One of the last of the original Zacconi Rivieras, before they folded in the 90s, and then re-emerged in the late 90s as the "New Zacconi." (Resurrected by reletives of the Zacconi family.)
Rebranded "La Cara" and sold by the famous Thomas Cara, Ltd. shop in the North Beach neighborhood here in San Francisco. It closed a few years ago, but their machines are still in use by original customers all over Northern California.
Rivieras were one of the few spring powered levers you could by for "home" use (along with Elektras, and Ponte Vecchios.) Springs are what all commercial sized lever machines use to pull shots, so these were as close as you could come to "professional" machines shrunk down to fit on your kitchen counter.
It's fun to use a spring machine. There's something joyful about pulling down the handle and watching the machine do the rest of the work. Sorta like the old slot machines! Except there's a "payoff" every time!
Getting a "payoff" in a shot you like is the only "problem" for home springs. The grind and tamp (and fresh coffee) is a lot more important for getting good crema than it is with the "direct push" of the La Pavoni style machines that dominated the home space.
The reason for the "problem" is the shot pressure is limited to the spring rate. And since a home machine is smaller, you necessarily have a smaller spring installed (and thus lower pressure than a commercial spring machine.) That's why getting the grind and dose right is so critical.
Too fine and the spring can't push the hot water through fast enough to get good crema. Too coarse and the water comes through by the shot is weaker. So finding the "sweet spot" can be much more of a challenge on these than a La Pavoni.
On the other hand they ARE fun! And many people prefer the shot quality to the Pavoni style. The shots tend to be "finer" and more delicate than the direct push machines, which let you lean into them and grunt through extractions with finer grinds. Finer grinding makes it easier to get "crema."
The truth is crema looks good, but turns out it's not really necessary for a great tasting shot. Crema is really mostly the bubbles created on top as the water is pushed through the puck. So you need some speed to the flow to get maximum crema on any machine. But too fast and you won't get a good extraction. Which means a weak shot, and waste of expensive coffee!
We always talk about the "science project" aspect of making espresso at home, and the spring levers are probably at the peak of that experience. If you don't wanna have to experiment, you probably don't want a home spring lever.
On the other hand, if you do, you may find your bliss with an Elektra or a Zacconi.
And aside from the "science project" aspect of Zacconi machines, they are really beautiful machines, with a build quality that most would agree surpasses La Pavonis.
The boiler is large, the bases don't rust like Pavonis, the steam wand is better, and the chrome plating is thickere than most of the other Italian home levers.
One thing to know about these older Rivieras is the portafilter is smaller than even an early Pavoni. So you're going to be getting smaller shots.
If you're good with with smaller, but exquisite shots of espresso (and the effort it may take to "get there") this may be the machine for you.
New groups seals, and recent steam seals, means this Zacconi should pulls shots trouble free for quite a while.
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