Last Updated on January 3, 2021 by Nick Baskett
We’ve updated this post to include changes La Marzocco has made to the Linea Mini, including a look at their IOT kit, and to take into account some new competition.
At £3,700 (nearly $5,000) for a single head machine, the first question we get asked invariably is, is it worth it? For most of us, if we have the money without selling a kidney, the answer is mostly yes on condition you don’t mind doing without flow profiling. As one person put it:
It’s the best ‘waste’ of money I’ve ever made
But should you buy one?
I had great hope that in 2020 there would be a plethora of new competition in this price range to appeal to the business people stuck at home who wanted to make their espresso drinks at home with a stylish solution. The first competition to appear on the scene was from Victoria Arduino, in the form of the Eagle One Prima. A much-anticipated single group version of the Eagle One. There was a noticable absense of transparent pricing on launch, and our fears were confirmed when we discovered they wanted over £5,000 ($6,000).
This suddenly made the Linea Mini look good value – a first for La Marzocco perhaps. Then the company released an updated version which allows the machine to be controlled via a mobile app, and even offered a retrofit option for owners of earlier versions. However you feel about having an app control your espresso, the fact is that the option is there if you want to use it. You don’t need to use it if you don’t want to.
We have a section dedicated to the new app, so you can jump straight there if you’re just interested in the update.
That question requires us to look deeper into who La Marzocco aimed this machine for, and to understand what it does well, and where it is less than perfect.
Summary and Features
The La Marzocco Linea Mini is a quality stainless steel machine with numerous small touches of class, and world-leading build quality. It has customization options and produces first-class espresso. An update in 2020 gave a number of useful features including a cool touch steam wand and a mobile app.
It is missing some features of its higher-end brothers, but we forgive it because it does everything else so well and so consistently and because its looks and value will last longer than those cheaper competitors. But it’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone.
The only warning is to those who think the high cost of the machine means it will make a good espresso for them. If you’re brewing anything other than a dark roast, you’ll still need to understand about coffee mechanics to get good results.
|Brew Head||Integrated (not E61)|
|PID||Yes (analogue dial)|
|Dials||Temperature and Pressure|
|Steam Wand||Yes. Professional|
|Hot Water Tap||Yes|
|Plumb in Water||With modification|
|Height||15in / 38cm|
|Width||14in / 35.5cm|
|Depth||21in / 53.3cm|
|Weight||71lbs / 32.2kg|
The Linea Mini Mobile App – our Verdict!
In 2020, the model got a few updates, but it was the release of the app that got the attention. Any of you that regularly follow our podcast know how I feel about apps and coffee machines – I can see some benefits to them if the implementation is done well, but too often – such as with my Acaia scales, I find the using the app an annoyance and something that detracts from the coffee making ritual, which I enjoy first thing in the morning.
So how does the Linea Mini mobile app work, and does it help or will it just annoy you?
What you can do with the App
The company has done a decent job for a first attempt. The biggest issue I seem to face connecting IOT devices to my mobile is getting them to connect reliably, or in the case of my scale, at all. La Marzocco get points for making this process work well. You have to register before you can start using the features, which include brew recipies – something that I might find useful, although my colleague Max however is dismissive about the value for this.
You can turn the machine on from your phone, which is a nice feature if you want the Linea Mini warmed up by the time you’ve shuffled into the kitchen in the morning. If you follow a specific regimen each day, you can set timers automatically, and here La Marzocco did a good job in making it easy to duplicate timers across the days of the week. Compare that to the recently released Rancilio Silvia Pro (I know it’s in a different class), which resemebles an ancient Texas Instruments calculator interface, and the Linea’s app starts looking really good.
If you brew different levels of roasts, then you’ll appreciate temperature control. Now, the Mini can already control the temperature with the dial on the left side of the machine, but the app brings the ability to control both boilers very precisely. Nice. However, this is where the programmers tripped up – the wheel that controls the temperature on the machine cannot exceed the settings on the app, or it just doesn’t work. You need to lower the setting on the machine so that you can set the temperature on the app. Hopefully, this is something the company will resolve with a software update.
You are able to set pre-infusion, or pre-brewing times, which is useful although I don’t see myself changing this often. I’d probably be just as happy with a 5 second pre-infusion that I couldn’t change.
The other features of the app are pretty useless in my opinion – there is some basic advice on what to do if your coffee doesn’t brew correctly, and some video lessons. But, there’s nothing here that you can’t find elsewhere with better quality. The hope is that La Marzocco will continue to improve it.
Upgrading an Older Linea Mini with the Retrofit Kit
If you purchase the kit from La Marzocco in the US, it’s listed at $500, which seems a bit steep for a PCB board that costs probably around $10 to manufacture. If you want to grab one, they’re listed on La Marzocco’s US website here.
In the UK, I found a company selling what appears to be an original kit for £125 ($170) You can grab that here.
Summary of the App – Would I Use it?
I slightly surprised myself by actually considering it. I’m not a fan of anything digital getting in the way of my coffee making ritual. The key for me is if La Marzocco can walk the path of offering the features as an alternative that each user can choose to use or not themselves. I may well like to save my brew recipies for different coffees, and I like the idea of turning it on as I get out of bed, but I doubt I’ll set the schedule and I think I’d prefer to stick with a physical dial for setting temperature than unlocking my phone, opening the app, finding the menu option, and changing the setting.
As long as I have the full physical functionality available, then I don’t mind having an app as an option.
Cafe Quality Espresso
If you’re moving up from a cheap (sub $1,000) espresso machine, then you’ll know that the coffee you get at a speciality shop vs what you make at home is very different. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my Gaggia Classic Pro to produce anything near the divine taste that my beautiful Elektra 3 group machine makes at my cafe.
So if your goal is to get the same quality coffee at home as you can get in an upmarket shop, then this will do that for you, as long as you have the skills to get the best out of the machine.
The Brewing Process on the Linea Mini
We already mentioned you get can cafe-quality brews from this machine, but don’t this is not a fully automatic espresso machine, and if you have no barista skills, don’t expect the machine to fix the problems.
If you want quality espresso at the push of a button, you might want to look at some other machines – the La Marzocco is a machine for the enthusiast.
The level of control you have when brewing is reasonable, although not as extensive as its big brother, the GS3. For example, it is not volumetric, meaning you can’t set the machine to stop when it has reached a preset amount of extraction.
There is an automatic pre-infusion stage of about 1 second, which is a little on the low side, but I’m guessing that’s at full pressure as there’s no way to vary the pressure or flow control on this machine.
We liked the fact that it’s possible to adjust the OPV (pressure valve) to increase or decrease the water pressure. It does require removing the top of the machine and using a flat-head screwdriver to turn a screw that sits just on the other side of the PID wheel.
To test the outcome you’ll need a pressure gauge that can fit on your portafilter, but thankfully these easy to find and inexpensive.
One of the nice features of the Linea Mini is the rotary pump, which is a commercial class pump that is quiet, consistent and reliable.
One of the nice features of the Linea Mini is the rotary pump, which is a commercial class pump that is quiet, consistent and reliable.
A pre-infusion time of 5 seconds at a lower pressure would be preferable, and for the price of this machine, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not included.
Water Temperature and Consistency
Setting water temperature is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the brew boiler is a small square stainless steel variant that sits right on top of the head. It’s a simple design that others also such as the Victoria Arduino Eagle One does. The benefit is not only keeping a stable and consistent water temperature from the boiler to the head but also is energy efficient.
Now, if you want to change coffee between brews from dark to medium roast, for example, then you’ll want to change the temperature. With the Linea Mini’s small boiler, you twiddle the temperature dial (as long as you can access it – see below!) and flush the head.
However, the integrated brew group does provide consistency of temperature where it counts – at the brew head, allowing espressos to be pulled in quick succession without fear of big variances so long as the portafilter is also kept warm.
The temperature control dial sits on the bottom left side of the machine, which is a very odd design choice. It’s as if the engineers completely forgot about to do it until the night before the launch and then scrambled to find somewhere to stick.
Not only is it difficult to reach if the machine is against a wall, but you can’t see the setting – so not very useful then! There’s a reason why other manufacturers put an LED on the front – and this is something the GS3 does correctly. Note, that if you’re using the app to set the temperature, there is some reported conflict of using the dial in conjunction with the app. See our app section for more details.
Flow Control and the Paddle
I love analogue controls, and I’m not alone, so La Marzocco designed the Linea Mini with a paddle that you move from right to left to start the brew. You see something similar in the Slayer machines. However, while Slayer uses the paddle to change the flow control by setting the paddle at different stages, the La Marzocco paddle is a cheat – it’s just connected to a digital switch that starts the brewing when activated.
For many, that won’t matter, and honestly, the shots from the Linea Mini are great.
But, as we know, extraction is not a linea process (pun intended). Flavours of speciality coffee become enhanced by controlling the flow at various stages of the extraction – this is why the Decent Espresso machine was built.
The Linea Mini will not give you that level of control, but you will have a lovely paddle, especially if you replace it with a walnut one.
Contemporary Timeless Design
Making a classic and elegant design is so easy to recognise, and yet such an incredibly evasive goal. If it were easy, as they say, everyone would do it.
So the Linea Mini has achieved that goal. No. Yes. Well, it’s a matter of opinion, but maybe 50%. It certainly looks good, but, and this is just my opinion, not great. However, it’s going to look good today, and it won’t look dated in 10 years, and it has pretty much nailed build quality. That means that it’s going to retain those looks for all those 10 years and more.
Build Quality and Maintenance
Steve Jobs of Apple once asked an engineer to show him the internals of their new iMac. When he saw the bundle of cables, he was disgusted and wanted the whole thing redesigned. ‘But Mr Jobs’, the engineer is reputed to have said ‘It’s a sealed machine, nobody will know’. ‘I’ll know’, Jobs retorted.
The La Marzocco is a bit like that. You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the craftsmanship. Look at this valve I found on Amazon. Everything is made in Italy, no doubt by a stubborn fussy Italian engineer. And that’s the way I want it, and the way you should want it too because this translates to a user experience that brings joy every time you interact with it. And isn’t that what life should be about?
The somewhat disgraced philosopher Osho wrote that we should not look for happiness through big achievements, but find it in the mundane everyday small things. This is what the Linea Mini can bring you – the pleasure and appreciation that comes through using a crafted tool for the purpose for which it was created.
One of the problems I used to complain about from La Marzocco was the cost of parts and overall maintenance, but I’ve softened my stance a bit as It’s no different from the German car I drive. I could have bought a cheaper car, but I enjoy driving the one I have, and I’m willing to pay for the increased maintenance because it’s never broken down, and it makes me feel good every time I get in it.
As expensive as parts are for La Marzocco, at least they are available, and the build quality is such that a well-maintained machine will last many years longer than cheaper alternatives might. So, over its lifetime, and considering the resale value of the machine, the cost is lower than it first looks.
Things We’d Change
- Add true flow control – make that paddle functional
- Adjust brew pressure via OPV without taking the machine apart
- Stop the flashing red light when on standby – it’s annoying
- Low water alarm / flashing light. Don’t just stop mid-shot.
Linea Mini Accessories
As standard, you get a decent standard 58mm portafilter, though no brass, which is a shame, but the spouts are removable for cleaning, and it comes with a single, double, triple basket, and a blind, which is great.
The basket is angled so that you can place it on a work surface and it will be level so that you can tamp it. It also has an edge on it so you can choose to rest it up on a table edge if you like.
They throw in a nice milk jug, the obligatory cheaper tamper, some cleaning chemicals, and a water testing kit, which is also thoughtful.
Linea Mini Custom Parts
If you’re going to drop $5k on a machine that makes coffee, you might be in the market for adding some aesthetic details yourself. Out of the factory, you already get to choose between several colours; yellow, red, white, black, stainless steel, and powder blue, and honestly, all of them look good.
Fortunately, there is a healthy aftermarket for customizing your Linea and making it something beautiful. The design is already classic, but replacing some of the plastics with wood turns it into a piece of art. It comes at a price, in the US, you can get it for $785 on the official site here. (Thanks to a reader, Steve for sending us that link).
Plumbing it into the water mains is possible with some customization options you can easily find on the internet. However, it’s not difficult to add water by pulling out the drip tray, then pulling out the water tank right out the front.
One of the nice touches is the drip tray is connected with a magnet so that it doesn’t vibrate noisily when the pump is running.
The Steam Wand on the Linea
This boiler means business. I mean, steaming is possibly one of the strongest points of the Linea Mini, which can be a problem if you’re not used to it. Having a steam wand that goes a bit slower gives the novice time to correct mistakes. The Linea Mini will blow the milk out of the jug if you give it a chance, and it will continue to do so cup after cup. This is a good thing if you’re objective is to make a few milk-based drinks back-to-back.
This ability to pump out steam continuously without stopping makes this a perfect machine for small events where speed matters.
The Linea Mini Vs the GS3
I expect La Marzocco put a severe dent in their sales of the GS3 when they released the Linea Mini, and that’s a shame because I prefer the design of the GS3. I think it’s beautiful and more practical to use, and it has more gadgets, but it’s more complicated, perhaps too much for many home users, and it’s $2,000 more expensive.
The Linea Mini Vs the Victoria Arduino E1 Prima
When the VA E1 Prima came out, they didn’t publicly announce pricing. Some of us expected Victoria Arduino to captialise on the trend to make coffee at home as a result of COVID-related lockdowns.
So when the price came in at a whopping £4,200, pushing it way past the cost of the Linea Mini, we have to conclude that Victoria Arduino is not trying to compete in this space.
The Linea Mini is a machine to aspire to own. To me, the only let down are the temperature dial, and the pretend analogue brew level. I would love to see some flow control options. However, it’s small, beautiful, produces great espresso and is going to last a lifetime if treated well. It’s also going on my Santa’s wish list this Christmas.