The "La Cara" branded La Graziella. Made in Spain by industrial company MARCFI during the Facist Franco era, which was licensed to make Pavoni copies during the 60s and 70s.
So even though the boilers look different, the groups and bases are virtually the same as Pavoni levers (the group seals are the same as La Pavoni, so still readily available.)
Thomas Cara Ltd., here in San Francisco, imported them in the 1970s and rebadged them with their own "La Cara" label. They were sold as a less expensive alternatives to the wildly popular La Pavoni levers (which they also sold) until Pavoni threatened legal action, and put on the kabosh.
They're a little easier to find in Northern California with that local connection, but rare even in these parts, as only a few thousand machines in total were ever made. It is pretty hard finding one now this complete, and in perfect working order.
The large, heavy brass boiler of the La Graziella (compared to their smaller "Europiccola" like model called the "Picola") makes this a lot like a Pavoni Professional without the pressure gauge. (We've been pondering trying to modify that, but at the moment it's stock!)
La Graziella is also sans the Professional's pressurestat, employing a pressure relief valve built into the boiler cap to control heat instead (somewhat) by bleeding off excess pressure. A method commonly used even on commercial espresso machines into the 60s. That hissing sound you hear on the older espresso machines may not be a "leak!"
This is a two switch dual element set-up, like the early Pavonis, with the upper switch being "maximo" (for heating up and steaming) and the lower switch "minimo" for maintaining brew temp with the smaller heating element.
(When you hear the pressure valve start to sputter, do your steaming, then switch off the maximo switch, push the low switch, pull a blank shot to heat up the portafilter/group and lower the boiler temp, then load and lock your portafilter, and you're ready to pull a shot.)
These steam like trains, but the multi hole tip at the end of the swoopy Zacconi style arm, can make it harder to do microfoam.
The dark gray base shows it's age a little, especially around the base of the boiler. There are some nicks and scratches. But the outer boiler cover, the group, and all the other chrome parts, along with the bakelite handles, are still beautiful. The nickel chrome plating is thick, and built to last, and overall the machine is very presentable.
One unique feature this model has is the shielded boiler. There's space between the chrome outer body, and the brass boiler. So much fewer scalded body parts from accidentally touching this thing, unlike a La Pavoni!
In addition to making trains run on time, the Facist era seems to have had pretty nice build quality in their espresso machines too. (Now that a lot of people in American seem to want their own Generalissimo, maybe we can start making home lever espresso machines?)
Bottom line: If you're bored with the ubiquitous La Pavoni levers, but interested in the "direct" pull style Pavoni group, it may be worth checking out one of these.
All new seals just installed in the rebuilt group, lubed, adjusted, descaled, and some new wiring connections, means this should be good to go for many shots into the future!
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