Operating a lever machine like the La Pavoni Professional is actually easy. The hard part is getting to know the machine and finding ways to get the most out of it. That is where the skill and the "feel" for how a lever machine operates comes to play. With that said, here's a simplified look at how to use the Professional:
- Load up the filter basket (only use the double), make it slightly heaping.
- Tamp down fairly hard, so that you have about a quarter inch of clearance in the basket.
- Lock and load, baybee! (some La Pavoni users recommend raising the lever 3/4 of the way before locking in the portafilter, so you don't draw air through the portafilter with the bed of coffee. However, given the poor balance of the machine and the effort needed to lift the lever, I don't recommend it).
- Pull the lever up slowly and steadily - take maybe 5 seconds or so to draw it up. As you get to the top, you'll hear water enter the grouphead. That's when you open the gasket and pathway to the group.
- Wait about 5, 10 seconds as it preinfuses. The manual and some websites recommend waiting until you see a few drips come out of the spouts. But with fresh roast / fresh ground coffee, and especially if you are grinding for ristretto, you may never see liquid drop, even after 20 or 30 seconds. Just wait 10 seconds, one way or the other.
- After waiting 10 seconds or after you see the drips, grasp the portafilter handle (or place a palm on the bakelite screw top but remember - the machine is hot) and start a steady slow pull (or push) down on the lever.
- A guideline is roughly 15 to 20 seconds for this action, but again, go by feel and look on the streams - not time.
- Complete the shot, enjoy! (wait a minute or so before removing the portafilter! It sneezes!)
Okay, the above step by step is the simplified, everything is perfect method for using a La Pavoni Professional. In more long term use, I did find a few quirks with the machine.
What stands out most is that the machine is all about you. You're the pump, as it were with this machine, even more so than other Lever machines such as the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva, which uses a spring to provide steady pressure. With the La Pavoni Professional, you push the water through the bed of ground coffee, and how much or how little pressure you use can influence the shot quality by quite a bit.
With the Professional, it's almost a case of getting your "sea legs" as it were, knowing what to expect from the machine, and more importantly, knowing what the machine expects from you. I found that within a few weeks of steady use, I got really in tune with the grind needed and the pressures I needed to exert. It is something that really can't be put into writing - it has to be experienced. You have to learn how to use the Professional, and you can only learn hands on.
By the end of the first two weeks, I found I was pulling great shots consistently with the machine. Grind variance, allowing for different bean types and age of the roast, and tamp are paramount to getting great results. After a few weeks, you know the kind of pressure you need to use to push (or pull, depending on your angle of approach) the lever down, and those first few weeks gets you consistent with the work.
You can basically create four types of espresso drinks on the Professional: a single, a double, a double ristretto, and a lungo. Each requires a different method of operation. And because you're dealing with smaller baskets than those typically found on semi-commercial, traditional machines (58mm), you'll have to adjust your brew volume to match the grind volumes.
Single Shot Use the single basket, which holds almost 6 grams of ground coffee. Tamp fine and hard, lock and load, and pull the shot, lifting the lever arm once. Your aim is about 1 to 1.25 ounces of liquid in the cup for that one pull, so your grind must be adjusted accordingly. We found that Lever machines tend to do a better job pulling singles from a single basket than most vibe-pump machines from their respective single baskets.
Double Shot Use the double basket, which only holds about 12 grams of coffee, lock it in, lift the lever all the way, preinfuse, and start pulling the shot. When the lever is about 3/4 of the way down, pull it back up to reload the grouphead with more water. Push (or pull) down again to complete the double. The resulting liquid is roughly 2 to 2.5 ounces total.
Ristretto The La Pavoni Professional is quite capable of pulling superior ristretto drinks. Load the double basket, but with a finer grind than you would use for your normal double. Lock it in, and lift the lever fully up to preinfuse the bed of coffee. Pull all the way down once, and slower than your normal double shot - grinding finer will aid in slowing down the shot. The result is 1.0 to 1.25 oz of brew.
Lungo I don't like lungos or have much respect for the drink knowing what I know about overextraction; however, it has its fans. Load the double with a slightly coarser grind than your normal espresso grind (very slight). Lock in, and do two full presses on the lever (or more, what the heck - go for it). You should get about 3 to 3.5 oz of brew.
Steaming with the La Pavoni Professional
The Pro versions of the La Pavoni lever machines are "steam on demand" systems that give you instant steaming ability at any time the machine is up to operating temperatures. This is a real boon for those who want a macchiato or a cappuccino, because there's no wait time for the machine to warm up. Americano lovers can also use this steam to quickly boiler about 3 ounces of water in under 25 seconds, which alleviates the need somewhat for hot water delivery on the machine.
I especially liked the inclusion of two steam wand assemblies in the box, and the quickchange feature for both wands that let you go from traditional 3 hole tip to a cappuccinatore-style device that automatically froths.
The Pavoni's steaming ability is what I would call "okay". It isn't great but good enough. In our testing, the machine took 46.4 seconds to steam 7 fluid US ounces of milk from 40F to 155F. By comparison a Pasquini Livia, with a boiler only 200ml bigger takes 24.2 seconds in our head to head test. I am guessing the Pavoni takes longer because the boiler water isn't as hot as that in a typical heat exchanger system. This is necessary to keep the water cool enough for brewing, once it has been further cooled by the transport between boiler and grouphead.
The three hole tip works superbly at microfrothing - the dispersion pattern and sizing of the holes is perfectly suited to the Pavoni's steam output, resulting in plenty of turbulence for making the stuff that makes latte art.
| Cappuccinatore style device. Click to Enlarge. |
| No wand in place. Click to Enlarge |
| Traditional wand. Click to Enlarge. |
The cappuccinatore-style device does a surprisingly good job at microfoaming as well, but there is one serious problem - even with our extensive testing and fiddling with the adjustment knob on the top of the cappuccinatore device, the hottest we could get the milk was to about 140F - which is still a bit cold for proper cappuccino. EG&H recommends letting your milk sit for five minutes on the counter before using the cappuccinatore style device, however, it is a stopgap measure that is less than perfect.
Still, the froth aider is a convenience device, and we were actually able to build nice latte art patterns using the results. For people who don't want the hassle of frothing, it's a nice addition to the box.
As a left handed person, I did find the placement of the steam knob and wand to be inconvenient. The wand is very close to the sizzling hot body of the machine, and the knob is up top, behind, and on the other side. I was not used to the kind of hands positions I needed to steam properly, and it seemed more a chore than it should have been, especially while trying to prevent burns from skin contact on the boiler and hot surfaces. Right handed people who tested this machine for us had no such issues - it works really well for them (I'm jealous... sometimes... of right handed people :-)).
As a regular drinker of Americanos, I was also thankful for the steam on demand ability, but I still found the lack of a hot water wand to be something I noticed often. I'm not sure if a safe way to incorporate a water wand is possible, but I'd like to see it in a future lever machine design.
Pulling Multiple Shots
This isn't really possible with my La Pavoni Professional, but it could possibly be with the new versions currently on the market (see Angelo Forzano's comments on the previous page for more on this). We'll cover more on this in our Performance section but for now the simple explanation is this: the grouphead gets too hot after first pull, resulting in a hotter and hotter water for your subsequent pulls. There are ways around this, including letting the machine cool down between shots, or getting water soaked, ice-cold washcloth and wrapping it around the grouphead for a minute. Using this trick, I was able to reduce the grouphead temperature by around 30F or more (while idle, without liquid inside), which set it up properly for my next shot. It's definitely a tyro fix, and leads to more inconsistency in the shot delivery.
The La Pavoni is ideal when you pull a shot within 5 to 10 minutes of it reaching operating temperatures. That first shot always seems so perfect in temperature - our measured shot temps in preheated cups were always around the 185F mark, and the measured temperature in the filter basket was approximately 196F (both measurements based on 5 attempts, all with a machine switched on 15 minutes before). The second shots didn't bode nearly as well. The basket temps were around 205F and the cup temperatures were around 191F (again, based on five measurements). Using our cooling method, our second shots were anywhere between 180F and 188F in the cup, and 191F and 200F in the basket.
If multiple shots are a must, I suggest using the cooling towel, and shutting off the machine just as you pull the first shot. Wait at least 3 or 4 minutes, then pull the next shot.
Lastly, the Pavoni has no pressure release on the portafilter and basket, so if you remove the PF too soon, you will suffer the dreaded "portafilter sneeze" where the excess remaining pressure will blow out the grounds everywhere. One semi trick is to lift the lever almost all the way up (but not enough to open the water passage from boiler to grouphead) to alleviate some of that pressure, but I found that experience hit and miss, and with the poor balance on the base of the La Pavoni, it is a tricky maneuver to do.
The following is a step by step visual look at how to operate a La Pavoni Professional espresso machine. You can click any image for a larger picture.
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| Using a La Pavoni is all about proper grip. You can hold the lever, the portafilter, or the screwcap. The body is very hot so be careful |
| Though specifically not mentioned in the most recent manuals, you can preheat the group if you like by lifting the lever and running an ounce or so through the group. |
| Grinding roughly 12 grams per double, use a normal fine grind for espresso, a finer grind for ristretto. |
| Tamping is important with any espresso machine, but especially true with the La Pavoni. Don't omit this step. |
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| A solid pack with about 1/4 inch clearance is necessary. Rap the side and pack again for a tight seal. |
| Hold the lever as you lock in the portafilter. The Pavoni's base is light, and likes to slide around. |
| Lift the lever slowly, evenly to introduce water to the group. Too fast sucks air rapidly through the pack of grinds. |
| Once at the top position, let rest for about 10 seconds, or when you see drops of espresso, whichever comes first. |
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| The Angle of Attack (tm) is all important with the La Pavoni, you have to maintain an even, smooth, and slow pushdown on the lever to get a good shot. |
| Keep the pressure steady. It is important to find a good arm position to maintain an even pull (or push, as indicated in these pictures) |
| Shot complete, a few last dribbles came out. This is a ristretto, so we didn't lift the lever 3/4 of the way through the shot like we do for normal doubles. |
| Steaming with the cappuccinatore style device is very easy, and very microfrothy, but it is a tad cool. The little stick controls air flow for going from steam only, to froth. |
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| Cleaning the cappuccinatore style device is easy - run water through it after the milk. You can also take it apart to clean. |
| Frothing with the traditional wand is easy, though for left handed people it may be awkward. Does a great job! |
| After you're done frothing, or a minute or so after brewing, remove the portafilter slowly. Grasp the lever to make the machine stable. |
| After a minute or so, remove the portafilter, dump the puck, run some water through the group (lift the lever), and you're done! |
Maintaining a La Pavoni Professional is both easy and hard. If you only pull one or two shots a day, maintenance is as easy as wiping the grouphead dispersion screen between shots, cleaning the wand, and shutting the machine down. If you're doing multiple shots, or you try to use the "portafilter wiggle" to clean the grouphead, you're in for a messy workspace.
With no coffee grinds in place to stop the liquid flow, water will run freely between boiler and grouphead out to your drip tray if you lift the lever all the way. And almost as soon as you commence this, the water flow becomes superheated, thanks to the boiler's operating temperatures. This means that water won't just pour out of the empty portafilter - it means it splashes and spurts all over the place because of the presence of steam forming. Still, clean up isn't too much of a hassle.
The drip tray is disappointingly shallow. It barely holds 150ml of liquids before reaching the top. Given the ample amount of open space inside the base, why Pavoni didn't design a much deeper drip tray is a mystery to me. You'll be emptying this thing often. And because the ABS plastic is so light, handling a full tray of water can be a bit tricky - it tends to slip and slide, and dislodge easily when you remove it, sometimes causing a slip and spill.
Most serious La Pavoni users recommend getting the gaskets in the grouphead changed once per year, though if the machine is only used once or twice a day, and turned off when not being used, they could last 3 years or longer. The problem with the La Pavonis is this - the gasket change is fairly complicated, and should normally be done by a service technician. By comparison, the gaskets on a Micro Casa are very easy to change and can be done by the average home user. This adds to the cost of your machine, and is something to keep in mind.
The pressurestat inside the La Pavoni Professional machine used to be adjustable by the machine owner in the past. Current shipping models do not allow this - the dial is glued tight. I would have liked the option to change the pressure on the machine, so I'm sad to see this ability taken away from the end user. Given that the first shot was around 197F of grouphead water temps, and my manometer was peaking at about 0.95BAR, I would have liked to make a tiny adjustment to the pressurestat to reduce that to maybe 194F or lower. Perhaps La Pavoni in the future will change the machine again so that the home owner can once again adjust the boiler pressure to suit their own likes in brew temperatures.
The machine is very easy to clean inside and out, but be very cautious of any surface on the machine when it is operating. I've got burns on my hand as proof of how hot the Professional gets. The chrome outer surface cleans easily, and always manages to look as if it is brand spanking new after each cleanup. To this day and with all the manhandling and testing this machine has gotten, after a cleanup, it looks ready for a museum display cabinet.
One aspect I didn't like about the La Pavoni Professional was that there appeared to be no easy way to remove the dispersion screen in the grouphead, for cleaning. I should note that for any machine without a 3 way solenoid or other type of pressure release system, cleaning the dispersion screen is less of an issue - grounds don't readily get sucked back up to the screen after each shot. Still, I've seen some pretty grungy dispersion screens after a month or two of use on dual-purpose boiler machines without pressure release systems, and I consider dispersion screen cleaning an absolute must in your normal machine maintenance. It just gives you better shots of espresso.
The Pro's dispersion screen doesn't have a mounting screw. It appears held in place by the gasket and side walls inside the grouphead - or could very well be part of the grouphead design itself - I'm not sure. I didn't attempt any serious removal other than an initial look-see and feeble attempt - I was worried that I would permanently damage the screen. I hope La Pavoni moves to a simple screw-mount screen on a future model.
Lastly, I'd like to point out that if you are an owner of La Pavoni products like the Professional, you have access to some great after sales service. EG&H is very concerned about the customers of their products, and have built their website and have the staff to handle a wide range of after-sales calls by Professional owners. They also have a network of 35 repair facilities nation wide, which means you probably don't have to go very far if your machine does need repair or technical maintenance.