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levers, good or bad ?
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Discussions > Espresso > Lever Espresso > levers, good or...  
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myrand
Senior Member


Joined: 11 Jul 2012
Posts: 17
Location: canada
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: pavoni europicolla
Grinder: not a good one
Posted Wed Jul 11, 2012, 9:20pm
Subject: levers, good or bad ?
 

hi folks
i am thinking about a lever espresso maker, one thing is holding me; the heating problem.
it seems that the only 2 company that produce lever espresso makers use one single boiler to heat too much(just so you can ruin your coffee with milk), and cool down the water in the head/basket.
is it me or i can see the first shot being too cold, the 2nd one being good and starting the 3rd one it'll be too hot. . . . . .how do you guys manage to deal with that ?
also, i am wondering if the rumor is true, does lever machines really produce less crema ? how much less if its the case ?

basicly, will i regret it or not.

at home i am usually doing 2-3 shot in the morning, same thing after work.
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NobbyR
Senior Member
NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,044
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Wed Jul 11, 2012, 10:54pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

Even though there are still a few commercial lever machines available, nowadays they are more or less exclusively for home use. Making coffee with such an espresso machine is almost a work of art, because it takes a lot of practice to get the brewing pressure right. Here are some typical characteristics of lever machines:

  • usually no waiting for frothing milk, because the boiler is on steaming temperature and pressure;
  • practically no parts subject to regular wear, because they don't have a pump or magnetic valve;
  • quiet operating, the grinder being the only thing making noise;
  • interesting design (i.e. you have to like them);
  • not suitable for continuous use, because the brew group tends to overheat after a few shots.

The difficulty is nor that the first shot is too cold. This temperature instability is what can make it difficult to pull shots of consistent quality. Each espresso tends to taste (at least a little) differently, and after a few shots it might get burnt and bitter. Those who only brew a couple of shots each time they turn on the machine, who are willing to go through the pains of learning how to handle it, and who are looking for an eye-catcher will fare well with such an espresso machine.

The problem of overheating can, however, be tackled by cooling the brew group with a wet towel for example.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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SteveRhinehart
Senior Member
SteveRhinehart
Joined: 27 Dec 2009
Posts: 855
Location: Syracuse, NY
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: 1970s La Pavoni Europiccola
Grinder: Baratza Vario, Hario Skerton
Vac Pot: Yama Tabletop 3-cup
Drip: Chemex, CCD, Kalita Wave,...
Roaster: Flavorwave/Stir Crazy
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 4:42am
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

Every espresso machine has its use - you wouldn't want to try to run a cafe with a Mypressi, and it's a bit of a waste to use a 3-group Slayer for a once-per-day espresso habit.

Levers tend to fall more on the low(er) use side of things, in regard to the consumer models (there are more than two manufacturers, by the way, so I'm not sure where you got that figure). You are correct, that temperature can be a bit of an issue, but it is fairly manageable on most machines. In my experience with my Pavoni, having brewed both for just myself and - like just yesterday in fact - for large groups, a lever simply takes patience and practice. I can make about three drinks before needing to refill and reset my machine, which is perfectly fine for my daily cappuccino at breakfast. Entertaining becomes a bit of a chore, though as long as folks haven't got somewhere to be you'll be fine.

In terms of that cold-perfect-hot shot profile, any lever machine with dual heating modes (La Pavoni certainly) will be perfectly capable of working around that with temperature surfing. For the first shot, once you're stabilized at the low setting, you can pulse the high heater for a few seconds before pulling the shot. How long will depend on the coffee used, and practice, like any temp surfing method. The second shot should still be fine, no surfing required, and the third may require the use of a damp towel on the group or the base, to bring down the overall temp. The guesswork of any of this can be removed with strip thermometers, testing, and tasting, but it sure isn't an automatic process. You do have to put in the effort to make a lever machine work right every time, and you'll also have to accept there are particular limitations that will not be going away. For example, I am fond of Handsome Coffee Roasters, but I can't use their espressos. They roast fairly light, which may be fine for a 58mm triple basket, but for my 49mm basket that can barely fit 15 grams in, those shots are always running fast and sour, no matter how fine the grind. It just doesn't work.

I think the real beauty of a lever is the ability to fine tune every part of the extraction - though perhaps more with human craft than machine precision - as well as the durability. I joke that my Pavoni will outlive me, but honestly, if it's maintained well enough, it certainly could. There is not a lot that can go wrong there, and everything is easily serviceable.

It's very likely that what I'm writing here will be off-putting to somebody, which is fine! It's not a strike against levers, it just goes back to my first point - there's a particular use scenario for levers, and not everybody fits that.
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myrand
Senior Member


Joined: 11 Jul 2012
Posts: 17
Location: canada
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: pavoni europicolla
Grinder: not a good one
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 10:23am
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

hi

there are obviously more than just 2 models, however it seems to me that if you want a brand new model, there is elecktra, la pavoni, a couple commercial highly priced stuff and thats pretty much all. i dont mind, the one i want is a la pavoni,  its just that the selection is not as huge than electric espresso makers. i guess they certainly dont sell as many.

if its kind of not too complicated to manage the temperature problem, then i am ok with that.
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penrod
Senior Member


Joined: 11 Aug 2009
Posts: 47
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: PV lusso; gaggia coffee
Grinder: Macap MXK-R, virtuoso
Vac Pot: yama
Drip: swiss gold
Roaster: behmor
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 11:49am
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

There are some posts on home barista about using a cup of room temperature water to cool the portafilter between shots.  I have used this to pull four or five shots in a row.  I have a 16 cup model and with using a damp towel to clean the dispersion screen, basket, and portafilter between shots, I still have plenty of water left in the boiler.

Levers aren't really good or bad just different.  I have a ponte vecchio lusso, 16 cup gaggia factory and a microcasa. My wife appreciates the quiet from lack of a pump, and I find the small footprint of some levers a benifit for taking the machine to work.  But levers probably also produce multiple drinks slower than a pump machine.

The ponte vecchio is very very temperature stable and I really enjoy it.  But with a 3 liter, the need to bleed false pressure and a thermosyphon heating the group, it takes longer to come up to temp than the other levers.  The microcasa and the factory can be ready to make coffee in 15 minutes or even less.

I found orphan espresso temperature strips a very big help in group head temperature management.
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myrand
Senior Member


Joined: 11 Jul 2012
Posts: 17
Location: canada
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: pavoni europicolla
Grinder: not a good one
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 1:44pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

sounds like maybe all those bad things i read about the temperature problem on those la pavoni are finally not THAT bad.
i will certainly order mine pretty soon, ans i am kind of excited since i found a ton of places around edmonton that roast coffee, i could probably be capable to have it as fresh as it can be.

its a matter of deciding wich one. stradivari, normal cromed one, or the black base. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

are these machines made of cromed stainless ? cromed steel, or cromed brass ?

are they all made out of the same material ?
lets say, if the stradivari is made of stainless. . . . . .for sure i will go for that one
if they are all made of the same thing, then, i will go for the cheapest one and make myself some custom handles and knobs. . . . . . . .

i tried to ask la pavoni customer services but i didnt had an answer.  .  .  .  .  .
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russel
Senior Member
russel
Joined: 12 Mar 2010
Posts: 448
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: Conti Princess 2grp, GS/3...
Grinder: Super Caimanos x2, Forte BG,...
Drip: V60, Kalita Wave, Clever,...
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 4:45pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

The first thing about levers is that if you don't want to like them...you aren't going to like them.  When compared to a good HX or DB they have a lot of drawbacks and a lot of little quirks that you just have to incorporate into your "method".  The one big attraction for a lot of people is that they can produce results equal to a good HX or DB for half the price, less if you go used - and they do make good used machines when well cared for.

Concerning the La Pavonis: The bases are mostly chromed steel (not stainless), the boiler is chromed brass.  The more modern Romantica models (with the dome boiler hat) are brass throughout, so they don't rust but the laquer finish is very delicate and chips/dings/stains easily.  If you don't mind/like an aged look, a Millenium Romantica with the laquer stripped off is one solid machine.  Otherwise I would recommend avoiding the black base and sticking to the chromed ones.  If you want to make more than 2 shots at a time on a regular basis, and steam milk, I would go with the Professional sized models.  I second Ryan's suggestion of the OE temp strips.  You will have to manually managed the group temp with a cold towel or a cold PF if you want consistant espresso, and knowing how that temp has changed since the last shot is key.  I also found the OE dosing funnels to be very very helpful when starting out.  Dialing in your shot on a direct lever is like doing so on a pump machine with the added burden of managing the temperature and the pressure yourself...every bit of added consistency helps.
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AndyPanda
Senior Member
AndyPanda
Joined: 12 Jul 2010
Posts: 769
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Olympia Cremina, Various...
Grinder: Mazzer Major, Fiorenzato,...
Vac Pot: vintage Corey
Drip: AeroPress
Roaster: BreadMachine/HeatGun
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 5:00pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

Here is what I did in order to pull consistent temp shots.  The thermometer cost $10 ($8 with 20% coupon for BBBY)  and took 5 minutes to modify.  A braided elastic hair-tie to hold the sensor bead against the group.

You heat the group up with a little flush to warm your cup - if you need to cool the group you run the PF under cold water and lock the cold PF in the group and it pulls the group temp down (you may have to do this twice).  

I can pull a shot at the desired brew temp repeatably.

AndyPanda: CreminaTherm.jpg
(Click for larger image)
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Prof
Senior Member
Prof
Joined: 10 Sep 2004
Posts: 712
Location: Seattle
Expertise: Pro Roaster

Espresso: PV Lusso
Grinder: Pharos 696
Drip: Aeropress
Roaster: Behmor 1600+
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 10:42pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

That's why I got tired of the lever and sold it on CL.  The temperature issue I never mastered.  Too hot, too cold, seldom just right.  I ran out of patience and didn't want to go deeper into it.

Mine was a Gaggia Factory 106 (just like the Pavoni Pro) with old-style brass piston installed later on.  

Now I'm making better espresso (F-F X3) and coffee (Aeropress) than I ever made with the lever.

But the lever was fun for a long time.

 
LMWDP # 010
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myrand
Senior Member


Joined: 11 Jul 2012
Posts: 17
Location: canada
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: pavoni europicolla
Grinder: not a good one
Posted Thu Jul 12, 2012, 10:57pm
Subject: Re: levers, good or bad ?
 

thanks a lot for your help.

i tried to look for used mahcines but i am in canada and all those la pavoni i see on  ebay that sells for around 100-150$. . . . . . . dont ship to canada.

i have all the setup here to sandblast and apply some oven-cured paint. i just dont have the machine to work on.
if i would find something for 300$ shiped to my door, in working condition but with the chrome all peeling, i would buy it in a heartbeat. i found one, a la pepina for 750$. . . . . .migh as well spend 50$ and get a brand new la pavoni.



i guess i will have to go for a new one. i canot justify the pro model however, we are talking 1300 now instead of 800. . . . . . .i will go for the small one for now, i am doing 2-3 coffee on a regular basis but i dont ming waiting 10-15 minutes between each. i dont drink that fast. . . . . . . .
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