If you follow any of the world’s best cyclists on Instagram, you’ll no doubt be very familiar with Rocket Espresso, because the glistening chrome of their exquisite espresso machines can regularly be seen popping up in the feeds of the peloton’s fastest stars. They can also be found adorning the counter-tops of classy coffee shops around the world, and in the homes of the most sophisticated caffeine aficionados.
For anyone not acquainted with the brand, here’s a quick introduction. The brainchild of a New Zealander and an Italian, Rocket produces some of the finest espresso machines in the world, all made by hand in a factory in Italy that combines generations of experience with the latest technological advances. They are famous for build quality, attention to detail, being very pretty … and for consistently delivering unbelievably tasty cups of roasted goodness (obviously).
We’ve been fans for a while, so we thought it was about time we caught up with Rocket’s founder, Andrew Meo, to find out a little more.
Where did the idea for Rocket come from?
I was involved in a company in New Zealand that was the importer of the old machines about 20 years ago now. When we heard that the company producing them was having some financial problems, I got on a plane right away to try and buy the intellectual property from them before they went bust, so that we could produce the machines ourselves. The product was great, but the brand was all wrong, so we set about rebuilding it as Rocket Espresso.
How did you meet your partner Daniele Berenbruch?
Daniele came with the business! We bought the IP, some stock and Daniele! I was incredibly fortunate that things turned out that way, because without him it would have been really difficult. We have very different strengths, which has enabled us to build a great business together.
Your machines are based on those of an old Italian producer, right? Can you explain the roots of the modern Rocket machine, and why you chose to go that direction?
In the 1960s, the Italian company Faema developed the E61 Group, which changed espresso. Since that day the E61 group has been used by many manufacturers and forms the platform from which many espresso machines are built around today, including most of the machines that form the premium domestic sector. In the 10 years that we have been building machines we have seen technologies getting better and better, but more so, build quality and attention to detail has really increased. Ironically, the retail price of the machines has not increased accordingly!
What are the key characteristics to a good espresso machine?
Like everything, the key is in the design – it’s the thermal architecture that makes a really great machine. Every bike has two wheels and a groupset, but there are a lot of bad bikes out there! We’re very fortunate to have a great engineer, Ennio, who is incredibly clever and has a massive understanding of espresso machine design from many years in the industry.
Is there such a thing as an average Rocket customer, and if so, what are they like?
No, I don’t think so. Our customer base is really diverse. What we want is our customers to buy a Rocket machine because they feel this is the best brand for them, and then become part of our story. We’ve worked hard in recent years to make Rocket Espresso machines, unashamedly Rocket Espresso machines, in that they stand apart from other brands. As an example, you may not like a Porsche 911, but it’s unashamedly a Porsche 911.
I think that may start to define our customers slightly more. My ideal is that someone will walk into the shop and fall in love with our machine because it’s slightly different to those being built by our competitors. A Rocket Espresso machine has way more personality than a lot of other machines being produced, in my opinion.
How did the connection with the professional peloton come about? Is it strange to see your machines linked to so many cycling stars?
In 2009, we produced a machine to celebrate the fact that the the Giro d’Italia was 100 years old. We made 100 machines, with the winners from each edition hand-engraved into the side panel. They sold out in minutes, and the brand immediately became connected with the cycling community. From that, several of the pro riders contacted us and got machines and it snow-balled from there.
There are now around 80 to 90 of the professional peloton with our machines, and several riders have more than one! I’ve been a cycling fan since I started racing when I was 10 years old. New Zealand is a long way from the European racing scene, so I only got to see my heroes in magazines, but now some of them stop by for coffee when they are in Milan. That kind of blows me away!
You’ve got an extensive range of machines these days, and you occasionally do special editions for teams or events like the Giro d’Italia. Do you have a favourite?
Our latest Giro d’Italia machine to celebrate the 100th edition is really, really beautiful in my opinion. We’ve also done some pretty amazing machines for some of the riders who’ve commissioned us to do special things to celebrate their wins, that they then gifted to there teammates. Some of those have come out very well, but the R 58 Giro d’Italia machine is a thing of great beauty!
How often do you get to ride?
Most days I ride. I’m still mad enough to keep racing and the old boys scene here in Italy is very good. I generally sneak out midday for a spin over my lunch break. That keeps me sane – well that my excuse anyway!
Any cycling heroes?
What strikes me about the riders I’ve met is that they’re all such nice guys. Some are more engaged with the brand than others, but the ones that I have met, either here at Rocket or elsewhere have all been great. There’s only one rider that I just could not cope with, and he came across as a real dick – In the end, I said ‘if you want a machine, just go to the shop and buy one,’ but I don’t know if he ever did! Best he remain nameless …
Favourite race and why?
Tough question. The Tour is over the top, and because of that such a spectacle, but I find the Italian races have so much more character. One of the first professional races I saw was Milano-Sanremo. We sat on the top of the Poggio waiting, it was a beautiful Ligurian day, and when the race came through, we ran into the bar across the road to watch the finale, the whole experience was just so good. Maybe I need to get up to watch some of the Belgium classics and I may change my mind.
You can read about inGamba’s own custom machine in a blogpost from last year – or check out rocket-espresso.com.