Perfect for a home espresso enthusiast who wants commercial durability and power.
Positive Product Points
A machine designed to last decades, it is large, thermally stable, and has an industrial quality to it. It makes great espresso with a minimum of time and fuss.
Negative Product Points
Size. Don't get one unless kitchen mods are in your future.
The Pasquini M27 Start C/1 Espresso machine is perfect for a small espresso bar or a home espresso enthusiast who wants commercial durability and power. Home machines can’t match the speed and temperature stability of a genuine commercial machine. You probably can’t either--it would take a seasoned production barista to out-pace this machine’s fast recovery times.
How does one end up with a used commercial machine? In my case, it crept up on me. I have wanted the speed and convenience of a plumbed-in machine for some time, and had all but stopped offering espresso to dinner guests since, with my Rancilio Silvia, it took me 10 minutes to make cappuccinos for 4 dinner guests. Since we were designing a new kitchen, this was the time to take the plunge and design in a dedicated space for a true commercial single-group machine.
I had my eye on the seductive Reneka Techno, but finally concluded that it was risky to try a new model before it had been in the market for a few years. I was especially concerned about the electronics of the Techno since I believe “the leading edge is the bleeding edge”.
This led me to consider older technology, and a used machine. The incremental advantage on the espresso machine ladder diminishes with each step. I couldn’t see investing $3000 US in a new La Cimbali Jr. At my target price point of $1200US, that left me with an Isomac (Tea or Millennium), Pasquini Livia, or a used commercial machine. (There are other capable machines in this price range, but to my eye, they’re butt-ugly.)
I began frequenting eBay, and found a used Pasquini/La Cimbali M27 single group. I got it for $1000US.
This machine is an oddball. The La Cimbali M27, on which it is based, is normally a commercial 2-group model. This Pasquini version is built with M27 components, but in a “compact” single group version. The machine measures 14.5w” x 18.25h” x 19.25d”. This makes it larger than a new Junior or any of the mainstream enthusiast Hx machines such as the Livia, the Isomac sisters (Tea and Millennium), or the 2-boiler Reneka Techno. The M27 won’t fit under regular kitchen cabinets, so I wouldn’t recommend one unless kitchen mods are in your future.
I’m impressed with the design philosophy and build quality of the M27. In a world of planned obsolescence, it’s rare to find a device that is emphatically not throw-away technology. Unless abused, this machine should last for decades. Every part of a La Cimbali espresso machine can be serviced or replaced. New parts and service are available at La Cimbali dealers anywhere, and new parts are plentiful on the Internet for D-I-Y hobbyists.
And speaking of DIY, the M27 seems built for it. The side panels are held securely in place with a single screw and 2 pins. Just rotate the spring-loaded securing screw with an Allen key, and the screw pops up to allow the top of the panel to be tipped away from the machine. The panel is then lifted off the securing pins with ease. It takes less than 10 seconds to remove it. If more extensive dismantlement is required, the whole machine is held together with large, accessible machine screws, and it’s easy to dismantle and reassemble.
Inside, the components are easy to see and quite accessible. The generous size of the machine makes it easy to work on, despite the bulk of a 172 cu. in. boiler, extra-large ULKA vibe pump, automatic boiler fill solenoid, waterline pressure regulator, solenoid controlled hot water dispenser, and water softener.
For example, an operation like changing the grouphead gasket is an ordeal on most machines. Drain the reservoir or disconnect the plumbing, turn the machine upside down, hope water doesn’t leak all over the inside, and pry out the old gasket like a dentist removing a broken wisdom tooth!
But not on the M27. The La Cimbali grouphead housing is removable! Simply unscrew three bolts and engage the PF into the grouphead. Turning the PF to tighten it pulls the grouphead housing. Down it drops, completely exposing the gasket for inspection, cleaning or replacement. Even an old, pitted and nearly petrified gasket was easily removed with my fingers after starting it with screw driver. All of the accumulated espresso residue on the grouphead housing was easily loosened in an Urnex bath, and it was a snap to clean the grouphead to a pristine level before slipping the new grouphead gasket into place and reassembling the grouphead.
The M27 was quite easy to install. First, there was no wiring required. It plugs into a standard 120V outlet, and since it draws 1600 watts, it won’t trip the breaker in a home that meets North American electrical codes. Plumbing was not as challenging as I had expected. I assembled my own adapter out of parts from the local plumbing supply store. This enabled me to simply unscrew the cold water on/off tap under the sink, connect my adapter, and re-connect the water supply line to my existing kitchen sink faucet. All this without cutting or soldering pipes, and without plumbing tools. All I needed were a crescent wrench and the obligatory vice grips. It took less than 30 minutes, including clearing out the area under the sink, and wiping up the water afterwards. Of course, I had to tighten it a few times to stop the inevitable post-assembly drips.
Operating the M27 is a whole new espresso experience. First, although it is a commercial machine, it’s size, mass and the noises it makes scream “industrial”. The controls are huge. The power switch is a 1.25” diameter knob that projects more than 2” out of the left side of the lower face plate. These aren’t finger-sized knobs—they’re hand-sized. Turning it elicits an industrial “clunk” as the power comes on and the boiler autofill solenoid kicks in momentarily to top up the boiler. The boiler element comes on, and in a few seconds, a hiss and burble is heard within the boiler. As the machine comes slowly up to operating temperature, the boiler pressure gauge creeps up to 1.3 bars. At that point, the heating element turns off with a “thunk” as the solenoid driven switch disengages. Another “thunk” announces that the boiler pressure has fallen to 1.1 bars, signalling the solenoid to restart the heating element. This takes a long time. The machine needs at least an hour to reach stable operating temperature.
The pump switch is a matching knob mounted on the right side of the lower face plate. Turn it 1/8 turn clockwise and the oversized ULKA vibe pump springs into action. When running with an empty PF, water gushes out immediately. With the PF dosed with coffee, the pump gets louder as the pressure builds up behind the coffee cake--industrial louder, like the Jacobs brake on a logging truck.
The steam switch matches the other two in size, and is located on the upper left. One-half turn is all it takes to fully open it. The M27 wand purges accumulated water with a quick blast, leaving a river of dry steam blasting out continuously and sputter-free.
The hot water tap is located on the upper right. Unlike the others, this one is a large square push-button. It activates another solenoid and water gushes out of the tap. Removing your finger from the button stops the flow with an abrupt “clunk” as the solenoid clicks closed.
After using small single boiler machines for 10 years (8 years with a Domena Splendida, 2 with a Silvia) using the M27 is a pleasure. Having all that thermal mass and a large boiler takes the drama out of making espresso. Gone are the stopwatches and heat/cool cycles of temperature surfing, not to mention waiting while Silvia builds up a head of steam after pulling a shot. While pulling a shot on the M27, I can simultaneously steam 10 oz. of milk straight out of the fridge to 150F in just 40 seconds, half of what it took with Silvia. Despite the fast opening steam valve, it’s easy to modulate for steaming smaller volumes for machiattos or cappuccinos. I haven’t mastered latte art with it yet—it seems that the multiple steam holes on the tip aren’t as easy to use as the slower, single stream of the Silvia.
The La Cimbali portafilter handle weighs 30% more than that of the Silvia, with most of the mass being in the PF housing. It’s a capacious heat sink that remains very hot during the dosing and tamping step. The standard La Cimbali PF holds 15 grams, 3 grams less than the LM double basket I use in the Silvia. Despite the reduction in coffee volume, the espresso from the M27 tastes richer and more chocolaty than the best I’ve ever got out of the Silvia. And I had to grind 2 to 3 notches finer on the Rocky for the M27.
Making multiple orders is a snap. While you’re grinding enough coffee, run out an ounce or two of water to preheat the cups. (This avoids the risk of a slightly overheated heat exchanger, assuming the machine has been idle for a while). Then dose, tamp, and pull the shots into the hot cups while steaming simultaneously. Pour in the milk, and 2 cappas are ready to serve. Repeat. Elapsed time for 4 cappas is less than 4 minutes.
Cappuccinos are back on the dinner party menu at my house.
It was advertised on eBay as “clean”, “mint” and “perfect running order”. It was none of these. It took me 2 weeks to clean out the inside, find a few wiring glitches, and get the machine up and running. I've filed a "fraud" claim with eBay, and we'll see what happens.
Three Month Followup
This is the 3-month follow up to my initial review.
The La Cimbali M27 continues to impress me. It remains very easy to produce high quality espresso with this machine, and the convenience of the plumbed-in installation is a pleasure.
The disadvantages of buying a used commercial machine provided a few days of adventure, however. The autofill solenoid and/or the pressurestat took a little vacation, resulting in an "overpressure event". This, too, could be viewed as a “blessing”, since now I know that the boiler safety valve works, and it didn't have to be replaced after the blow-out. I disassembled the pressurestat, cleaned the accumulated scale and gunk out of it, and reassembled everything. The diaphragm looked sound, and since it is very easy to replace, I left the old one in place to find out if it is as good as it looked. Since this repair, everything works fine.
During the 2 days while the M27 was down for repairs, I went back to using Silvia. This reinforced my conclusions about the convenience of the M27 and the deeper, richer tasting espresso it produces.
A follow-up to my buying experience is in order. I got no satisfaction from the seller, who, in my opinion, defrauded me by presenting a dishonestly positive description of the condition of the machine in his eBay ad. He denied all my claims, despite the fact that I backed them up with photographic evidence. My documentation did nothing to persuade eBay, PayPal or Square Trade, either. As long as the seller follows through with delivery of goods, the fraud protection features of these services are useless in resolving even blatant cases of fraudulent description unless the seller admits fault.
A few posters on alt.coffee have remarked that their La Cimbali Juniors require a high level of maintenance and cleaning. Based on my experiences, this doesn’t apply to the M27, aside from the fact that used commercial machines are likely to require a few repairs. I don’t know what would make a new Junior any harder to clean and maintain than the M27, which is no more difficult to keep clean than the Silvia.
My only regrets with the M27 are that it is not as attractive as a new, unscratched machine, and that its vibratory pump stops short of the ultimate. However, there is ample room in its capacious chassis for a rotary pump. One of these days . . .
One Year Followup
I bought this machine to fit into a new kitchen, which was on the drawing board at the time I found the M27. I operated it in my basement until we demolished the old house last July to make way for new construction, and kept it in storage for 8 months because our temporary quarters didn't have room for Silvia in the kitchen, let alone the M27. We finally moved into our new home in late February, and I promptly placed the M27 on the counter in the dedicated espresso bar in our kitchen. Wouldn't you know it -- it looks out of place. Too large, wrong shape, mismatched color. My wife nearly cried when she saw it. I usually ignore her misgivings about espresso equipment, but this time I agreed. It definitely doesn't look good on the counter. It has to go. This means 2 things -- it will be up for sale within a month or so (after I unpack, setup my workshop in the basement, re-commission the M27 after 8 months in storage, and get it working perfectly); and I'll be looking for a new machine with a smaller footprint, but similar capabilities.
The M27 remains a robust machine for those who want a true commercial machine at home, but it doesn't look good in a kitchen filled with modern, shiny new appliances. I'll be looking for something in stainless steel or black, and with a smaller footprint. I still like the way the M27 operates, but aesthestics have won this round.
I'm thinking about a Wega Lyra. On paper, it looks like a very capable machine, is somewhat smaller, and the stainless steel skin would work well with our kitchen decor. They're available through a local distributor, which I feel is an advantage.