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La Pavoni Buyer's Guide (12 Things to Know before you buy.)

They look so cool, so iconic, that even people who couldn't care less about "hand crafted" espresso, or chasing the mythical "god shot," stare in awe when first coming face to face with one of these sexy Italians.

Maybe it's the big chrome part sticking out.

Whatever the reason, the universal fascination is pretty undeniable.

Sometimes the sheer design of an object exceeds it's functionality so much, it almost doesn't matter how it functions.

Like a Volkswagen Bug. An Eames chair. Or a young Brigitte Bardot.

Of course, La Pavoni's little lever espresso machines do function. But whether they're more Fiat than Ferrari, remains a legit conversation.

Since this was first written, my experience with Pavonis has expanded exponentially, and the original "observations" were in need of (since we're using car metaphors) an overhaul. The website was more of an "idea" at that point, so I wanted to keep it general, and not "offend" anyone, or be pretend to be an "expert" on all matters Pavoni.

I'll never consider myself an "expert" on Pavonis (there will always be folks who know more, hopefully!) but I think I know enough at this point to have an informed opinion.

As with most things in life, the opinion is "mixed."

There are things to love about La Pavoni levers, and stuff that can annoy. This "update" will try to provide a balanced take on those...

At any rate, if you're considering spending serious money on a La Pavoni, there are some things you should probably be clear about.

First of all, the machine is Art. (Being in the MOMA permanent collection makes that "official.")

So we start out armed for the first question you might face about why you spent (or want to spend) "so much" on an espresso machine. The kind of "reasonable" question you may get from a significant other who poses the incredibly boring, "Isn't that kind of expensive?"

The logical response,"How much is Art worth?" is unlikely to win the day.

But there's an undeniable truth to it. There will always be a certain satisfaction just SEEING a La Pavoni lever in your house.

So you might be honest and cop to loving the way it looks. If that sounds too shallow, you could trot out some shock and awe coffee jargon. "Only a real lever machine can pull hand crafted crema, and the one I REALLY want costs three times this much..."

Or appeal to reason, and show off the hours of rabbit hole research, "There's nothing to break down on a lever espresso machine, they're super reliable. In a couple years, it'll probably pay for itself!"

And when all else fails, there's always the pathetic. "Can't I just have something for ME for a change!?"

Of course any espresso machine over 200 bucks will be considered "expensive" to a normal human being. It's hard to have a conversation with someone who let's you know, "I saw a nice one at Costco for 80 dollars."

It's only geeks who lurk on coffee blogs who "know" half a grand is considered "entry level." And that even that amount will only get you some "newbie" gear. It's a losing battle trying to reason with people who "don't get it," or can't understand why the shiny plastic Crappresso won't make you feel good in the morning.

If you've read this far, you may already be convinced a Pavoni lever is "worth it."

Some of us thought it was insanely cool when Marty McCasling crafted a bong out of the five foot Chianti bottle we found behind the pizza place in high school, which required at least two people and several inhalation cycles to operate. Just the awesome engineering and craftmanship was inspiring, no matter how "impractical" it may have seemed to non teenage boys.

But unless you've actually tried to make a coffee drink with one (a Pavoni lever, not a five foot Chianti bottle) you should probably do a little investigation about what you're getting into. Your due diligence will make you feel less stupid about fighting for something you might eventually regret.

Like, wouldn't it be slightly comforting if you did some research BEFORE you pull the trigger on that ebay "bargain," or craigslist deal? If only so you could authoratatively explain to the significant other why boiling water is streaming out of the machine where it's not supposed to the first time you fire it up? "Probably just needs a 20 dollar seal kit."

Or when your six year old runs screaming down the hall after touching the shiney (lawsuit unprotected) scalding boiler, "I told her it got hot."

So hopefully you'll get something out of the stuff below BEFORE you buy one.

1- There are two basic La Pavoni "home" lever models. The original Europiccola, and the larger, more modern big brother, Professional.

2- At first glance they may look "alike," but after you've been making espresso a while, you'll notice, and appreciate, the differences between the two. The boiler on the Europiccola is smaller. In fact, you'll be lucky to get two or three shots of espresso, and/or some milk steamed, before having to cool down and "reload" the water reservoir. (Remember you can't just "open" a pressurized boiler without losing facial skin! And cooling down takes a while...)

The boiler on the Professional is almost TWICE the size, so that obviously means about double the number of shots before having to add more water.

Keep that in mind if you're planning on using the machine for more than a couple espressos before work.

The Professional also has a pressurestat to automatically control temperature, and a pressure gauge to help you graphically see how hot the boiler water actually is.

The original Europiccolas has a pressure release valve to control temp, like grandma's pressure cooker.

(In the mid 90s the Europiccola got a pressurestat as well, but Pavoni never added a pressure gauge to them.)

You can learn to live without a pressure gauge, or automatic temperature control (which all old school Pavoni users have been successfully doing for decades.) But the volume of water difference between the two is obviously something you can't change.

Otherwise, all Pavonis are pretty much the same.

3- They GET hot.

How hot? About a million degrees. And there's nothing but air separating you and that hellish heat! You cannot touch the boiler of a La Pavoni once it warms up (in about 10 minutes) without a trip to the emergency room. Even the bases can get uncomfortably hot. So you'll need to work on your technique of holding the machine steady with one hand (on the cap or portafilter handle generally) while leaning on the lever with the other. And some people who like to grind fine really LEAN on their levers!

The point is you can't "hold" the metal parts, ever, once it heats up. And you really do have to keep kids and dogs away once it gets to that point. There's little doubt these couldn't be made today if some industrial designer tried to pitch the concept. No corporate lawyer or insurance company with the American market in mind would take the risk!

4- Making espresso in general, but especially with a La Pavoni lever, is a bit of a "Science Project."

That fact would probably not have occurred to me until my first lever. They aren't a Starbuck's Saeco, where you can just load the basket, push a button, and get a decent looking shot. You're actually going to have to work a bit, and experiment with your beans, the roast, the grind, the tamp pressure (or none at all) and even the temperature of the machine, before you get satisfied with what is coming out of the spout when you pull the lever down. Not to mention getting a "feel" for how hard to pull the lever!

Or maybe you won't. Some people get a beautiful shot (or at least something they like!) the first time!

Some of it is luck. And some of it is pure "taste."

Some people LOVE their La Pavonis, and wouldn't give them up for a truckload of 50k La Marzoccos.

And some people just give up.

The term "hand crafted espresso" is not just BS with La Pavonis.

You'll likely have to negotiate lots of "variables" before pulling a shot you're finally satisfied with.

But the cool thing with a Pavoni is it's a little like learning to surf on a bad beach break. If you can surf there, you can probably surf anywhere.

So if you are contemplating a journey to becoming a human who can make a good espresso, the effort will be worth it. After getting your technique down on a Pavoni, you should be able to transfer that skill and sensibility to any espresso machine. Even a commercial one, like the "pros!"

Of course one of the harsh realities of becoming an "espresso geek" is realizing the more you learn, the more there is to learn. And the harder it can be to ever feel you're "done."

Not only can it be a challenge to finally "get it right" the first time, try repeating it the next day!

The benefit (and the curse) is once you get to the point of making espresso you love at home, it becomes harder to find espresso joy in the outside world!

You may discover the snooty cafe you were so impressed with previously, is suddenly making embarrassingly bad drinks!

It's one of the dangers, even if a "good danger," of heading down Lever Road.

In the end, personal taste is what really matters when it comes to what you put in your mouth. So you may find once you get your Pavoni wired (or any home espresso machine) your own product becomes the new standard.

If you're lucky, you may find yourself paying six bucks for a latte you can't drink. Even in a spot with the coolest designer slab tables, and rows of laptops sucking up free bandwidth.

Which may be the ultimate "pay off" for buying your own lever.

Not only will saving those "six bucks" add up, liberating yourself with the realization you can make coffee better than they do is priceless.

So don't let the fear of the "challenge" scare you off. From a Pavoni, or any lever machine.

Once you get it figured out, you're "good" forever.

5- They are relatively "small" machines.

Which is great in terms of kitchen space. But means you won't be impressing the gang on Saturday making lattes for the hood.

With the relatively "small" size of the machine, comes a small group (the bell shaped thing bolted on the front that the portafilter locks into) and that means a "small" basket to put your coffee into.

People who may have been using home machines with "commercial sized" portafilters, or getting espresso drinks from the local cafe, may find themselves a bit surprised with the size of Pavoni shots. (Small!)

These were invented by Italians in the '50's. A time when an espresso was pounding down an intense shot of coffee in the morning with a cigarette before work.

The idea of a "grande" latte, or something you sip for hours wasn't in the universe yet.

Hopefully the "small" shot becomes something you learn to appreciate. Americans like giant size everything. But making an exquisite little espresso, after a careful, zenlike prep ritual, with maybe a Miles Davis record spinning in the background, before sitting down in a cozy spot with a good read, can be the perfect way to start a day.

6- Did we mention they get HOT?

One of the "issues" Pavoni fans have always had to contend with before enjoying the morning described above, is dealing with a fully heated up machine. Since the group is bolted directly to the boiler, it gets fricking hot. Especially after pulling your first shot. And even hotter if you steam. If you're really anal about optimal brew temperature (the temp of the water when you pull the lever) it's gonna to be hard to get there by the second pull on most La Pavonis.

With the original "hi/low" Europiccolas you could fight this by keeping it on the "low" setting. That actually idles the machine at about the right temp. And a big reason some Pavoni purists swear by that setup.

But the "modern" pressurestat controlled machines (all Professionals, and single switch Euros from the mid 90s) only stop heating up when they reach a set "compromise" temp. Which is somewhere between hot enough to steam milk, and too hot to brew espresso. That obviously means all modern Pavonis are probably running a little hotter than they should be, if pulling sweet shots is your ultimate goal (excess heat will add bitterness to espresso.)

You can turn the temp down a little by adjusting the pressurestat, but then you'll be compromising the steam quality (hot dry steam is best) and requires some DIY digging into the guts underneath, and playing with an often fragile plastic component.


Pavoni users have come up with all sorts of creative tactics to deal with hot groups over the years, from cold towels, to running water over the group (messy and not really practical for those trying to avoid shocks!) to pulling a shot before it heats up, to just turning the machine off and waiting for it to cool down (longer than you wanna wait!)

Realistically, there's really only so much you can do on the single switch Pavonis to control the HOT. And the truth is most Pavoni users probably don't care! So if you're one of those, no worries! Some people actually WANT super hot espresso! (See the entry about Americans who like to burn their mouths in another entry.) Except for the most demanding home baristas, most peole can probably develop tactics for dealing with the temps well enough to enjoy any Pavoni lever. (The dirty little secret is MOST home espresso machines have "heat issues." You really need a full on commercial machine if you're after "thermal stability.

Pavoni levers are "personal" espresso machines. Think of them as part of the "slow food" world.

7-- But wait! There's more! (Heat.)

Pavoni has been aware of "heat issues" since the beginning, and made some design changes over the years to address them.

They started, of course, with the original "hi/lo" switched dual element design. Ironically probably starting with the best solution before they ever started messing with it! The "low" setting meant the machine didn't reach the problematic temps for brewing, and only really got there if you flipped the switch to "high" to help with steam (or for those in a hurry to heat up.) So if didn't care about steaming milk, were patient, and started on "low," you never had to "go there" with the heat stuff.

The eventual "problem" for Pavoni was the dual elements cost more. Putting two heating element inside, which once simply "made sense," became an added production cost as the company got bigger, and was sold to different corporate owners a couple times.

Besides that, by the 80s, the dual switches, and noisy "live" pressure relief valve seemed "low tech" and "old fashioned" to lazy Americans. Having to actually pay attention, or press more than ONE switch to make coffee was considered cumbersome and backwards enough by then that Pavoni came up with the Professional.

The bigger boiler meant less complaints about capacity, and added a little more mass for thermal stability, and the addtion of a pressurestat meant it was suddenly "Modern" and "Automatic." ONE switch operation!

Pavoni kept the original setup on the Europiccolas for a decade after the introduction of the Professional, so .

buyers who wanted to stay "old school" had an option.

But by the mid 90s, with declining sales of all levers, and the rise of "automatic" espresso machines, Pavoni gave up, and single elements with pressurestat controls were employed on both models. No more hissing valves, or bothersome switches to worry about!

The last significant changes around the "heat issue" started in the late 90s with the replacement of the machined brass piston with a "plastic"(polycarbonate) one. In 1999 Pavoni redesigned the group (the"Millennium" model) to be a little wider to accommodate a plastic (polycarbonate) insert in the piston cylinder. The purists cried, "They're making it cheaper!" But in fairness to Pavoni, it seems to have been more of an attempt to cut down on the heat transfer from the boiler to the water hitting the coffee. (Some people have "hacked" their Pavonis by putting teflon gaskets between the group and the boiler, trying to isolate the group even more.)

Unfortunately, these attempts were somewhere between worthless and outright fails in our minds. When we say, "You don't want a plastic piston machine," we're not kidding. They tended to break or unscrew themselves after a couple years of heat cycles. It's not that difficult to retrofit the plastic pistons with brass, but you don't wanna buy one if you don't have to.

The plastic cylinder inserts have a seal behind them that can get hard and leak after a few years, and the plastic surface can scratch or wear funny (compared the solid brass Pre-Millennium groups) but you can replacements for not too much money if need be.

So while there's nothing fatally "wrong" with "Millennium" machines, we try to avoid them, and stick to pre '95 models. If you pick up a 1970 Europiccola and then lift a 2010, you can "feel" the difference just in weight. Each generation Pavoni seems to have used a little less brass, or thinner chrome plating, and the machines "got lighter." So if you really want the "Old World" feel and look of European Craftmanship, you kind of have to go vintage.

If you're one of those folks who prefers the "new car smell" you probably aren't even reading at this point, but it's true that most people can't taste the difference between a shot from a 1978 "Pre-Millennium" and a 2012 "Millennium." They are different, but more in Spirit than espresso quality.

The low point for Pavoni was probably the early 2000s when they used plastic flange nuts to fasten the boiler onto the base. They actually GLUED them on. Which means not only can't you get them off (without breaking them) if you ever need to work on the machine. Or they loosen up on their own allowing the boilers to spin around on the base. (Try to stay "up and down" with your lever action btw. Don't torque on them sideways, or try to carry the machine around by the handle! You will regret it.) There's a trick for spotting some of these plastic flange machines without looking under the base, because the same sorry production years had clear plastic (instead of chromed steel) nuts on the sight glass. (Sightglasses with the plastic nuts often leak as well.) These often show up on ebay, so beware!

Thankfully, both of those mistakes were rectified, and Pavoni went back to metal on those parts. But you get the point. The newer machines are still "pretty" when new, and work about the same, but they're not quite as heavy duty.

Which brings us to:

9-- A DIY Dream.

You can work on them yourself, and don't have to be a mechanical genius. They're simple and reliable and you can still buy new parts that aren't too expensive. (Early 70s or older is a bit of a challenge.) But you won't have to do much, because with a little care, they will last forever.

No semiconductor or circuit board to wear out here! The machines come from an era where things were built (and thus repairable) on a bench, rather than a robotic assembly line.

Seriously, one of the best things about a Pavoni is it's durability and repairabilty. Humanity was still in machines when these were designed. There are enough of them in the world that there are lots of aftermarket parts and accessories available, so you can even "customize" them if you want to. (Of course we like dead stock original. Except for the one hole steam tip "upgrade" for making better microfoam!)

10-- Watch out for RUST.

The first generation of Pavoni levers had cast aluminum bases, which were very rigid (a good thing when you're pushing a grown man's weight down on the lever) and since coffee machines tend to be things that get wet, they had the added advantage of not rusting! (Another example of Pavoni "starting out perfet" perhaps?)

Not so the later models. They went to stamped steel bases, and while Pavoni's first versions had heavy chrome plating that held up, the painted steel bases could rust, and did. And as they went with thinner chrome plating over the years (and thinner gauge steel) rust issues became a thing. Especially with machines that lived in humid locations, or were victims of people who didn't keep drip trays dry. (Always ask to see the metal in the drip tray area (UNDER the plastic liner) before buying one, unless you're ok with ugly surprises! People on ebay love to call it "a little corrosion." Sometimes the bases are so rusty that holes develop all the way through! Which obviously means water can get "down there," and "down there" is where the electricy lives!

11- All Pavonis LOOK ALIKE.

They do to the untrained eye. But there are many variations. And as we've learned above, the differences matter. So it behooves any prospective La Pavoni buyer to make sure they understand what year, and what model, they are looking at.

The heating elements and "electrics" changed over the years, as mentioned above, even as the exteriors remained largely the same.

Early models had brass "screw on" heating elements that Pavoni has stopped making. Those can be difficult (or impossible) to find now. You CAN convert those machines to the "new style" elements, but it's not simple, and if you can't DIY you'll have to take that potential cost into consideration when buying one. We have a good friend who believes nobody should buy a vintage espresso machine of any kind if they can't working on them. We wouldn't go that far, but some repairs by a professional could easily double the purchase price of that "bargain" you found on ebay.

If you buy something that has been "restored" (shameless plug for Voltage110) you shouldn't have to worry about spending extra money for quite a while (like maybe a couple years.) But having bought a few Pavonis on ebay, we can tell you 90 percent of them will need SOME kind of work. So keep that in mind (and budget.)

We believe the "sweet spot" for Pavoni production was the 1973-1995 time frame.

And are maybe we'd take a Professional over a Europiccola, all things considered. But as we spend more time with these machines, we're growning fonder of the "two switch" dual heating element Europiccolas.

The Europiccola has the advantage of "more character" as well. Since build quality slowly declined over the years, if that is a consideration, going "vintage" is probably the answer. Or if you just prefer the look of the early ones, by all means buy an old Europiccola. Making coffee you like in the morning has a lot to do with liking the gear you're working with!

Check out out the "How to Date Your Pavoni" page for more details on the model iterations over the years.

12-- Last, but maybe not least, CONDITION.

Because Pavoni changed so little over the years, and parts are still mostly available and cheap, it's not that critical to worry about "working condition," if you're otherwise good with the machine's looks. Your tolerence level for rust, original paint, scratches or dings, is all up to you, and something like a full seal replacement is not that difficult or expensive if you can DIY.

On the hand if it doesn't heat up, elements are not cheap or easy to replace. Especially on machines before the late 80s.

Switches on the vintage machines can be hard to find original replacements for.

So if buying online, it's worth asking, "Does it get hot?"

If not, it could just be a fuse, but it could also be a bad switch, or heating element. If you're not confident with electrical troubleshooting, you probably should pass.

If it does heat up, and you're looking at a "high/low" dual element model in person, make sure both positions work.

There are other electrical quirks with the 60s and 70s Europiccola models (like until 1973 there was no "off" position on the switch!)

If it's a Professional, or later Europiccola with a pressurestat, make sure the heating elment turns off about 1 BAR on the gauge. A broken pressurestat often lets it heat to infinity. If you're lucky it will blow a fuse or boiling water out of the relief valve. In the worst case it can cause a "melt down" of the heating element. As can running a Pavoni without water! About the only way to really kill one.

While nothing electrical "Made in Italy" is bulletproof, the mechanical parts of a La Pavoni are pretty darn hardy, so not much to worry about there. The "hard parts" on a machine that's been taken care of will last for years.

One thing you'll want to check that is not generally obvious, is "scale" build up. Use a flashlight and look inside the boiler. Make sure the heating element doesn't look like a pier on San Francisco Bay, with stuff like white barnicles all over it. A machine that's been run on tap water is ok in a place like San Francisco, with our pure Sierra snow melt, but Los Angeles river water, or almost anything out of a well that is not filtered or has minerals, can create a problem over time.

Surprisingly, we don't see that many issues with scale build up in Pavonis. Most people seem good at using filtered water in the US. The ones we've seen from Eruope are another story.

One last place to check if you're super anal about "flaws," is the underside of the steel bases (especially with Millennial models.) It's possible for the exterior to look almost perfect, only to discover water has been leaking underneath, and there's a rusty mess.

Which finally brings us to our last point:

12-- VOLTAGE 110

Unless you plan on putting your lever in the garage near the dryer with a giant 220 volt outlet, make sure you're buying an American model, with native 110/120 US standard electric specs. (Usually just check the plug, but that's not a guarantee!)

You'll see used La Pavonis on places like ebay that don't advertise they are European 220 volt machines. It isn't always obvious (and/or the seller pretends not to know.)

Or sometimes you'll see deals on "new" machines that seem way cheaper than dealers in the US, which turn out to "gray market." Be warned that they are almost always 220 volt Euro models. Good luck returning it.

It IS possible to convert a La Pavoni to 120 volts, but by the time you pay the money to do that, you might as well buy a US model.


La Pavoni levers are marvels of mid century Italian design. If you still want one after reading all this way, you should buy one, you can't go wrong.

Best case, you learn to make espresso with a lever, and it changes life forever.

Worst case, it still looks awesome on the counter.

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