barondirigible Senior Member Joined: 4 Jan 2011 Posts: 10 Location: Melbourne, Australia Expertise: I like coffee
Posted Sun Feb 24, 2013, 2:12pm Subject: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
I was last here a few years back seeking advice on my grinder, a Compak K3 Touch which is still going strong. I got some good help then and I'm getting the upgrade itch again, so I thought I'd drop in and get some of your thoughts re: espresso machines.
Simply, I'm an espresso enthusiast who only really makes one or two coffees a day, and couldn't tell you the first thing about streaming milk. I'm currently using a Gaggia Classic which has lasted the past eight-odd years without complaint (with a few necessary replacements, i.e. the grouphead seal). I was initially curious to try an E61-group machine, but they all seem overkill for my needs as I have no use for a dual-boiler or even a HX machine.
Which leads to my considering a lever machine, in particular the La Pavoni, which seems the best bang/buck machine on the market. It seems to suit my minimal use case well, and its drawbacks (inability to pull consistent shots back-to-back, for instance) don't really affect me. I have a few questions, though:
1) My reasons for looking at an E-61 group (and an upgrade at all) were for an increase in espresso quality, ease of use and the ability to chop-and-change parts from a wide variety of manufacturers. It makes more sense to me to go with a standardised portafilter size etc. Now, I know I'm losing the last two reasons for an upgrade with the La Pavoni, but does the first (espresso quality) hold true and make up for the other two? Obviously not straight away, but could my La Pavoni eventually make shots to rival (or beat!) some of the HX E61 machines on my short-list?
2) I noticed in another thread that a pavoni owner was getting sour shots, and managed to fix it by increasing the pressure of the machine from 0.7 to 1.0 bar. However, I was under the impression the pressure was entirely in the hands of the barista? Am I misunderstanding something?
3) I'm aware that the La Pavoni offers more control over coffee than the Elektra MCAL, but how does the MCAL stack up against E61 machines? It seems as if it would offer more control, and yet still offer consistency shot-to-shot as there are less variables to consider than the La Pavoni? Is the MCAL's extra cost indicative of higher build quality, higher espresso quality, more complex engineering or is it just supply/demand at work?
4) Are there any other machines I should be considering? I've seen the Caravel and it looks appealing, but seems difficult to source and I'm already worried that finding replacement parts for a La Pavoni would be an ordeal.
5) Finally, I'm interested in a lever machine because they're reputedly more reliable, yet I've read reviews criticising the LP for constant repairs, maintenance etc. Did they just get a lemon? A LP still isn't cheap and I don't see a point in buying something simple if it's going to break down as often as something complex.
Okay, that went on a lot longer than I thought it would. Thanks for reading and I'd appreciate any thoughts! (I typed this on my iPhone so if there are any dodgy words, blame that...)
crazy4espresso Senior Member Joined: 18 Jan 2008 Posts: 148 Location: Toronto Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Silvia, La Pavoni... Grinder: Pharos
Posted Sun Feb 24, 2013, 2:56pm Subject: Re: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
The La Pavoni can certainly produce shots that can rival more expensive machines, however being able to reproduce those shots on a consistent basis is a real challenge. Being a lever head myself, I can say that I get immense satisfaction from pulling a shot on a lever machine, particularly a manual lever where the Barista really comes into play. I wouldn't necessarily say that you would be "upgrading" by trading in your Gaggia Classic, unless you're of the camp who swears that pump machines can never produce an espresso like a lever can. I compare shots from my Silvia and my LP and I don't believe one is better than the other. They each produce different espressos and I can appreciate the different flavours each can bring out of the coffee, however it's definitely easier to be more consistent with the Silvia. With respect to pressure, on older machines like mine, boiler pressure is controlled by a pressure relief valve which contains a spring rated a 1 BAR. When that pressure is reached, the spring compresses and the valve opens. On my machine you would be steaming at 1 BAR but it would be too hot for pulling shots generally. On the PRO models and newer Europiccolas, there is a pressurestat that controls the pressure of the boiler. Pressure of the boiler will dictate temperature but the Barista is responsible for pulling the lever and therefore introducing group pressure (ideally around 9 BAR) for espresso extraction. Caravels are dead easy machines to service and seals for them are available but if the machine is missing parts, good luck! Reputedly they are the easiest manual levers to work with. With respect to reliability, at least on my 40 year old LP, there isn't really anything that is prone to breaking with exception of maybe the element burning out. It's a pretty solid machine.
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