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.

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