Tips on Using a La Pavoni Espresso Machine

These are tips and comments on how to use a La Pavoni Europiccola Espresso Machine that I’ve collected over the years. Many are from readers that were kind enough to email me. Thank you all for sharing!

“I’ve found best results come when I steam ahead of pulling my shots. I start steaming when the pressure gauge first moves into the green range … takes a bit longer than the other way round, but the steamed milk is thicker/creamier. It doesn’t seem to affect coffee quality .. in fact, by the time steaming is finished, the gauge has just reached the ideal pointer-mark for pulling shots. And of course, the hot milk stays hotter way longer than the espresso, meaning the overall result is better. ” — A. Clarke, Blackheath, Australia

Coffee.Gurus.Net –> Thanks for the tip. That’s very good actually. When the pressure isn’t as high, you get finer bubbles…and softer/silker frothed milk. You can see this by swirling the milk around and it will be shiny.

“Thank you very much for your article on the La Pavoni machine. I’m a new owner of a Europiccola millenium, and novice at making my own espresso, although a long time fan of the drink.

Your writing on temperature management and using only the double filter is very helpful. My local Starbucks has been giving me free 1/4-lb bags of ground Espresso Roast until we got the grind just right, so that I tamp, but not more than 50-lb. I’m getting dark crema, and amazing coffee, with about 3 weeks of daily practice. Until this nirvana, I experienced the drek – watery and bitter, then burnt around the 30minute point. I’m glad to have experienced this, because I now have a great appreciation for the art. But I was about to give up on the machine, had I not found your article.

I’m nervous about buying a grinder, because it seems anything under $200 will not grind fine enough. I’m still reading reviews.

I’m making espressos and espresso macchiatos. Cold whole milk with the cappuccino automatic attachment set near the thin end is reliably making perfect microfoam. Two key moves: I open the steam to max with no pitcher under, until water stops dripping, then with my right hand I raise the cold milk cup up to just below the steam arm to increase milk flow, dip the tube in the milk with remaining fingers, and catch the milk with the pitcher perfectly timed in my left hand. This took some practice.

Thanks again for your article!” — P. Martinetti

Coffee.Gurus.Net –> You’re most welcome.  That is an old resource that I haven’t been maintaining.  However, I still get appreciative emails from generous people like yourself.  I’m going to update the site and maybe start a coffee blog.

If it is OK, I’ll include some of your tips and tricks…

As for Grinders, the Rancillio for the home seems to work well and has quite a following.  I have been using a Gaggia MDF that has been serving me well.  I’ll try to write more about this at a later date as I do have some experience in this area.  Maybe this would be a good early blog posting.  🙂

” Myth (1) Espresso is coffee extracted with pressure. False. Pressure is not the key component of an expresso shot. The key component is very high heat. It is coffee extracted at a higher temperature than water’s boiling point. (The boiling point (212F) at standard pressure is the limiting temperature of all drip methods) Good espresso machines are capable of controlling and raising the temperature up to between 220 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Pressure raises water’s boiling point allowing water to heat above 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Subsequent pressure (low pressure) applied by pump or by piston to push this super hot water is minimal and only secondary to the fact that it is very hot in relation to dip methods. The fact that the water is so hot is the reason the “steep” time (called extraction time for espresso machines) is short.  This hot water completely exhausts all desirable components of the coffee very quickly.  Low pressure is used to facilitate and speed the extraction and is not the defining feature of an espresso shot. Very hot water and very low pressure make espresso.

Espresso machines are pressure cookers for coffee–not such a romantic notion. May be this is why people in the industry are not served well by describing the process accurately.

Myth (2) Never use water that is too hot and, especially, never let it boil. False. As just discussed, water MUST be super hot. Temperature is a function of the extraction time. The slower the pull, the lower the necessary temperature and conversly, the faster the pull the higher the necessary temperature. It is true that there is an ideal range. This “espresso range” is at a much higher temperature than commonly believed. Water that is too hot cannot ‘scald’ the coffee as some have contended. Here’s the rule: the hotter the water the quicker the steep–plain and simple.  Water that is too hot is possible but this is around 250 degrees– not over the boiling point.

Illy’s contention that the water should be at 194 degrees may apply to standard drip methods, but certainly not expresso. Most likely is does not apply to drip methods either. This will be explained later.

Myth (3) Water in the boiler is very close to the temperature of your shot.   False. Water coming out of the brew head is always lower than 212 degrees. Water that first touches the coffee can and should be higher.  What is really the most important factor in good expresso is decreasing the water temperture at the brew head when the water goes from pressurized to the standard 1 atmosphere of pressure. This CONSISTENT AND CONSTANT TRANSITION determines overextracted, under-extracted or perfect expresso. Once exposed to the outside air ALL WATER CAN ONLY BE A 212 DEGREES AT MOST. Otherwise it becomes steam. It is for this reason that measuring the water temperature outside the brew head is not possible.

These three myths and the principles they uncover lead to what I call Pavoni’s Law, in honor of the device that demonstrates them perfectly as though it were a science experiment.

Pavoni’s Law: Espresso’s key component is the correct management of the transition of pressurized super heated water to un-pressurized cooler water.

Pavoni machines are famous for under-extracting coffee for two reasons: 1)temperature remains low (there is no pump to induce pressure) and 2) the lever action controls the amount of water and the pressure the lever is pushed is irrelavant. The lever timing and speed it is pushed is all that matters and again the only reason for this is to obtain the proper amount of water for the amount of coffee used and to control the transition of water at 240 degrees going to a shot of expresso at around 195 degrees.

The real trick is controlling a single boiler with no pre-sets. No pre-sets means each time you pull a shot the operator must control for the water amount, pressure/temperature at the intake and speed water passed through at the brew head. The operator must figure out how to get the right temperature at the group head and how to control the duration of extraction.  The following is the method I use to do this repeatedly and precisely:

The Pavoni Solution and the Re-birth of the Pavoni.

With these principles in mind we must rethink the relationship among amount of water, grind, dose, filter, tamp and pressure at the brew head. Firstly, there is no special relationship between the grind and tamp for espresso success. What is being determined is the SPEED of the extraction.  It would be possible to extract an espresso with no tamp if the filter allowed the water to pass through the grids at the correct pace. In fact this can be seen from some machines that are “more forgiving.”  The tamp, working in concert with the filter hole size, determines the pressure needed to push the hot water through. When an espresso machine has a pre-set, repeatable amount of force, one quickly discovers the grind and tamp necessary to pull a shot in 30 seconds. With the Pavoni this force is determined by your pressure on the lever or more precisely the speed of the lever.

I’ll send you the full Pavoni Solution next.” — Jim

“I read with interest your web site about how to make the ultimate La Pavoni coffee.

Being an owner of such a machine, purchased in Rome over 20 years ago,  and like you, it took me some time (years) to perfect the process.

Your tips were very helpful, and I have adjusted my technique slightly to get closer to producing the ultimate espresso.

One more little tip I have found to work: Too much water kills good coffee. The La Pavoni machine basically produces enough from a single pull to do two demi-tassi cups, not just one at a time that I want. So what you do is simply pull the cup out from under the flow once you have about 1/4 of a standard coffee cup (cappuccino size) with coffee liquor, not the machine’s output of over a 1/3 of a cup. The first part of the pour produces the richest product – which is the part you want.

I particularly find that this method combines to produce the ultimate cappuccino, which I find even the best cafes often unable to match!” — Stuart Fereday

“Thanks for the advice.  I have had my machine for about ten years and have tried it occasionally without success.  I was looking into selling it on eBay when I saw a link to your advice.  Now I feel I really have a chance at a good cup of espresso.” — Barbara L.

“I really enjoyed your Pavoni website.  Waiting until the coffee covers the bottom of the cup solved my problem of getting a good shot.” — Dave D.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Elliott July 3, 2011 at 06:23

This site has saved me from insanity! Fantastic advice and after weeks of try try try again, I finally got the prefect espresso. I bought a Gaggia MDF and was so pleased to see someone with the same espresso/grinder combo. I find 5 is the best setting for daily espressos, any change to this means I have to change my technique. I am still figuring out the best setting for a cafetiere (French press), anyone any experience of getting the most of out your coffee?

Gregory July 12, 2011 at 12:45

I love my La Pavoni and have had it for 10 years now. It’s not been in every day use for a decade, but it is now. I noticed a few weeks ago, that every now and then, there was no pressure or ‘lock’ built up when I raise the arm to pull the shot. In it’s highest position, steam actually leaks out from the head fitting. Instead of the resistance normally found in pulling the lever down and forcing the water through the grinds, there was none. Just air and no resistance and most importantly, no espresso! Any ideas before I pull it apart and then realize I won’t be able to put it back together again?

Ed Waller August 16, 2011 at 16:30

My same problem exactly!! I figure perhaps the gasket has to be replaced? But I’m hoping others may recommend something else. I dread shipping it off for repairs.

Keren Dierickx September 5, 2011 at 11:14

When cleaning out my mother-in-law’s apartment after her death, we came across a beautiful copper LaPavoni machine. I love my lattes and know the basics of the machine but there was no instruction manual. There are two switches on the bottom of the machine. I know one turns it on but the other one has one dash on one side and two dashes on the other. What postion does it need to be in for which function. Thanks for your help I’d love to use it frequently.

Heath September 23, 2011 at 05:52

Hi ed waller, i had the exact same problem. Wa easily fixed if you have a spanner. You just need to take your piston out and you will probably find the piston head has unwound off the rod preventing it from going high enough to get past the water intake valve. I found mine very loose. It was also gave me great understanding as to how to use the machine by seeing what was happening inside the group head. Heath

Dave March 18, 2012 at 10:20

Hi,

Interesting article on the La Pavonni – Myth 1,2,3. If you have the rest of that article posted somewhere let me know or if you don’t mind sending it.

I have a newer machine (6 months ago and a Baratza Vario grinder) I am enjoying it but I am rather inconsistent with the shots So many variables, temp/grind/coffees etc.

Thanks again for the info and hope to hear from you.

dave

Kai March 21, 2012 at 05:37

I have trouble with producing crema, any ideas? See attached video:
http://youtu.be/NsS5eC8retU

Thanks, Kai

Jude October 20, 2012 at 13:42

Hi, we are currently in Rome and yesterday I discovered why coffee here has not been giving me palpitations or affecting me in any way other than enjoying the taste. A waiter at a very good restaurant close to the Vatican yesterday explained that a proper espresso is made with minimal, not too hot water. He explained that too much and very hot water will burn the beans and let too much caffein out – resulting in cardiac problems. It all became clear and I will endeavour to make espressos as those we have been drinking all week. When I read the article on myths I thought I should tell you what has been our experience. By the way, I have a heart condition and gave up coffee in the UK as it made me feel awful.

Jonathan January 17, 2014 at 14:59

Where do you buy your robusta beans for your espresso blend?

Great guide thanks

Elliott March 21, 2014 at 19:21

Kai, I watched your YouTube video, I’d say that there are a couple of changes that might make a difference. Firstly take a little longer in the tamping process. Not necessarily a harder tamp but you are trying to create a smooth polished surface to the coffee. Next I always slowly lift the lever, this usually take around 8 seconds, at the limit you’ll feel the water enter the group head through the lever and probably hear it. I then count to 12. Now this is where you need to be flexible, depending on what happens. If no coffee is emitted by 12 I use the Fellini technique (a google search will show you how) , this seems to introduce more water and increases the pressure, here’s where by bringing the lever down gently you’ll. feel the pressure against you. Then keep the rate you pull as constant as possible. If coffee starts to flow sooner you may find that the grind or tamp are not quite right ( most la Pavoni owners know their first espresso is usually their worst), you may need to go back and fine tune. And don’t forget your grinder, no matter how good your beans if your grinder is full of old stale coffee it will ruin the crema. I use rice, very cheap and effective.
Along with the usual analysis of the cup it’s always helpful to examination the used coffee puck. This helps you fine tune your technique next time.

Lee Lowe June 4, 2014 at 04:00

I’ve just bought a secondhand Europiccola, but the steam wand is very close to the pressure release wand and the body of the machine, so that I can hardly put even a stainless steel milk jug under the steam wand to froth. How can I adjust the steam wand without bending it out of shape? I can’t seem to locate any info online about this.

Thanks!

Michael July 3, 2014 at 02:00

Thank you for this! I have been looking for a resource on how to deal with this and this answered all of my questions for it. Saved me a lot of troubles and time.

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