-Repeatability of shots can be hard -Machine gets very hot -No warming tray for cups -Can burn out heater if left on
There's a lot of reviews about the La Pavoni lever machines. I'll try to write some original ideas.
SIMPLICITY: By pulling the lever, you are replacing the pump used on other machines. I figure this is one less component to break. But it also adds another variable to the equation because the "pump" will be slightly different on each pull depending on how hard you pull the lever. You have to worry about not just tamp pressure and grind, but also "lever pressure". I can see the benefit a super-auto where it is easier to change one variable at a time in the quest for the best shot. I can understand how some people could get frustrated with this machine. But I don't find the Euro hard to use, even in the morning, and rarely throw out a shot. I always get tons of crema.
MAINTENANCE: I've read that this machine needs to be serviced regularly, mainly to have the gaskets replaced yearly. There's a great website (www.pavoniexpress.com) that shows how to do this yourself with gaskets/seals available from any decent hardware store. I get the feeling that I'll be able to service this machine regularly myself and keep it in good working order for the next 10-20 years.
MAJOR FLAWS: The heating element can burn itself out if the machine runs dry. Pavoni suggests not only turning off the machine but also unplugging it from the wall when not in use. I've already accidentally left the machine on a few times but I always catch it in time. I like someone's suggestion to plug the machine into a timer but I haven't done so yet. Also, The single shot basket is a joke. Even the "double" basket barely gives me a 1oz espresso.
TAMPER: The plastic tamper that comes with the machine is worthless. I believe the tamper needed is 51mm. I found a $9 mass produced metal tamper that fits perfectly at a kitchen store. But you may not be so lucky so you'll need to order a custom 51mm tamper (note that older pre-1999 Pavonis had a smaller 49mm basket). Try www.coffeetamper.com or www.espressoparts.com
STEAMING WAND: Works well and you can steam immediately after pulling a shot with no lag. The machine is supposed to come with an auto-frother attachment but mine wasn't in the box. No big loss for me.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LA PAVONI MODELS: There are two main La Pavoni lever models, the Europiccola and the Professional. The Euro is an 8 cup model. The Pro is a 16 cup model, with a pressure guage, and costs $200 extra. As far as I can tell, the pressure guage has no use whatsoever (please correct me if I'm wrong). And Mark Prince's review of the La Pavoni mentions how the machine gets extremely hot, thus only the first few cups of espresso will be good. So, large capacity in a La Pavoni isn't neccessarily a good thing. I figure the Euro functions identically to the Pro. Plus the Euro warms up faster because it is smaller. I could not find a good reason to pay the extra money for the Pro instead of the Euro. The other main differences between La Pavoni models is appearance. The Euro comes in a variety of versions including black base vs. chrome base, chrome vs. brass, plastic handles vs. hardwood handles. You can spend under $500 for a plain Euro or above $900 for basically the same thing in brass with hardwood handles. The only difference is asthetics. I have the cheapest Euro with black base and it looks fantastic. I was afraid the base would be plastic but it's actually black painted metal.
MY CHOICE: Why did I buy this machine and not another? My wife wanted it and that's it. She always lusted over this machine and so I got it. Thus, I didn't do much research to see how this compares to other machines in the same price range. But I did read some reviews, principally Mark Prince's Coffegeek review of the La Pavoni Pro, and realized it's a decent enough machine.
I bought this through Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You'll probably never find this in their stores but you will find it in their online catalog for $475 (they only carry the Euro black model). The trick is that you need to go to one of their stores and order it there using one of the ubiquitous 20% off coupons. You can't use the 20% coupon online so you must go to one of their store locations and have them order it. Cost will be $375 and then you'll have to pay about $25 shipping plus any applicable sales taxes. That's at least $100 cheaper than any other retailer I could find. Plus, Bed Bath has an awesome return policy so I knew I could return it to my local store easily if I found out the espresso was bad or the machine wasn't working properly.