A superb machine that will at first frustrate but then educate in the art and science of espresso making, and at a reasonable price. Perserverence will eventually bring you unrivalled espresso pleasure, although be aware of its multiple shots limitations
Positive Product Points
A completely manual machine. There is no hiding behind any machine assisted functionality and gadgetry. Apart from helping getting the water temperature/pressure correct (millenium models only), it is utterly all down to you. It is almost akin to learning a musical instrument. Once you master the skills however, espresso making becomes a unbridled pleasure and, combined with a good grinder and freshly roasted beans, the quality of espresso will be something you will relish every day. Its iconic design and strong build are also features.
Negative Product Points
If you just want a good espresso with minimal effort and little thought, then do not get this machine. It will demand a significant investment of your time, coffee and patience. Also, it cannot handle too many consecutive shots before it gets too hot for good espresso making (3 max), despite the much hyped 'Millenium' group head. Although the build is strong, it is not quite as 'bullet proof' as the pre millenium model. And oh, it gets very, very hot when in operation so do not be clumsy around it. You will soon find out when you are. Warn your children!
It all started when my parents-in-law had this strange, but beautiful, looking machine hiding almost embarrassingly deep within the kitchen cupboards. "Please take this thing off us" they pleaded, admitting that bought it on a whim 12 years ago expecting it to deliver good espresso, but only ever succeeding in burning themselves....!
What they bought was a La Pavoni Europiccola pre Millenium model. It all looked alien to me initially, and I soon learned that this isn't the sort of machine that will give up its secrets to you easily. But after hours of internet research and much coffee wastage, it becomes a machine that delivers a superb espresso consistantly, and along the way teaching you much about the art and science of espresso making, far more than any other espresso machine that I have come across.
By this, I mean you will come face to face which each of the following elements that will all have an impact in the quality of espresso you pull: from coffee origin, roast and freshness to tamp twisting and pressure; from water hardness, lever pull pressure and temperature to extraction time, espresso volume, colour and crema. If you are thinking "life is too short for this, but I still want a great espresso with minimum effort", go for semi automatic or automatic machine - not this.
I owned the pre millenium Europiccola model for 2 years and the post millenium model for a year now, so I think I am reasonably well qualified as a La Pavoni user. To me, there is not a lot of difference between the models. The much vaunted "millenium" group head gets you one or two extra pulls before it gets too hot like the pre millenium models, but it certainly doesnt solve overheating issues. I do feel that the Pavoni Company has been far too ambitious in their claims on the millenium group's heat stabilisation capabilities. They have simply rehashed and not materially improved on what is an already wonderful machine in my humble view.
There are plenty of instructions on the net and in the manuals to get you started. However below are my more subtle tips and experiences which I hope might be helpful:
- Use filtered water, like via a standard Britta water jug. 'Hard' tap water and bottled water (which is usually big on enhanced minerals) will quickly calcify the machine, making it work harder, and not really add anything in taste - except up to the unpleasent point when it is overly calsified!
- Dont be afraid to use decent muscle on the lever in the push down if you need to. And I mean muscle. Externally, Pavonis are built like tanks and will outlast you if well maintained. I always push down on the boiler top with one hand whilst pressing on the level with the other. This keeps it steady and eliminates the well known Pavoni "hop".
- Always open up the steam value for 10 seconds even though the green pressure stat light has gone out when you are on your first pull. This removes trapped heated air in the system and brings the Pavoni to its proper pressure and temperature for espresso brewing.
- Also on your first pull let some water run out from the group head for about 5 seconds. This warms up the head without the need to jiggle the lever arm up and down as the manual suggests.
- Count to 10 secs before you begin your pull, or as soon as some drops come out, whichever comes first. The aim is to get the lever down between 20 and 30 seconds, working against a significant amount of resistance. If you can't press the lever down within 30 seconds, stop your pull and enjoy the espresso that you have. It will be a short strong but sweet "ristretto" espresso. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to remove the portafiler until the lever is fully pressed without any remaining upward resistance. If you do, you will only succeed in blowing out the gasket that is in the Group head. This is more of an issue with the Millenium group head. Thankfully this is easily repositioned, and I think of it as almost a right of passage as a new Lever Pavoni owner!
- If your pull is met with little resistance, and you would finish the pull well within the 20 seconds, try to "manage" your pull so that you get close to 20 seconds, but bring it to a close as soon as your espresso extraction becomes overly "blonde". You should still get a drinkable espresso so dont fear - as long as your coffee is fresh.
- A quality burr grinder, not blade, is absolutely critical. Freshly roasted and ungrounded coffee beans (roasted within 1 week of use) is essential. Even fresh coffee beans that have been grounded for more than 30 minutes, irrespective of how the grounded coffee has been stored, will not do. Lever Pavoni machines will simply not deliver anywhere near its potential if all the ingredients aren't at their best and you will be disappointed in their results. I find that espresso from a Pavoni can't hide any faults in coffee, water or grind. You will get out what you put in.
- Lever Pavoni machines will get too hot after 3/4 pulls, even the Millenium group heads. Pre Millenium heads will overheat in less pulls. I do find however that pressing a sponge soaked in cold tap water around the group head for a few seconds removes the excess heat and allows for good espresso temperature for a few more pulls - if you need to pull espressos consecutively.
- Frothing. Use a small metallic jug half filled with cold milk with the wand placed just under the milk surface. Dont jug jiggle and dont be afraid to open up that valve. The wand is able to froth for England such is the power of steam delivery. And you dont need to use that frothing device - nothing more than a gimmick for me. The wand location is a little awkward however and you wont be able to fit any jug that is anything other than small.
- Pavoni's gaskets and seals should last about 2 years before you need to change them, if you have 1-2 espressos a day on average. In the Millenium models, you may find that the water volume reduces for each pull and that there is a lot of "air" in the pull after a few months. This is due to the piston unscrewing itself from the piston shaft which is easily fixed with a spanner and pliers, and applying plumbing tape to the shaft thread to tighten it. Again, this doesnt seem to be issue with the pre Millenium model.
- I find that Pavonis will need decalsification once every 3 months, depending on how hard your water is. You will be able to tell by looking into the boiler (when cold!) and if you see any green residue, time to decalsify. Oust works well in my experience.
Thats pretty much it. After re reading this review I suspect I might have put people off in buying one of these machines. And if you not prepared to roll your sleeves up and get "into" espresso in at least an enthusiastic way then that is no bad thing. However if you are, and allied with some time and patience, you will discover espresso nirvana that will last as long as you and that wont cost you the amount of a small car.
Bought it online from www.bella-italia.com in Europe at a good price. They were efficient and professional and gave me some tips to reposition the group gasket when I first blew it out - at the time a minor crisis that they coolly resolved. I recommend them highly.
Three Month Followup
A great machine still, and the espresso remains fabulous. A few other points that I have learnt during this post review time which might be of use: - If you have a nylon piston head in your millenium Europiccola, then change it for a brass one. These are available online and not that cheap unfortunately. The nylon one keeps unscrewing itself resulting in the brew water not coming thru the group. Quite annoying problem this. Because of this, I have dropped my product quality rating. Thankfully, the brass head greatly alleviates the problem, but it will mean that the Group will overheat more quickly. If you are interested in buying a Europiccola, do establish the piston head material first. If plastic - avoid. - I have found that doing a half pull first, then raising the lever to the top, followed by a full pull (called the "Felini" pull I believe) on the double basket gives me the best espresso. Wonderfully thick and tasty crema. - Milk texturing is best achieved by a small jug and by placing the wand as close to the centre of the jug as possible, keeping the 3 holed head just on the surface of the milk, until you get to 38C/100F, whereby you then lower it a little - When you have ground your coffee into the filter basket, use a pointed object to 'stir' the grounds in small circles around the edges of the basket before you tamp. This ensures that your coffee is distributed evenly and removes any static passed from your grinder, resulting a much better pour - This machine cannot do more than 2 shots in succession without overheating. If multiple shots required, you will need to cool the Group down by applying a cold sponge to it. There is no magic that will solve this. - When it comes to changing the seals, you can easily do this yourself, and save quite a bit of money on the service charge. I am generally clueless when it comes to do anything with my hands, but the Pavoni is no problem. Order the seals online and just follow your logic, supported by online "how do's", which there are plenty . Europiccolas are such basic machines, which in reality is their strength.
This remains the perfect machine for me, and it still brings a smile on my face whenever I used it. But if you are going to serve more than one person often, or you dont want to spend too much time learning the ins and outs of this beauty, then I would strongly say that the Europiccola, or any lever machine for that matter, is not suitable. A HX machine or a Silvia might be more appropriate. Also, I would avoid any Europiccola/Pavoni that has a plastic piston head. Go for brass. Thankfully, these should be getting rarer.
One Year Followup
've had the Pavoni for 3 years and it is time for an upgrade. I am going for a Ponte Vecchio Lusso 2 group. Absolutely no regrets with the Pavoni, I enjoyed everytime I used her. But in the end it was the inability to pull multiple shots which was starting to become a drag. Of course, if you only use this machine for yourself and perhaps for one other then it will be perfect. But like most of us, life is not always lived in an isolated vacuum. Friends and family do occasionally pop round and it is these times that the Pavoni struggles. So I would re-iterate my advice that this is not a suitable machine for more than 2 consecutive shots. Therefore I have dropped my overall score to an 8.
Other tips that I have picked up which are worth sharing. Firstly, www.orphanespresso.com have been selling single hole steam tips which fit the Pavoni. The stock 3 holed tip can be easily unscrewed. In my experience the single holed tip is far superior and I would recommend the change. I have rarely achieved microfoam with the 3 holed tip. With the 1 holed tip, microfoaming is now a given.
The brass piston can still unscrew itself, even after removing the plastic one. The secret to fixing this permanently is to use plumbers tape on the shaft thread, and then tighten piston onto the shaft as tight as you possibly can. This includes threading a metal object through the hole in the piston shaft and screwing the piston up against the shaft hard - really hard.
The final point to make is the ease of getting any part you need at a reasonable price, given this model's popularity. I somehow managed to break the steam tap knob by some over enthuastic "diy". A disaster at the time, but a replacement part was received via normal post within 3 days. Too easy.