Goodbye “push button” espresso at Starbucks: The Simonelli has arrived
It’s Monday November 29, 2010, and while I happily sat in a courtroom all day, one Starbucks in Seattle got something that no Starbucks (other than 1912 Pike Place) has seen in several years: A semi-manual espresso machine requiring baristas to hand tamp the espresso! As it turns out … what incredible luck … a dear friend of mine happened to go into her neighborhood Starbucks today, and immediately saw this shiny new Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. She recognized it as something I would be interested in, and soon was sending me a couple of pics.
Here is the Nuova Simonelli website, for those interested.
What does this really mean for Starbucks? I have no idea. All I know is that it is very cool. Obviously, this is an extremely small and limited test. I haven’t had a chance to get to this store in Seattle. Might be the weekend before I have time. If anyone else has seen this machine or knows about it, please pass on the scoop. One fun thing about a machine where beans are hand-tamped, it means that beverage possibilities can be more creative. One could possibly use more than just Starbucks Espresso Roast, and it is possible to pull a “cubano” shot too (the espresso is hand-tamped with sugar directly over the espresso).
When I saw the photos I received via email, I recognized the machine as being just like the one I have seen at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea recently. Looks like a great machine.
The floor is yours. Please keep in mind that Starbucks tests a great many foods, beverages, ideas, products, and concepts that never launch nationally!
Edit on November 30, 2010: Just a few quick definitions relating to Starbucks equipment brand names:
- Mastrena – This is a fully automatic espresso machine. It pulls a high quality shot and is still being rolled out nationwide but most stores have one now.
- Verismo – Also a fully automatic espresso machine found in some Starbucks stores.
- Clover – This is a coffee brewer. It is a special single cup brewer of coffee, producing a cup of coffee in a method like an upside down French press.
- La Marzocco – This is a manual espresso machine. At one time it was common at Starbucks, now you have to visit 1912 Pike Place Starbucks to see this historic machine in use at a Starbucks.
- Nuova Simonelli – A manual espresso machine. I’ve heard on twitter that this is the chosen brand of machines for barista competitions. ?
I imagine that this would be difficult during busy times. With that being said, this is still something that I would love to see in more quieter locations.
I kind of have mixed feelings about the Simonelli. While I loved the days when I felt like a real artisan barista on the La Marzocca, I also remember how badly my wrists hurt after sometimes having to tamp quite forcefully. Hopefully, the espresso tastes as amazing with the Simonelli as it did with the La Marzocca. That might make the tender wrists worth it!
I’d love it if that could be rolled out to more stores! You hit the nail on the head with options like the Cubano. Hand-tamping the espresso would open up more options. Although I agree, I have a hard time seeing how this would scale to Starbucks’ current volume!
I’ll keep my fingers crossed though!
i had been wondering about the push button espresso makers at starbucks and now a sort of roll back to a hand crafted espresso 🙂 this machine sounds fun and maybe they are looking for a sort of balance with fast service and quality product. I know i like the coffee at 15th ave though so far ive only had pour overs…i think i need to see how a latte is from this new machine. Hmmm 🙂
With the volume my store does I would be really scared about having to hand tamp, I’ve done it at home and like it but people complained enough when we switched to the new drink system, I don’t think most people would like the new options in place of the speed. Not to mention my wrist would hurt 🙂
Well, I am all for trying new things and variation….good for Starbucks.
Starbucks always pursues high qualities, I want to praise the style. (Including partner’s technology)
sometimes i would like to ask,
when did the last time they clean up that machine?
i mean the one here at my place.
At least the baristas at my favorite independent shop in Terre Haute wouldn’t be able to say Starbucks baristas aren’t real baristas anymore! Their claim was that Starbucks baristas aren’t real baristas because they get their espresso just from pushing a button.
but i don’t care either we called them baristas, Easter bunny or partners.As long as they made good coffee and serve me with smile…no problem at all..we treat each other with respect..
Ok my question is how does this new machine differ from the Clover? Does this mean if the test is a success, they are getting rid of the clover? Can stores have both machines? Seems like SB is doing alot of testing of things of late? My imagination or not?
I have not seen ths anywhere BUT I know for sure I remember where I was when I first tasted the new push-bottm shots :((( (early 2000?)
I long for the manual shots again….maybe this is as close as some places may get?
I know, the carpol tunnel problem etc. But the baristas I know, who did it for yrs., say they would do it again in a minute to have “real” shots again.
Intelligentsia manages to keep the manual shots, happily…but they also are not willing to expand into all the 1000 other areas that Sbux has.
@purple1 the Simonelli and the Clover are 2 totally different machines. The Simonelli pulls espresso shots, while the Clover (kind of an upside down automatic French press) makes a GREAT cup of coffee.
I can’t really seeing Starbucks putting this kind of machine (the Simonelli) in every store. It just wouldn’t be practical. It’s time consuming and an art form. I’ve had shots from the Simonelli (not one at Starbucks) and the espresso was so caramely sweet you could drink it straight up– the way I like mine.
Oh the pleasant memories of a real hand-crafted espresso (insert dreamy gaze).
The Simonelli will separate the Real-Baristas (a rare and vanishing breed) from the fast-food-baristas (that are all too common today).
I will agree that the “old” “manual” process takes more effort and “muscle”. However (ducking thrown shoes), if you are hurting yourself making espresso you are doing it wrong (just as any activity/sport/work done wrong).
Melody, once again you have brought us some very interesting news. Thank you.
@purple1 – There are quite a few comments in this thread that I want to address but I definitely need to reply to you. I definitely do NOT think that there are more tests now than ever before at Starbucks. In fact, I think there may be fewer tests than ever before in the company’s history. I think the only thing that is now different is that there is a place to go read about all of them!! Before blogs who wrote about tests? And actually, I don’t think there has ever been a “Starbucks melody’ blog before! 😉
Melody thanks for your response and I totally agree with what you are saying. And there can’t be another starbucks melody blog like yours! How can anyone match the great blog you have created with outstanding info and great community! Re the tests at various stores- I still wonder how they pick the region or the store to do the test in? Certainly, in my area I see very few tests. Thanks Meldoy.
Wow this is so exciting!!!
My local Starbucks was the last in the Chicago area to lose the La Marzocco, and it was a sad day. The Mastrenas are definitely better than the Verisimos, but that’s like saying VIA is better than Maxwell House. It’s still not the best, and it’s making down market comparisons. I expect the best from the Siren. Here’s hoping some of these show up in the Chicago area soon. (I miss Cubanos).
P.S. I *really* like the new Christmas Espresso blend. Looking forward to BOGO Thursday!
One of my favorite baristas pulled me aside and was going through the 12 Days of Sharing planner with me. I was trying to figure out which of the three “bean days” was better, but after thinking about it think BOGO Thursday is. (I turn my brain off at lunch hour.)
I would LOVE this.
I would happily go to Starbucks without complaint. 🙂
I hate the “push-button” aspect of S*bux. Love the control over the hand tamping, and making sure the shot comes out perfect, etc. So what if the drink takes a bit longer. 😉
You are my favorite person today! I saw “goodbye push button espresso” on your tweet- and had the biggest smile on my face!
Now.. I guess just wait to see how it goes over!
WOW! I wanna a)have a double tall latte, please. b) go see how they handle rushes c) install 3 of those in my store d)get more info about their decision behind this, and how customers respond.
Hm. So very interesting…
1. This is most definitely a “limited test”. That is to say, someone in the Coffee/Bev department had a “what if” moment and managed to convince their boss to sign off on plunking a traditional* (*see my note at the end) espresso machine in a Starbucks. That being said, the idea is not totally irrational.
The biggest roadblock in the use of a traditional machine is the espresso preparation itself; many mainstream manufacturers (including Simoneli) offer auto-steam and auto-foam options on their steam wands similar to those on Starbucks’ proprietary designs. The hand-tamping created problems with consistency and physical strain on baristas. Close examination of the photo reveals an interesting, but logical choice: the Mythos Grinder. (see here)
The Mythos is a very fast grinder, capable of grinding a dose’s worth (approx 14 grams) of coffee in a few seconds. You’ll notice the large handle on the front of the machine; that is the tamper. The entire process takes less than 10 seconds (see here) Could this truly be integrated into the beverage repeatable routine? I think so, yes. Why the push towards using only one singular machine at a time? Why only two drinks at a time? Makes it simpler, no? Well, here’s the punch line. It just might be getting a little more complicated….. I’m excited.
(*The industry usually uses the terms “manual”, “semi-automatic”, “automatic”, and “superautomatic” to refer to espresso machines. The Verismo and Mastrena are both technically classified as “superautomatic” since the entire espresso preparation takes place in an enclosed environment and is done entirely by the machine. Both semi-automatic and automatic machines utilize removable portafilters that must be filled with ground coffee or pods and re-attached in order to brew. The only difference is that automatics utilize a flowmeter to monitor the amount of water passing through the grouphead to determine when to “stop the shot”. Semi-autos require constant monitoring of the shot progression by the barista who determines when to stop the extraction. Manuals are in an entirely different category altogether as they utilize springs and levers pulled by the barista to exert the pressure needed in espresso extraction.)
@CampSpi – I don’t think I have been in this store for at least a full year. It’s always slow when I’ve been in. This is a slow store, as far as I know. In any event, this is a store where I had had a barista who was one of many who saw no point to brew on demand, and it was Pike Place Roast or the highway, so I stopped going to this store.
You HAVE to update us on if they are going to install any more of these! Sounds great! On an awesome note, my regular Starbucks made me a french press of the christmas espresso roast last week so I could sample it. I thought that was so great of them and I now know I enjoy that roast more than the regular Christmas Blend.
@Jacob – thanks for your post – very informative. And KUDOS to the person who had the “what if” moment and managed to enlighten their boss – very exciting possibility here…
OMG remember when it would rain and someone wanted a decaf quad long americano…. even with 3 groupheads that would make my soul shiver… There was a dent in our counter from the tamping and i won’t lie i loved when i would backflush the machine.
memory lane could be the future. Cross our fingers on the test.
This is my home sbux and they have always been very quick in my experience. I was surprised when I ordered a drink from the new machine on it’s very first day and the same barista who did the cash register made my drink and had it up for me at the register before I had wandered over to the pick up counter. So, maybe it won’t slow em down after all. It was delicious too!
THIS is what I’m talkin’ about! I miss the La Marzocco SO MUCH! Hopefully, the Nuova Simonelli ends up replacing the Verisimo’s & the Mastrenas @ ALL SBUX.
It used to be such a fulfilling & rewarding feeling to tamp your own espresso! Everything was manually done & the quality of the beverage, solely, depended on YOU: Place the portafilter handle underneath the grinder, pull lever twice for regular espresso, TAMP, load portafilter into spout, pull shots, make the drink, knock portafilter on the knock-box to dump the used espresso grounds, rinse portafilter… you felt SO accomplished & proud after each drink you’ve made!
When the digital machines came out, suddenly, it started to feel impersonal to make drinks. Speed-wise, it may affect to be slower for some (@ first) Personally, I believe it’s a matter of getting-used-to. I mean, we ROCKED the La Marzocco in the past & there wasn’t an issue w/ time then-I don’t see why we can’t rock it the same way NOW! 😀
I really hope this Nuova Simonelli takes over! It always felt like you were putting on a show when making drinks w/ La Marzocco. You were ALWAYS on the move, left to right, right to left, tamp tamp, knock knock, all of the sounds & essences of making espresso drinks @starbucks… I believe THESE are the sounds that customers were accustomed to hearing, while waiting for their drink, FEELING & KNOWING that they were about to receive a true, personal, QUALITY beverage. =]
Chris Claud Day
In the UK we have a massive issue around barista’s being ‘button pushers’ mainly from our competitors who use semi-automatic machines still. However I have been a firm believer that the reason Starbucks have these is to increase speed and consistency so to that end I would say that these new machines go against their forward thinking.
When my store changed from a Verismo to a Mastrena there was annoyance due to the extended shot pour time which genuinely slowed down people making drinks and reduced the drinks made per hour (went from around 120/130 to 95/105). A simple change, but quite a difference). However the Mastrena does provide better shot quality flavour wise and consistency wise. These new machines if ever rolled out nationally/globally would have to hit stores where there was lower revenue as I really think the extra time needed to grind on demand would affect busier locations.
Thankfully only around 25% of stores in the UK have Mastrenas at the moment, so we would never get this for another 3/4 years, but still a very interesting concept to go back to ‘the roots’ of espresso preparation.
@camspi – I know you weren’t addressing me… but the local coffee shop I used to go to had what they called a “dance” that helped when they got in a rush. Was kinda neat to watch actually. Was just the rhythm of how they got the drinks put together.. and if they did it right, there really wasn’t a pause from one person doing syrups, to the person doing the espresso shot, and the milk etc. It’d flowed pretty seamlessly when done right. Can’t find any vids anywhere though.
@Riki – I remember walking into a Starbucks and hearing a consistent whack whack sound at regular intervals and I miss that! I think it was the sound of baristas thumping grounds out of a portafilter.
@Kelli – Glad your drink was delicious!
@jacob – I appreciate the help with all the terminology. That has always confused me! I love your description of a “what if” moment because that probably is what happened! hahaha!
On the whole, I would like to see this idea as part of some kind of limited segmentation of stores. There already is some stores with Clovers and some not, and Starbucks has learned the lesson that regional offerings can work (Starbucks moon cake?). Have a store per every few districts that has one these and make it part of a plan where baristas compete to work there? Well, I was twittering with someone last night bouncing that idea around, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all to use equipment like this as part of a platform of store segmentation in experience.
Wow, what a great conversation in the comments here. It just goes to show you why starbucks is testing so many things. We are changing as a culture here in the states and I think someone at starbucks really understands that.
At my store here we still have 2 Verismo machines and are not due for an upgrade any time soon. I often work at a store that has 2 of the new machines and I have to admit the shots taste different but I don’t know if I have a real preference.
Also, Mel how do I get my picture next to my posts?
Does anyone know the effect of DT stores with the use of this new machine? I work a DT and having that constant thought of “what are my times” has gotten to many very good baristas. I wish that someone would sit howard down and ask him the hard question about DT stores. I know it’s good for profits, and I know we can and do serve our customers well in the Dt, but the bigger question is what has done for the brand? I hear these comments from Seattle saying we are focused on quality and not speed but then I’m told by people in my store that if it takes longer then 3 minutes to get an order out the window no matter how many drinks are in that order that your to slow.
Christopher off the main topic a bit but one of your comments stood out to me- Do you really think SB understands the customer and culture of today? Sometimes I really wonder if this is true. Based on the stores around here, I am not sure.
@Christopher – Cycling back to the idea of “segmentation” … this means within a brand there are stores segmented off for a different kind of experience. I doubt you will _ever_ see a Simonelli in a DT store. The _only_ way this will ever be scaleable is to do it as part of a plan to create a segmented Starbucks experience, and have stores with a unique model of Clover + Simonelli, in a cafe only.
Good god this is wonderful news. Call me sentimental if you like, but from a selfish perspective, I really (really, really) want to grind my own espresso again. First of all, I think I can do a better job than an automatic machine, more often than not. And furthermore, shallow though it may sound, using a detachable portafilter makes one look the part of a barista that much more. And that matters to me.
I’m a 4months old novice barista in Korea..lol =)
Is it true that La marzocco is the ‘historic machine’ in the US？
wow..actually we use this machine now..in Korea.
but some stores are changing their machines too..
@Christopher – hey go register at gravatar.com in order to get a little profile image associated with your posts here.
@Jenny Kim – Welcome to the blog! I know that there are a limited number of La Marzoccos still in use in Starbucks in international markets. I’ve heard there are still some in the Philippines too. I think it is awesome you have it at your store, and I hope you don’t lose it any time soon to the Mastrena. In the United States, however, you can ONLY find a La Marzocco at a Starbucks if you are visiting the first store at 1912 Pike Place, in Seattle. (Inside Pike Place Market).
Wow! Manual machines. I’m completely torn. I totally believe that for our “elite” customers wanting that “coffee experience”, these need to be in those stores, along with the Clover. However, since most of Starbucks customers appear to not really want to TASTE the coffee, hence the excessive ordering of Venti stirred/melted Caramel Macchiatos with extra EXTRA caramel. I think the busier locations would struggle with the manual machines.
As for speed, most of Starbucks customers want to get in & out. They are drinking their coffee during their commute, etc. Are they truly enjoying their coffee? Do they even care, or are they using their coffee to inject caffeine into their bodies.
Because of their customers, Starbucks has long set the expectation of speed, quality, and connection. Well, as most people have heard, PICK 2, you can’t have all 3. In my local indy shop, it is not uncommon for me to wait 5 minutes for my cappuccino when I am the only person there. When they are “busier”, I have waited 10-15 for a REALLY GOOD cap. With Starbucks 50+ million weekly customers, I’m sure most aren’t willing to wait for the quality that time can take. But I will. My coffee is not for my body, it is for my soul.
…just my 2 beans
For those who want to know and haven’t found out, the machine is most likely (and I’m almost 100% positive) a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia. This machine was first marketed in ’07 I believe, and has been showcased repeatedly by the World Barista Competition as the best semi-automatic espresso machine on the market. I’ve never worked at a Starbucks, but I’ve worked on the machine that was once the Starbucks Verismo (now known as the Schaerer Ambiente) as well as the Aurelia.
Hands down, the Aurelia is astounding. It’s the Cadillac of espresso machines, and I’m thrilled that Starbucks is at least experimenting with manual machines again. I don’t think this should/will ever be a chain-wide rollout due to the extra time a manual machine requires, but this would be a fantastic addition to slower stores that don’t necessarily need the workhorse Mastrena fueling it’s beverage line. Interesting. Thanks for sharing this!
Wow! I want this at my store! I hate making drinks by pushing buttons. It makes my job seem too simple. We always say bar drinks are handcrafted. But I hardly think so, when our ESPRESSO beverages are made by hitting a button! I want to work with a manual machine, it’s so much more meaningful.
I’ve worked on a Verismo before…and let me tell you, it wasn’t fun. It was automatic, but only to a certain extent (didn’t have set temps for X-hot or kids), you had to have a thermometer in there, and with the rinsing/steaming, you couldn’t purge your wand and steam at the same time.
I am so excited for these machines, even though I work in a very high volume store!
Chronic post! I can’t tell from the pictures if same store but in Wedgwood at my ‘home’ Starbucks, they also have a Nuova Simonelli! I noticed it late last week at first and also wondered what happened to the other standard machine. Was just there and the line was to the entrance (busy), but wait was not long at all. Like at U-Village, cashiers take your order while in line so that by the time you pay for the drink its almost ready! This is a cool location with Fireplace and comfy seats for my kids to hang out on. Fwiw, Top Pot & Grateful Bread were jam packed as well!
This would be amazing! I too worked at a previous job without the knowledge and passion I now have and miss it.
As to handcrafted beverages, I respectfully disagree that they are simple and easy because of manual machines. If that were the case, ever drink would be perfect every time, and that simply is not the case. You still have to do your job well. Good meringue like foam is not something that just happens for example. It still takes a skilled barista who cares about their job.
@DadCooks, @CABarista @EdgardoB –
@DadCooks – I am sorry that it has taken me so long to write back to you. I have heard from a former SSC partner that the push to automatic machines was really about rapid expansion of Starbucks, and that there were almost no claims of wrist injuries. I don’t know if that is true, but I agree with you that if you are well trained, doing it right, and taking breaks, you shouldn’t injure yourself.
@CABarista – I don’t think for a minute that the current barista’s job at Starbucks is simple. I do think that the possibility of hand tamped espresso raises the bar to a new level, and creates a world of opportunity at Starbucks.
@Edgardo B – Thanks for dropping by the blog! Hope you’ll visit some of the other posts. I am not sure what you meant by “Chronic Post” but I liked hearing your feedback on the store, and hope you’ll post again updating us on how this test is going at your local Starbucks. I believe a second Starbucks in Seattle gets one of these machines soon, and so I am going to try and make a point of stopping by that store either tomorrow, or Tuesday morning.
I wasn’t referring to anything you said Melody. You’ve even told me in the past how amazed you are at how fast we have to be. I should have been more specific and said I was answering stsai01. sorry to be confusing!
im a barista at a store that has the verismo machines (which i really dont’ care for) there are a few store near where i live that have the mastrena’s i think these are great! i think they are easier to use and the shots taste so much better! hopefully we will get mastrena’s sometime in the near future!
Hi Kate! I hope you get Mastrenas soon too! I have a colleague who several years ago used to say how he hated Starbucks espresso, and he started going back after the Mastrenas came around. I haven’t seen a Verismo in Western Wash in a long while. He drinks just a ‘doppio’ – Straight hot espresso, and he loves the Mastrena.
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Before I worked at Starbucks, I worked at a Barnes and Noble Cafe. My favorite thing about the store were the semi- manual espresso machines. Unfortunately at that time I did not have the same passion for coffee and flavor as I do now, nor my vast knowledge and skill level of quality tasting beverages. I would absolutely love to work on one again. I think there is an art form to the way coffee use to be made before push-buttons.
Can’t wait to see updated pictures from your visit!