After many years with the humble Starbucks Barista, my wife and I were gifted a beautiful La Pavoni Europiccola for our wedding. It’s a pre-millenium model, and was given to us used and in great shape. The gift was an homage to the La Pavoni that I restored in the past for a family member. I’ve actually done restorations on two different La Pavoni machines, and learned quite a bit about them along the way.
The La Pavoni is a manual lever espresso machine with a deeply rooted Italian history. Check out the Coffeegeek article on the history of the La Pavoni. I have the Europiccola version, which claims 8 shots of water capacity. There is also a Professional model that boasts a bigger boiler and a pressure gauge.
For this review, I’m going to go through the various performance categories that I used in my review of the Starbucks Barista.
Warm-Up Time: 10/10
The La Pavoni shines in the arena of warm-up time. There is no other machine that can pull this quality of shot and need less than 5 minutes of warming up. This is mainly due to the small boiler size, which comes with it’s drawbacks, but is a big benefit for the home user.
It’s a beautiful machine, no doubt about it. It looks very “vintage” and is always a conversation starter at our home. The chrome finish does tend to get a bit dirty with milk splatters and fingerprints, but it’s easy enough to clean.
Brew Temperature: 8/10
Brew temperature on the La Pavoni Europiccola is a hard category to give a score in. It has the capability of producing the perfect brew temperature and a great shot. But getting the perfect temperature is more of an art than a science. Check out our article on Pulling Back to Back Shots on the La Pavoni for more information.
Because the grouphead acts like a heat sink, not flushing with hot water prior to pulling the first shot can often lean to too low of a brew temperature. Consequently, trying to pull consecutive shots in a row can result in too high of a brew temperature. Over the past year with the machine I’ve gotten a feel for how long to let it heat and how much water to flush, but theres still the occasional shot that’s a big miss. But when you nail it, the espresso can be as good as any $2000+ dollar machine.
The La Pavoni steam power is good, but the stock three-hole steam wand tip can make it difficult to control the milk frothing. I followed these instructions to replace mine. The location of the knob to turn on and off the steam wand is a bit awkward, especially if you use a hand to judge milk temperature rather than a thermometer. I have learned to hold the milk pitcher in a way that I can judge milk temperature at the same, leaving my left on the steam wand.
If temperature management is my biggest complaint about the La Pavoni, the portafilter is a very close second. First off, it’s too small! I understand that the La Pavoni comes from a different time period, where perhaps espresso shots were not as large, but at most it holds 14 grams for a double. And to extract 14 grams, you often have to do a “double pull” where you pull the lever halfway down at the beginning of the shot, lift the lever back to top dead center, and then continue pulling the shot. This will typically leave you with ~1.5 oz of espresso, which is still quite short when compared to the typical espresso machine. I’ve gotten in the habit of mainly pulling “ristrettos” with the La Pavoni, as it’s difficult to get a full volume shot.
The other complaint is that there is no clip to hold the portafilter basket into the portafilter. This isn’t a big deal when preparing a shot, but can lead to the portafilter falling out and ending up in your knockbox or trash can. Typically the way that I manage it is to remove the basket from portafilter, cool it under running water as necessary, and knock the grounds out before replacing the basket.
Drip Tray: 7/10
The drip tray is tiny, but easy to clean. I typically clean mine every 2-3 uses, which is OK for me but may be problematic for others.
Tank Size: 6/10
The boiler on the La Pavoni claims 8 shots, but I’ve only achieved this without steaming any milk or wasting any water between the shots. Realistically, expect 3 to 4 before needing to refill the boiler.
When cold, the boiler is easy to refill. Simply remove the top threaded cap and add water. When hot, however, you will need to bleed off steam pressure via the steam wand or wait for the machine to cool. This is only a problem is you plan on pulling a lot of shots in a row (in which case you probably will also have some temperature management issues).
Overall, I’d give the La Pavoni an 8/10. It’s a quirky machine, and there is a very steep learning curve to using it. It’s not meant for entertaining, and can sometimes be frustrating to work with.
Despite the flaws, however, it has the ability to create very high quality espresso unrivaled for a machine at this price point (especially used, where they can easily be found under $500). There’s something extremely satisfying having so much control over the entire brew process, taming the quirks, and pulling the perfect shot.