The machine comes equipped with a double-spout portafilter and a single spout portafilter, meaning you can load the same baskets into each (again the Mini includes enough baskets to do so) and pre-prepare a shot in advance while your other is still brewing. Not only is this convenient for the pace at which you may want to be working (when people start tasting the quality of the shots from the Mini and demand more) but to be equipped with two of the stainless steel portafilters identical to La Marzocco’s commercial grade handles is extremely useful (for home or commercial baristas) as the handles come equipped with a ridge for tamping on the side of a counter without risk of slipping or spilling coffee. La Marzocco are still the only high quality brand providing drip free, clean and ergonomic portafilters for distribution and tamping without mess – even now mid-way through 2021! This is surprising as clean work at speed is so important both at home and at work for baristas who care.
The built-in ridge for tamping is a small touch, but it gives you a comfortable tamp without strain every time, versus struggling to find the right position in your workspace to do the job well at all without discomfort. One of the subtler design elements that separate La Marzocco machines from other brands in terms of how they ‘feel’ to brew on.
The ergonomic use extends to maintenance too, as the baskets are easily removed and swapped out, while also designed in stainless steel to reduce the majority of taints left behind by brewed espresso. A quick rinse under the group frees the handle and basket of most taints left behind if the handle has not been immediately re-used or cleaned following the previous brew, and again feels less of a chore than with other machines that include a more aggressive water flow from the group. The La Marzocco Home app now has a built-in guide for learning to properly and safely clean your espresso machine, which again is very very convenient particularly if you’re liable to walk off mid-clean, not realising the damage you can do to a machine in doing so!
Onto the interesting stuff, you might be wondering how you can condense the technology of the Linea Classic into such a small machine. Well a lot of that comes down to boiler capacities and intelligent arrangement of parts. The Mini includes a smaller ‘flash’ boiler (170ml) to ensure espresso brewing is taken care of separately to steam and hot water distribution, and a relatively sizeable steam boiler for both its hot water and steam distribution (3 litres). A 170ml boiler seems unbelievably small on paper, but considering the average espresso shot requires a distribution of around 80ml water in the speciality industry – for example with a 17g dose yielding a 34-38g espresso – it then seems a fairly good size if the boiler is constantly keeping its 170ml volume at the correct temperature and pressurised, which it does brilliantly.
As with all espresso machines, running the hot water tap at high output usage is not recommended. But with La Marzocco’s technology inside the boilers taking good care of live temperature and pressure regulation, the effects of boiler drainage are at least minimised in the Mini. Our top tip would always be just to reserve your hot water tap for coffee dilution and rinsing portafilters briefly between shots to maximise cleanliness of your brewing. But not for filling your kitchen pans with hot water for your pasta!
Steaming is exactly as fast and ergonomic as with a La Marzocco commercial Linea Classic machine, with at least 1 bar of boiler pressure maintained for continuous steaming. Having the separate flash boiler for espresso keeps steaming consistent during brewing, and vice versa, without any notable issues experienced (unless you do not remember to fill your water reservoir of course). The addition of the Pro Touch steam wands (cool to the touch for avoiding burns due to prolonged contact) is a blessing, as it really does feel easier to clean milk residue from at speed, and makes the whole process seem even more intuitive.
Obviously to keep the size of this machine small there had to be constraints in place with the user interface, and our only notable incidence of this impacting the ergonomics of the machine would be programming it. But now that the La Marzocco Home app has been launched and includes a built-in shot timer along with programmable temperatures and pre-infusion, we’ve found it immensely beneficial to get into a default habit or rhythm of simply opening the app before brewing your coffee.
We leave our smartphone next to the machine while timing the shot after fiddling with any settings – a step which adds less than 20 seconds to the start of our morning process. The app controls allow you to produce results of tremendously accurate skews for temperature and timing. Since the introduction of app compatibility, a shot timer on the app, and programmable pre-infusion, there really is no stone left unturned now for the Linea Mini espresso barista at home!
One thing that sets the Mini aside from most other home machines is its build quality. It’s evident when working upon it as it feels no different to a commercial machine in response and performance. Components internally and externally are built using La Marzocco’s commercial parts, at the same quality to its higher-priced Classic.
Something you may not know is that La Marzocco’s machinery is immensely sustainable. We always recommend La Marzocco over other brands because of the very evident commitment to sustainable operations built into the fabric of their factory (literally). A solar powered factory, with 85% of all parts originating from Italian firms and only 15% hailing from abroad means they have an overwhelmingly local supply chain, not to mention a great degree of proactive sourcing for materials and innovating what they already make. Their stainless steel is of the highest grade to ensure a long lifespan and brilliant, taint-free and defect-free machine parts (particularly the user parts that can seriously affect taste if they store old flavour and particulate due to poor finishing of the metals).
For those baristas who like to know specifics, the machine features the same 3-way solenoid valves that line the plumbing of its commercial machines, as well as regulated water flow at the group. A fully stainless steel, robust group design leaves you with well saturated groups for maintenance of high temperatures and an easy life of maintenance and cleaning too!
Moreover, the design of the group on the user’s side is identical to a La Marzocco Linea’s usual layout. A removable shower screen allows for easy maintenance and descaling of both screens and blocks, while the valves allow for manual back-flushing during use or after use without the need for an automatic cleaning cycle. For those that think this may actually be a drawback, it’s worth noting that creating espresso of consistently high quality from shot to shot depends on stringent maintenance of your machine, particularly at its group head.
Backflushing and rinsing groups regularly is something that is worth having as a manual option for cleaning without chemical during normal cycles of use, simply to remove stray particles, oils and taints that may build up due to having high levels of thermal stability at and nearby the brew group.
So, most internal components are identical to commercial machine designs from La Marzocco. Differences are seen mainly in the machine’s ‘display’ through its LED lights on the faceplate. La Marzocco keep things simple here by using two lights to indicate whether adequate water supply is available for use, and whether brewing temperature stability has been achieved.
Keep an eye on your water supply light flashing if it is not plumbed in, as it will need topping up earlier than you might expect due to the machine demanding higher levels of stability than you might be used to. Again, this is very easy to get used to. Actually topping up with water is about the most complex task that you meet with this machine, and it is by no means difficult. Simply remove the drip tray and pull the tank forward with its handle. Top it up and replace everything (recommendations are at least carbon-filtered water or a balanced mineral water – ask us for more detail on optimising brewing water).
To date we haven’t had any major issues with parts when you look at the statistics of a fault occurring relative to the number of machines that we have distributed, much like with our commercial La Marzocco machines!
User-serviceable parts are easily cleaned and maintained, and most can be ordered online. Filtered water and replacing your own shower screens and seals is expected user maintenance at home, but after a while you may wish to get your Mini serviced by a trained La Marzocco engineer, of which there are many, now covering every UK postcode!
Steam wand tips screw off as expected for cleaning, as do the group showers. With regular backflushing, users are likely to find that this machine runs with a lifespan similar to its commercial counterpart the Linea Classic, given the similarity of parts (10+ years). See pictures for more detail on how the machine will look and feel, but please rest assured that the Mini makes coffee taste as sweet as the machine itself looks!
As home espresso machines go, we think this is the cream of the crop. Available in stainless steel or a range of colours to suit any sleek La Marzocco-worthy kitchen, it’s a must have if you want to push your espresso to the highest levels of quality in your kitchen at home!
But… please remember that any espresso machine is only going to make exceptional coffee if you can also grind some exceptional coffee to put in it! Take a look at the two grinders below to pair with your Linea Mini, which we put our full trust in for grinding quality coffee for your needs at home. All of these are relatively fast for espresso grinding, and quiet enough not to wake everyone at home. They also arrive with the same solid build quality that you find with the Linea Mini, and you won’t even need to buy a different grinder for filter coffee usage either, as they are all top choices for other brewing methods:
Feel free to come and check our beautiful Linea Mini out in our roastery or during one of our Home Barista courses (or bespoke training sessions with Ollie’s Barista Hustle coaching content perhaps?).
For more technical information, performance data or other enquiries about this machine, please contact Ollie. We provide unrivalled support and technical assistance on the entire La Marzocco range, so you can get the most out of this amazing machine and your brews at home. La Marzocco are also only down the road from us here in Leeds, allowing us to work closely with them to ensure you end up with an espresso machine that delivers results.