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La Marzocco

The Out of the Box conference.

Following the buzz of Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile furniture fair earlier this year, where design aficionados scour showrooms for the latest interiors trends from Italy, the Zona Tortona neighbourhood was again percolating with fresh ideas on how to best make another beloved Italian export: espresso.

Out of the Box, now in its third year, is a conference and symposium put on by La Marzocco, a manufacturer of high-end espresso machines. Baristas, coffee roasters, and caffeine connoisseurs from over 70 countries gathered for three days to see where the future of brewing is heading, and to get a peek at new designs being dreamed up by the Tuscan-based company that has been on the cutting edge of coffee-making since it was founded in 1927.

While La Marzocco’s sleek stainless steel Linea machines may not yet be a household name, they helped put Starbucks on the map when the Seattle giant first emerged on the scene—the Linea’s precision engineering allowed staff to manually pull quality shots of espresso. When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz switched over to fully automated machines around the turn of the century, there was an uproar by purists; however, the subsequent appearance of second-hand Linea machines on the market coincided with the rise of independent café owners on the lookout for quality machines (ones that would allow their baristas to control temperature and shot length to best serve their extensively researched single-origin coffees). Out of the Box caters to this crowd of aficionados who rhapsodize about the aromas in espresso the same way wine lovers wax lyrical about premier crus.

Among the leading lights from the coffee world in attendance at this year’s conference was Francesco Illy, part of the third-generation Trieste family famous for its Arabica blend sold in iconic tins. Not one to be complacent when it comes to perfecting a cup of java, Illy announced his efforts in conjunction with La Marzocco to develop Caffé Firenze, a new extraction technology that aims to create a sweet, lower-viscosity espresso-style drink.

Design is also of importance to La Marzocco. As consumer cravings for espresso, double lattes, and the like have exploded in recent years, the Italian manufacturer has been quietly positioning itself as the Maserati of coffee makers. Like Neapolitan tailors sewing well-crafted suits, the company’s workforce welds and assembles machines by hand at its factory outside of Florence, even customizing models with brass detailing or elaborate hand-painted designs.

Luca Trazzi, a Milan-based industrial designer and architect who developed several home espresso appliances for the Illy brand in the past (including the Francis Francis series) is now set to help La Marzocco create a new generation of equipment that evokes the company’s classic lines. He took to the stage during Out of the Box to present a series of renderings and sketches of prototypes with heavy-duty steam levers and pressure gauges that make a barista’s work appear like gourmet chemistry.

La Marzocco, always keen to innovate, also unveiled its Linea PB model, named after the firm’s in-house engineer Piero Bambi whose father and uncle founded the company. For Bambi, 79, automotive design and the country’s classic Vespa scooter have been referenced in the past when styling the brand’s machines. The new model has a modern feel, with clean lines and a lower profile. Adds Bambi as he admires one of his creations: “We make them like Ferraris and it’s worth it. You can taste the difference in the coffee.”