Revised: March 2, 2002
This is a COMPLETELY new review.
Having had two full months of extensive use with my new Pasquini Livia 90 Auto espresso machine, I feel a little more competent to write a more detailed, unbiased review.
There are relative few direct competitors, at least in North America, in the market segment that the Livia 90 occupies--most notable are the ECM Giotto II/Euro2000 Junior, the Wega Mininova, and the Isomac “Tea”. There are a few reasons why I chose the Livia 90 over the other worthy competitors. First: Availability. The Livia 90 seems to be unquestionably the most ubiquitous of the four, meaning that there is a wealth of user support to be found on the Internet in newsgroups like “alt.coffee” and at web sites like CoffeeGeek.com that can assist you in identifying Livia’s quirks and how to best deal with them. It also means there is no shortage of authorized vendors to buy from at a competitive price and, in the event of malfunction, to readily get parts and service from. Second: Reputation. I have yet to read a negative review or report on the Livia 90 in any forum—an amazing testament in itself considering how the Internet has become a universal platform for every human being with an axe to grind—and now I know why. The Livia 90 is not only possessed of “wow” good looks, it is exceptionally well built and thoughtfully designed; from the large steam and water knobs, to the 58mm commercial portafilter, 3-way valve for professional back flushing, emminently useful boiler pressure gauge, large and readily accessible water reservoir, and a “cup warmer” (more on this further on) big enough to accommodate a dozen espresso cups, it’s clear that a lot of well-thought-out planning went into the Livia. While, believe it or not, the Livia 90 is *not* manufactured, at all, by Pasquini, I have heard that Pasquini has specified enough modifications and design changes to make it essentially a machine proprietary to Pasquini—vis a vis you will not find an identical machine marketed under a different name for a cheaper price. I have read of reportedly questionable build-quality reviews and steam deficiencies with the Giotto II/Junior, and the Isomac “tea”, while faring well in the reviews I have seen, is simply difficult to find reliable vendors for service and parts if or when necessary, which concerned me. Also, my design tastes tend toward simplistic elegance and the designs of the Giotto and Tea were too “over the top” for me. I found the Livia 90 to strike a perfect balance of both form and function for my tastes. It is the perfect addition to our country kitchen without drawing undue attention to itself in looking like an out-of-place 1920’s Art Deco appliance. The Mazzer Mini grinder I acquired a week after the Livia is a perfect, stunning match for both the machine as well as the kitchen and, with its stepless grind adjustment, leaves no excuse for not producing the best espresso Livia is capable of.
With all of these accolades, one might think the Livia 90 is the perfect home espresso machine--and for the most part it is--but the Livia is not without its share of negatives which leave it just short of perfection, at least on the home espresso machine front. After all, it is only about $1,000 thus it is not reasonable to demand $15,000 multi-group La Marzocco performance and features out of it. Some of the more glaring, but correctable deficiencies in the Livia 90 are as follows:
1) Brew temperatures vary widely (reported to range anywhere from 210 down to 175 degrees throughout a long pull), and therefore necessitates certain pre-extraction steps to coax Livia into remaining within a tighter, more acceptable temperature tolerance throughout the pour. By letting off a little steam, forcing the boiler light to come on, and then by pulling a “blank” shot by running about 1.5-2 ounces of water through the group and portafilter, this should both bring the boiler pressure up to 1.3-1.4 bar on the gauge and has been reported to bring the temperature range throughout a <2-ounce extraction to about 203 degrees at the beginning and 197 degrees by the end—much more within acceptable tolerances. This isn’t only a Livia problem, it’s a problem inherent in virtually all espresso machines equipped with a heat exchanger, even expensive, multi-group commercial units.
2) The four-hole “Rosetta” tip included with the Livia 90 is simply too ambitious for a machine this small, and the plastic “Turbo” frothing aid is simply an embarrassment for a machine of Livia’s pedigree (think training wheels on a Harley Davidson Fatboy). While the steaming power of the Livia 90 is excellent—far better than most any home machine—it still can’t compare to a multi-liter-boiler commercial unit, but is more than sufficient for any home user(s). It steams enough milk and creates enough froth for three classic cappuccinos inside of thirty (30) seconds, but just can’t produce true, dense micro foam necessary to indulge in Latte Art without modifying the included tip or getting a third party tip more suited to the task. Also, the steam wand only rotates on an “X/Y” axis without any “Z” movement. If you don’t elevate it by setting it on something like the optional drawer tray, or place it so the left side of the machine is on the edge of a counter, then getting even a 20-ounce pitcher under it will result in spilled milk foam.
3) The so-called “cup warmer” is nice for decorating your Livia with some Illy Art cups, but don’t expect it to actually warm your cups to anything more than lukewarm, even when using a folded towel as a cover in an effort to trap the heat. It’s more of a storage/staging area for your cups, and that’s about it. At least Pasquini designed the machine with the express intention of having cups stored on top; something most of their direct competitors omitted. The good news is that the hot water spigot on the Livia dispenses near-boiling water to pre-heat your cups, and it does a very good job.
4) The Livia’s drip tray is so small, it’s unforgivable. When you entertain friends or family it will accentuate this glaring shortcoming and prove to be just one more thing you’ll have to be ever mindful of in your preparation routine. It needs to be removed and emptied every dozen shots or so.
5) It could be a little heavier, but at a reported 37 pounds, it’s not exactly a lightweight either. By comparison however, the Wega Mininova weighs in at over 70 pounds, more than twice as much.
With the exception of the cup warmer and gross weight these are all very correctable shortcomings without much, if any, of a price adjustment. Incorporating these changes would result in the most capable home espresso machine on the face of the planet, bar none, and would ultimately make it the perfect home machine. Fortunately, the balance of positive points makes the current Livia 90 the reigning home espresso machine champion. In this price range only the Wega Mininova actually performs as good or better, but at a size and visual penalty—it’s just plain big and ugly.
If you’re looking for performance and quality rolled into a tight, elegant package, the Pasquini Livia 90 is still the leader of the pack.