The Mavam UCEM espresso machine looks unlike any espresso machine you have ever seen. When it was released, coffee executives from Japan and Europe flocked to a garage in Seattle to see its unveiling.
At Conduit Coffee Company on Westlake Avenue, you can see one in the wild. Two blue columns and some metal wands rise above the counter. Conduit owner Jesse Nelson told me over the whirling burr of a coffee grinder that the machine's water lines are temperature controlled in three places and the whole machine can be worked on by turning a couple of screws.
"They're built aesthetically, for the customer-service aspect, but it's also just a total workhorse," Nelson said.
Conduit isn't a coffee shop. It's a small-batch coffee roasting operation that delivers beans by bicycle (check their delivery area online at conduitcoffee.com). But they have an open house every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., where baristas sling espresso drinks—for free.
Nelson pulled a shot of Conduit's Loco- focos blend. It had a well-rounded body and the flavor of toasted nuts and cinnamon. Before I could request another shot (I could drink 50 of these), Nelson made me a latte. He explained that Espresso Vivace's David Schomer helped design the frothing wand. The milk in the resulting cup of coffee had that perfect microfoam texture (I could drink 100 of these).
The UCEM is one of a wave of Seattle-made espresso machines sweeping the world. Companies like Mavam, Slayer, and Synesso are designing and fabricating some of the industry's most sought-after espresso machines, and thanks to our proximity to these businesses, you can taste the future of espresso without leaving the city limits.
One of Seattle's only public Slayer espresso machines can be found at Squirrel Chops, a cafe on Union and 23rd. The machine is a thing of beauty, with "X" supports and the overall appearance that every part was made by hand (because it was). Cafe co-owner Shirley Henderson said she's had people come in and remark that they built this handle or that support.
Henderson pulled a shot for me that was silky and sweet, with the aroma of lemons.
The machine, which (like Mavam's UCEM) costs around $20,000, gives baristas extreme precision over how the brewing water interacts with the ground coffee. Henderson said it was like having a hot rod that functioned as dependably as a Civic.
Henderson's wife, Sharon Blyth-Moss, who runs a hair salon out of the other half of the space, quipped, "It's a very typical thing for Shirley to find the most expensive option possible."
The manufacturer Slayer Espresso has earned critical acclaim since its factory opened in Georgetown in 2009. The company was recently acquired by one of the world's largest coffee equipment manufacturers, Italy's Gruppo Cimbali.
The local espresso industry can be traced back to one Seattleite: Kent Bakke, who worked as an importer for the Italian La Marzocco espresso machines and convinced Starbucks to start buying them in 1984. Before Bakke, Starbucks mostly just sold beans, not drinks. Eventually, Bakke opened a La Marzocco production plant in Ballard. It has since closed, but some of his employees went on to help start local espresso machine makers Slayer and Synesso.
Seattle is a lucky coffee town because of it.