Learning about the history and future of espresso in a conversation with the CEO behind one of the world’s most beloved espresso machines.
by Julie Wolfson in Culture on 26 July 2013
Named after the fiercest predator of the animal kingdom, La Marzocco—which translates to lion in Italian—is aptly known for their roaring, state of the art espresso machines. But at the factory in Tuscany, things are anything but savage—the staff often shares their lunch hour together at a small trattoria across the street. And at the Seattle headquarters, a barbecue grill stands by the product-testing area ready to be of service for team grilling sessions. At the helm of this happy caffeinated world is CEO Kent Bakke. To say he loves all things espresso is an understatement. Even on the La Marzocco website Bakke’s description says it all: “Kent Bakke, CEO: Friendliest guy you’ll ever meet. Depository of all things espresso and Italy. Human directory of all coffee people.” La Marzocco is that kind of company.
When we were invited to spend the day with Bakke in Seattle, we jumped at the chance. Our visit included some time in their showroom, learning to pull espresso shots and steam milk with barista Sarah Dooley, time with Scott “Mr. Gadget” Guglielmino in the machine-checking area with a tour of their extensive vintage espresso machine collection and lunch at the Whale Wins with Bakke, who shared the story of what drew him to dedicate his life to making the perfect cup of espresso.
Why do you feel that the coffee community is so focused on pour-overs and filter coffees right now?
When I started working in the world of coffee 35 years ago, espresso was totally new. And now, espresso has become more mainstream, but the vast majority of coffee that is consumed in the North American market is still brewed coffee. What is experiencing great growth right now is a rediscovery of coffee. There is incredible growth in the appreciation of high-quality coffee—in all of its forms and in various preparations. Like food and other beverages, people enjoy different types of coffees on different occasions, and with different preparations.
What about the tradition of espresso originally drew you in?
It was espresso machines that drew me into the tradition of espresso. The first espresso machine I ever saw was at Hibble and Hyde’s—the restaurant I bought in Pioneer Square in Seattle in 1977. There were just a handful of espresso machines in Seattle, including the one at my restaurant. I was very curious about the machines and how they worked and very interested in understanding what espresso coffee was. Espresso machines were certainly simpler back then, but there were also fewer ways to learn about them. There was no internet, no instruction manuals, no repair manuals, nothing to tell me how the thing worked, but the systems were easy enough to generally figure out.
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