All roads lead to Rome ... but only one leads to espresso. The release of La Marzocco's new and highly anticipated Strada espresso machine - 'strada' is Italian for 'road' - is the latest innovation by the world-renowned Florentine espresso machine designers. The La Marzocco Strada EP breaks new ground as the only espresso machine capable of offering moment-to-moment electronically repeatable pressure profiling to place complete control of the brewing process in the hands of the barista.
The release of the Strada resolves a great deal of anticipation and excitement within the coffee community. Over months of intense experimentation with world-renowned baristas, La Marzocco's Street Team successfully developed the most definitive espresso flavour experience possible with the most barista-friendly set-up imaginable. The process involved months of testing, discussion, revision and creativity with those who know most about extracting the subtlest flavours and aromatic notes from espresso: baristas. The result is the Strada EP, and one of the first to hit Australian shores is now in residence exclusively at European Foods Wholesalers, Western Australia. There was great excitement as it was carried inside by our team, ready for experimentation with a range of coffees.
La Marzocco is the name that rolls off the tongue of baristas, roasters, and coffee aficionados who adore the experience of tasting coffee that is artfully balanced, aromatic, and unique in its flavour profile and associated terroir. In fact, La Marzocco espresso machines are more than just a tool in the trade. The mere presence of a La Marzocco espresso machine in an espresso bar has come to symbolise commitment to the highest quality in design, aesthetics, functionality, and, of course, taste on the part of the establishment. The Strada EP takes this degree of attention to flavour and quality a leap forward, and with a price tag that is nothing less than hefty at $35,000, it ought to garner attention.
The Strada is particularly exciting for its capacity to offer the most flexible, immediate and replicable barista-controlled pressure profiling of any espresso machine on the market. Pressure profiling is not just the latest development in a fast-evolving specialty coffee culture. It is something that has been manually achieved, albeit in a more limited way, through traditional lever machines. There, pressure begins low before it ramps up to the traditional 9 bars, and then tapers at the end of the 25 to 30 second extraction. The Strada's electronic paddle and advanced software divides extraction in to intervals that can be programmed by the barista according to the flavour and roast profile of the bean. Here, moment-to-moment pressure profiling is achieved by modulating the pressure from zero up to a maximum of 12 bars pressure, with infinite variability for each extraction.
Why is this so exciting? World-renwowned barista Tim Wendelboe wrote that, "The possibilities are fascinating and when you nail a profile the taste is just absolutely fantastic. It has made me become enthusiastic about espresso again." This, in a culture that increasingly focuses on anachronistic brewing devices such as syphons, and retrofuturistic mechanisms such as the AeroPress and pour-over, is high praise indeed. Furthermore, following a show case in New York City, New York Times blogger Oliver Strand wrote of the capacity to transform the flavour profile of a bean in order to bring out the aromatic notes and subtle flavours that are muted by machines with the nine-bar-norm.
Our experience with the Strada confirms Strand's exactly. Single origin coffees, which have their own character and individuality, are often left a little bland on machines that don't allow baristas to calibrate the extraction according to the level of brightness, sweetness and body the coffee naturally possesses. It makes sense that a specific coffee will respond to pressure in its own way. Reflecting this uniqueness in the brewing process corresponds with a heightened experience on the palate, and increased intimacy with the bean's individual characteristics. As Strand mentions, "with a few adjustments, a so-so coffee can be transformed into a shot that's lush and sweet."
Strand is right. The Strada is particularly appropriate for perfecting the extraction of single origins such as the new MONO Origin range imported and roasted by European Foods' specialty roasting team. Each group head can be pre-programmed according to the origin of the coffee and its associated flavour profile, and then changed day to day - or even hour to hour - depending on the plethora of conditions a barista contends with. Individual boilers give the ultimate flexibility, with group heads programmed independently of one another. This means the Strada works in a high volume environment where one or two single origins are offered as they can be brewed on dedicated group heads. Plus, because the Strada brings sweet, heightened notes out of an espresso blend that were never fully detectable before, it is perfect for a blend too.
Head barista Rie Loy (pictured) at European Foods has been experimenting on the Strada since its arrival. She has been brewing espresso after espresso to the point of palate fatigue (the point when cup tasters cannot distinguish flavours due to sensory overwhelm), and talks excitedly about the machine's design. "The machine is barista-friendly, it has details that only a barista would think of" she said. These include group handles designed for efficient, even dosing and tamping, and the capacity to replicate pressure profiles once they are programmed.
Not only this, the Strada is majestic and attractive with a minimalist, back-to-basics aesthetic. The group heads are fully exposed allowing a greater sense of simplicity and accessibility, yet at the same time the design is cutting edge with no-nonsense, informative digital displays and clean lines. Brewing temperatures can be adjusted at the touch of a button on the digital interface and USB-enabled software enables the barista to record and print pressure profiles. This means that each bean and roast can be documented for reference, with maximum efficiency via the indefinite replay of preferred profiles. While beginners may prefer to use the default profile of 9 bars, as their confidence and daring lifts over time they will notice the difference in their expanded reliance on the extraordinary capabilities of this unique machine.
So if the Strada is the road to excellence in espresso, it is also a machine that breaks new ground. Indeed, it conjures Robert Frost's lyrical poem that ends, 'Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less travelled by.' As the espresso machine that takes espresso to places it has never been, it is true to say that in the landscape of espresso, the Strada makes all the difference.
Watch this space as our team embark on yet another stage of the journey with the La Marzocco Strada EP.