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La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
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Discussions > Espresso > Lever Espresso > La Pavoni for an...  
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barondirigible
Senior Member


Joined: 4 Jan 2011
Posts: 10
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Sun Feb 24, 2013, 3:12pm
Subject: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
 

Hi guys,

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...)
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NobbyR
Senior Member
NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 1,991
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 Mon Feb 25, 2013, 12:53am
Subject: Re: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
 

Before the advent of pumps and the invention of the E61 brew group, lever machines used to be the only way of making espresso the way we understand it today. Even though there are still some commercial machines of that kind available (like Kess van der Westen's beautiful Mirage Idrocompresso), nowadays lever machines are more or less exclusively for home use, simply because a semi-automatic machine offers much more convenience and consistency in a commercial setting, but also at home. Making coffee with a lever espresso machine is almost a work of art, because unless you have a spring lever machine, it takes a lot of practice to get the brewing pressure right, which is the major difference between a La Pavoni and the Elektra Microcasaaleva. 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 have neither a pump nor a magnetic valve;
  • quiet operating, the grinder being the only thing really making noise;
  • interesting design (i.e. you have to like them);
  • not suitable for continuous use, because the brewgroup tends to overheat after a few shots unless you cool it externally.

This temperature instability is what can make it difficult to pull shots of consistent quality. Like you said, 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. If you decide to buy a lever machine, you'll have to go through another learning curve before your shots reach the quality you have now with your Gaggia Classic. But it's possible to brew great espresso that way.

A HX machine with a E61 brew group will offer better thermostability than the Gaggia Classic, and there'll be no more need to do any temperature surfing. Just a cooling flush will do. You can pull several shots in a row without any problems, and brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously. Practically all prosumer HX machines with an E61 are of high manufacturing quality, solid and durable.

 
***
"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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barondirigible
Senior Member


Joined: 4 Jan 2011
Posts: 10
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Mon Feb 25, 2013, 4:34am
Subject: Re: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
 

Thanks NobbyR,

You really hit the nail there -- I'm not particularly interested in how many shots a machine can pull in succession, or whether it can froth milk simultaneously. A good quality espresso is basically all I'm interested in and I'm looking for a machine which can accomplish this with as few frills or novelties as possible. Consistency is something I'm a bit concerned about, and maybe the MCAL would be a better choice in this regard, but for the price I could just as simply afford an entry-level HX with the E61 group which suits my other criteria better as well.

It seems I may have to find somewhere local that sells these machines, if such a place exists. (I've found plenty of places selling E61 machines!) I'm eager to learn and I like the idea that there's always something "more" to get out of a machine -- I think in my eight years of use I still haven't totally mastered the Gaggia, but at the same time I think I'd rather learn something where I'm more in control, and less reliant on the machine. So the lever appeals to me in that regard.

Another question: I've noticed all the (consumer, at least) lever machines have a much smaller portafilter, between 47 and 51mm. Does this make much of a difference? At least one Caravel owner was complaining of too-short shots...
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NobbyR
Senior Member
NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 1,991
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 Mon Feb 25, 2013, 7:28am
Subject: Re: La Pavoni for an espresso enthusiast?
 

You would indeed be in control with a lever machine, because everything has to be perfect (fineness of coffee grounds, dose, tamping, brewing temperature) in order to get a good espresso shot. Then you have to work the lever with quite some strength to build up the right consistent brewing pressure. This is much more difficult than with a semi-automatic. Even more, if you want to pull double shots.

I admire people who know how to do this properly, because I can't.

 
***
"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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