One for the coffee nerds, tracking two decades of coffee machine evolution

One for the coffee nerds, tracking two decades of coffee machine evolution

Climpson & Sons 8 mins Read

Author: Rebecca Wooden 

While we are all looking 20 years older than during the earliest days of Climpson & Sons, the equipment we use to make coffee gets smoother, slicker and more efficient year on year. At our 20th anniversary we’re taking the opportunity to look back on the evolution of the espresso machine since the start of Climpsons; reflecting back on our equipment from the past, showcasing the technology we use today and taking a look at how we can equal a barista standard espresso from our own kitchens through the recent home espresso revolution.

We use a whole host of equipment to keep our cafe service running, from batch brewers to grinders of all shapes and sizes, but here we’ll be focussing on the espresso machine. As you know, we absolutely love to drink filter coffee, but the facts are, most of the coffees we serve are espresso-based drinks. That means a great espresso machine is a powerhouse behind our speedy service (driven by the best baristas, of course). Any cafe manager will tell you an efficient and reliable machine is essential for a smooth morning in the coffee industry. Consider this article a nostalgic letter to all the espresso machines we’ve ever loved.

So what are we looking for in an espresso machine? The short answer - to make coffee. The longer answer - to draw filtered water and pump it at approximately 6 bars of pressure (that translates to 6 times the atmospheric pressure found at sea level) through a dual boiler system, directing precisely 93 degree water through a portafilter designed for perfect extraction and prepared with accurately ground and weighed coffee, as well as sending 100-degree water to a steam wand to swiftly steam milk, potentially running three group heads and two steam wands simultaneously over the course of a morning rush that could last several hours. Espresso is an exact science, and that’s why technological development of the equipment we use to make it plays a crucial role in the development of our industry.

We can’t talk about espresso machines without mentioning the name La Marzocco. Forefathers of the industry, we’ve been using their machines since 2007 but their heritage goes back a whole lot further. Florentine pioneer Giuseppe Bambi began experimenting with machine manufacturing in the early 20th century. These early machines were equipped with hot water and steam generators as well as a notably tall vertical boiler. Designed as a faster way to brew coffee, these first inventions weren’t entirely unrecognisable from their horizontal descendants we use today, using a similar portafilter-based design. Alongside his brother Bruno, the Bambis established a small workshop, adopting the name La Marzocco not long after. Many groundbreaking developments and pieces of machinery later, the rest is history.

“You can learn a technique, but you can only develop passion through dedication, love, pride and respect in your work.” - Piero Bambi.

Let’s fast forward to 2002 and the first days of Climpson and Sons. The machine to start it all was a Fracino. This sturdy little trouper poured the very first espresso on Broadway Market and became one of the first machines used to make truly great coffee on a market stall. You can still find remnants of our foremost machine, repurposed into a cute branded lightbox at Climpsons HQ on Helmsley Place.

Opening the doors of the cafe on Broadway Market in 2007 meant a brand new 3 group La Marzocco Linea Classic. This iconic machine is something of a legend in the industry - and you’ll still see plenty of them going strong behind bars across the world. Simple elegance, this machine was designed to slip effortlessly into any setting with its sleek exterior. The PID temperature controller provided an electronic, algorithmic control of brewing temperature for much-needed consistency, as well as saturated groups for thermal stability.

While the Linea Classic was pouring the shots, our grinder was a source of constant headaches (literally). Matt Randell, then cafe manager, reflects back on the challenges of this piece of kit.

“The most fun we had was with the Anthem grinder, it was so noisy, and it had been modified. It was a stepped grinder, which means it has increments, but someone had altered it to make it stepless to dial in more precisely, but it was still ‘chok chok chok’. Really noisy. But there’s always music in the cafe, so you’d play something really relaxed, and then the grinder, this thing, would be so loud over it.”

We faced some similar equipment malfunctions over on the Broadway Market cart. More from Matt here,

“Some of the equipment was a right laugh, we used a Portuguese brand called Iberital, and it had one steam wand, two groups, and the handle was loose, so you could tighten it but it would immediately come back loose, so it was always losing steam. So we got a crocodile clip and attached it with loads of gaffa tape, wrapped it around to hold it in place, and then we were able to just open it enough to steam. I remember that day we did our best day on the cart for ages - and it was raining. It was all really ad hoc, but really fun, especially looking back now when everything is so high tech. Part of me loved battling with the machine, baristas have it too easy these days! Wait, I don’t want to sound like an old coot, but yeah, we used to battle with the machines back then.”

Our next upgrade came in 2013 with the incoming La Marzocco Linea PB in iconic stainless steel. Things got technical here, with power to the barista via this machine’s friendly interface. The control panel enabled the barista to set AV (that’s the ability to pre-program using auto volumetrics to non-coffee folk) for precise and consistent recipe settings across all three group heads. This machine also saw the introduction of energy-saving eco mode, enabling us to end each day by holding down two buttons, putting the machine to an environmentally friendly sleep for the night.

The opening of our coffee bar in Old Spitalfields Market was an opportunity to play with something a little different. Does anyone remember our foray into the Mod Bar? Back in 2017, we installed a stunning new set-up for our latest location in E1. For the first time ever, all the machinery was hidden beneath the bar, with sleek and exposed group heads directly topping the counter top. This design enables the barista to see, chat and connect to the customer, without the need to shout over a big chunky machine. A great idea in theory for the newly renovated market space, however the challenges of British weather got in the way for us here and our gorgeous new machine came into conflict with 2018’s ‘Beast from the East’ freak weather storm. My first month’s at Climpson’s were spent shivering and shielding espressos from gail force bursts. Helplessly attempting to weigh out a shot in a wind tunnel of extreme weather made making a decent cup of coffee pretty challenging. 

An experiment best left in the past, we shifted tact and brought in the workhorse that is the La Marzocco Strada. What a game changer! This is one great purchase that shifted our new opening from failure to success. We were suddenly able to cope with the new found volume of coffees as market trade grew, plus having a machine that quite obviously looked like it made coffee definitely drew in the customers.

Around this time we also introduced the trusty Puqpress to both our Broadway Market and Spitalfields sites. Not only did the Puqpress speed our service right up by freeing an extra hand for the barista (seriously, the speed a Climpsons barista could make coffee if they had four arms!) it also created a notable consistency in our shots, reducing any variance in the individual tamp. Cafe Manager Joel explains why he loves this piece of kit.

“The puqpress is one of the best pieces of equipment we’ve used at the cafe and Spitalfields. It’s made such a massive difference to our workflow, helped reduce the amount of coffee waste due to adjusting the grinder to each person’s tamp and stopped a lot of shoulder and neck pain within the team too!”

Meanwhile, at London Coffee Festival in 2019 Nicole had her eye on La Marzocco’s latest release - the retro style meets modern specification KB90. A few weeks later, the very same machine showcased at the festival took home and landed on Broadway Market. We haven’t looked back since. Designed with ultimate workflow in mind, the KB90 was the first machine to use a straight in portafilter, with the aim of relieving the barista from potential repetitive strain injury caused from sealing the portafilter (baristas, if you know, you know). This machine automatically cleans itself, with a burst of steam on the shower screens after each shot and the steam wand stays cool to touch, saving any nasty burns on the job. Really putting the barista first, this machine continues to perfectly extract 100s of Broadway Blend espresso each and every day from our iconic cafe.

Our most recent addition to the Climpsons machine collection is a shiny new Linea PB AV 3 Group at Old Spitalfields Market. Here’s Cafe Manager Joel’s first impressions of the new machine.

“As nice as it was to use the Strada (I was a big fan of the steamer leaver), it feels great to go back to the Linea. It’s so reliable and also similar in design to the KB90 at the cafe, so it helps with consistency when our team is switching between sites. During busy times you know each shot will be extracted perfectly to the recipe. The design itself is great too, it sits nicely on our coffee bar at the perfect height for our baristas to steam milk.”

So that’s the story of the commercial espresso machine, but all the while some serious changes were happening in the home coffee world. A major development in the coffee industry was the relatively recent boom of the home espresso machine. In 2022, a National Coffee Association (NCA) study found that 84% of coffee drinkers make coffee at home. La Marzocco released the Linea Mini for home coffee enthusiasts in 2015 - making the dream of a cafe standard espresso achievable from your own kitchen. Find out more about getting your hands on one of these beauties here.

Linea Mini 

Always keen to share our coffee expertise, we’ve also been teaching budding home baristas to master their machinery since 2018 through our home espresso workshops. Interested? Our next course will be running in person from our training academy in London Fields on Saturday 19th November. Sign up here.

Home Espresso Workshops 

Climpsons Journal