When did Starbucks stop using La Marzocco? Explained

Starbucks stopped using La Marzocco espresso machines in 2005, when they switched to superautomatic machines made by Thermoplan AG. La Marzocco was the original partner of Starbucks, providing them with high-quality, handmade, semi-automatic machines that produced excellent espresso shots. However, as Starbucks expanded rapidly, they needed machines that were faster, easier, and more consistent. This led them to adopt the Mastrena, a fully automatic machine that could grind, tamp, and brew espresso with the touch of a button. In this article, we will explore the history of Starbucks’ espresso machines, the reasons behind their decision to change, and the pros and cons of each type of machine.

The History of Starbucks’ Espresso Machines

Starbucks was founded in 1971 as a coffee roaster and retailer, selling whole beans and equipment to brew coffee at home. It was not until 1984 that they started serving espresso drinks, after Howard Schultz, then a marketing director, visited Italy and was inspired by the espresso culture there. He convinced the owners to buy a La Marzocco machine and open a cafe in Seattle, where he experimented with different drinks and recipes.

La Marzocco is an Italian company that has been making espresso machines since 1927. They are known for their quality, craftsmanship, and innovation. Their machines are handmade by skilled artisans, using the finest materials and components. They are also designed to be customizable, allowing baristas to adjust the temperature, pressure, and flow of water and steam. La Marzocco machines are widely used by specialty coffee shops and enthusiasts around the world, who appreciate their performance, reliability, and aesthetics.

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Starbucks and La Marzocco had a long and fruitful partnership, lasting for more than 20 years. La Marzocco supplied Starbucks with thousands of machines, mostly the Linea Classic model, which became an iconic symbol of Starbucks’ cafes. The Linea Classic is a semi-automatic machine, which means that the barista has to manually grind, dose, and tamp the coffee, and then start and stop the extraction. This gives the barista more control and flexibility over the espresso shot, but also requires more skill and training.

The Reasons for Starbucks’ Switch to Superautomatic Machines

As Starbucks grew from a regional chain to a global phenomenon, they faced several challenges that made them reconsider their choice of espresso machines. Some of the main reasons were:

  • Speed: Starbucks needed to serve more customers in less time, especially during peak hours. The La Marzocco machines were too slow and labor-intensive, requiring the barista to perform multiple steps and actions for each drink. The superautomatic machines, on the other hand, could produce espresso shots in seconds, with minimal human intervention.
  • Consistency: Starbucks wanted to ensure that every customer received the same quality and taste of espresso, regardless of the location, time, or barista. The La Marzocco machines were too variable and dependent on the barista’s skill and technique, resulting in inconsistent and sometimes poor espresso shots. The superautomatic machines, on the other hand, could deliver consistent and precise espresso shots, with pre-programmed settings and automatic adjustments.
  • Ease of use: Starbucks needed to train and retain more employees, as they opened more stores and had higher turnover rates. The La Marzocco machines were too complex and difficult to use, requiring the barista to have extensive knowledge and experience in espresso making. The superautomatic machines, on the other hand, were simple and easy to use, requiring the barista to only press a button and follow the instructions on the screen.
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In 1999, Starbucks started testing superautomatic machines from various manufacturers, including Saeco, Franke, and Thermoplan. After several trials and evaluations, they decided to partner with Thermoplan, a Swiss company that specialized in superautomatic machines. Thermoplan developed a machine exclusively for Starbucks, called the Mastrena, which was launched in 2005. The Mastrena is a fully automatic machine, which means that it can grind, tamp, and brew espresso with no human intervention. It also has a built-in grinder, a computerized menu, and a self-cleaning system. The Mastrena is designed to be fast, consistent, and easy to use, meeting Starbucks’ needs and expectations.

The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Machine

The switch from La Marzocco to Mastrena was a controversial and debated decision, as it had both advantages and disadvantages for Starbucks and its customers. Some of the pros and cons of each type of machine are:

  • La Marzocco:
    • Pros:
      • Higher quality and flavor of espresso, as the barista can customize and optimize the extraction parameters and conditions.
      • More art and craft of espresso making, as the barista can showcase their skill and creativity in preparing different drinks and latte art.
      • More connection and interaction between the barista and the customer, as the barista can explain and educate the customer about the espresso process and product.
    • Cons:
      • Slower and more labor-intensive espresso making, as the barista has to perform multiple steps and actions for each drink.
      • Less consistent and reliable espresso shots, as the barista’s skill and technique may vary and affect the outcome.
      • More complex and difficult espresso machines, as the barista has to learn and master the operation and maintenance of the machines.
  • Mastrena:
    • Pros:
      • Faster and more efficient espresso making, as the machine can produce espresso shots in seconds, with minimal human intervention.
      • More consistent and precise espresso shots, as the machine can deliver the same quality and taste of espresso, with pre-programmed settings and automatic adjustments.
      • Simpler and easier espresso machines, as the barista only has to press a button and follow the instructions on the screen.
    • Cons:
      • Lower quality and flavor of espresso, as the machine cannot replicate the nuances and subtleties of the espresso extraction.
      • Less art and craft of espresso making, as the machine takes away the control and flexibility from the barista.
      • Less connection and interaction between the barista and the customer, as the machine creates a barrier and reduces the communication and education opportunities.
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The Conclusion

Starbucks stopped using La Marzocco espresso machines in 2005, when they switched to superautomatic machines made by Thermoplan. This was a strategic decision that aimed to improve the speed, consistency, and ease of use of their espresso service, as they expanded their business and customer base. However, this also meant sacrificing some of the quality, flavor, and art of their espresso, as they relied more on the machine and less on the barista. The choice of espresso machine reflects the trade-offs and priorities of Starbucks, as well as the preferences and expectations of their customers. Whether one prefers the La Marzocco or the Mastrena, the espresso machine is an essential and influential part of the Starbucks experience.