Well worth the experience if you want great espresso with ritual.
Positive Product Points
Potential for excellent espresso Reasonably quick warm up Beautiful to look at Fun to operate Seems well built (and other reviews indicate many years of operation)
Negative Product Points
Hot spots (really there are cool spots, the rest of the machine is hot) Balance (not a problem for me at 6' 2", but for shorter people it seems to be) Steam wand only moves forward/back, not side to side
I have desired a lever machine since the first time I laid eyes upon one 5 years ago. I finally made the investment and could not be more happy. I love the romance, the look and the feel of the lever machine, but flavor is most important to me. With the La Pavoni I am able to have all.
Every review and the manual will tell you to get a good grinder. Do it. Now spend $40 more and get a top notch tamper. Here is my two week tamper odyssey:
Included with this fine machine is a plastic joke of a tamp that measures about 48mm. The basket is 51mm so it was impossible to get a good firm/even/tight tamp. (this is the millennium edition, both baskets are 51mm and the double basket holds 16g. That is the dose I use on my commercial machine btw). Immediately I looked around for something better. The bottom of one of my shakers fit nice so I used that instead. Due to the construction of the shaker I could not tamp with even force, let alone enough force. At least the bed of coffee was close to evenly tamped. All day long I achieved "drinkable" shots though I was worried that the machine would not produce espresso on the level I expected. That night I rummaged through my spare parts pile and found a metal, convex 49mm tamp. The shots with the "better" tamp were better, but still disappointing. Customers and friends thought they tasted all right, but I knew that the machine was capable of giving me so much more. The next day I went to espressoparts.com and selected a 51mm convex stainless steel pro tamp and then waited. During the next week I kept playing with the machine and achieved o.k. results, but I never got great shots, that is until the tamp arrived. My first shot with the new tamp was way better than anything I had achieved on the La Pavoni to that point. My second shot falls into the memorable category. (I have specific shots I remember in my life. The last one was from a barista in training 9 months ago. I'll hold on to this one for some time). Every shot since using the new tamper has been good if not great. Moral of the story: GET A GREAT TAMPER.
This machine does take time to learn, but as a professional I already have a consistent style of grind, dose and tamp. You need to have this in place along with a consistent pull of the lever to achieve a top notch shot. I taught a friend to do the basics in one afternoon. It might take you longer, but if you use consistent technique you'll get there.
I did notice that the heating element would occasionally not turn on from a cold start. I think this was a problem with my specific machine because I could not find reference to it in other posts. A simple tilt of the machine seemed to make the element turn on. After doing that a few times, the heating element is now turning on like normal. Go figure.
Sneezing is also a potential problem, but not if you are paying attention. I had one time where I was talking to a friend instead of paying attention to the pressure and I got a good sneeze. No problem to clean up, but now I am more vigilant.
In some of my research I noticed that people had a hard time finding a good repair person. I believe that Espresso Smith in Denver is listed as an authorized repair center. I use these guys for my commercial stuff and would highly recommend them.
I actually started selling these in my cafe, so I'd rate the customer service the best ever :). Seriously though, if you are in the area and want some hands on experience along with some great customer service please visit us. We offer lessons and 2 lbs of free espresso with the purchase. If you are looking to shop on price alone suport a coffeegeek sponsor.