By: Ollie Sears 26 May 2017
For any budding home baristas out there, we’ve finally stopped playing around with our new La Marzocco Linea Mini and decided to actually review it 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 pre-programmed pre-infusion to ensure that channeling is minimised, whether with lower doses or minor tamping issues.
To put your mind at rest, we tested the effectiveness of its pre-infusion working in action at this year’s London Coffee Festival. We used the Mini with an extremely bright, floral Ethiopian coffee from our Spotlight range, using La Marzocco’s 14g espresso baskets and their Vulcano espresso grinder. 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 the event) consistently sweet-tasting shots of espresso with no noticeable issues of channeling visible on top of the thinner 14g bed of coffee, and negligible volatility in rate of flow of espresso coming from the portafilter spouts, throughout Wednesday to Sunday of the busy event.
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!
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. It’s 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. This is one of those subtle 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.
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 arrangement. 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.
As with all espresso machines, running the hot water tap at volume is not recommended, but with La Marzocco’s technology inside the boilers taking good care of 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 it for rinsing portafilters briefly between shots to maximise cleanliness of your brewing, but not for filling cup after cup with hot water for drinks.
Steaming is as with a commercial machine, at least 1 bar of boiler pressure producing the same high quality steam from the same wand design as a La Marzocco Linea Classic. 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 supply.
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 ‘feel’ of the machine is how we interact with the PID control, via a small temperature wheel on the left hand side of the machine. It is easy to control compared to digital programming, but does not read exact figures or do so digitally, so trial and error is your main source of temperature programming. As we know from our time at the London Coffee Festival, where the espresso boiler’s refreshment rate for its full volume was much higher than in the average home due to high volume service, we found that keeping the temperature at its lowest then working upwards was your best approach to finding a sweet spot while reducing your likelihood of wasting shots, essentially working upwards to the point of diminishing returns in the cup.
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.
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.
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. 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 issues with parts, much like with our commercial La Marzocco machines, but user-serviceable parts are easily cleaned and maintained. 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. 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 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.
Feel free to come and check the machine out in our roastery or during one of our Home Barista courses, running monthly. For more technical information, performance data or other enquiries about this machine, please contact Ollie via the details supplied on our website pages!