If you’re a coffee geek or consider yourself surfing the third wave, you’ve probably heard of La Marzocco’s latest espresso machine, the Strada EP (Electronic Paddle). This machine promises to deliver the capability to consistently manipulate the pressure of an espresso’s extraction. To those not in the know, this is revolutionary because of the fact that every modern espresso machine is set to a constant (usually of nine bars) pressure.
I recently had the honor to join one of the gear heads behind the EP, Scott Guglielmino and imbedded Sprudge journalist Jordan Michelman on Counter Culture Coffee’s Under Manual Pressure Tour. Starting in Atlanta this summer and ending with last month’s tryst in Chicago, the series of events is well documented by Sprudge. It was interesting to mix the perspectives of someone behind the machine making and selling it, someone in front of the machine buying it and trying to understand it and someone that’s trying to cover the whole thing objectively. It provided a nice set of checks and balances during a loquacious and sometime vociferous conversation that relentlessly debated the “why” and the “who” of the EP ethos.
The “why” is complex but ultimately I believe it to be a reaction to two primary things: (1) a lingering fascination with lever espresso machines and (2) feedback from La Marzocco’s Street Team (a panel of machine experts, enthusiasts and buyers). With those two factors driving, it’s my wager that ultimately it became a matter of “why not” at La Marzocco – imagine a machine that could replicate the pressure profile of a lever machine or any competitor’s machine.
The “who” is pretty simple; the EP is really only for the barista that truly wants nearly limitless pressure profiling. Actually, let me correct myself – the EP is really only for the barista that truly needs pressure profiling. In most café or shop environments, this machine would not only be TMI, it’d also be a distraction to the average (and arguably even the above average) barista. The metrics of pressure profiling are a relatively undiscovered realm of espresso extraction and unless shop owners are ready to subsidize the next Lewis & Clark of pressure profiling, there’s no need for this machine to be in a retail environment.
All that said, the Strada EP feels perfectly at home in a lab or training center space. It’s also in environs like these that the industry will start to see the first solid data coming out about pressure profiling. It will take time for some of this data to make it’s way out and even longer before any of it will be considered empirical, but rest assured it’s on the way. My personal hunch is that in a relatively brief matter of time the abstract of the profiles will be whittled down to just a few specific profiles, if not one. My money is on some kind of basic bell curve of pressure emerging as the most accommodating and preferred type of profile.
Right now, these machines are in a few coffee company’s labs and even fewer coffee shops. These eager and courageous coffee people will be relentlessly trailblazing the pressure profiling path and I’m sure many baristas, shop owners and machine manufacturers will soon follow. It’ll be interesting to see where this technology is in a year or so. Will pressure profiling be debunked? Will there be a rise of the lever machines? Or will some company offer a trifecta of pressure, temperature and flow rate profiling?