La Pavoni Europiccola – some tips and a word of caution…

If, as I did, you order your machine from Caffé Italia, in Italy (they have a UK base – why don’t they keep stock there?), when you unpack it you’ll find about a zillion pieces of chopped expanded polystyrene in the outer carton (none of which, bizarrely, protects the inner carton, containing the machine, from impact. Go figure. Delivery, by the way, took 3 days – I’ve had many UK deliveries that took longer and cost more.

I also found it had a European plug, which was bloody annoying, considering what these things cost. I was just about to fire off an angry email, when it occurred to me to rummage in the mass of polystyrene chips and, right at the bottom, there it was, tossed in as an afterthought. And I came within minutes of binning the packaging. Simply not good enough

When you first fire up the machine, you have to run a solution of bicarbonate of soda through it. As the solution heats up (and, of course, it’s the same for plain water), the safety valve starts to hiss, which is worrying. What’s happening, though, is that the air, inevitably trapped in the boiler, is being vented as it heats up (the reverse happens as the machine cools – only louder – as air is drawn into the partial vacuum in the boiler. Took me longer than was sensible to figure that out – I first thought the steam wand was leaking – so, La Pavoni, how about telling your customers?

By the way, the instructions say, after running the bicarb solution through it, to refill the boiler, reheat it and flush the machine. My advice would be to do that twice, turning the machine upside down, after the bicarb and each flush, to ensure the boiler is properly empty – oven gloves are a must! But if, like me, you get impatient waiting for it to cool, the steel base cools quickly, so gripping the front of the base, and holding the lever handle and raising it, you can easily lift the machine and tip in backwards into the sink or a bowl.

It says, while flushing, to leave the portafilter attached, presumably so that gets cleaned too. My advice is to leave it off, as it splashes badly, making a hell of a mess, and the water isn’t far from boiling – wash it separately, the filter, especially, needs a good scrub with a green scouring pad and washing up liquid, to remove the gunk from it’s manufacture.

When you’ve finished, turn off the machine (and at the socket – turning it on accidentally, when empty, is bad news). Leave it to cool – which takes longer than you might think, the brass is quite thick – wipe it over with a damp cloth, to remove the bicarb stains, then give it a polish with a dry cloth. A bar towel is ideal – dampen one end to clean, use the dry end to polish – works brilliantly. Try scrounging one from your local (they’re advertising freebies). Tip: if you only go at Christmas and Easter, forget it.

There were no leaks (the machine had clearly been tested after assembly, it was wet internally), but I did get about a sixth of a turn on the bolts holding the group head to the boiler, while hot, with little pressure on the spanner.

To work on the machine, should you need to, you’ll need 10mm, 14mm and 16mm combination spanners – two of the last, or one and a good-quality adjustable, or a 16mm socket (to remove the domed cap nut and its locking nut). There may well be other sizes I haven’t encountered yet, so check back in a day or two. You can’t get a socket on the steam valve nut, or the group head to boiler bolts, which is why I suggested combination spanners (for those of you unfamiliar, they have an open-ended spanner one end, and a ring spanner the other, both the same size).

Now then – sit up straight and pay attention, especially if you have children. My advice, if you have young kids, is not to get one of these at all (get a semi-automatic machine), because the entire machine, except for the plastic handles, gets very hot. Seriously – if I didn’t have good reflexes I could have been burned when I put my hand on the base. Who the hell expects the base to be hot, FFS?

The machine is made of highly-conductive brass, bolted to a steel base – how hard would it have been to isolate the base from the boiler with a pair of non-heat-conductive gaskets? It does have fibre gaskets, but they quite clearly don’t do any good. Not helpful.

By the way, if you want to refill the boiler quickly, vent it using the steam wand before opening. If you’re careless – or foolish – enough to remove the cap while the boiler is still pressurised, the cap will vent before in comes loose. As it may vent all over you, it’s probably best avoided.

The Europiccola doesn’t have a pressure gauge, it relies on a pressurestat. If you want one (who wouldn’t?), Orphan Espresso have one to fit both old and new machines – this is the link for the new machines, with the plastic sight glass protector. $60.00, so budget for VAT and maybe duty, plus the Royal Mail’s rip-off £8.00 fee, too. Since it comes with an adaptor presumably it’s not possible just to remove the sight glass screw, and screw in the gauge from the Professional model. Anyone know for sure?

To fill the boiler you’ll need a steady hand and a jug that doesn’t dribble (it won’t harm the machine, but it’s messy), or a funnel. FYI, the OXO Good Grips measuring jugs pour very cleanly. Try Lakeland. For a funnel, try Orphan Espresso again, who have a folding silicone funnel for $6.50, plus shipping.

See this earlier post for some essential kit from Orphan Espresso – food-grade lubricant, a stick-on thermometer for the group head, a couple of squeezy bottles for essential cleaning, and a Torx bit to remove the base (however, mine doesn’t fit). At the time of writing, I don’t know if OE have sent the wrong size or La Pavoni have changed the size – they’ve certainly changed the location. It used to be under the drip tray, now it’s in the base of the machine.

Does it make good coffee? No idea yet, unpacking, setting it up and flushing/cleaning/polishing it have used up my activity quota for the day – I’ll let you know.

This is the Europiccola, set up in my kitchen, flushed, cleaned, polished and ready to go.

That’s not a shovel behind it, it’s my peel…

Update: Tried to make an espresso the water just poured through the puck (the ground coffee in the filter). So, research needed. It seems that the grind and the tamp pressure are vital – no surprises there, obviously. What was a surprise is how fine you need the ground coffee – between sand and flour, apparently – I’m assuming wholemeal flour as white flour is around the Turkish coffee grind – and how high the tamp pressure – at least 35lb. And yes, there is a consensus on both, and both are hugely different to my semi-auto machine, with a fine to medium grind and almost no pressure on the tamp, just compact slightly and polish. Oh well, I said earlier there was a steep learning curve with these things, so I can’t really complain.

I’ve covered tampers previously, and the lever La Pavonis are supposed to take a 51mm tamper – there’s a consensus on that, too. However, the buggerdly filter measures 52mm, not 51, and that’s a size I’ve not seen anywhere.

So, over the weekend I’m going to buy some cheap beans – no point in wasting the good stuff – and get in some practice.

I read, though, that the pressure required on the lever is about 70lbs, which doesn’t thrill me. Personally I doubt that – there’d be users everywhere with shoulder injuries – we’ll see.

Update later: Tamp pressure is pretty moderate, about 12lb, once you have the grind right, no idea what it takes to pull the handle, but it’s not a great deal – certainly it’s a hell of a long way form 70lb!

And here’s a good, affordable burr grinder that grinds far finer than needed for La Pavoni machines.

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9 thoughts on “La Pavoni Europiccola – some tips and a word of caution…

  1. Ron,
    I have bought a Gaggia from Caffe Italia and I am getting problems getting info on delivery-2 e-mails to the tracking address and numerious phone calls to an answer machine.
    I am beggining to think its a scam or am I over reacting.
    Did you have problems with delivery?

    • Hi,

      No, no real problems – other than the sluggishness others have mentioned. It was a despatched a week after they said it would be – which seems pretty standard – and it was here three days later.

      Email Marco at info@coffeeitalia.co.uk , he seems to know what’s going on.

      Ron.

  2. Great to see someone else exploring using a Pavoni. I’ve had mine since the start of the year and am generally managing to get it to make fantastic coffee on a regular basis.

    One thing I have noticed is recently I’ve started to get a lot of steam venting out the top of the safety valve – much more so than previously. Is this a case of the valve needing to be tightened, or an ominous sign of something more worrying?

    • Hi Ian,

      Best thing to do is take it apart and check it out. You need 2 14mm spanners – one to unscrew the body, and one to hold the locknut where it joins the boiler – don’t do that and the inside nut might come loose and drop into the boiler. The lock nut is easiest to get at from the back of the machine. You might have mineral build-up in the valve if your water is hard, or just a weak spring.

      If the valve is perceptibly loose, then by all means tighten it, but not otherwise (it doesn’t do any good).

      Of course, it’s possible your boiler is overheating – is the green light going out as promptly as it should? And if your water is very hard, the machine might well need descaling – use a citric-acid based product (La Pav say you can use white vinegar too, but I suspect the smell would linger).

      Orphan Espresso, if you have the Europiccola, have a pressure gauge kit http://www.orphanespresso.com/TYPE-2-Europiccola-Pressure-Gauge-Adaptor-WITH-GAUGE_p_2446.html as well as lots of other useful kit (the dosing funnel is a good buy if your grinder produces a fluffy, high-volume grind http://www.orphanespresso.com/OE-Aluminum-Portafilter-Dosing-Funnel_p_2415.html )

      They also have a stick-on thermometer for the group head http://www.orphanespresso.com/Pennys-Hot-Shot-Group-Strip-Thermometer_p_2133.html to monitor water temp. If it’s over 95 you’ve got problems. No reason that one can’t be stuck on the boiler, too. There’s a view, online, that the La Pav boiler can’t possibly explode – maybe not, but the sight glass sure as hell can (which is why they now have a plastic cover), so a thermometer, even just on the group head, is a useful tool.

      If you ever need spares, these guys are probably your best bet, though they do seem very slow when it comes to replacing out of stock items http://www.espressoservices.co.uk/la_pavoni_replacement_parts.html I got the last bottomless portafilter a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still out of stock. Bothe they and Orphan Espresso sell the T-20 anti-tamper Torx bit you need to get the base off – fit is marginal, at best, so take care.

      Ron.

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  4. Hi,

    This may sound like an odd question, but I have recently bought a La Pavoni which I believe to be faulty. When you look DIRECTLY at the machine from the front, is the bit that holds the portafilter level? I mean, is it parallel to the surface the machine sits on? Mine isn’t, and consequently it seems to fill the right hand cup more than the left.

    Cheers,

    Phil

    • Hi Phil,

      I think every La Pavoni made is like that – you can see it on pictures of very early models, too. Nothing to worry about, though, just a quirk of the hand-made process (plus badly-made jigs).

      Fixing it would need re-tooling and, as it affects functionality not at all, they probably think it’s not worth it. I tend to agree.

      Uneven filling is more likely down to the grind and tamp – I haven’t seen that problem.

      Ron.

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