Interview with Henk Langkemper

by Simone Forgia, Claudio Santoro

Henk Langkemper with his collection of lever espresso machines

Hi Henk, you are one of the most famous people among the lever machine enthusiasts so you probably need little introduction, but tell us how you got into this world and how your career started.

I started to work in the coffee machine industry about 35 years ago. I worked for a company who sold Vibiemme espresso machines first, after about 4 years I launched my own company, Espresso Service West. Everything started on October 1st 1990 with me and Ben Goedendorp selling primarily Wega espresso machines and various brands of coffee in The Hague.

How many machines are in your collection and when did you start collecting them?

In my collection are approximately 200 machines, bar models and domestic models. The first machine I bought was about 30 years ago. I also have 80 coffee grinders, a Faema Cold record bar and many things which were used in an espresso bar in the fifties and sixties.

On what criteria do you choose the pieces to add to your collection? Do you also have recent models? 

I buy machines for various reasons, like for the brand, the model, the look, I just get driven by my passion. I don’t need a reason to buy one, when I see a rare machine I would always try to buy it, not all machines are from the fifties or sixties; I also have models from the seventies and the eighties, like a La Marzocco GS or Linea first series. I bought a Lapera machine some months ago, for my collection.

What kind of commercial requests do you receive for your collection? Do you often rent out pieces for events or film sets?

I don’t receive many requests, I think people know I don’t rent machines and like to have them always with me, but I did an exhibition during the World Barista Championship in Amsterdam in 2018. I have been contacted by the Specialty Coffee Association for this occasion and it was a great moment for me even though I brought "only" 25 machines to Amsterdam. 

If you had to go to a desert island, carrying with you only one machine, which one would you choose? Why?

I think the La Marzocco Rondine, the first unit. This machine was very hard to find, and it looks fantastic. I have been looking for it for more than 15 years! Anyhow, many others are also special for me.

What is instead the piece that you are still missing but would very much like to have?

One machine that is still missing from my collection is a Micro Marzocco. This machine is special because there were no documents about and was neither indeed produced. Only recently, one of the very rare prototypes was accidentally found in a house.

Micro Marzocco prototype

Micro Marzocco prototype

When it comes to restorations, do you prefer to keep a machine as original as possible or replace some parts with more modern ones if the safety and functionality are improved?

This is a very difficult question, I like the idea of keeping it original but if you restore a machine it can also be beautiful. When parts are missing, a restoration sometimes makes it easier to bring it back to its former glory.

This discussion is endless, my collection is a mix of all I can find. An original machine tells a story. 

What do you use at home to make your coffee in the morning? 

I only drink coffee at home during the weekends, now I use a Lapera DS lever machine and a La Marzocco GS1 paddle group. I also try vintage domestic machines from various brands sometimes.

In the world of lever machines, is there something you think is still missing?

I don’t know the answer to this question but new machines are coming up quickly now, like the machine from Odyssey Espresso. I think a lot of things are happening again, if you compare it to ten years ago for example.

Are you of the opinion that vintage machines are also suitable for light roasted specialty coffees or were they designed when coffees were all oily blends with robusta and therefore not suitable for coffees other than those?

I think you can for sure have nice results with lighter roasts but I always use dark roasted coffees for the early machines. The La Marzocco Leva is a good example of a new lever machine which adapts very well to the specialty coffee market.

Among the brands you are an importer of, you are very close to La Marzocco; how would you describe this company?

I am lucky to have been able to work with them for several years. La Marzocco really wants to produce the best espresso machines, all the way. I can talk days about all what happened during the years we worked together. Guido Bernardinelli is a brilliant CEO and he made it all happen.

Henk with a Marzocco Rondine and a Marzocco KB90

Henk with a Marzocco Rondine on the left and a Marzocco KB90 on the right

Would you ever implement a vintage lever espresso machine in a modern-day bar?

I would not do this because those customers need a very quick seven days per week service. There are however a couple of companies in the Netherlands that do these kinds of things, so some really old Faema E61 machines are in the Dutch market.

When you are approached by baristas who want a coffee machine, what are the characteristics they pay most attention to? And what instead do you think they do not consider enough?

Every customer has different needs, so I make an interview with each customer, visit the premises and from there we can talk about an offer. The setup is the most important thing, but the water treatment and the training part also receive a lot of interest.

In conclusion, what advice would you give to someone who would like to start collecting lever machines nowadays? 

Just follow your heart and try to buy what you like.