La Pavoni Professional Manual-Lever Espresso Machine Review

The La Pavoni Professional is the most widely known manual-lever espresso machine on the market. However, it's also quite controversial. There are some people who claim you simply can't make good espresso using it. That's definitely not true, but using the La Pavoni Professional is challenging, and there are a few tricks that you should consider. What follows is a detailed review covering everything I've learned about this great portafilter machine.

The La Pavoni Professional is the most widely known manual-lever espresso machine on the market. However, it’s also quite controversial. There are some people who claim you simply can’t make good espresso using it. That’s definitely not true, but using the La Pavoni Professional is challenging, and there are a few tricks that you should consider. What follows is a detailed review covering everything I’ve learned about this great portafilter machine.


The La Pavoni Professional – From Box To Kitchen


The box containing my new manual-lever espresso machine from La Pavoni arrived soon after I ordered it. Opening it was a special moment. I’m sure this machine will be with me for quite some time, so I’m not just unpacking an espresso machine, but a companion for the future decades.

The machine sparkles and shines, reflecting the distorted image of my joy. It’s an incredibly beautiful espresso machine that is much smaller than I imagined. Sure, I’ve seen it many times before, but it still takes up surprisingly little space in my kitchen.

However, can I actually use it? Below each YouTube video demonstrating the successful making of espressos with the Professional are tons of questions about how it was done. Many users seem overwhelmed.

Which Model of La Pavoni's Manual-Lever Espresso Machine Should I Buy?

Professional PLTaste is famously always a question of personal preference. However, I think in the case of La Pavoni, the manual-lever espresso machine walks a fine line.

After all, madness is pretty close to genius.

I find my machine really beautiful. It’s a La Pavoni Professional with wooden grips (PLH). I absolutely love the combination of chrome and wood. My model has the slightly larger 1.6-liter (1.7-quart) boiler volume, and that’s already pretty small.

Hence, my tip is to not buy the 0.8-liter (0.85-quart) model.

Remember, you can only refill the machine once it has completely cooled down. Please wait until the machine has no pressure in the boiler before unscrewing the cap. Doing otherwise is very dangerous. Even the larger version heats up in less than 10 seconds.

Professional PLHI can’t recommend the Europiccola because these models all only have the smaller boiler tank. They also don’t have a pressure gauge.

My recommendation is therefore to purchase a 1.6-liter (1.7-quart) model with pressure gauge. In my view, only two designs come into question: the one with wooden grips and the one without:

I got the version with the wooden grips, but the higher cost involved doesn’t provide any technical advantage and is purely aesthetic. It would be more sensible to choose the cheaper option – but sense doesn’t really factor into things when buying a lever espresso machine, anyway.

I previously mentioned taste. There are many models available in gold and featuring eagles but, personally, I don’t find them attractive. I also don’t find Stradivari models appealing, because a manual lever should be straight. The curved lever probably references the machine’s lateral violin shape, but I think it’s a bit much too.

For those who what to judge for themselves, take a look at the La Pavoni catalog and choose something that suits your taste!

Consciously Slowing Down by Using a Manual-Lever Espresso Machine


In the field of coffee, “quick and easy” has been one of the greatest trends of recent years. Best to let coffee magically appear in the cup at the push of a button, whether that’s using coffee pods, capsules or super-automatic espresso machines. In contrast, pour-over coffee or French presses involve manual operation.

A lever machine, in the case of espresso, is of course the original form of espresso preparation, as well as the one with the largest amount of manual work.

What’s slightly absurd is the so called “cappuccinatore,” an automatic milk frother included in the Professional box.

In my opinion, people who use their own muscle power to make espressos will also likely want to froth their milk by hand. However, everyone’s different. In my case – for the time being anyway – the automatic milk frother will definitely remain in the cupboard.

The La Pavoni Professional's Nicknames


The La Pavoni Professional manual-lever machine has many nicknames, some more charming than others.

It’s often referred to as “The Diva.” I think this suits it well. The La Pavoni Professional looks so great that it’s always the center of attention and very pretentious. Additionally, if it doesn’t like something, it simply refuses to work.

However, “Bitch” is another name I’ve read before. In this case, I think that somebody was probably driven insane. Anyone who grinds or tamps the espresso incorrectly or doesn’t use very fresh coffee is sure to develop a grudge against this lever machine after a while.

However, the espresso machine’s gender is unclear, as yet another name given to it is “The Peacock,” which of course refers to a male bird’s showy plumage. The question is, then, whether this simply alludes to its beauty, or is in fact a criticism that La Pavoni’s Professional is more form than substance.

La Pavoni Professional's Design


The great thing about an espresso machine without a lot of bells and whistles is that not much can break. If a part does ever give or a seal leak, there’s a good supply of spare parts available.

A large screw cap on top of the machine seals the boiler. There is also a viewing window that displays the water level. This is especially important because the machine must have cooled down completely before you refill it.

The Professional model also has a built-in pressure gauge, which measures the pressure inside the boiler.

Advantages


  • Less than 10 minutes to heat
  • Good workmanship
  • Looks great
  • Compact size
  • In-built boiler pressure gauge
  • Very quiet when making espresso
  • Robust with a good supply of spare parts


Disadvantages


  • Must cool down before refilling the water
  • Can overheat (after pulling several espresso shots)


The Perfect Espresso Machine for Learning

The right person to own the La Pavoni Professional is someone who takes the time to engage with the machine. You have to experiment with it and try it out.

Making a good espresso with a La Pavoni Professional is quite a job – but it’s worth it.

No other portafilter machine gives you such accurate insights into the influence of the different factors involved in espresso preparation.

The lever gives you a direct understanding of how much espresso grounds to use and how the grinding degree and the tamp density correlates with the required pressure needed to push the water through the coffee puck.

Anyone who can take good command of a Professional would also be able to familiarize themselves with any other espresso machine. So if you want to prove your capabilities of handling a portafilter machine, you can’t go wrong with the La Pavoni Professional.

What Is Required to Use the La Pavoni Professional?


  • A good espresso mill
  • Patience
  • Time
  • Very fresh espresso beans


Technical Data


ManufacturerLa Pavoni
NameProfessional
Weight5.5 kilograms (12 pounds)
Dimensions32 x 20 x 29 centimeters (12.6 x 7.9 x 11.4 inches)
Original Price600 euros ($680)
Used Price250 to 380 euros ($280 to $430)
Power Output1,000 watts
Portafilter TypeSingle
Boiler Capacity1.6 liters (1.7 quarts)

La Pavoni Professional Operational Tips


In this YouTube video, I’m testing my new bottomless portafilter. It looks so great with the basket exposed.

I’ve heard from many Professional owners that it is difficult to produce a good espresso using this machine.

Therefore, I want to describe how I achieve the best results.

espresso_yirga_santos_test_crema_I

espresso_yirga_santos_test_crema_barista

  • I only ever use fresh espresso, meaning no beans roasted more than four weeks ago. Of course, that means supermarket coffee is also taboo.
  • Compared to what is used with other portafilter machines, I chose a relatively fine grind for most espressos – but not all. There were also espressos where I increased the amount of coffee grounds I used. This means testing, testing and more testing.
  • Always begin with a test run. Otherwise the brewing unit will still be too cold, and you will end up with a cold espresso. However, you also shouldn’t let the brewing unit overheat. As you can see from my awesome diagram, the brewing unit is only heated by a narrow connection to the boiler and the incoming water. That’s good, because the water for the espresso needs to cool down from 110 to 130 degrees Celsius (230 to 266 degrees Fahrenheit) to the required 90 to 94 degrees Celsius (194 to 201 degrees Fahrenheit). It is therefore problematic if the brewing unit becomes too hot.

manual_lever_machine

  • If you push the Professional’s lever upwards, after some time, you will hear hot water flowing into the brewing unit. This happens automatically due to the building pressure in the boiler. The volume of incoming water is limited to the amount needed for one espresso. Therefore, if you want a double espresso you will need to lift the lever twice. A so-called “pre-infusion” is recommended initially. This means that you don’t press the lever down immediately. Instead, let the hot water come into contact with the espresso puck first. This often somewhat reduces the resistance when you pull the lever down. The first drops of espresso often appear after just a few seconds, which indicates that the lever is definitely ready to be pulled.
  • After two to three espressos, the brewing unit will become too hot. You should turn off the machine and let it cool down. You can also use a thermometer to measure the brewing unit’s temperature, which should be between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius (158 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • When I first started using the Professional, I often found that I had to press down really hard and that I couldn’t draw an espresso in less than 30 seconds. There are three possible solutions: use a coarser grind, use less espresso or use less tamp pressure. It’s often a combination of all three factors. Additionally, it’s especially important to note that, if this situation occurs, the brewing unit can still remain pressurized. That’s why it should never be simply unscrewed. Otherwise, with a bit of bad luck, you will end up with a face full of coffee grinds and hot water. It’s best to open it slowly until you hear a hiss (like when opening a shaken bottle of carbonated water), shielding yourself with a rag. Alternatively, just wait for the brewing unit to cool down.

Espresso Test Teegernsee

Teegernseer Kaffeerösterei Espresso

Espresso Crema from the Pavoni

Fault Analysis


When you can’t pull down the lever – or only with a lot of force – there are three possible causes:

  • The espresso grind is too fine.
  • There is too much pressure when tamping (the density of the coffee puck).
  • There is too much espresso grounds.

Oily (or, less dry) espressos tend to need a more coarse grind. The lever should be easy to pull down, and you will have to test it. After you push the lever up and wait a few seconds, the first drops will come without pressing. Then you can let loose.

Caution! If you weren’t able to empty the brewing unit (i.e., you couldn’t press the lever down), it will still remain pressurized. Be very careful then when removing the portafilter. Otherwise, you risk a face full of coffee and hot water.

What if, after playing with all the parameters I mentioned, you still have no luck producing a good espresso? I would try another type of espresso: the freshest possible from a small, sophisticated coffee roaster. Don’t be a crema snob either. Even an espresso without a perfectly formed crema can still taste amazing!

Bottomless Portafilters for the La Pavoni Professional


Many owners recommend a bottomless portafilter for the La Pavoni Professional. This could be for educational reasons because, by using one, you can understand well the development of the espresso and its crema. Another reason it makes sense to use one is because the outlet with the two spouts is not well suited to this machine. It rarely succeeds in letting the espresso run evenly from both spouts. That’s why I ended up unscrewing mine. By the way, the double spout was far from easy to unscrew. I had to use a long allen key and a lot of force.

Portafilter Pavoni

There are also many technically gifted people who simply saw off the bottom of their portafilter. I don’t dare to do that. If you want, you can order a bottomless portafilter for the La Pavoni Professional on Amazon.com.

Tamper for the La Pavoni Professional


Buying a tamper is a must for such a nice machine. There’s only a cheap, plastic one included in the box.

La Pavoni portafilter machines with manual levers – built before 2001 – require a 49-millimeter tamper (for a portafilter diameter of 50 millimeters). The current models, however, require a 51-millimeter diameter tamper (for a portafilter diameter of 50 millimeters). I bought a 51-millimeter “wood-handled tamper,” which matches my machine really well. If you have an older machine manufactured prior to 2001, you could buy this slightly smaller tamper.

Tamper Pavoni


Which Coffee Grinder Should I Use With the La Pavoni Professional?


That’s a good question. The pleasure of further physical work offers itself with a manual coffee grinder. It’s also quite small. Keep in mind, though, that the Professional is a very small espresso machine. When you buy a coffee grinder, it can easily be larger than the portafilter machine itself – that’s certainly a matter of taste.

I don’t recommend using an electric coffee grinder that costs less than 150 euros ($170). It’s best not be too stingy. How about a Rancilio HSD Rocky?

I recommend first reading my article on coffee grinders!

Descaling and Cleaning


The beautiful chrome quickly becomes marked with limescale. However, you can usually polish it away, allowing the espresso machine to shine again. Use a little glass cleaner and a soft cloth – we don’t want scratches.

The Professional will become calcified, just like all other espresso machines. Of course, how fast this process occurs depends on your water hardness. If you haven’t decalcified the machine for a long time, don’t worry, this portafilter is able to withstand a lot.

I would recommend descaling the boiler with citric acid every three to six months, though. Also remember to rinse out the brewing unit.

On occasion, you can disassemble and clean the brewing unit at the same time. If necessary, you can also replace any seals or grease the moving parts. I’ve included an awesome guide to changing seals as an appendix below (available in German only, but with step-by-step pictures). The instructions are from the website kaffeemaschinendoctor.de, where you can also purchase the seals.

Review Summary


The La Pavoni Professional is a beautiful machine (with ugly siblings). It is a feast for the eyes and low-maintenance, in the sense of care and cleaning. The challenge is learning how to use it. It took me a few tries before I was satisfied with the results. I love to alternate between espresso beans and am always trying out the effects of different parameters. I have learned a lot about espresso preparation by using this machine.

The Professional isn’t a machine for the whole family, and it also can’t provide coffee for multitudes of visitors. It’s really a shame that you can only pull two to three espressos before the machine overheats. I also consider the tamper and automatic milk frother that the Professional is supplied with to be a bit of a joke.

User Guide and Repair Manual


You will find the La Pavoni Professional User Guide here.

6 Comments

    Guttentag Arne,
    I agree with all you say, so you’ve obviously had some experience of La Pavoni.
    I have just bought a new PL to replace my 25 year old machine which I have maintained and serviced from new. Fortunately I know these machines and their quirks, but I have to tell you I am most disappointed for a box-fresh example.
    The safety pressure valve was leaking, the steam arm was bent out of line badly and both the steam tap and lever needed lubrication with silicone grease, not good for a £700 machine!
    I would liken owning and using one to owning a classic motorbike in that they need regular attention to keep them at their best, but yes it is definitely worth it.
    My concern though is that a newcomer would just repackage and send it back if they had received my machine which begs the question of manufacturer quality.
    Keep up the good work and maybe add some tips on servicing in the future.
    Happy brewing.

    Reply

    The Pavoni does take time to perfect the espresso shot but it is well worth it. I do enjoy making coffee.

    Reply
    Arne

    Hello David,

    thanks for your comment. That’s the most important thing: Enjoy your coffee! Greetings Team Coffeeness

    Reply

    I would disagree with the large boiler recommendation. I prefer the smaller boiler as I find heat management to be the biggest obstacle to good espresso with the Pavoni. The smaller boiler heats up quicker so I wait for a shot a bit less, and it cools quicker so it will be ready to make another quicker also.

    My flow is turn on the machine, wait till the group is around 75°C, release enough water to warm a demitasse (this brings the group to around 90°C), grind my beans, prepare my puck, and pull the shot, turn it off, knock out puck, wait for machine to cool, repeat.

    To get good espresso the group needs to act as a heatsink and bring the water from steam temperature to brew temperature (much lower). So it needs to stay cool enough to do this and thus needs to be off between shots.

    Reply

    Hi, what manual coffee.grinder would you suggest for the LP?(the link above does not seem to be working). Thank you, really helpful and interesting post.

    Reply
    Arne

    Hello Colm,

    thanks for your comment. Have a look at the Porlex coffee grinder: https://amzn.to/2Wo76BF. Greetings Team Coffeeness

    Reply

I look forward to your comment

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