A great machine for espresso (when it works) though tricky for steaming; terrific tech support but not after warranty expires; delicate and quirky computer electronics;go semi-auto or look at an e61 machine.
Positive Product Points
Fast warmup, powerful steaming, hot water tap, consistently good shots, pressure gauge, easy-fill tank
Negative Product Points
Requires bottled spring water (and different repair techs disagree on the brand--Cafe West recommends Crystal Geyser); steaming too powerful for included tips; shallow drip tray, often needs warming flush pre-pull; delicate and quirky computerized electronics (endemic to autos and superautos); descaling the boiler is necessary but not recommended as a DIY procedure; professional descaling inconvenient and might cost extra even during warranty period.
I bought this in May 2005 to upgrade from the Rancilio Silvia, my first "real" espresso machine (I don't count the parade of Krups thermoblocks, Saeco/Starbucks elementary pump/boiler machines and Capresso Ultima that came before and now inhabit my basement Museum of Inadequate Espresso Devices). Nothing really wrong with Silvia, but as word spread among my friends of my home barista skills, more of them at a time wanted proof and a dual-purpose/single-boiler machine just can't cut it for more than two trad cappas at a time. I was in the market for either a heat exchanger (HX) or dual boiler pourover that didn't require a 220V circuit; after being outbid on eBay for several Expobars, Isomacs and another Livia 90, I did a bit of 'net shopping and found that this machine, which most vendors sell for $1400-1500, was only $1100 at Trishops.com (and unlike the $800 Illy deal, did not require buying a raft of pods I'd never use and have to unload on eBay).
Once I figured out this machine does not like to be overdosed and the non-e61-grouphead needs not a cooling but a warming flush--keeping a close eye on the pressure gauge which is a fairly good indicator of temp as well--pulling great shots became a snap. Far fewer gushers than on Silvia, and have never choked the machine (had a few stingy-flowing shots when I overdosed or ground too fine, but never choked it).
Steaming can be a sore point, however, especially if you are accustomed to the slow-but-steady pace of the Silvia. The included tips (teflon "turbo" froth aider and 4-hole faceted stainless) do not provide sufficient control to allow true whirlpooling and build fine microfoam before the milk gets to temp: a successful session on a LaMarzocco Linea confirmed it's not my technique but the machine itself. Using the smallest latte art pitchers is a disaster unless all you want to make is a macchiato. The standard 16/20 oz. pitchers produce the best results with organic whole milk or a 50/50 mix of heavy cream and water. The aftermarket 2-hole ProGold tip slows things down a bit, but is not a precise fit. With considerable practice, I was able to get some rosettas using the stock 4-holer; an aftermarket LM unfaceted 4-holer might do the trick--the stock tip's holes are too large and the dispersal pattern too wide. Haven't tried the "cheat" of plugging up one hole with a toothpick, however. Also, elevating the machine might also provide a better angle for the steamwand (which, contrary to prior reviews, now swivels fully on a ball joint); I will probably get either the base or a couple of butcher blocks to elevate it to the same height as a pro LM.
Very nearly returned the machine when, after barely a month, it began leaking and refilling the boiler like crazy. After some phone sleuthing with Cafe West/Baratza's Jerry (mad props!), we figured out the pressurestat coupling was defective, and they sent me a whole new p'stat assembly. (While that was in transit, I went back to using Silvia--and though I loved the microfoam I was getting, I realized I was also getting really annoyed over how long it took Silvia to come up to temp, having to temp/time surf, and her smaller boiler & tank and limited capacity). Jerry walked me through the installation and setting the p'stat, and Livia has been acquitting herself nobly ever since. (Still not selling Silvia, though--she might end up in my office).
The auto function is also nice, now that I have reset the single and double buttons to slightly lesser water volumes (regardless, I never use the single basket). The hot water tap is great for rinsing the PF and making Americanos and small press pots. There is some question as to the diameter of the PF and baskets--some say 57mm, some 58. I bought a 57mm tamp, but the 58s I've been using with my Silvia fit just fine as long as I use a double or triple basket. (The rim of the stock basket seems to dent fairly easily when knocking out the puck, so buy some extras). Have not yet bought a replacement basket, as it is not clear whether it requires a special 57 or whether the LM 58mm ridgeless will fit. Note--if you do opt to purchase an aftermarket bottomless PF, you may have to try several brands. Espresso Parts NW's did not fit, but Chris' Coffee's did (and both were listed as being 57mm and appropriate for the Livia). Wish it had a true temp gauge or PID, but the pressure gauge does correlate well to temp. The group, as pointed out earlier, is neither a paddlewheel nor e61, so if you like to preinfuse you have to do so manually. (I don't bother).
Unlike the e61 machines, this looks much more elegant and has a surprisingly small footprint for its considerable capacity. The stainless is not rounded or "sculpted" as on the e61s, but its sharp corners are not a dealbreaker for me--it looks like a slightly larger and much more elegant version of the Silvia (and they look good together on the counter). If you have low cabinets and cannot put a machine on the counter with nothing above it, this is the machine for you--though you do need room to flip the hinged tank lid back for filling. You can access the insides with just a screwdriver--the top plate unscrews easily to allow you to disconnect and empty the tank and then remove the outer shell. Backflushing is also a breeze.
I leave the Livia on from morning to bedtime. You can leave her on 24/7, but be aware that will require more frequent gasket replacement. Have not had to replace a gasket yet. It's a joy not to have to "cheat" a machine up to temperature.
Only reason I probably wouldn't buy this machine again is that the Quickmill Anita is now on the market--an e61 for at least $100-200 less, with more controllable steam (but a less-movable steam wand). AFAIK, most other HX machines require you to remove the cup warmer to refill the tank. (And the anemic cup warmer is not an issue because the hot water tap does such a great preheating job).
Buying was the easy part--Trishops.com's process is quick. But had I realized that the assertion it'd ship within the week was not accurate, I'd have saved myself much frustration and aggravation. Trishops has extremely short office hours and I played quite a bit of e-mail and phone tag keeping tabs on the progress of the shipment. Took more like 4 weeks, and the tracking number that was finally provided did not even yield results till the package was literally on my doorstep. Trishops is in NYC, but the machine was shipped from the US distributor for Pasquini, Cafe West/Baratza in Salem, OR. However, CW/B gives outstanding in-warranty tech support, so lack of vendor support is not a factor.
Three Month Followup
Consistently dependable--new pressurestat holding up nicely.
One Year Followup
This is a 2-1/2 year followup, and sad to say, it's not pretty. (I'm not talking about the traumatic experience I had trying to replace the gasket---that was my own d@*n fault for keeping the machine on 24/7 for days at a time and procrastinating. Do that and gasket replacement on any machine will be a nightmare--one that required a steak knife, chisel, and a cleanup worthy of a berserk chimney sweep). No, Livia chugged along mightily until July 2007, when I fipped on the switch and the pressure gauge needle kept jerking into the red, then back left and right again, and then whenever it reached the proper pressure would go into the red and then back again--over and over. Turned the machine off--no leaks, so it didn't seem to be the pressurestat. Turned it on again, and the same thing happened, only this time water kept coming out the outlet into the drip tray (solenoid gone bad?) and the pressure gauge needle began to chatter wildly and suddenly jerked all the way into the red. Turned it off again, waited five minutes, turned it back on--and the pump began running immediately, with water coming out the grouphead. Sadly, this was dependably repeatable.
So I called Cafe West, which confirmed the machine was out of warranty and suggested I contact Pasquini, which I did. I did not relish paying hefty shipping charges for an equally hefty machine, so I asked for local (Chicago) repair shop recommendations. Was given two listings, and I chose the one within the city limits, closer to my home. Drove the machine over (no picnic getting it down my deck stairs and into the car, but the shop owner carried it out when I got there). Was told that it was probably something simple in the overpressure valve or solenoid and that the usual $250 teardown/tuneup/refurb would do the trick, within a week. Paid in advance (against my better judgment, but it was shop policy and I was over a barrel), and waited. No call came, so after 2 weeks I called and was told they were waiting for an o-ring from their supplier. Finally (or so I thought), the call came a month later that it was fixed and ready to pick up. My housekeeper did so on her way into work---but when she asked them to switch it on, the pump promptly misbehaved exactly as it had before. Back to the drawing board---and two more months of phone tag. Finally got an e-mail yesterday to come pick it up, all fixed, this morning, and so I did. I asked to see it in action, so they filled the reservoir, plugged it in, switched it on, and--you guessed it--Niagara Falls again. So the shop owner opened it up, showed me all the parts he'd swapped out: touchpad controls, computer box, ribbon cable, connectors, prongs, you name it. He tried reversing the connectors from the touchpad to the ribbon, even tested each individual prong. Nothing helped. I noticed three other Livia 90 Autos were in for various repairs--one of them had a short to the boiler that warped its top mounting disk; and it dawned on us that the problem in my machine must have gone deeper, perhaps a short in one of the bazillion wires from the power switch to various components, sending an incorrect signal to the pump or boiler. We did the math of either totally replacing parts or sending it off to Pasquini, and realized that despite the machine's replacement cost I'd be throwing good money at an uncertain result. The shop owner mentioned he uses a Livia 90 Semi-Auto at home, and it's never failed on him. I realized I never really took advantage of the Auto's controls, as I often stopped or extended shots manually if they were blonding early or taking too long. I realized that the Semi-Auto has no computerized electronics (save perhaps the boiler-fill circuitry) and that it was probably a safer choice. The shop can get one for less than 2/3 retail--and with the money I already paid and the 90A in trade for parts, I could get one for $500 from them, and they now have 2-year warranties.
So, I would definitely NOT advise buying a Livia 90A. It would have cost too much to get an Andreja Premium or even Quickmill Anita, as the shop doesn't have discount access to them (and a pen pal of mine reports a bad solenoid valve on her out-of-warranty 2-1/2 yr. old Andreja Premium--a better machine than the Anita). Therefore, I am going to give the 90 Semi-Auto a try--at about 35% of the cost to buy one online. And this place will service it for free under the warranty for 2 years.
Meanwhile, good ol' Miss Silvia has been performing above and beyond the call of duty--almost 3 yrs old--since July. Slow steaming, tricky surfing, small capacity--but doing what's expected of her quite dependably (hope I haven't just jinxed her). I thank my lucky stars I didn't sell her--and now I never will.