We aren't old friends yet, but I think this is probably a solid contender in the serious low end. For $50 I'll take three. At $369, I'll let you know in a few months.
Positive Product Points
57.5mm(?!) portafilter(unpressurized) Tank-like all metal build quality Marine brass boiler Super quiet 64 oz. water capacity No froth enhancing doodad on steam wand Attractive
Negative Product Points
57.5mm portafilter Kind of tough to fill tank Manufacturer disclaimer against heavy continuous use Typical short steam wand How the heck do you get the shower screen off to clean it?
The La Pavoni Caffe Portofino espresso/cappachino maker is Pavoni's latest entry into the pump semi-automatic home espresso market. I happened to luck into one of these as an open box clearance item at Homegoods for $50. I didn't know much about this relatively new machine, but going on La Pavoni's reputation and a quick inspection of the machine and included parts I decided I'd be foolish to pass it up at that price. About a week into ownership I would say so far, so good. It's worth noting that this machine seems to differ considerably from La Pavoni's previous pump models, as it has a large non-pressurized portafilter. There is little information about this machine available online and this is my attempt to rectify this with a little of my first impressions.
The first thing that struck me about this machine is how solid it feels. It weighs in at 18 pounds and has no flex in the coated sheet metal body. a metal hatch covers the removable water bottle compartment. Trying to fill it with the bottle in the machine requires either a steady hand or a funnel. The power cord is exceptionally beefy. A lighted rocker switch on one side controls the power. The steam control knob lives on the opposite side. On top in the front are the buttons for brewing and activating steam, as well as status lights. It is available in either black or white and has a fingerprint resistant epoxy(?) coating. When powered on the machine heats up in a matter of minutes, I'd say as fast as my Gaggia. The steam wand is a typical crooked short stubby thing, but at least it doesn't have a stupid plastic frothing thingy on it. Oh, and that portafilter...57.5mm by the old calipers. Weird size, but heavy and good. Not quite as heavy as the Gaggia but significantly less crude looking. No crema disk or pressure valve in sight. It has a screw-on two cup adapter that I find nice. It comes with a double basket and what appears to be a single basket, but I'm told in the manual it is only for pods. I'm unconvinced. It also includes a standard 7g coffee measure and a packet of Cafiza for the recommended pre-use descaling. The users manual recommends against using the machine for more then 30-40 minutes straight, and says straight out to expect the machine to need factory gasket services every 12-18 months depending on use. There doesn't appear to be an easy, non-warranty voiding way to remove the shower screen. This is somewhat disappointing. On the upside, the screen itself has a fairly fine mesh and doesn't seem to get grounds caught in it easily.
I found that my somewhat limited previous experience using a rickety, leaky, well-loved old Gaggia Espresso prepared me well to easily pull Golden-Rule double shots on this machine after only a couple of tries. It doesn't seem to be quite as particular about grind as the Gaggia as far as shot timing vs. volume. I haven't had an opportunity to try super fresh beans with this machine yet, but I haven't been able to pull shots quite as good as the best on my Gaggia so far. I think it's too early in our acquaintance to blame the machine.
UPDATE: Fresh Major Dickason's has made some great shots on this, I'd say equal to the Gaggia. I'm really loving this machine especially for the price I paid.
You gotta love the clearance section of Homegoods. The cashier assured me if it was DOA they'd take it back.