Founded in 1927 by Giuseppe and Bruno Bambi, La Marzocco had its beginnings in Florence, Italy, birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and some of the most celebrated works of art in the world. In 1939, La Marzocco developed and patented the first coffee machine with a horizontal boiler – now an industry standard – which was the first of a series of important innovations which earned the brand a world renown reputation for making beautiful, high quality, superbly crafted and uniquely designed espresso machines, with great attention to detail.
Almost eighty-five years later, Dan Harvey, Sales and Marketing Coordinator for UK/Ireland at La Marzocco, explains how Giuseppe Bambi’s professional pride lives on today, and how an American innovation called Modbar brings the coffee making experience to the next level.
The public desire for independently produced quality coffee appears to increase daily. Why is that, and how has the culture around coffee changed in the past decade?
The world of coffee continues to grow and push itself to be better throughout all aspects of the industry. From independent roasters who spend the year sourcing some of the world’s finest coffees, to the barista who likes the challenge of competitions such as the World Barista Championship, to the machine manufacturer who continues to drive design and innovation to benefit the end user and consumer. The past ten years have seen this level of passion build continuously, which has played a big part in the change of consumers’ approach and appreciation of coffee. This shift is commonly described by the term “third wave coffee”, which is characterised by consumers becoming more interested in the coffee itself – where it was sourced from, how it was processed and harvested, how it’s been roasted, and what recipes are used to get the most out of the beans. This interest is a product of dedicated roasters and cafés; their approach to coffee is simply infectious. Café culture is now, more than ever, about social engagement, whether this be between barista and customer, friends catching up over a flat white, or via interactions on Instagram and Twitter. As more people engage, the more likely it is that speciality coffee will continue to grow.
As public interest grows, coffee culture needs to reinvent itself to keep interests peaked. A noticeable change is how many cafés have a new approach to aesthetics; they are adopting more stylistic, almost restaurant-like interiors. As coffee is treated with a similar attitude to that of organic, high quality food, the food offering within these cafés continues to grow and become more adventurous. Interestingly, as cafés adopt qualities found in restaurants, more restaurants are noticing that coffee is no longer an afterthought, leading this “third wave” movement to seep into the restaurants coffee offering, from equipment to beans.
What is Modbar, and how does it fit into this new approach to coffee?
Modbar is a new and revolutionary coffee brewing experience; completely modular, with all the major hardware under-counter. All the customer sees are beautiful ‘taps’ instead of bulky machines, allowing for barista and customer interaction and education.
The reason that coffee culture has grown so much has a lot to do with the information that is shared between the roaster, the barista and the public nowadays. A favourite part of many customers’ visit to their coffee shop of choice, is the interaction they have with the barista. The barista acts as an ambassador for the establishment, sharing their knowledge with enquiring minds. The need for information and education is evident in the speciality coffee scene, with many roasteries offering a vast range of training courses to the general public, ranging from introductory espresso technique sessions, to full day professional barista courses. Education is an important part of the industry, as it helps making the most of the top quality beans used both at the café and at home.
The desire to interact with the barista and to learn more about coffee has allowed Modbar to flourish. By deconstructing the traditional espresso machine and moving it under the counter, the barista can provide the customer with the theatre that is sought after on the speciality coffee scene; most customers don’t know what goes into their morning flat white, and Modbar allows the customer to see with their own eyes how it’s prepared, as well as allows an open discussion across the counter. Additional to the extra engagement with the customer, Modbar also maximises counter top space, which is a game changer for café operations and barista workflow.
Who is behind Modbar?
Modbar was founded by Corey Waldron, who began his coffee journey as a barista and roaster in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He believed that, as fantastic as espresso machines are, they can build a wall between baristas and customers, which he wanted to change. The process started with Corey working on the Jet Steam Ai-1, which was an under-counter espresso machine that was the first of its kind, but it never made it past the prototype stage. Corey started working with a friend, Aric Forbing, and the two continued to build upon the Ai-1 design. Through continued innovation, their work lead to what we now know as Modbar.
The story behind Modbar is a great example in a new generation of artisan producers and modern day inventors, as it really tells the tale about the men behind the machine. Being built in Fort Wayne with the vast majority of its components sourced locally from local suppliers, it’s a product that is straight out of main street, small town America.
Modbar has “buried the casket” – how does its modular system work below the counter?
Modbar got its name from the fact that it’s a modular system; in other words, the three key components of the espresso machine – the espresso module, the steam module and the pour-over module – can be purchased and installed separately, depending on each café’s needs. These modules all sit on top of the counter, with the programming and technical wizardry happening below. Each module can be programmed and controlled via the same touchscreen, regulating variables such as temperature control, volumetric programming, and pressure profiling.
The espresso module can be programmed to have customised profiles suited to various espresso beans and roasting styles. This programming allows the barista to ramp pressure up and down during the extraction process, in order to draw the most out of the beans.
The steam module works the same way as the steam arm on an espresso machine, in order to create silky textured milk. The innovation here is that it’s setup to purge any milk, post-steaming.
The pour-over module is designed to work with multiple brew devices, and the barista can change the way the water is dispersed across the bed of ground coffee. The module can be programmed on time, allowing volume based profiles, and the pour-over wand to be used freehand or kept stationary within its mounting system.
What effect does the Modbar system have on the overall taste of the coffee?
By controlling all these variables, Modbar lets the barista to extract and play with all the wonderful qualities that can be found in the finished cup, and to experiment with profiles to draw out the best flavours from various coffees. By programming Modbar to repeat certain profiles, it aids both quality and consistency. Pressure profiling also benefits the barista in their own quest for education; it allows them to explicitly see what works best for each roast, which creates an understanding of why this is.
Modbar received major investment from La Marzocco, a company with a rich espresso heritage and worldwide popularity. What has La Marzocco brought to the table?
There is an undeniable affinity between Modbar and La Marzocco. When visiting the Modbar factory in Fort Wayne, we were moved by the inclusive spirit on the production floor; it really reminded us of La Marzocco. We see ourselves as innovators and industry leaders, and want to drive our industry forward and reward pioneering ideas. With almost 90 years of experience, La Marzocco has a certain something to say about espresso, and we feel like we’ve contributed towards the research and development of extracting the best espresso possible.
Modbar is pretty new to the UK. What reaction is it receiving so far, and where can we see some Modbar kit in action?
Since its arrival in the UK, Modbar has been well received, and its popularity continues to grow. Its style, design and functionality have seen it become very popular in concept stores that have a more design focused approach than your usual café. In the UK, you can find Modbar in establishments such as the Switch House Espresso Bar at the Tate Modern, chocolatier Mast Brothers, luxury products general store Modern Society, and cafés such as MacIntyre Coffee and Allpress Espresso, to name a few. You can also expect to see the Modbar at various events, including London Coffee Festival, and La Marzocco’s event Out of the Box, where it is quite the conversation starter. Modbar’s distinct design language is the very definition of the brand, and La Marzocco really appreciates that the design highlights a focus on quality, essentialism, and on cutting things back to the core, with a strong understating of materials and how to create an iconic and timeless product.