I was impressed when I saw La Marzocco’s new Leva machine. We met on a sunny Saturday as part of Home-Barista.com’s Seattle Leverfest event. Our group of coffee enthusiasts descended upon La Marzocco’s USA headquarters, eager to share and compare domestic lever espresso machines.
Though I do not own a lever machine (my home setup will be covered in a future post!), I find their mechanics enchantingly analog. You can visit this post on Home-Barista to learn the basics, but essentially a spring-powered piston empties, fills, and pressurizes a column of water, which travels through ground coffee from the force of the piston under tension.
Newer machines rely heavily on pumps and motors, which accomplish the task of pressurizing the brew system to achieve an espresso extraction. When coupled with electronic (solenoid) valves, modern pump machines are often preferred for their consistency under high volume — the system is designed to stay static.
For most, a pump machine is all they need. For others, the desire to directly affect the extraction harkens to the origins of espresso being theatrical and interactive.
The heritage of espresso is categorically physical; from the beginning, force was needed to make the beverage we now all enjoy. We call it an extraction, that pulling of a shot of espresso under pressure.
In brief, it was a labor of love.
The “lever heads” I met at La Marzocco personify that intersection of manual work and pride in their product. The Leva from La Marzocco exists as it does from those same principles.
Its form and function is almost dreamlike; the mechanical lever feeds realtime data to a digital display with effortless grace.
To understand the myriad innovations in this machine, I spoke with Josh Littlefield of La Marzocco USA, the resident Leva-head and organizer of the Seattle Leverfest event.
I learned that the initial design process was to collect key problems with the lever machine format. Though rooted in lever design, La Marzocco approached the Leva with an acute sense of self-awareness. As Josh describes it, they set out to make a machine that honors the past by learning from it, offering tangible improvements from those 90 years of evolution.
It’s a philosophy that is not only preached by La Marzocco, but practiced as well. I watched as home baristas approached the Leva with an enthusiasm only captured by experience. The mechanical details revealed themselves like faces of a jewel, each appreciated by the perspective of the user.
The magic of the event only grew as we followed Kent Bakke and John Blackwell to Kent’s private collection of vintage espresso machines. Hidden away behind a weather-worn garage door, the catacomb of espresso history lay preserved in time. We traipsed through the rows of equipment with quiet deference, guided by Kent’s razor-sharp retelling of the machines’ histories.
Once resurfaced, our group bid farewell to Kent, only to continue experimenting with the Leva and other domestic machines brought from home. Between conversations, the espressos we shared from their machines were every bit as good as a menu item in a specialty cafe.
The generosity of La Marzocco USA, the passion from an online community, and the collective experience of enthusiasts made this event possible. The same core human beliefs made the Leva machine possible.
It’s true that a select few technicians actually build each Leva machine by hand in Scarperia, Italy. But it’s also true that we as a community build the experiences and shape the future of the Leva and machines like it.
From then to now and to the future, the greatness of the coffee industry is a labor of love.