The MCaL is a great lever, but seldom sold used for a bargain price.
For less than $1k you can get a Ponte Vecchio Lusso (look on ebay for used/new ones). Temperature stability is excellent. Their Export model is similar but in a tower design. I just checked and see that Vaneli's Coffee has both listed in stock and less then $1k new. Call the Good Coffee Company in Seattle and see if they have any in stock. That is where I bought mine.
BUT, you will need a good grinder to bring out the best in the coffee for any decent machine you get.
Any particular reason you narrowed it to a "spring" lever? If you included "manual" lever, you now bring both the La Pavoni and Cremina into the mix... and La Pavoni DEFINITELY can be found on a "budget" - they are the biggest seller to the masses over the years, and there are a lot out there used for a good price. I know you can find something in gently used condition in the $400 to $500 range. You can also find "fixer upper" Creminas in the $800 range, and for $100 and elbow grease you can have a top notch one. (if you are handy - see Orphan Espresso videos to rebuild them - 30 videos and many have done it including me about a week ago. Very satisfying experience).
And of course, the good news with the La Pav and Cremina is they are so simple you can fix them yourself... like most lower end levers.
Personally, my recent foray into levers led me to the Cremina (you can find one of these anywhere in the $800 to $1400 range maybe even cheaper for a bargain or one that needs more attention / parts) - and I am incredibly pleased - more than I ever thought I would be. The points about the Cremina being simple, forgiving and able to make top notch coffee is all true. I would spend a few hundred more for a used Cremina before a used La Pavoni though. The Cremina is a very well made machine - there is a reason folks are using 40 year old Creminas daily. Mine is 25 years old.
I still want to try the MCAL (Elektra Microcasa Leva) - that is a good one too, and new is about the same price as a top notch used Cremina these days.
ericcomposer72 Senior Member Joined: 16 Nov 2013 Posts: 58 Location: New York Expertise: Pro Barista
Espresso: Oscar Grinder: Vario
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 8:34pm Subject: Re: Spring lever on a budget?
Thanks, guys... seems like this confirms what I have been able to find out with my research. If my budget is still tight when I do eventually pull the trigger, I'll probably go for a La Pavoni, perhaps used on eBay.
I'm hoping I will be able to go for something like a Lusso, though; I'm really drawn to spring levers because something about them just seems so sexy to me... you know, the spring doing all the work... I don't know; apologies if that sounds weird/euphemistic...
Anyways, I'd like to have a lever & compare it to my Oscar... then maybe down the road, if I really am "sprung" on levers, I'll save up for a Strega or something...
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