Perhaps comparing a manual lever machine to semi automatics like a Livia 90 or a Solis SL-70 isn't exactly fair, but what the hell, we're going to do it anyway. We'll also toss in the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva, another lever machine, but one that uses a spring piston.
For our various tests, we enlisted the aid of three espresso fanatics, and yours truly rounded out the test group.
In all honesty, this probably isn't a fair evaluation. We had to set rules for this test, and the rule was that the grind was tuned to the lever machines' requirements. We used the same grinder, the same grind, the same beans, and relative brew volumes depending on the dose of coffee. The shots pulled were all double ristretto types, which further emphasise the potential defects in a shot. The testing was partially blind: only I knew which machine produced which shot. The scores are the average total based on five criteria: smell, visual, mouthfeel, finish, overall.
|Espresso Shot Quality|
|Micro Casa||La Pavoni||SL-70||Livia|
As you can see, the Elektra came out top, which I have to admit, bothered me a bit - I was so hoping that after 50 days with the La Pavoni, I was in tune enough with the manual lever operation that I could beat out the spring inside the Elektra. It was not to be. The increased natural sweetness in both lever machine shots was noticed by three of the four testers; the semi auto machines were pouring a bit too fast for true ristrettos.
This test was much more subjective. Each participant was asked to rate the machines on several common features - ease of use, intuitive usage, feel of use, and experience. The numbers shown are the average of all four participants.
|Usability of Machines|
|Micro Casa||La Pavoni||SL-70||Livia|
|Ease of Use||5.8||5.1||8.5||9.5|
This test probably favours the semi auto machines simply through their designed ease of use. Feel and Experience both benefited the lever machines because all four test subjects liked the overall experience and the hands on approach the machines offered.
This one took into account instant steam ability, the ability to microfroth, the speed and also the usability of the steam functions on all four machines (the fifth machine is the La Pavoni with the Cappuccinatore device). The Livia has my own custom modified steam tip. The numbers shown are the average of all four participants.
|Micro Casa||La Pavoni||La Pavoni (frother)||SL-70||Livia|
The Elektra edges out the Pavoni straight wand, even though the Livia was the fastest of the bunch.
Each participant (except myself) wrote some overall thoughts about the four test machines.
Toby: I have to say the Elektra stands out as the most beautiful of the four machines, but the La Pavoni is close. The Livia is obviously the best overall performer and it seems a machine well suited to producing consistent results with little or no effort. The Pavoni is a great machine, I wouldn't mind owning one.
Steve: I have a Livia, so my comments probably are not fair. I can understand the (other people in the test group's) love for the manual operation, but give me a quality semi auto any day. Except for the lack of instant steam on the SL machine, I would probably have picked that over the lever machines. As for looks, the Elektra can't be beat, but the Pav comes close. It may come down to whether or not you like chrome or brass.
Chris: I love that Pavoni, it appealed most to me visually. I imagine if the Elektra was in all chrome, I might like it more - the eagle is cool. I especially liked the manual operation of the Pavoni, and how you were one with the machine (yes, grasshopper!). If the changes they have made to the machine really do work, it is nearly perfect for someone really into creating excellent espresso.