One has to be interested in the "art" and "science" in order to make best use of the machine. If the review sounds like too much trouble, buy a semi-automatic machine instead.
Positive Product Points
The craftsmanship and materials are solid and you are not likely to have major problems because of mechanics. The aesthetics and retro Italian styling speak for themselves. I will say that it will add some real panache to your kitchen.
With the La Pavoni Europiccola, some reasonable attention to technique, and a lot of heart (if you don't understand "heart," think of the movie "Como Agua Para Chocolate" here), you can brew second-to-none espresso.
Excellent steam capacity to microfroth milk.
Simplicity of design, maintenance procedures, and availability of spare parts (and some mechanical aptitude) enables you to perform your own maintenance and restoration.
There is an abundance of information, whether you agree with the technique or not, available for learning how to use the machine on-line. Heck! You can even watch videos on YouTube!
Cleaning is very easy, but should be meticulously done.
If you look around enough, you can find one at a reasonable price.
Negative Product Points
For most people, there is a steep learning curve required for consistently brewing exceptional espressos; however, willingness to learn and practice will produce exceptional results.
The bean quality, roast, grinder type (burr vs. blade), actual grind texture or fineness, tamper size, tamping technique, machine operating technique, and machine temperature all need to be managed.
The cost can be outrageous if you do not shop around.
The machine gets extremely hot to the touch, but this only requires that you be careful and responsible while using it. On an occasion where you get distracted, the LP will bite you!
It does not have a cup warmer, but you can accomplish this by drawing water from the machine when it reaches operational temperature, which also serves the function of heating the group and portafilter.
I am not a professional barista, but I am definitely a La Pavoni enthusiast! I have owned both pre-millenium and millenium models of the 8-cup capacity Europiccola, and I love them both. I have bought older units and repaired them for later sale, and I have bought newer Milleniums for the improvement or newer technology, or occasionally, a great price! If you are the type of person that enjoys learning new things, values old-world quality and elegance, if you love good food and coffee, and you are not in a terrible rush when you want an espresso, this may be the machine for you. I would love you to read my review and be able to decide that you would like to purchase a LP, but read through the entire review first...
If you just want a good cup of espresso, without having to do much more than pressing a button and waiting a few moments, this is definitely NOT the machine for you. There are many semi-automatic models that you should be looking at. If you do not have, or are unwilling to purchase at some time in the future, a burr grinder of comparable quality to the machine, you may be disappointed with the results that you get from pre-ground espresso grind coffees, though these are EXCELLENT to use when learning the basic mechanics of the machine.
The plastic tamper that this and many other espresso machines come with will ruin the best of your intentions to brew excellent espresso and needs to be replaced with a good quality tamper of the correct size (49MM for pre-millenium and 51MM for millenium). The problem is not that it is plastic, but rather that it does not ever fit any Europiccola filter basket correctly!
If you have made it this far, then you are probably interested in at least discovering more about the LP lever machines. There are many different ways to get the most out of the machine! And there are as many opinions as to what an excellent espresso tastes like! Understanding these statements as a starting point, this is the technique that works for me. It respects the owner's manual, yet employs techniques offered by other enthusiasts. It is NOT the ONLY way to do things:
(1) Unplug power cord.
(2) Remove the boiler cap and fill with filtered water until the water level is about ¾ full on sight glass.
(3) Close both the boiler cap and the steam valve.
(4) Plug in the power cord.
(5) Turn the red power switch ON. Wait for the green status light to extinguish. This takes my machine about 6 ½ minutes from a cold start (and refrigerated filtered water).
(6) When the green status light extinguishes, purge the system by opening the steam valve into a cup for 5-10 seconds. Close the steam valve. The green status light will illuminate again. Wait for it to extinguish one more time.
(7) Slowly lift the lever and allow a small amount of hot water to flow through the group and the portafilter (and an empty filter basket) into an empty cup in order to pre-heat these components. This also accomplishes warming your cup in the process.
(8) When the machine is at operating temperature, grind the coffee and slightly overfill the double filter basket with coffee. Level the grinds to top of filter (but do not press) using a straight edge (finger or knife). Next, tamp and polish firmly using the tamper (30 LB) so that the level is no higher than ¼" from top of filter. Place the filter into the portafilter. Lock the portafilter into the group by inserting upwards, then rotating from center to left.
(9) Stabilize the machine by holding the boiler cap or portafilter handle with your left hand. Slowly raise the lever with your right hand to the highest position and hold it in this position for about 10 seconds. Pull the lever down, using one slow and continuous motion, through ¾ of its travel. Raise again to highest position, pause, and lower to lowest position using one slow and continuous motion. About 25 seconds total time. For a single, use the single filter and only one pull.
If done well, the espresso should flow out of the portafilter only when you begin pushing down on the lever and should "appear" to have the consistency of warm honey. If you pull the shot into a clear glass, it will look like Guinness Draft. If coffee flows too soon, adjust grind finer or tamp harder. If the lever provides so much resistance you can hardly pull (choking), make the grind slightly coarser and lighten up on the tamp.
NOTE: If you do choke the machine, turn the power off, let the machine cool a few minutes, then try pushing the lever all the way down. Do not remove the portafilter until the pressure has been relieved and the lever is all the way down!
(10) Do NOT remove the portafilter until espresso has stopped dripping out of the spouts and at least 30 seconds have passed! You'll get sprayed with coffee grinds and steam...LOL...something called a "sneeze." Just wait and you should not have this problem.
(11) To steam milk, skate the steam tip just at the surface of the milk until 100F. Submerge tip to heat not to exceed 160F.
Hint: place the 3-hole steam tip right in the middle of the pitcher, not the edge (which works for 1-hole tips). Skate the tip on the surface of the milk while stretching (listen for a definite "chhh"), then submerge it below surface while heating, so that you get rolling turbulence visible on the surface of the milk.
If you don't like the three-hole steamer tip, you can modify it by blocking two of the holes with solder or by replacing it with a one-hole tip. I have done this on my machine, but remember that the milk frothing technique has to change slightly, so that you now want the steam wand near the side of the frothing pitcher that you use.
NOTE: The newer LP's come with the "removable" steam wand, but it is designed with very little clearance between the boiler and pressure relief drip tube, so if you use a larger diameter pitcher, it is nearly impossible to set the steam wand in the exact center of the milk for frothing with the standard three-hole tip! Some people modify their steam wand by gently "bending" it outwards and downwards, away from the boiler, but beware of cracking the chromed finish!
(12) Turn the power switch off! NEVER leave it ON or plugged in while not actively making espresso. Carefully flush the group into a cup by slowly lifting up on the lever. Purge the machine of all pressure through the steam valve. Dry the drip tray and underneath the drip tray. Wipe all chrome surfaces. When cooled, empty the boiler.
Do not EVER let water level drop below ¼ of level on sight glass with the power switch ON because this may destroy the heating element!
So, these are the basic steps that I use to get the most out of my Europiccola. I hope that they may at least be helpful to some people. If you cannot imagine going through this or other similar routine every time you use the machine, then the Europiccola is NOT the machine for you.
There is not a whole lot of difference between the pre-millenium and the millenium models. Sure, the millenium models have a slightly larger group, and SOME of them have a plastic piston (instead of the wonderful brass inside the older pre-milleniums)...which was supposed to provide better heat control and enable more shots to be drawn before the group temperature got too warm, but IMO, both editions perform about the same...they are both good for a few shots...and then they need to cool down. Just remember, when tamper shopping, you need the 49mm for the pre-milleniums and a 51mm for the milleniums. If you want to be really picky, you can measure the diameter of your filter basket and have one milled to the tenth of a millimeter! That's too much for me, but I understand that some folks may want to do that.
Many of the older pre-millenium models use a dual rocker switch for the power control. One of them is the master "ON/OFF" switch, whereas the other is a heat level "I" or "II" switch. These are great machines! Use position "II" to heat up your machine, then position "I" for actually brewing the espresso (I recommend you switch from "II" to "I" at the first wisps of steam from the pressure relief valve). If you need steam for microfrothing, flip back to position "II." It's basically that simple.
The newer models, including the millenium, use a single "ON/OFF" power switch. Instead of two heat settings, they use a pressurestat, which, if correctly calibrated, automatically cycles the heating element on and off, as required, to maintain a constant boiler pressure, which can be equated to boiler temperature. The green light will cycle on and off as the pressurestat causes the heating element to cycle on and off.
I mentioned that parts are readily available for both models, and this is definitely true. Always make sure you remember the difference between the pre-millenium and the millenium when ordering parts. In some cases, there is a BIG difference between a part that goes with one, and the similar, but not the same, part that goes with the other. You can find parts lists, electrical diagrams, and how-to's on the Internet. I have taken my machines apart and put them back together with great facility.
If you have always wanted a LP, please don't let my review intimidate you, it is only meant to inform you...so that you can get what you really want in the end. If all of this sounds like fun to you, then I know you will love your machine as much as I love mine. Remember, in the end, this is about enjoying your espresso or other espresso-based beverage.
If you don't care that much for espresso, or if you think you might get frustrated by not being able to pull perfect shots every time from the beginning, then this is definitely NOT the machine for you. I don't want you to go through the heartache of dropping hard earned cash on a beautiful machine, just to bring it home and discover that it requires a lot of work, and may not produce consistently perfect espresso!
I have bought LP at retail price, and on occasion, have found a brand new one at an unbeatable bargain price at Williams-Sonoma. The older pre-millenium editions I have usually found and bought on eBay, whereas I have bought the newer millenium editions at an online retailer or at Williams-Sonoma.
I bought the pre-millenium Europiccolas through Ebay. I was very fortunate in all cases, and received machines that were delivered as advertised, and in good operable condition. I would imagine that most of the used LP's you can buy on-line are probably in fair to great condition, but just beware of the occasional lemon. I occasionally look at the offerings on Ebay, and it is easy to find a used machine that is in great condition.
Three Month Followup
I'm still as crazy about the Europiccola today, as when I wrote my original review. I do have another semi-automatic espresso machine that I use frequently, but honestly, the results I get from the Europiccola, when it is used correctly, are consistently better than any other espresso machine that I have used, including my Silvia (which is completely pimped out with an awesome Auber Instruments PID, clear top, and interior light so that you can look in and see all the wires and switches and boiler), and a Jura Capresso fully automatic I get to experiement with at work.
Again, I cannot overstate that the La Pavoni Europiccola has a very steep learning curve, and generally, is much more labor intensive than the vast majority of other espresso machines on the market; however, your attention to detail and your willingness to learn will be rewarded many times over. As I stated in my first review, one has to be interested in both the art and the science of espresso to make best use of this machine.