The La Pavoni is the most famous hand lever espresso machine on the market. However, it is also quite controversial. There are those who claim that you simply can't make good espresso with it.
The La Pavoni is the most famous hand lever espresso machine on the market. However, it is also quite controversial. There are those who claim that you simply can’t make good espresso with it.
This is definitely not true, but using a La Pavoni espresso machine is certainly a challenge. There is a steep learning curve and a number of tricks that you need to master.
In this in-depth review, I’ll share my experience with the La Pavoni Professional. I’ll also take a look at some of the manufacturer’s other manual offerings and share some tips on how to get the most out of a La Pavoni espresso machine.
The La Pavoni espresso machine at a glance
Here’s a list of the La Pavoni espresso machines I’ll be looking at today:
Which La Pavoni espresso machine did I get?
The Amazon box containing my new La Pavoni manual espresso machine arrived shortly after I placed my order. Opening it was a special moment. I’m sure this machine will be with me for quite a while, so I unwrapped not just an espresso machine, but a life partner.
The machine sparkles and shines, reflecting a distorted image of my joyful face. It’s an incredibly beautiful espresso machine that’s much smaller than I imagined. Sure, I’ve seen it many times before, but it still takes up surprisingly little space in my kitchen.
Taste, as we all know, is always a matter of personal preference. In the case of La Pavoni, however, I think the hand lever espresso machine treads a fine line. After all, madness comes pretty close to genius.
There are many models in gold and with eagles, but I personally don’t find them attractive.
I bought the version with wooden grips, but the higher price associated with it doesn ‘t provide any technical advantage and is purely aesthetic. It would make more sense to choose a cheaper version – but sense doesn’t really matter when buying a lever espresso machine!
The good thing about a solidly built espresso machine without a lot of bells and whistles is that not much can break. Not only that, but there is a good supply of La Pavoni replacement parts.
There’s a large screw-on lid on the top of the machine that seals the boiler. There is also a sight glass that shows the water level. This is especially important as the machine needs to cool down completely before refilling.
The Professional model has a built-in pressure gauge that indicates the pressure in the boiler. Other models, such as the Europiccola, have lights that flash when the machine has generated enough pressure.
But would I really be able to use this wonderful machine? I have seen many coffee professionals on YouTube successfully making espresso with a La Pavoni.
However, the endless questions and comments under each video seem to indicate that most people are a bit overwhelmed with this machine. I’ll share my experiences a little later.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the best La Pavoni manual espresso machines on the market and get down to business.
La Pavoni PC 16 Professional Espresso Machine
- High quality materials
- Looks great
- Built-in pressure gauge
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Fairly high investment
- Can overheat
The La Pavoni PC 16 Professional is the espresso machine I bought to test. It costs $1,199.00 on Amazon, though I couldn’t resist spending a bit more for the version with wooden handles.
As I mentioned earlier, the shiny chrome looks fantastic. There’s also a pressure gauge and a cool sight glass to keep an eye on the water level.
The La Pavoni PC 16 Professional has a kettle capacity of a whopping 38 ounces, which means you can make 16 two-ounce espresso shots.
What’s confusing is the included “cappuccino maker” It’s a complicated device that I ended up leaving in the box.
At least there’s a good steam wand, and if you use your muscle power to make espresso, you’ll probably want to froth your milk by hand, too.
La Pavoni EPC 8 Europiccola eight-cup espresso machine
Available for $969.00 on Amazon, the La Pavoni EPC 8 Europiccola is a more compact and affordable option.
However, in my opinion, the 20-ounce kettle is not large enough, so I would recommend spending a little more and buying the Professional.
That being said, the Europiccola is still a great espresso machine. It has many of the same features as the Professional, including sturdy construction, chrome plating, and an automatic milk frother for making cappuccino.
The La Pavoni Europiccola does not have a manometer, but that’s not a big deal. After all, the Professional’s manometer measures the boiler pressure, not the pressure at the group head. You are the one who creates the pressure for espresso extraction by pulling the lever with enough force.
The La Pavoni Europiccola has a light that indicates when the boiler has reached the correct pressure. It may not look as cool as a pressure gauge, but it does the job!
- Easy to clean
- Compact size
- Makes excellent espresso
- Looks good on Instagram
- No pressure gauge
- Needs to cool down before refilling
La Pavoni PSW 16 Stradivari Espresso Machine
The La Pavoni PSW 16 Stradivari was released in 2005 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the espresso machine manufacturer.
The design of the machine, with its gracefully curved lever, was inspired by the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari.
What violins have to do with manual espresso machines, no one really knows. But when have the Italians ever shied away from creating something functional and beautiful?
Aside from its looks, the PSW 16 Stradivarius is virtually identical to the PC 16 Professional. Of course, it has a higher price tag – on Amazon, you’ll pay $1,474.99 for the privilege of having this curved lever.
- Beautiful design
- Doesn’t require much maintenance
- Makes excellent espresso
- Built-in pressure gauge
- Comes with a flimsy tamper
- Quite expensive
La Pavoni ESPED 16 Esperto Edotto espresso machine
The La Pavoni ESPED 16 Esperto Edotto is part of the manufacturer’s competitive series and takes things to a whole new level. This is the La Pavoni espresso machine to buy if you’re really serious about making espresso manually.
However, the Esperto Edotto costs a hefty $2,459.00 on Amazon, so I can’t imagine casual users buying it.
The La Pavoni Esperto Edotto features beautiful handcrafted wooden handles. It also comes with a bottomless portafilter and a 20 gram competition filter basket
As I said before, this is a serious machine. However, I’ll pass on the decorative eagle. It serves no purpose and is just not my style.
The really great thing about this model is the addition of a group temperature display and a special group pressure gauge. The gauge allows you to create repeatable pressure profiles, which makes it easier to get accurate and consistent results with the unit.
- Built-in group temperature gauge
- Gauge for boiler and group
- Comes with bottomless portafilter
- Makes incredible espresso
- Unnecessary eagle
- Very expensive
How to use a La Pavoni espresso machine
The La Pavoni is not for everyone. You really have to take the time to learn how to use a manual espresso machine. You have to be willing to experiment and also be willing to persevere if you don’t get it right the first time.
Making a good espresso with a La Pavoni manual lever machine is quite a bit of work – but it ‘s worth it.
No other espresso machine gives you such a precise insight into the influence of the various factors that go into making espresso.
With the lever, you know directly how much ground coffee to use, and how grind and tamping pressure correlate to the pressure needed to push the water through the coffee puck.
If you can get good results with a La Pavoni, you’ll have little trouble with any other espresso machine. So if you want to take your barista skills to the extreme, you can’t go wrong with a La Pavoni espresso machine.
Here’s what you simply won’t want to be without:
A coffee grinder suitable for espresso
Very fresh espresso beans
Please note that I burned some low-quality Illy beans before switching to the more desirable coffee beans from a private roaster. In all my years of working with espresso machines, I’ve found that it pays to start with less expensive beans when learning a new skill or technique.
Tips for using a La Pavoni hand lever espresso machine
I have heard from many La Pavoni owners that it is difficult to make a good espresso with this machine. So I’d like to describe here how to get the best results. If it saves you some time and frustration, so much the better!
I only ever use fresh espresso when I’ve had a bit of practice, so no beans roasted more than four weeks ago. Of course, that means supermarket coffee is out of the question altogether.
Compared to other espresso machines, I use a relatively fine grind for most espresso extractions – but not all. There are also cases where I increase the dose and get great results. This means testing, testing, and testing again.
Always start with a test run. Otherwise, the brew group will not be hot enough and you will get cold espresso. So make sure you don’t overheat the brew group. As you can see from my great diagram, the brew group 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 from about 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 Celsius) to the optimum range of 194 to 201 degrees Fahrenheit (90 and 94 Celsius). However, this can be difficult to achieve if the brew group gets too hot.
If you push up on the lever of the La Pavoni, after a while you will hear hot water flowing into the brew group. This happens automatically due to the pressure buildup in the boiler. The amount of water flowing in is limited to the amount needed for one espresso. So if you want a double espresso, you will have to operate the lever twice.
Start with a “pre-infusion” This means that you do not press the lever down immediately. Instead, let the hot water come in contact with the espresso puck first. This often reduces the resistance when you pull the lever down. After just a few seconds, the first drops of espresso will appear, which is a sign that the lever can definitely be operated.
After two or three espressos, the brew group becomes too hot. You should turn off the machine and let it cool down. You can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the brew group, which should be between 158 and 176 degrees Fahrenheit (70 and 80 degrees Celsius).
La Pavoni Troubleshooting
If the lever cannot be pulled down – or only with a lot of force – there are three possible causes:
The espresso grinder is ground too fine.
You have tamped with too much pressure.
Your dosage is too high.
If you are using oily (or less dry) espresso beans, you usually need to use a coarser grind. The lever should pull down easily, and you need to test it. After you push the lever up and wait a few seconds, the first drops will come out without pressure. Then you can let go.
But be careful If you cannot empty the brew group (i.e. you cannot push the lever down), it will still remain pressurized. Be very careful when removing the portafilter. Otherwise, you risk a face full of coffee grounds and hot water.
What if, after experimenting with all the above parameters, you still can’t make a good espresso? Then I recommend you experiment with different coffee beans: preferably fresh beans from a small, independent coffee roaster.
Don’tbe acrema snob either. Even an espresso without perfectly formed crema can taste fantastic!
Bottomless portafilter for the La Pavoni
Many La Pavoni owners recommend using a bottomless portafilter. This may be for educational reasons, as it allows you to watch the espresso and its crema develop.
A portafilter with two spouts is not well suited for this machine. It rarely manages to spill the espresso evenly from both sides. That’s why I ended up unscrewing mine.
By the way, the dual spout was anything but easy to remove. I had to use a long Allen wrench and a lot of force.
It’s not uncommon for technically gifted people to simply saw off the bottom of their portafilter. That seems pretty crazy to me, and I wouldn’t dare do it.
A safer alternative would be to simply buy a bottomless portafilter from Amazon.
Tamper for the La Pavoni
Buying a decent tamper is a must for such a nice machine. The package only includes a cheap plastic tamper.
La Pavoni portafilter machines with a manual lever – built before 2001 – require a 49-millimeter tamper (for a portafilter diameter of 50 millimeters). However, current models require a 51-millimeter tamper (for a 50-millimeter filter diameter).
Cleaning and descaling a La Pavoni espresso machine
The beautiful chrome of the La Pavoni quickly gets dirty from splashes and fingerprints. I recommend polishing your machine daily to restore it to its full shine. Use a microfiber cloth – we don’t want scratches.
Limescale builds up in the boiler of the La Pavoni, as it does in all other espresso machines. How quickly this process occurs depends, of course, on the hardness of your water. Therefore, you should , if possible, always use filtered water.
I would recommend descaling the boiler every three to six months with citric acid. Also remember to rinse out the brew group.
From time to time, it is recommended to remove the brew group and clean it at the same time. If necessary, you can also replace worn gaskets and grease the moving parts of the espresso machine with lubricant.
Conclusion: La Pavoni espresso machine
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think the La Pavoni Professional is a beautiful machine, but if you prefer curved levers, eagles and violin silhouettes, who am I to judge? Caw! Caw!
Either way, a La Pavoni espresso machine is a feast for the eyes and pretty low maintenance when it comes to care and cleaning.
The challenge is learning how to use it. I had to invest quite a bit of time before I was happy with the results. Personally, I love switching between different espresso blends, and I’m constantly changing different parameters to observe the effects.
I have to say that using this machine has taught me a lot more about espresso preparation.
A La Pavoni is not the perfect espresso machine for families, nor can it provide coffee for a large number of visitors. It’s a real shame that you can only pull two or three shots before the machine overheats.
But if you’re a coffee fan like me, you won’t be able to resist this Italian classic!
What do you think of the La Pavoni hand lever espresso machines? Do you own one? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? Let me know in the comments.