La Marzocco Linea Mini User Experience

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#1: Post by keno »

Got the new Linea Mini home just last night after picking it up at Clive Coffee here in Portland. Clive held a nice open house event on Memorial Day where they invited customers down to the store to try out some of the new equipment and check out some of their open box buys. Great event and as always they were super friendly and inviting. They had everything there on site for people to fully test out all the machines and grinders, including a nice selection of coffee, milk, cups, pitchers, etc. We were also invited in the back tasting room to use the equipment there as well as the machines on the floor. Its a truly impressive array of equipment but I went mainly to check out the new La Marzocco Linea Mini. They had just got it in on Friday and the white version they had on display definitely looked better in person than it did in the pictures.

To give it a good test I brought in some of my own coffee (some Klatch Ethiopian Gedeo Worka) that I had roasted a few days before. I also brought in my HG One grinder, which was dialed in for that coffee. This way I could isolate the machine as the independent variable. I really was shocked when the first shot I pulled on it was phenomenal. It was incredibly sweet with a berry fruitiness and a pleasing acidity, no bitterness at all. The mouth feel and body were also amazing, the way it coated the inside of my mouth really helped to separate out the flavors. It was literally love at first shot. I pulled a few more shots with the same and another coffee and all were excellent. The machine just seemed to make it really easy to pull a great shot as Chris Tacy has indicated in his review.

So even though this is a new machine with limited user experience, I was sold and plonked down a deposit on one of the machines that Clive had coming in later in the week. Since they were only coming to Portland from Seattle they arrived on Wednesday and I was able to pick up my machine on Thursday evening. It came double boxed and screwed down onto a small lightweight pallet, so with assistance from Ben at Clive it wasn't too bad to put it into the back of my car.

Fortunately, I managed to get it out of the car by myself, unboxed it, and got it into the house.

My machine came supplied with the following accessories:
  • Quick Start Guide
  • User's Manual
  • Two water test kits
  • One portafilter
  • One single spout and one double spout
  • One frothing pitcher
  • One tamper
  • Backflush detergent
  • Blind filter
  • Two 21g baskets
  • One 17g basket
  • One 14g basket
  • One 7g basket

I choose the black Linea Mini as I thought it would nicely compliment the HG One. Together I think they look pretty good.

Between Thursday night and today I've pulled about a dozen or so shots on it with a few different coffees. The shot quality is impressive. Even shots that looked like they poured a little too fast tasted way better than I expected. I plan to provide some more detailed thoughts about the machine as I have more of an opportunity to use it over the next few days and weeks, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, if anyone has any questions I'm happy to try to answer them for you.

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#2: Post by TomC »

Congratulations Ken! The black certainly looks like a well coordinated setup with the HG-One. I really like the La Marzocco emblem across the front lower right side, and I'm generally not one for conspicuous branding. The more I see this machine, the more it grows on me, but I have to agree with Dan, the one thing that would greatly improve its aesthetics is if the two indicator lights were moved off to the side. They look like they can light up a dark room.

No sense merging this with the other Linea Mini thread, I imagine even more are coming soon, and there's no sense creating another mega thread. Let us know if you set out to target something specific about the machine that will enhance search-ability.
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#3: Post by Javierati »

Congrats! The setup looks great. Looking forward to more updates and overall experience.

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#4: Post by keno (original poster) »

I figure that I'll start out with discussing a few of the things I really like about the machine, before I turn to a few things that I think could be improved.

Warm Up Time
My prior E61 machine took nearly an hour to fully warm up. If you leave your machine on 24/7 this may not be an issue for you, but I generally turn it on in the morning and off a little after lunch. Occasionally I find myself turning it on at other times - e.g., when a friend stops by and I want to be able to offer them a drink. With the E61 I had to set it on a timer to ensure it was ready in the morning. The Linea Mini is a huge improvement in this regard as it is ready in about a half to a third of the time. I timed it this morning starting up from cold and the brew indicator light was ready after 9 minutes. The portafilter was not fully hot so it clearly needed more time, but after a total of 15 minutes it seemed sufficiently warm. When switched on I believe the machine first heats the brew boiler and once the indicator light comes on it switches over to heating up the steam boiler, when it does this you can hear the hissing of the vacuum breaker valve and once that closes the steam boiler quickly gets up to pressure. Overall, even being on the conservative side the machine is ready to brew and steam within 20 minutes.

For a commercial grade machine of this size and output this is a pretty remarkable accomplishment by LM in my view. I suspect the quick heat up time is due to the small brew boiler design (175 ml). But despite the small size the machine has impressive temp stability, as evidenced by HB's own testing, and quick recovery. It performs like a commercial machine but meets the needs of the home user with a quick start time.

I realize these newer LM portafilters have been out a little while now, but this is my first experience with them. The rubber handle is very comfortable and fits my hand great. The handle also seems a little longer making it easier to get sufficient torque when installing it in the group. The spouted version, which comes supplied with the machine, has the removable spouts with a single and a double. This is supposed to make cleaning easier, but the downside is that you don't want to tamp with pressure on the spouts. LM has therefore added a flat spot to the 10-2 o'clock position to allow the PF to be placed on a countertop edge for tamping. The spouted PFs also accept up to a 21g (triple) basket due to the deep design. Finally, and best of all the PFs are made from solid stainless steel. This has two benefits - first, it is supposed to improve thermal retention once they are fully heated, and second, it makes them much easier to clean. Chrome plated brass PFs can get nasty and difficult to clean once the chrome plating wears off and exposes the brass.

Okay, I realize there has been a ton of critical commentary about this. In his CG review Mark Prince disparagingly refers to it as a "faux-paddle" and in another HB thread people questioned it as well. The complaint seems to be that the existence of a paddle implies that the user has some sort of control over preinfusion, which admittedly they do not with the Mini as it has automatic built in preinfusion (one second on and one second off). So, yes, the paddle on the Mini is just a large on/off switch. So what? LM had to use some kind of on/off switch and the alternatives were either a button or a rocker switch. To me the paddle is a big improvement over both of those. It's easier to find when you are busy doing other things, such as steaming milk or preparing the next shot. The tactile feel is great - very smooth and solid. Overall it fits in well with the analog approach LM took with this machine. The feedback from baristas in the field is that they like the paddle, so why wouldn't they use it as an on/off switch. And is a GS3 paddle "faux" because it controls only line level preinfusion and not progressive preinfusion? The whole debate just seems silly to me. Yes, it just an on/off switch and if you can't come to terms with that or want more variables to control then don't buy this machine. In the end what really matters is the taste in the cup and so far I have no complaints whatsoever when it comes to shot quality.

Drip Tray and Reservoir
The drip tray and reservoir are both really well thought out. The drip tray is quite large. I measured the capacity at about 2 liters. It is made of a thick plastic with rounded edges on the inside to make cleaning it easier. The outside is covered with a stainless panel to match the color of the machine. The tray has two innovations. First, there is a protrusion that sticks up from the bottom that allows you to visually see how close it is to its capacity. When the protrusion is covered, it's full. Second, it has magnets on the bottom of the tray secure it to a depression on the rails and preventing shifting and rattling. It's a very solid design. The reservoir is horizontally situated and located behind the drip tray. It slides out from underneath the machine when the drip tray is removed. A small plastic panel is removed to allow refilling. The nice thing about this placement is that it means that cabinet height above the machine is not as much of an issue. Most machine's reservoirs are filled from above which can be very challenging if you have it under kitchen cabinets. This means that no real estate on the top of the machine needs to be devoted to reservoir access, providing for a larger cup warming area and no need to remove cups when refilling. It also means the water in the reservoir does not get heated up as much, which minimizes slimy stuff growing in it.

Barista Lights
How did I ever live without these? When you pull a shot two LED lights underneath the grouphead housing and above the drip tray illuminate the portafilter and cup. Even in a dim room it makes it very easy to see the pour, monitor the shot volume, and look for blonding. A really nice feature.

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#5: Post by Javierati »

Thanks for sharing your experience thus far with the machine.

keno wrote:When you pull a shot two LED lights underneath the grouphead housing and above the drip tray illuminate the portafilter and cup.
Do these lights turn on automatically when you turn the paddle to the left to pull a shot?

Also, any comments on the steam wand and its range of motion?


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#6: Post by keno (original poster) »

Javierati wrote: Do these lights turn on automatically when you turn the paddle to the left to pull a shot?

Also, any comments on the steam wand and its range of motion?
Yes, exactly, they turn on when you move the paddle to the brew position and off when you turn it off. The barista lights are on the production models, but I believe were not on the pre-production model reviewed by HB.

Regarding the steam wand, this video shows its range of motion far better than I could explain it. If you are used to a ball joint mounted steam wand it seems a little strange at first, but I very quickly got the hang of it.

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#7: Post by keno (original poster) »

Okay, now it's time to discuss a few things that could be improved with the Linea Mini.

Indicator Lights
My biggest complaint would definitely be that the indicator lights on the front panel are too bright. If you leave the machine on 24/7 you are definitely going to be lighting up your room with these lights in the dark. How much of an annoyance they will be will also depend upon the placement of the machine in your room. In my kitchen the machine is right across from the island with a head on view from the sink. This is particularly problematic as the lights are much brighter when viewed from directly in front of the machine. A view from the side is not so bad. Here is a head on picture from across my kitchen. The brightness of the lights detracts from the overall pleasing aesthetics of the machine as they focus attention on the lights instead of the machine. Please turn off your brights La Marzocco!

I find it hard to believe that LM didn't notice this during the product development process as it is literally staring you right in the face as soon as you turn on the machine. From what I have seen so far just about every user/reviewer of the Linea Mini has said they don't like these lights and I am hoping LM will address this. In addition to changing them on newer units they should offer some kind of solution to existing owners - either provide less bright lights for replacement or maybe some kind of frosted plastic cover to better diffuse the light. I'm curious to hear what other Linea Mini owners think about this.

Matte Finish on the Black Version
I believe that all the colored versions (ie, non-stainless) have powder-coated stainless steel panels. The white model I saw at Clive had what I would describe as a satin finish, just a tiny bit of sheen to it. It looked fantastic. And from what I can tell from the photos the red version also appears to have a satin finish. The black version, however, has a matte finish. It looks great, but my concern is that it will be a lot harder to keep clean and looking good. For instance, when I unboxed it there were a few small oil stains on the top cover of the box enclosing the group. Getting them off was very challenging and when viewed from a certain angle you can still see it. I don't want to use any harsh or abrasive cleaners as I don't want to damage the finish. Seems like a satin finish would make cleaning a lot easier than the matte finish. I hope this will not continue to be a problem with coffee stains, etc. I guess time will tell.

Crooked La Marzocco Logo
This is probably unique to my machine, but thought I should mention it anyway. I was a little disappointed after unboxing the machine when I noticed that the LM logo on the front of the drip tray appeared to be crooked. Sure enough after measuring its placement the left side was 3-4 mm higher than the right side (more noticeable in person than this picture). The rest of the machine shows very good attention to detail, so it was surprising that someone at the factory put the logo on crooked. Don't they use a template to place the logo in the correct position? I realize this is a "cosmetic" issue, but it's also one of those things (like the indicator lights) that you notice every time you look at the machine. And when paying this much for a top quality espresso machine you expect better than this. I emailed LM and sent them a picture and they told me that they will provide a replacement part, so I have nothing but positive things at this point to say about their customer service.

Only One Portafilter Supplied
LM includes only one portafilter with the Linea Mini. Above I remarked upon how much I liked the portafilter design and quality, but I find packaging only one disappointing. I think they must have done this because the portafilter has removable spouts, making it possible to easily switch between a single and double spout. But a second PF is useful for switching between different baskets without having to remove and swap baskets (which is challenging due to the tight fit of the ridged baskets provided). I also like to keep a blind filter in a separate PF to make it easy to back flush regularly. Every decent quality espresso machine that I am aware of includes two portafilters. So I think it's reasonable to expect a second PF with a machine that retails for $4500. Since the spouts are switchable it would make sense to package it with a spouted and a bottomless PF. Note that Mark Prince in his CG review says that the machine comes supplied with two portafilters, but that is incorrect. The LM rep I spoke with said that a decision was made prior to shipping out the machines to include only one.

Most of these items are cosmetic and none really affects the performance of the machine, but I think LM does need to address the indicator light issue and they should reconsider packaging the machine with only a single portafilter.

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#8: Post by Beezer »

Thanks for the detailed review. Sounds like a great machine all around. The lack of a second portafilter is a strange omission though. I agree it's good to have a second one for backflushing. It would be great if they include one spouted and one naked PF, especially for the premium they charge for the machine.

I wonder if you could make the indicator lights dimmer by coloring over them with a Sharpie or something. Kind of a kludge, but until they release an improved set of lights it might be the only solution.

I have to say, this machine is calling my name. I'll be in Portland in a couple of weeks, so I think I'll drop by Clive and see if I can play with one in person.
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#9: Post by yakster »

I put black electrical tape over the bright LEDs on my cable box so I can sleep, but that would't be too nice looking with the Mini. Maybe some discreet caps could be found that would fit over the LEDs and dim them a bit... or maybe some resistance could be put in the circuit by someone willing to MOD the machine to dim them down.

I know that the early press on this stated that they intentionally did not provide bottomless portafilters with the Mini, not believing in them. There was some speculation that with the baskets provided that they'd want to avoid any unnecessary support calls due to judging the pour on the appearance of the bottomless streams.

Thanks, all, for the user experience comments.

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#10: Post by LATrapp »

I use a second portafilter for backflushing but I'm not sure using a 'cold' second portafilter for a shot is a good idea. Any thoughts?

Thanks for all the picture and thoughts on the machine. Looking forward to reading more!

Also curious what E-61 you were using before the LM?