The La Pavoni Professional machine represents the "old school" of espresso technology to many people, but in a lot of ways the Lever lineup from the company represents the evolution of espresso technology over a 75 year period.
Roughly 100 years ago (around 1905) the word "espresso" was something unknown to the coffee world. It took a company called Bezerra to amalgamate the ideas sown for the previous fifty years of steam brewing technology, and a company founded by Desiderio Pavoni to finance Bezerra when they had no money to develop their new marriage of technology. The La Pavoni Ideale was born, and the word 'espresso' was introduced to modern day vernacular. The world of coffee was changed forever.
These first machines where just huge boilers with lots of steam production, lots of valves and outputs, but they produced coffee on demand, in small cups, made 'expressly' for each customer. One problem with this was that steam touched the coffee grounds, producing off flavours. Another problem was that the pressure wasn't high enough, and attempts to increase the pressure to produce more extraction only ended up damaging the coffee more with the increased steam contact.
The demand for higher pressures without the aid of steam moved technological advances, and a myriad of methods from hydraulic pressure to vibratory and rotary pumps were eventually developed and used. One of the elements used to gain the magical 9 BARs of pressure happens to be one of science's oldest machines - the lever - and when used in combination with a load piston, good pressures could be produced manually to squeeze water through a bed of finely ground coffee to produce the drink we know as espresso. With the use of a lever and piston, steam was reduced or eliminated from the grouphead and prevented from touching coffee grinds.
| The Original Europiccola looks very similar to today's model. |
| Thankfully, La Pavoni has ditched the red-orange base of the Professional model. |
Gaggia was the first commercial success with this, with the Gaggia Crema commercial machine, but others soon followed. The lever piston machine proved to be an exceptional method for producing superior espresso, but it definitely requires the skill and practice of a seasoned Barista to make it consistent. Lever piston-produced espresso is one of the most demanding and testing methods for crafting the drink, because so much can go wrong. Fortunately for the world, many learned the right way to use these machines, and we got excellent beverages as a result from these skilled Barista.
Commercial machines came first, then home lever piston models came along. La Pavoni was one of the first, and the Europiccola, introduced in 1961 was soon a staple in Italian homes, and eventually, homes around the world. The Europiccola was refined, and La Pavoni further enhanced the design and released it as the Professional in 1974. A La Pavoni Lever machine even appeared in the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die, with Bond making an espresso for M. And to this day, a Europiccola is housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a testament to its ground breaking design and impact in espresso machine technology for the home.
Throughout the years, La Pavoni refined their line of Lever machines, and most recently introduced some major changes - some cosmetic, some serious innovations. The Romantica line is the newest of their Lever machines, and definitely fits in the "works of art" category. The Professional and Europiccola lines were refined cosmetically to make them more artistic and beautiful in appearance over the years - gone is the garish orange of the original Professional model.
Most recently, La Pavoni went "back to the drawing board" as it were and redesigned the grouphead and water delivery system on their Lever machines, acknowledging that even tried and tested technology needs some revisions from time to time.
Out of the Box
As we stated in our First Look at this product, the La Pavoni Professional is a stunner to look at. This machine is a good representative of the "beautiful" portion of the world of espresso machine technology. When you first see it, you recognize instantly why it has earned the nickname "chrome peacock". It very much has that form, especially with the lever's position out of the box and when it is not in use.
The machines' materials are primarily chrome covered brass or stainless steel, and ABS plastic handles for the portafilter and lever, and also an ABS plastic screw cap on top. Other models feature wood parts. The other plastic in the Professional is in the drip tray and cover, and the sight glass outer cover. There is an abundance of chrome coated brass and steel on this machine.
Our sidebar gives some specifications for the product (view in the right column of this page) and we'll further detail performance specs later on in this review.
Inside the box, you find
- The Machine (natch)
- How to Video
- Single and Double Filters
- Plastic (throwaway) tamper - which doesn't fit the filter baskets (natch).
- Detachable steam wand
- Cappuccinatore auto frother wand (also detachable)
I didn't watch the video initially - I went to Daniel Ho's How to Use a La Pavoni Lever Machine website - a nice fan site to check out for anyone considering this machine for the home. I should note that Daniel's site does cover older versions of the La Pavoni Professional, and some comments may not be applicable to models shipping today; some comments in Dan's feedback section do cover more recent versions of the machines, and of course, these are individual opinions listed on the website, and are not necessarily endorsed by La Pavoni or its distributors.
Setup really is a no brainer with this machine. I did notice that the handles on the portafilter and lever can screw off, which means you can replace them with the wood handles found on the other La Pavoni Professional line, if you can track down a parts supplier. You get to choose between the normal 3 hole wand and a cappuccinatore-styled automated frothing device, and switching between the two is almost instantaneous, thanks to a nicely designed quick release system La Pavoni has developed.
As stated previously, my test La Pavoni is the older 49mm filter basket version. Pavoni has redesigned their Lever machines recently, and Angelo Forzano of European Gift and Houseware sent along a detailed letter that explains the changes and why they were made. I've included portions of the letter below:
A La Pavoni machine, due to its basic construction, is made to be turned on, used, then turned off, ideally, within 25 minutes. Two factors come into play if your La Pavoni machine is left on for prolonged periods. First you risk running the boiler dry, since there is no direct water feed. Second, because of all the metal to metal fitting the units slowly become hotter and hotter, heat, as you may know is a deterrent to making good coffee, and it does build up in the machine.
While many (lower priced) pump espresso machines do not actually have enough power to produce a hot cup of coffee, the La Pavoni dilemma was that it produces too much heat. This is one reason the La Pavoni lever machine is a steaming gem, cup after cup of cappuccino can be produced with little or no recover time. This heat problem was barely noticeable when making 3-4 cups, but if more drinks need to be prepared then a sufficient “crema” would be harder to achieve. (ed note: in our testing the first shot is the best; it is a slow downgrade after that point due to heat damage).
In 1999 La Pavoni set out to correct this imbalance, a year later the MILLENIUM models came to market. A novice would be hard pressed to see the difference between the two units beside the fact that the group on the Millennium is larger, however, internally many changes took place.
(The move to a) larger group solved two problems, it allowed the water in the group to sit in a larger area which would allow the water to mix with air and cool naturally. The water would also cool faster if it did not come into contact with metal; so the group is now lined with a nylon sleeve made of ryton, effectively placing a vacuum barrier between the water and metal wall.
Last, a vented spacer was fit between the group and the boiler, this perforated spacer allows excess steam to travel up, away from the water and back into the boiler. A larger handle, screen and filter basket round out the changes.
Specifications of changes are as follows:
Filter holder: now 59.5 mm up from 57.5 mm
Upper zone of group: now 60 mm up from 50 mm
Internal Screen: now 50.5mm up from 48.3
Filter basket: now 53.5mm up from 48.3
After testing, the final results indicate a drop of 6% - 9%, or 10-15 degrees F between the units. Testing was done during a four-month period with temperature changes ranging from 54 degrees F to 77 degrees F
The newer units are identified with a large silver sticker indicating the world "Millennium" attached to the bottom of the base. We would like to thank Mr. Forzano for this valuable information. Because we are limited to testing our model on hand, (a pre-Millennium design), we must limit our direct comments to our test model; however, some of our comments and criticisms of the La Pavoni Professional machine in this Detailed Review may already be moot points with the new unit. The news about the baffles in the channel between grouphead and boiler is especially promising, and the larger grouphead is not only a boon to better temperatures over consecutive shots, but also a boon for richer espresso due to the (assumed) larger amount of grinds that can be used for each single or double.
If in the future we get a chance to evaluate one of the newer designed Professionals, we will pass along the results.
RTFM (read the freaky manual, you have no one to blame but yourself otherwise) is the mantra around here, and I did read the Pavoni Professional manual carefully before using the machine. It gives some good background, and online resources like Dan Ho's site help a lot. If you buy the machine in the US, you'll also find an additional manual provided by European Gift and Houseware which is a much improved version when compared to the original one that La Pavoni provides.
Starting up the La Pavoni for the first time requires some cleaning procedures - the manual does give good instructions for this, so follow them - it helps clean out the machine and also prep it for proper first use. I went through the procedure then got ready for trying her out. I filled the boiler up to three quarters (as per Dan Ho's advice), and once the machine was up to full pressure (not true!) I opened the steam wand.
Why? Because the full pressure is false - you need to open the wand to get the machine to realise its real pressure levels. It has to do with the wand, grouphead and other portions where air pockets might be present. Just open the wand, lift the lever for a second, and you're good to go.
Properly tuned, I was ready to pull my first shot. But before I get to that, one word of warning here that I'm going to repeat often - Pavoni lever machines get hot. Real hot. Be careful when using it.
I loaded up the portafilter double with a coffee grind that was slightly coarser than the one I use for my Livia 90 machine. Frankly, I didn't know what to expect - I didn't know how much pressure I needed to use on the lever, what kind of grind I should use (well, I read about the grind, but it scared me a bit), even the dosage was a mystery. I'd read comments in alt.coffee and on various websites about how people needed days, if not weeks to get their first decent shot from a La Pavoni lever machine.
I guess I was lucky. My first pull (and it was a "pull") had heaps of crema on top, and tasted pretty darned good. As did the second pull. And the third was okay as well.
It was the fourth pull where I noticed things were off. At first I didn't know what to attribute it to - perhaps my grind was off, or the tamp wasn't right, or the volume of grounds was wrong. Only after more experience with the machine did I really know the culprit - the group was too hot and the water hitting the grounds was too hot.
Boy, did I have a lot to learn about this machine.
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| Front View. Click to Enlarge |
| Right View. Click to Enlarge |
| Back View. Click to Enlarge |
| Left View. Click to Enlarge |
| Top View. Click to Enlarge |