This is from my webpage, but I think it is quite relevant here:
I recently had the good fortune to learn of a gent on alt.coffee who had this machine and was thinking of selling it. He found that another semi-pro machine was more to his liking and so this one was rendered redundant. I inquired as to his asking price - and his reply seemed reasonable.
The machine was 4 weeks old at that point; so I had the opportunity to own a nearly new machine for a significant discount over new. It sounded good to me. I had been saving for a Giotto or Livia for a long time and I figured I would purchase whichever one presented itself to me first, and I am so happy with Livia that upgrade fever is now relegated to the domain of roasters, technology, and finding the perfect restored O'Keefe stove...
The Livia feels like a much more serious machine than the Briel; at an MRP of well over four times the price of the Briel, she ought to. All the pieces are much more expensive feeling, the porta-filter weighs 4 times as much as the Briels' (510g vs 156g), there is a LOT more shiny pretty stainless steel, and the whole thing just feels rich.
Pasquini is the U.S. importer of Bezzera and La Cimbali manufactured Italian espresso machines, some of which are customized for Pasquini; such a machine is the Livia 90.
The Bezzera BZ99 is Cinderella before her fairy godmother hit the scene, slipped on those glass slippers and created a glam queen named Livia. While she's the same gal inside, outside she's had one hell of a makeover.
While the BZ99 is typically clad with flanks of solid color paint, the Livia comes in INOX only. The BZ99 uses retro-style round lights, switches, and knobs while Livia has rectangular lights that match the rocker switches. The Automatic model that I have also has a fully programmable touchpad for various volumes instead of a single on/off switch. The BZ99 also trades at a significant savings over Livia - most of that due, no doubt, to the pricey reflective coachwork of the later.
I figured I might as well learn how to grind for this machine so I bought 5 pounds of Coffee Project's Uncertain Blend which, for $2.50 per pound, is the ultimate tool for ballparking and then fine tuning ones roasting/grinding/pulling technique. I have roasted a half pound of it in the Alp to 8 different degrees of roast, and I am noting what the grind range is with these differing roasts. I have noticed that the more I roast a bean, the more dust I get at a particular setting. So darker roasts need to grind larger. This is fairly obvious I suppose; as the beans roast they are decomposing, losing moisture and then oils, and becoming more brittle. It seems plausible that they would fracture more readily when struck by the burrs as opposed to slicing nicely as the moister beans do.
I also popped over to the market and bought 3 gallons of 2% organic milk so that I could practice my microfoaming technique. I discovered that the Horizon organic stuff worked better with my Briel. Really. And it makes a world of difference with Livia too. I really wanna learn how to make CappuArt.
The Livia is a much faster steamer than the Briel, on first blink all I could produce was large bubbles. My Krups Gusto (college flashback) and the Briel make much better microfoam than this did for me out of the box. And not having an experienced barista handy, I did the next best thing: Waited for the mail.
Reading up on this machine before purchase, it seemed that a common complaint about Livia, in addition to her uselessly small cheap plastic drip tray, was the difficulty in producing dense fluidic micro-foam. It seems that the consensus amongst owners is that in order to product true microfoam, it is necessary to reduce the quantity of steam pouring forth from Livias wand. While the stock 4-holer may be fine for a restaurant sized pitcher, for my 10, 20, or 30 oz pitcher the milk just heats up too fast.
The postman brought me both a Conti and a Giotto tip which I had ordered for a few bucks from Moschetti & Union Café , respectively . The Conti turned out not to fit; the tip is too small (by a lot) and the gaskets are to large (by a lot). The Giotto is perfect. Absolutely perfect. It is a 2-hole tip with both holes being 1/3 smaller than Livias.
And what a difference those two little holes make. The Giotto enables me to product instant microfoam. Well, a lot closer to microfoam. Practice will tell. Steaming 146 grams of milk to 148°f with good smooth foam took 31 seconds with the Giotto tip. That compares with 16 seconds with the standard issue tip for 146 grams of milk to reach a fluffy large bubble 150°f.
But what about the coffee? Well, Livia does right well making good espresso. The pucks that result from 14 grams of espresso grind look real nice, they nestle up to the screw in the shower screen just barely making contact . I pre-infuse manually with a quick premoistening, 5 second rest, pull. The resulting 18 second, shot looks like this , which I think is pretty good for a kid who's only been doing this for a coupla' weeks. I know it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but I like the taste of the 18 second shots better than the 25 second ones. 25 seconds in Livia tastes a bit off.
The flavor is really good most of the time. I have no idea if the pre-infusion does anything more than make a prettier shot, but they seem to come out real nice with it, a little less so without. There often a bit more detritus in the cup when I skip the preinfusion in the sorghum fog of my O'dark-hundred mornings.
I've programmed the touchpad buttons so that pressing the first one provides the ~1/2 second pre-infusion. Then after it kicks off, all I have to do is count to 5 and hit the second button. At this point on my learning curve I need to isolate as many variables as possible, learn what each step does, and only then can I really branch out and explore, so smart buttons are a boon to me.
I like ristrettos for my cappuccinos ( I know, a cappu...so plebe), and this thing makes great ones. I find that the ristretto cuts through the foam better with more intensity and less bitterness, bite, etc. I am sure that the lingering bitterness is merely an artifact of a bad shot, but I have learned to like my espresso short. The Indian monsooned beans from Sweet Maria's and the Malabar Gold from Coffee Project do great for me.
Speaking of pretty - I just dumped a 5 oz cappuccino together from organic milk, a lick of bourbon vanilla, and full city malabar gold. It turned out just heavenly. I am so pleased with Livia :-)