Elektra MCAL, La Pavoni pro, Gaggia, Factory, Bezzera Familia
Simply the best in category lever machine. Teamed with an Elektra Micro Casa A Leva for a great two group that will handle any type of espresso blend.
Positive Product Points
Capable of producing excellent shots, thick crema, steam on left side away from a locked in pf, SUPERB build quality, quiet(no pump), heats quickly(approx. 15mins.), no exposed boiler as with many lever machines. nice small footprint, durable custom built diaphragmless pressurestat, no expensive black boxed brains/electronics/control panels to fail. easy to work on, no plastic(except they did have a black plastic drip tray for a couple years in the early90s), used machines hold their value, gaskets and common parts available through Orphan Espresso along with a full series of how to videos.
Negative Product Points
Group overheats but not as bad as most, drip tray could be deeper but again better than most, no pressure gauge on older models but add on steam wand and a boiler cap pressure gauge are available from Orphan Espresso
I love my 1987 Cremina! I have no upgradeitis. A manual lever espresso machine is not ideal for everyone but for me the total hands on approach is enjoyable and desirable. And the Cremina is capable of producing incredible shots with many desirable qualities. Water can be applied with some profiling abilities where a vib. pump only pulses constant water pressure.
Luigi Bresaola, the founder of Olympia Express in the 1930s from what I've heard started out in Italy but wanted to be around the best metals and metalworkers that he then found in a area of Switzerland.
The Cremina is a wonderful machine and has stood the test of time(over 40 years since the first 67s). Most of them I'd guess are still around. The overall build quality and design is second to none. It's not a flashy looking machine but it's simplistic design is very balanced. I prefer a manual vs. spring lever because of the added pressure control. All the parts are precision made of highest quality metals. This is not a mass produced machine. Disassembly is straight forward. All the necessary parts are still available. Maintenance is minimal. No complex electronics to fail or need to troubleshoot. The most worry-free machine I've owned. The machine heats up quickly for those with time limitations.
The shots are thick and have great crema(as good as any top commercial machine can produce IMHO) and with the manual lever control can be somewhat profiled. The portafilter is considered a 49mm. A 49.4-5mm tamper is a nice tight fit. Shot volume can be adjusted by pull technique. Using a dbl. basket, generally in the 3/4 - 1 1/2 oz. range. Uses single and double baskets and an Elektra 49mm double basket(slightly higher volume) will also fit. Various pre-infusion techniques are possible. The group will heat up a little too much after a while as most machines do but with the exposed group can be cooled with a cold wet towel. It's not a party machine with it's limited capacity and need to release pressure before refilling. Decent shots can be made without too much practice using proper techniques and superb shots will come with more practice. Used machines hold or gain value. The new machines are very similar to the older ones with only slight improvements. Maintenance I think is easier on the older machines. The 3hole tipped steamer works well and I like having it on the left side of the machine. The drip tray removes easily for dumping. Orphan Espresso has all the needed gaskets, bottomless portafilters, perfect fit tampers, etc. and detailed instructions and videos on basic maintenance and complete rebuilding, They will also do service,rebuild,repaint. Usability is really not that difficult. Sure it's more than pushing a button. A good pull should not take much effort. But as always making a good shot is mostly about fresh beans, a good grind, proper dose, good distribution,a proper tamp and the right temp. choice. If these are done well the pulling of the lever is quite straight forward. In fact some shots can be saved with a lever that would not result as well with the uncontrollable pressure of a pump once the button is pushed..
Buying a used cremina is less risky than some pump machines that have very pricey brains and control panels that are hard to know the condition of. Most Creminas will just need normal cleaning and possibly some gasket replacements. Often an old Cremina will become available that was only used a few times. If the gaskets weren't heated up too many times they can still be usable for a while. If willing and a little handy all servicing can be done at home. The machine is lighter than many quality pump machines to save on shipping costs and complex packing and damage. If it's winter make sure they drain All the water out. And unscrew the lever handle The new ones are pricey but considering they can produce great shots, the handcrafted build and lack of electronic components that may be tough to find someday. These machine were truly meant to last a lifetime and be passed on. I just wish this mentality would catch on again!
Three Month Followup
One Year Followup
The years go by and my Cremina keeps going like new. Since my first review the interest in Cremina's continues to rise. The ability to profile a shot for the ever widening array of available espresso coffees only becomes more attractive.