Kent Bakke, CEO La Marzocco International, overseeing U.S. and Italian offices
This week, we speak with Kent Bakke, about the recent launch of the La Marzocco Linea PB. But first, a bit of background:
Named after the symbol of Florence, Italy – the lion – La Marzocco has been the leader in espresso machine innovations since 1927 – with the first double boiler, the first saturated grouphead, the first to commercially use PID controllers, and the first to introduce fully programmable pressure profiling.
If you love espresso, chances are some of your favorite drinks have been prepared on a La Marzocco Linea Classic machine. And, you can thank Kent Bakke for that. He began working with La Marzocco commercial espresso coffee machines in 1978, as a regional espresso machine sales and service company. Since then, Bakke has been instrumental in building the US distribution of La Marzocco machines, which has helped to build the specialty coffee community into the robust, quality-driven industry it is today.
Piero Bambi, honorary president, La Marzocco srl
While the Linea Classic continues to be a pillar in leading cafes around the globe, the Linea PB represents the first technical and stylistic upgrade of the Linea Classic. The LINEA PB, designed by and named in recognition of Piero Bambi, fully refashions the technical and stylistic workings of the Linea Classic, La Marzocco’s industry icon introduced to the marketplace over 20 years ago. In crafting the Linea PB, Piero Bambi has refined and polished design elements and fine-tuned performance attributes. In addition to distinctive La Marzocco features, the Linea PB is equipped with exclusive, user-friendly interface software that gives the barista control over boiler temperature, brewing volume, hot water tap dose and other options, ensuring a new level of performance and reliability.
An interview with Kent Bakke
Coffee Universe: Why is Linea referred to as the most iconic espresso machine that pioneered the specialty coffee movement’s birth and growth beginning in 1989?
Kent Bakke: For La Marzocco, the introduction of the Linea marked a new era of style and design. The Linea looked very different than the previous models that had been selling the US for more than 10 years, but with a new look: clean lines, stainless steel.
Certainly as Starbucks became an early adopter of the Linea it became one of the more well-known espresso machines. Having the La Marzocco Linea in Starbucks stores helped to collectively establish La Marzocco as one of the premiere manufacturers of espresso machines. Many consumers had some of their first specialty coffee experiences drinking espresso beverages prepared on Lineas at Starbucks.
It was the era when Seattle was the leader in specialty coffee, and as people sought information about how to become a part of it, how to start their own coffee businesses, Seattle was the source of information and leading trends. Starbucks was so highly regarded, that people would call looking for the machines without having done any research.
Coffee Universe: How did it help usher in the movement?
Kent: And in some ways, I think we were the right age. Coffee as a business was a whole new thing. It was a way for first-time business people to get into business for the first time relatively inexpensively. With companies like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee and the Good Coffee Company, there was a level of coffee quality and a level of focus on coffee quality that inspired a lot of people. There was a new expectation of quality coffee and we were able to apply this to espresso.
We were also uniquely positioned – because we were uniquely passionate about coffee. No other espresso machine importers were particularly passionate about coffee. Other sellers were restaurant supply companies, and their focus wasn’t on the beverage, it was on a full lineup of restaurant equipment. We wanted the equipment to be successful, and we were able to support the equipment, but more importantly, to build strong relationships and educate customers.
The Linea was also unique in the marketplace among other Italian manufacturers. The fact that it has two boilers, one for coffee and one for steam, meant that the machine could keep up – in terms of temperature stability and steam volume – to deliver larger-sized milk-based beverages in high-volume cafes. Because of the separation between the steam and coffee brewing, milk-based beverages could still produce great espresso shots and also have lots of steaming capacity.
Coffee Universe: What is it about the machine that makes your customers have passion and enthusiasm for this machine?
Kent: The Linea has endured and has remained popular because, for the people who work on the machines (baristas and technicians), the Linea was the first espresso machine they worked on. The Linea has an incredible track record of serviceability, reliability, and durability – all of which has contributed to, and reinforced, the strength of the brand and the quality of our products.
CoffeeUniverse: How does this new machine ‘keep up’ with the demands of the barista – What new technology has been added to the machine that allows the barista to do what they need to do?
Kent: The Linea PB – the newest addition to the Linea family – has many of the features of the Linea Classic that people have loved for almost 25 years, but there are a number of updates that make the barista’s job a bit easier, the technician’s job a little easier, and that bring the machine forward stylistically – while also staying true to the Classic. These updates continue the Linea legacy as a highly dependable espresso machine best suited for high-volume settings.
The Linea PB is also the first La Marzocco espresso machine to feature a brand new electronics system developed exclusively for La Marzocco. The new electronics deliver significant improvement in temperature stability for both the coffee boiler and the steam boiler. For the operator, these electronics are very user-friendly: for the barista and the technician. It’s easy to make adjustments to the machine parameters – things like boiler temperature or water dose – directly from the display.
Coffee Universe: With the coffee drinking consumer in mind, what would you say to them about knowing about the machine that their coffee is brewed in?
Kent Bakke: It’s been really great to start to see the coffee drinking community want to know more about the beverage. I think that the curiosity and the interest in coffee – understanding where coffees come from and who grows them, is consistent with the slow food movement and a new willingness among consumers to spend more in order to get highest-quality, sustainable products. In coffee, roasters have helped lead their customers down this path, by establishing direct trade relationships and shifting toward single origin coffees.
We definitely see that the enthusiasm and interest in our products – particularly because they are handmade in Italy – extends to consumers. As I travel the world, I’m amazed at how many people I meet who don’t work in coffee, but are familiar with our brand – not just familiar, but enthusiastic. And at the factory we receive hundreds of visitors – many of them consumers – who have that same interest in being close to us, knowing who we are and what we do.