Equipment Review | La Marzocco GS/3 AV

Looking to get a one-group espresso machine for home or pop-up espresso bars? Want to know whether a GS/3 is worth the money? Read on for my 10 cents on the machine.

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La Marzoccos’s Ultimate home espresso machine has quickly become a favourite for coffee businesses around the world looking for increased flexibility with the same standard of build and performance as it’s bigger siblings.

The “GS” stands for its saturated brew group – Gruppo Saturo in Italian.

The “AV” stands for Auto Volumetric.

*There is also a manual paddle “MP” version, which would be a bit more fun if it’s a home machine. However I personally believe anyone who considers themselves a professional barista and sells coffee for a living but opts to pay more for a manual version should #getinthesea. It’s 2016,  time to ditch all the hipster “craft” bullshit and instead focus on learning real science and making tasty coffee consistently.

What’s good?

Build Quality – This a a super solid machine built just to the same standards as any other La Marzocco – as well it should given it’s almost the same price as a 2-group Linea classic.

Steam Wand – I was seriously impressed with the power of this, it’s actually better than any Linea wand I’ve used and is more in line with the Strada steam wand. You can also reprogram the boiler temperature (which changes the pressure) to make it more or less powerful too.

Adaptability – Right now I use this for daily pop-ups, meaning it has to be set-up, torn down, and carried around regularly. You can run it from a small internal reservoir or have it plumbed in – both supply and waste lines. This means this machine could do you for home, mobile and permanent business use. As it stands when we open a shop we’ll probably just get a second one when volume picks up.

Variable Controls – it’s easy to change all the settings on the machine through the digital menu. You can even vary the pressure relatively easily by taking the side panel off, I usually run at 7 bars but if I want to change it only takes a few minutes to adjust.

Resale value – A big reassurance buying this machine is that, as with most La Marzoccos, they have a pretty good resale value. Even Lineas that are 10 years old still fetch half their original purchase price second hand and I can’t see this being any different.

Why did I choose the machine in the first place?

I was looking to get a solidly built espresso machine that was reliable, temperature stable, light enough for one person to carry and had volumetrics. The list of machines that meet this criteria is pretty short, La Marzocco’s GS/3 was really the only sensible choice.

Luckily I managed to find a new and unused GS/3 on eBay that was sold by the disgruntled wife of a man who had bought one without consulting his other half, I feel for the guy but that was a pretty bad move.

What sucks?

The Plastic –  There is a cheap black plastic used on the sides, group-head and steam wand valve. These visually don’t look good and if you tap the sides with anything it makes the sound reminiscent of dropping a Happy Meal toy on the floor. The plastic on the steam wand valve is particularly rubbish since it can unscrew easily and break, which mine has after light use. A premium machine that costs nearly £5k ($7k) should not have parts that feel this cheap, it’s like you’ve bought a Mercedes but they’ve used the dashboard from a cheap hatchback for the interior. I’m obviously not alone in this view since most coffee shops who use GS/3 seem to have had them customised with wooden panels. Check Specht design to see what I mean. La Marzocco offer customers kits too but even as the “base model” the plastic used isn’t good enough for the cost.

Questionable Design/layout choices

  •    Steam Lever – This is placed around 2cm (3/4 Inch) above the drip tray. This makes it a little uncomfortable to toggle on and off and also gets in the way of moving scales or cloths around on the tray. This is something again I’ve seen modified – people have found a way to attach a Synesso type lever to the side of the machine.
  •    Boiler Empty Valve – The opening where you can empty the water out of the boiler, which I do regularly since I move it around, is placed directly above the electrics. Now I’ve never designed an espresso machine but I’d imagine if I did I would want to keep the parts where water pours out away from a source of electricity. Unless you buy a separate pipe to empty the water with you actually have to pout it over the wiring then dry it. This is crazy.
  •    Drip tray – this lifts out from under the machine but does so in quite an awkward fashion. Instead of simply sliding out you have to jiggle it out at an angle similar to lifting out a drawer but it never seems to come out smoothly. It’s now covered in scratches from all the jangling and is a real pain when it’s busy and you just want to empty the tray. [You can plumb in the waste pipe to avoid this though]
  •    The Feet – The machines have four little sicker feet holding it in place. Unfortunately these seem to unscrew themselves easily resulting in, more than once, them coming off and the machine scratching the counter they were on.

Summary

Despite some of the drawbacks I’ve mentioned this is still a great machine and it’s impressive what it can deliver in such a small package. Although it may not be perfect it is definitely the best in its category as can be seen by almost every pop-up bar and low volume shop mentioned on Sprudge having one.

Like many others, I feel it’s time for coffee shops to move away from the traditional size, shape and placement of espresso machines. They’re too big and ugly, creating a barrier between barista and customer which is a major hindrance if we want to communicate what we do to as many people as possible. The rise of under counter machines such as Mavam and Modbars is exciting but I worry about getting these options serviced. My current plan based on the performance and reliability of the GS/3’s is to build a bar around them so they are hidden, similar to what Proud Mary have done below.

aunty pegs proud mary coffee roasters melbourne australia sprudge

What do you think will be the future of bar design, and will a GS/3 be your go to option or have you seen something I’ve missed?

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