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From Inside Peloton: Rocket Espresso

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I love Instagram. I never would have heard of Rocket Espresso in Milan if it weren’t for Instagram. It started last fall with a picture – Orica-GreenEdge’s Christian Meier visited this company I had never heard of in Italy that made espresso machines – Rocket. The machines in the picture were lined up in seemingly endless rows, all bright and shiny and beautiful. I commented, then went to the Rocket feed for some investigatory stalking. A minute later, the inevitable conclusion followed – that looks cool. After that, the idea wasn’t long in coming – we should visit.

Words & Images: Jered Gruber

Of course, if I wrote down all the ideas we have between Ashley and myself for places and people and companies and restaurants and roads we want to visit, we could fill up a thousand pages. Who can’t? For some reason though, Rocket Espresso happened. Maybe it was the fact that we spend a lot of time in Northern Italy, maybe it was the prospect of learning more about those machines, maybe it was the memory of all those shiny, mirror finish machines that drew me in like a moth to light. I don’t really know, but I’m glad it happened.

You’d think from all of this that I’m a coffee nut, or maybe I got a fancy new espresso machine out of all of this. I’m not, and I didn’t. I feel bad even writing this, because I’m such a meh drinker of the dark brew. I drink in social situations or when I’m near death, falling asleep at the wheel. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never turn down a cup, but I won’t go out of my way for one. I just don’t cherish the bean. But man, I want one of those machines. I think I could take up espresso drinking as a major hobby just to have one of them.

Isn’t that a mark of something truly covetable – you want it, even though you don’t need it in the slightest? I can’t imagine what the feeling would be like if I were into espresso. The machines are flat out gorgeous. Would it be wrong to hang one from the wall?

Back to Rocket: In recent years, I’ve noticed something – I’m a sucker for people who really, really love what they do. I find myself drawn to them. I just want to be around them and listen to all they have to say about what they love, what they do. It’s my favorite thing when a person not only does their thing well, but they love it. Andrew Meo is one of those people. Andrew is one of the co-owners of Rocket. He, along with fellow Kiwi business partner, Jeff Kennedy, bought the old company, ECM, when it was in hard times. Together with the old owner’s son, Daniele Berenbruch, the trio have resurrected the company and turned it into a leader in the business.

It’s plainly obvious that the tall cyclist loves all things coffee. He brightens as we walk into the main assembly area. I know he’s given this tour many times before, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it in the slightest, nor does he seem bothered by our patently rookie questions.

We apologize for being such Philistines in a holy sanctuary for those that worship the bean, but he doesn’t seem even slightly perturbed, only motivated to educate, perhaps even convert, the uninitiated.

His knowledge, his enthusiasm, everything, it’s exciting. He’s a coffee dork – and I say that in the best way. It started with a disappointing first espresso machine that Andrew purchased many years ago. Once he found the initial device lacking, the quest began, which of course, led to an interest in all things coffee. Not one to go in half-heartedly, Andrew went on to roast coffee, train baristas, and help with the set-up of cafes. To say that the man is qualified is stating the obvious; to say that he’s passionate about it, is to do it again.

Watch out for people like Andrew. They kick ass at what they do. And as Andrew describes the Rocket machines, I realize – he’s building his dream machines. Every little piece of it is designed to be just right – the way he imagines the perfect machine should be. No expense is spared, no corners are cut, the machines are the best – they’re gorgeous to look at, and they make a mean cup of espresso.

But why Rocket? Why not any number of other brands? It’s the little things: handmade, small production, aesthetics, attention to detail, proper design, not design based on margins, which Andrew admits would be a better business model, for making money. In the end though, there’s a lot of lesser product out there, so Rocket has committed to producing the finest machines possible, without plastics, with real, solid materials, with the intention that the finished product will last longer than any other appliance in your kitchen – and it will look good to boot. And if you’re a cyclist, it’s hard not to throw your chips in with a former racer who tried to cut it in Italy in the 80s. Is it wrong to say that? Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel a little bit more at ease around a stranger who rides bikes. You ride bikes? Ah cool, we’re going to get along just fine.

Andrew’s idea of the perfect espresso machine isn’t too far off from what the perfect bike should be: “We want our machines to be desirable and coveted, rather than being just another appliance in the home, and that can happen once people start producing espresso at home, which when they learn how to do it correctly, is far better than what they get at their local cafe.”

It’s not the machine though, he warns. You can give a person the perfect bean, the perfect machine, the perfect everything, but if they’re no good at the actual process of converting bean to grounds to espresso, it’s hopeless. Conversely, if you give a qualified person a mediocre machine and mediocre beans, he can still make a good cup.

It’s in a moment like this, where Andrew wants to say ten things at the same time, but has to take a deep breath and decide where to start. He takes a step back.

“Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world – behind only oil – and it might be the least understood.”

What’s to understand? In a word, everything. Take two drinks: wine and coffee. The thing about wine is that the wine maker pours the wine into a bottle, puts a cork in it, and barring anything barbaric and a few little bits of attention to detail, you can enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Now, think about espresso. The bean is grown and harvested, then it’s roasted, then it’s ground, and finally, it makes the jump from solid to liquid. Every step of that process, there are pitfalls, but none are as potentially hazardous as the final step: pulling the cup. It sounds like a dream the way Andrew describes it – he lights up at the idea of the perfect cup. It’s not simple, it’s not easy, and most can’t do the job correctly. If you’re in a cafe with a number of people operating the machine and tamping the grounds, you can almost be assured you’re not getting an ideal cup.

“Perfect espresso is made with passion. I don’t believe there are many baristas capable of producing great coffee, who are not passionate about what they do. Great espresso is about understanding the preparation and keeping to a few very simple rules. A good barista is chasing the flavor of the coffee, striving to get that elusive, perfect espresso.”

From Issue 31 of peloton. Buy it HERE.