Great value entry-level machine - the user experience conveys all the joys and frustrations of preparing espresso at home.
Positive Product Points
If bought as a refurb or at a steep discount, it is a fantastic bargain. Good build quality for a machine at this price point. Decent stepless burr-grinder for a starter espresso machine. Small footprint. Heats up quickly. Once you figure out the way this machine works, the espresso is pretty consistent. Latte art is definitely possible - not standard at this price.
Negative Product Points
No solenoid valve. Pressure set too high. Hence: very sensitive to dose. Grind not always consistent, making it tricky to dial in. Grinder is very noisy. Does not work well with all roasts. Steamwand is too short. Needs some recovery time between shots. Can overheat if left on too long. 57 mm portafilter
This is a great starter machine, especially at this price. It includes the "Lux" burr grinder that has received good reviews and comes in a very kitchen-friendly size. The quality of the grind is definitely good enough for espresso and features step-less adjustment. Grind retention is minimal making the grinder very single-dose friendly. That being said, it is quite noisy - I found it difficult to hold a conversation while grinding. While the mini-hopper features a scale the grinder is not consistent enough to allow for one-turn dialing in. It definitely requires a few shots to settle in.
Like many SBDU machines in this class, the La Pavoni Napolitana is a tricky customer and will on occasion frustrate its owner by randomly throwing in bitter, sour, or acrid shots. The standard solution - grinding finer and dosing lower - while generally valid is very difficult to implement on this machine. As the brew pressure is set very high lower doses often lead to ruptured pucks and bitter shots that blond early, placing a premium on perfect distribution and tamping. The - imperfect - solution to this dilemma seems to be upping the dose which, in turn, seems only possible with very forgiving blends. CC Toscano and Redbird Espresso seem to work well in my experience and while the results are not spectacular, it is possible to obtain consistently drinkable shots if a proper routine is followed - weighing the dose, nutating tamp with the double basket on the counter, light polish and pull. "Temperature surfing" although much discussed for this machine and its "Lelit"-branded brethren does not seem to have much of an effect. Shots tend to be on the lighter side with lots of crema. The lack of a solenoid valve means that it is not possible to pull shots in rapid succession. This also limits the cleaning routine to soaking the shower screen, portafilter and basket in a cafiza solution once in a while and periodical descaling. The latter also seems to fix the problem of the dripping steam wand in my experience.
It is absolutely possible to use this machine to prepare milk drinks, although this will require some practice and good timing. Will temp-surfing is of limited value for pulling a shot it is a must for creating pourable foam. The machine will only steam relatively small quantities of milk, also owing to the very short steam wand that makes it difficult to use larger pitchers. After purging the wand one must wait for enough pressure to build, starting the steaming process while the boiler is still heating and the indicator light is on. Otherwise one will literally "run out of steam". Over time, one develops a good sense of the time window optimal for steaming milk although a lot of guesswork is involved. The machine is capable of producing milk for pouring latte art - although more complex patterns might require larger quantities of milk to be steamed.
Simple and straightforward. The machine seems solid enough and its basic design would make it easy to maintain if problems arose. 1st line carries lelit accessories and spare parts that should fit the Napolitana. The lelit bottomless portafilter will fit this machine although it - including the spring and handle - will run to almost 100$.