A Barista's Review of the La Marzocco GB5 Espresso Machine

European design meets espresso quality consistency with the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. Designed to power high-volume cafes around the world, the machine is known for its endurance and stability—even during the busiest of rushes.

Will the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine be the right fit for your coffee shop?

 
We spoke with Jackson O’Brien, head barista and educator at Peace Coffee, about the GB5’s workflow capabilities, maintenance timeline, and key features. 

The La Marzocco GB5 is a workhorse of an espresso machine outfitted with the technology your baristas need to brew high-quality espresso beverages consistently throughout the day.

After reading our GB5 guide, you’ll know:

  • The espresso machine’s key features (+ how they benefit a coffee shop’s workflow)
  • How the GB5 performs in high-traffic cafes
  • The maintenance timeline to follow to keep your GB5 performing in top shape

An Overview of the La Marzocco GB5

La Marzocco’s GB5 espresso machine debuted in 2005 and was designed by the legendary Piero Bambi. Coffee professionals worldwide flocked to the machine due to its PID-controlled temperature stability; a reputation it maintains to this day. Coupled with its novel design, the GB5 became the standard for coffee shop espresso machines.

However, after several years and new La Marzocco product lines such as the Linea PB, it was time to revamp the GB5’s functionality while remaining true to the machine’s history and aesthetics.

The La Marzocco GB5 S and X were introduced in 2021, merging today’s technology with the storied past and design of the quintessential GB5 machine.

These machines provide coffee shops with critical features such as:

  • Dual boiler — Pull well-extracted espresso shots and steam milk simultaneously, aiding in the efficiency of your coffee bar.

  • Dual PID — The original GB5 was the first to offer PID control of the brew boiler. Today, the GB5 S & X both offer dual PID functionality, allowing coffee professionals to also control the temperature of the steam boiler for the ultimate consistency.

  • Digital display — Through a digital display, baristas can control and monitor shot timers, volume, temperature, and more.

  • Performance touch steam wands — The GB5 S steam wands are double-walled and vacuum-sealed, ensuring a proper temperature and force while remaining cool to the touch. 

  • Auto backflush — Espresso machine cleaning and maintenance is critical to its lifespan and functionality. The auto backflush feature makes it easy for all baristas to keep the machine in prime condition.

  • Ruby flow restrictors — GB5 espresso machines all include ruby flow restrictors, which work to greatly reduce scale formation and erosion within the machine.
  • Available Modifications

    Create the La Marzocco GB5 that best suits your coffee shop’s needs with modifications including:

    Model Size

    Choose from a 2, 3, or 4-group espresso machine.

    Functionality Configurations

    Select from Semi-Automatic (EE), Auto-Volumetric (AV), or AV with Scales (ABR) functionality. 

  • Semi-Automatic (EE) — Baristas must manually start and stop each espresso shot.
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  • Auto-Volumetric (AV) — This feature allows baristas to program the amount of time or volume an espresso shot receives. The machine automatically dispenses the desired amount of coffee.
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  • Auto-Volumetric with Scales (ABR) — This option uses La Marzocco’s patented Auto Brew Ratio technology and scales built-in to the drip tray. Using this feature, baristas can brew each espresso shot by mass, volume, or brew ratio (for example, a 1:2 ratio with 19g of coffee in and 38g of liquid espresso out.)
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    Colors & Finishes

    Match your espresso machine appearance to your brand or interior design. All GB5 machines can request a specific color or finish on the RAL color system.

    Take a look at the latest prices for the La Marzocco GB5 S here.

    A Coffee Professional’s Thoughts on the La Marzocco GB5

    Jackson has extensive experience with La Marzocco GB5 espresso machines. He first worked on a GB5 EE at Bongo Java in Nashville, TN before using a GB5 MP at Peace Coffee’s retail stores and GB5 EE in the company’s training facility. 

    As he puts it, “I’m pretty confident that if you provided me with every part on a GB5 I could construct one from memory.”

    We asked Jackson what first-time machine owners should know before purchasing. 

     

    How do first-time baristas do on the machine?

    “The GB5 is a very good machine to learn on. It has incredible temperature stability, and as a result—if you pay attention to your grind and dose—the machine is going to be very forgiving. The electronics like flow meters and auto-volumetric settings are also consistent for first-time users.

    The steam wands on the older GB5s are not ‘cool touch.’ So for the beginning barista, that’s a lesson you only need to learn once. That said, you can get great latte art out of them so long as the valves are in good shape.”

     

    How does the machine do with large rushes? Average day?

    They are rock solid! The constant temperature stability is a major advantage. The GB5’s have a mix valve that a lot of La Marzocco machines do not, which assists with temperature stability during busy periods. 

    This means the water is being held at a specific temperature for coffee brewing and is sent through a heat exchanger. The water comes in at 175 ℉ and the machine has to only heat the last 25 degrees or so.

    I have never had any problems with the GB5 in a rush.

    Are there any features of the GB5 that contribute to an effective workflow?

    “The temperature stability, reliable electronics, and user feedback in the form of an onboard display (timers, flow meters, etc.) are key. While these are not unique to the GB5, they are the three things I always look for when evaluating a new espresso machine for purchase.”

    How are the machine’s ergonomics for baristas?

    “As with most espresso machines, if you crank a portafilter into a group head in a non-ergonomic way, it will wreak havoc on your wrist over a long time.

    When you turn on the steam valves on a GB5, they open completely before hitting a hard stop. If you keep twisting it, you’ll run into a bolt that keeps it from opening further. There have been times when I’m in the middle of a rush, open the steam wands all the way and feel a little twinge in my wrist because I’ve cranked it all the way and run into that bolt.

    Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways around these problems.”

    What should first-time users know about using this machine?

    “If you have one of the first 7,000 manufactured GB5s with manual paddles, it is important to note that the shot timer does not start until the pump turns on. 

    You can open the valve part-way for pre-infusion and then all the way for the full shot. But the shot timer only kicks on when the full shot is pulling through. This means you’ll need to manually time your shots.

    The amount of time you’re using for pre-infusion will not be counted on your shot timer and that can lead to some inconsistencies on the bar if you’re not manually timing those shots.”

    What is the standard maintenance timeline for the machine? 

    “On top of replacing screens and gaskets quarterly, you want to make sure your steam valves are rebuilt every 12-18 months. You really need to keep on top of valve rebuilds on the GB5s. They get real squirrely if the steam valves wear out. If you’re trying to do it yourself, there’s one bolt that’s really difficult to get to—the bolt you run into when opening the valve all the way—and requires you to put your wrist in a really awkward, painful position.

    Additionally, replacing or cleaning the fill valve needs to happen regularly, especially if you live in an area with hard water.”

    What's it been like implementing repairs without a technician? Is this something the staff can do?

    There are a good deal of GB5 repairs that can be done by an end-user that don’t require a lot of technical know-how, like replacing gaskets and screens. In my experience, for these repairs, it’s way better to spend $5 on a gasket than $100 on a tech visit to do something you can do yourself. Replacing and/or cleaning the fill valve is also user-serviceable and easy to do.

    La Marzocco gives you access to a large knowledge base and then you as an end-user can say ‘I feel comfortable doing this repair’ or ‘I really don’t feel comfortable doing this.’”

    Can you describe some of the common problems you’ve experienced with this machine?

    “I did experience one electronics failure after 5 years, but this is relatively common with consistent use. There are also some internal check valves inside the machine that also started failing around that time. While check valves are cheap, they are not fun to replace.

    The hot water valve can also get stuck open and leak if you live in an area with hard water. Knowing how to take that hot water valve and descale or replace it is a very valuable skill when working with a GB5.

    The flow restrictors can also get clogged in areas of hard water due to calcium deposits. It’s unfortunately very easy to not notice that they’re getting clogged, then all of a sudden one group head is pulling slower than the other. At the end of the day, this is going to affect drink quality. This is also something your barista team will likely not know to look for. 

    So if you’re a manager or technician, keep an eye out for inconsistency between groups as it’s likely calcium buildup in the flow restrictors.

    Lastly, the steam wands will get weird if not cleaned and rebuilt regularly. I’ve experienced where they will close on their own and you’ll see the knob turning back, in the middle of steaming milk. Or, you’ll begin to notice inconsistencies in steam pressure and you’ll need to play with it. And, if not placed back properly or too tight, the steam wand tips can leak pressure and cause milk to be textured improperly.”

    In combination with a quality grinder, how does the espresso pulled and milk steamed from this machine compare to others you’ve used throughout your career? Do any specific machine features contribute to drink quality?

    “The dual-boiler architecture of the machine gives you incredible thermal control of the water, especially with the heat exchanger feeding it. Having that level of consistency is really helpful for brewing quality drinks. The fact that it’ll time the shots and control the temperature means you don’t have to pay attention to it during your bar flow. Those features really make it a fantastic machine.”

    Is there anything else that someone who’s considering buying this machine should know before they commit?

    “Make sure that maintenance is done regularly and you treat the machine right!”

    The La Marzocco GB5: In Review

    When you need a workhorse of an espresso machine with a long lifespan, the La Marzocco GB5 will do the trick. Like all espresso machines, with proper care and thorough barista training, the GB5 will produce perfectly calibrated espresso shots for years to come. 

    Let’s review the pros and cons of the GB5 before you make a decision.

    PROS

    CONS

    • Dual boiler allows for reliable thermal stability, maximizing the barista’s workflow and drink consistency
    • Older GB5 models will require specific and more frequent maintenance, often by a technician
    • Auto-volumetric features and digital display enhance barista productivity during busy shifts
    • Steam wands on the older models are not double-walled or insulated
    • Customizable color finishes, machine size, and functionality configurations to best meet the needs of your shop

     

    • Auto backflush and ruby flow restrictors prolong the lifespan of the machine through ease of cleaning and scale reduction

     

    • Common maintenance needs can be completed by a staff member with access to the La Marzocco resource hub

     


    The La Marzocco GB5 is a rock-solid espresso machine for coffee shop owners interested in a machine that:
     

    • Consistently pulls quality espresso shots, even during the busy weekend rushes
    • Offers productivity-enhancing features such as a shot timer and auto-volumetric extraction
    • Can be repaired by knowledgeable technicians or staff members, when needed


    If the La Marzocco GB5 sounds like the right espresso machine for your café, take a look and contact us to talk to one of our espresso and cafe experts.