Fold Finds - La Cimbali Microcimbali

The coffee scene in London is no doubt on the up since I was last in town. There’s a caffeine induced buzz around ‘good coffee’ that is going some way to undo decades of chain coffee dominance. It’s great to see more awareness and appreciation of coffee in general and even better to see the variety of independent and dedicated businesses popping up across London. That said, these coffee-centric cafes are the exception not the standard so finding a good coffee can still be a challenge.

Without a local go-to for my morning fix, what started out as casual research into home espresso machines grew quickly into hours of trawling coffee forums and blogs, late night BableFish translations and ended with a purchase on Italian eBay. Once I stumbled across the 60’s Italian lever machines there really wasn’t any going back. The Microcimbali, the Arrarex Caravel, the Baby Faema and the Zerowatt Express are all great looking examples of atomic age product design. Having left my classic car resto back in Melbourne, a vintage espresso machine rebuild seemed vaguely justifiable. The Microcimbali narrowly edged out the Caravel through the handy inclusion of a steam wand for foamy milk drinks… although, with the Caravels coming up fairly frequently on eBay the Mirco may have to share some bench space at some point down the line.

These single group hand lever machines were primarily intended for the home espresso market, the commercial machines of that era are in a whole 'nother rare and expensive world of design. With the espresso machine taking a jukebox-like pride of place in cafes across Italy, the manufacturers understood the importance of good design. Beautifully crafted and unique in style. Notable product designers were often enlisted, the Microcimbali for example was designed by acclaimed product designer Joe Colombo. Look up the game changing Faema E61 or 50s-60’s Gaggia machines to get a snapshot of what I’m talking about. Earlier periods of machine design are equally as impressive and reflective of design trends of the time. Evolving from the ornate almost Baroque style of the early 20th century to a more streamlined Deco style through to the atomic chic of the 50’s and 60’s.

With the going price for an E61 at around the £1,500 mark (and way beyond) I’m happy to start off with my modest Microcimbali. It’s in good shape for a fixer-upper - operational but far from usable. Before it comes anywhere near a ground bean I’ll be stripping the whole machine down, cleaning every nook and cranny, seeing to the wiring, removing the years of limescale and replacing all seals from top to bottom. From what I have read and pulled apart so so far it’s a reasonably straight forward and compact unit to restore. Provided I can score myself a bargain on a suitable grinder I’ll be pumping out the home espressos soon enough. Original Content.© All images copyright The Fold.

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