A truly marvelous machine and espresso making experience.
Positive Product Points
As some other reviewers have pointed out, I don't understand the somewhat bad press that lever machines have received. I have found mine to be easy to use with excellent results.
Negative Product Points
Needs more weight in the base as it can slide around. The drip tray is light and can move around a bit. Double shots were not as consistent as I would like.
Before purchasing a lever machine I read everything I could get my hands on. I must admit that I was not really intimidated by the difficulties many reviewers mentioned but it did make me somewhat concerned. I was used to modern electric pump machines and the idea of adding more variables to the already complex process art of making good espresso was ever present as I went through the decision effort.
I finally blinked and went ahead with purchasing the La Pavoni Europiccola. Upon arrival, an initial inspection confirmed everything that I had read about its beauty and workmanship. You really need to see one in the flesh to appreciate it. Also, for some reason it is a little larger than I imagined but not in a negative sense. This even made it more impressive.
I went through the cleaning procedure described in the machine's instruction manual without incident. After reading all of the reviews, I proceeded to use the double shot filter as most reviewers stated that better results could be obtained. I was disappointed with the first few shots as there was practically no crema and the feel in the mouth was nondescript (as one might imagine). I went through numerous experiments with the "pull" for the double-shot centered around the initial partial first pull. I found that this varied the consistency of the shot all over the map.
I finally moved over to the often maligned single filter which uses simply a single pull and a new world was awakened. Shot after perfect shot occurred day after day. As called out in the instructions, when one raises the lever to fill the group head it is possible that nothing will drip through but I did not find that a problem. Just lowering the lever a couple of inches brought forth those first exciting drops. Crema production with the single filter was excellent and consistent. I attribute the improved performance for the single filter to be due to the more repeatable single pull of the lever then the somewhat more subjective "pull and three-quarters" required for the double shot.
Much has been made of the fussiness of the grind and tamp. I personally found this not to be an issue and requires only the common sense that one would use with any good espresso machine notwithstanding the type. I did experiment with the grind and tamp using the double filter but found that it was not the issue with the problem I was having.
Finally, my solution on the mechanical stability of the machine during the pull turned out to be quite simple. Most reviewers recommend holding the portafilter handle in the left hand while pulling the lever down with the right. I personally did not like this method as there was a tendency for the machine to lurch to the left slightly during the pull. What worked for me was to put the palm of my left hand on the large boiler cap knob as I operated the lever with my right. This applied a stabilizing force directly downwards on the machine and resulted in completely stable pulls. As other reviewers have pointed out, the machine can become quite hot so be especially careful not to touch metal parts.
The problem with overheating I did initially notice during some of my multiple shot experiments but I did not care for the "damp towel" solutions and other little cool down techniques that other users have come up with. What finally worked for me was just to adhere to my normal daily espresso routine. I usually drink three single shots in the morning as I read the paper. After I make the first shot I turn the machine off. I continue to read my paper and drink my marvelous espresso. When I am ready for the second shot I turn the machine back on and let it heat up again. This only takes a minute or two as it is still quite warm. I repeat this sequence for the third shot. I would estimate that there is about 10 minutes between shots. This allows the group head to cool down between shots so one never gets that "overcooked" or burned taste that is possible with a super heated machine.
In conclusion, this is the best machine that I have owned (and I have owned a few). It produces great consistent espresso, it's a beauty and delight for the eye and even my wife loves its looks as she has always threatened to "install" my previous "metal boxes" in the garage.
On-line ordering was simple and one can occasionally catch one of their 20% coupon sales as I did but the packing of the outer shipping box was horrible. The outer box contained no packing material so the La Pavoni box itself was free to slide around on the inside. The result was that the styrofoam insert that held the machine in place during shipment ended up in a hundred pieces. No damage was noticed on the machine either functionally or cosmetically. This is a testament to its construction and materials.
My net recommendation....you may want to order it from someone else.