Test Drive: Custom Caffeination

Exploring espresso machine modification with Pantechnicon Design.


Photos courtesy of Josh Taves

Custom espresso machines are all the rage right now. With newer and better espresso technology being available to cafés at a rapidly increasing rate, shop owners and baristas want to design the look of their espresso machine to match. An espresso machine is a great tool to use as an obvious aesthetic marker of a shop’s commitment to quality. Several companies are now operating solely in the espresso machine customization market, and over the course of the next few weeks we are going to take a look at what makes each of them tick and who might be the best fit for your next espresso machine customization project.

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Pantechnicon has a complete line of ready-to-order parts available for all the hottest machines including the Linea Mini.

The first company that comes to most folks’ minds when talking espresso machine mods is Pantechnicon Design. Pantechnicon is the brainchild of long-time coffee industry personality and tinkerer Jacob Ellul-Blake. Jacob started modifying his coffee equipment over 15 years ago when he chopped the bottom off of a couple of portafilters for Zoka Coffee Company. We now recognize the bottomless portafilter as a standard piece of equipment, but back then it wasn’t much more than a novelty that Zoka wanted to try out for training purposes.

From there, Jacob had the bug and things started to snowball. “I think the first custom espresso machine I made was a gas-fired, bicycle-powered [La Marzocco] 1-Group with a manual brew valve that I made for my buddy Chris to run down at Burning Man in 2007-ish,” Jacob recalls. “We called it the Slag-o-matic.” Today, Pantechnicon has expanded from “chop-shop”-style work for friends to a full-fledged custom shop. “We offer a huge spectrum of services,” Jacob explains. “We do everything from a basic custom color and a logo to a full built-from-scratch custom body. … We also design and manufacture in-house a few product lines of custom machine accessories. Our Linea Mini product line, for example, has everything you need to make that machine truly exceptional.”

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The place where it all started for Jacob Ellul-Blake: the bottomless portafilter.

Jacob and his crew of employees understand the importance of what they are doing for their customer base. “Our goal is to create a thing of exceptional beauty and quality for our customers that brings them joy when they use it and sparks conversation and connection with their customers,” he says. All of Pantechnicon’s modifications are designed with long-term usage and serviceability in mind, which is a huge selling point for café owners. Jacob tells me, “We not only need to ensure that the machine looks great at install, we also need to design parts and select materials and finishes that will withstand the test of time in a demanding commercial foodservice environment. We know that when your business’s sales depends on having your equipment up and running, failure is not an option.”

Pantechnicon has since grown and expanded their offerings to parts and modifications for machines from La Marzocco, Slayer, Nuova Simonelli, Faema, Rancilio, and Modbar. Jacob also realized that in order to scale up their business, they needed a full line of readily available production parts that allow café owners and technicians to modify their own machines if they so choose. Using their in-house CNC machine shop, Pantechnicon offers a full line of beautiful accessories for the GS/3, Linea Classic, PB, and Mini, KB90, and Strada from La Marzocco, as well as Modbar, Rancilio, Synesso, Nuova Simonelli, and Slayer machines available for order on their website. 

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One of the strengths of Pantechnicon Design is their extensive amount of in-house manufacturing capabilities.

Not interested in modifying your machine yourself? That’s fine because a lot of what Pantechnicon is known for is taking fully custom ideas and bringing them to life, no matter how wild they may be. Whether it is glass, wood, metal, vinyl, lighting, or some other material, Pantechnicon has the ability to make your ideas a reality.

Jacob and his team are doing some truly exceptional work over at Pantechnicon and have some unique offerings to meet the needs of a growing market. Stay tuned for the next installment of our custom shop profiles where we talk with the Espresso Parts Custom Shop about their offerings and abilities in the machine modification market.

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Josh Taves
has been working in the coffee industry since 2006 and has worked as a barista, trainer, QC director, profile roaster, and green buyer. You can currently find him (or not find him) roaming the Rocky Mountains wherever the wind takes him. He is also the inventor of the Rattleware Cupping Brewer and a 2017 United States Barista Championship finalist.

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