Coffee Cup
"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2020 - All rights reserved

Coffee Cup
1973 La Pavoni Europicola

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
all text and photos ©2020 - All rights reserved

1973 La Pavoni Europicola

    Through a fortunate set of circumstances which began with an unfortunate circumstance I am now the owner of a La Pavoni Europicola that was originally made in 1973. Allow me to explain.
    As you likely have heard, we lost our home and virtually everything that we own in the Camp Fire in California in November 2018. We did get out with our pets, our computers and backup files, and a few keepsakes. We have been living in an RV (a nice one) since then and have been back on our property for nearly five months now. The beginning of construction on our new home should begin before the end of March 2020.
    In the interim, between fire and now, I have received a number of gracious offers from the coffee community to assist in our situation. A few I have turned down, but one came along which will be documented in detail in a chapter (or likely, chapters) here in a few months. But along with that I was offered a 1973 La Pavoni Europicola at a very good price. I am certainly familiar with the machines in general but have never owned nor really used a lever machine of any brand, let alone one that is 47 years old! Makes my 30 year old car look like a teenager. With my lack of knowledge in its operational specifics I had to consult my “Coffee Wife,” aka “Double O Soul” on
    I told her of the machine and its virtually total lack of use since being rebuilt by none other than Francesco Ceccarelli (see Lever espresso machines by Francesco ) as well as the price at which it was offered to me. All she said was, “GET IT!.” I did.

The La Pavoni Europicola

    The “pre-millenium” first series of the La Pavoni espresso makers (1971 through 1974) are about as simple as an espresso maker can be. Note that I will try to avoid “machine” as part of the description. There is no pump, no reservoir, and only one switch. Plug it in and it's on. There are two heating elements. The brew-temperature element is of a lower wattage and it is always on. The power switch closes the circuit to energize the steam heating element. That's about as technical as it gets. Fully lift the lever and the pressure in the sealed boiler forces water into the group head through the dip tube in the boiler. The water flows into the group under the piston and above the coffee. Pull down on the lever and the piston pushes the water through the coffee.
    Later models (late 1973 or early '74) added a three-position switch that has an off position. In '84 a thermo-fuse was added to protect from overheating and element damage, and in '91 a simple pressurestat was added.
    The drive to Sacramento is an interesting one from where I live. Much of it is through farmland and pastoral views in general with light to medium traffic. An interesting juxtaposition to the massive amount of traffic in Sacramento and the three interchanges I had to negotiate to get to the place where I met the seller (check the no-fee, ad-free MapQuest ap. It worked GREAT!). After a 180 mile round trip I made it back home, both I and the LP, safe and sound.
    The seller had intended to include the 120-to-220 step-up transformer but had forgotten to bring it, but that was shipped to me and arrived just two days later.

Just How Big Of A Mess Is Possible?

I started out with a number of handicaps –
  • I had only the slightest guess as to the proper grind adjustment with my MC3
  • I was using Peets Big Bang Roast from the supermarket (at least it was whole bean)
  • I had never used a La Pavoni before
  • I had a counter space in the RV about the size of a small desk with a double sink in it on which to work
  • I possessed only the very basic knowledge of the general use of the LP and virtually no knowledge of the details

    So I Proceeded, Unencumbered By The Thought Process

        I set up the step-up transformer to up the 120 VAC to 220 and plugged the LP into it. I filled the boiler, screwed the cap on, locked the portafilter into the group, made sure the steam valve was closed and the lever down, and switched on the transformer.
        After a few minutes I felt the boiler exterior warming and some minutes later the pressure gauge began to rise. I soon switched from “Massimo” to “Minimo” on the power switch. These are to mark the steam setting (“Massimo”) and the brew setting (“Minimo”), or high and low power on the heating elements.
        The first day's efforts were rewarded with mixed results. I pulled three shots. The grind was too coarse with the first. The result was thin and bitter. To add insult to injury, I got a portafilter sneeze for the first time, something that has never happened in over twenty years of making espresso at home. All my previous espresso machines had 3-way valves and so this was a new experience. And a mess!
        The next two extractions as I tightened the grind were both drinkable and each improved on the previous attempt. Instinct told me to lift the lever a bit before removing the portafilter, both sneezed. I cleaned up as the caffeine took hold.

    Some Observations from Day One

        I had not completely filled the boiler to the top of the level gauge and by the end of this session with just three shots pulled, the water level was near the bottom of the water-level tube. I did not steam any milk for this session.
        I am so accustomed to a fully plumbed machine that I had to pay attention to the small volume of the drip tray. It is just for dripping, so if I wanted to pull some water through the group I had to remember to use a separate vessel. Day Two
        I made two cappuccino this morning which we enjoyed with some warm cherry pie with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream. I had done a bit of research last night and learned that lifting the lever nearly to the top of its travel can eliminate the portafilter sneeze, and indeed that did the trick. Lifting it fully allows the piston to travel above the hole which allows the boiler pressure to fill the group with water, and that would make the sneeze even more violent.
        I do not have a scale at this point so I just fill the portafilter the best I can right from the grinder's output. Since these first two days are my premiere effort of using the Kafatek MC3 for espresso, it was all guesswork as to the grind setting, the dose, and even the tamp. I tried grinding the basket full, tapping downward to level and slightly compress, and then refilling with coffee before a final leveling and tamping.
        I did my best to pull two double shots (which were both a little thinner than I was accustomed to). They were both pretty good looking though. I then use the LP to steam some milk. Flipping the switch to Massimo it took just a short time before the relief valve was letting a stream of steam out and the pressure gauge rose.
        I steamed some almond milk and was surprised at the steaming power of this little espresso maker with its small-diameter steam wand. The tip, with its two tiny holes did a marvelous job steaming in the only vessel I had use- a two-cup glass, tea mug.
        We were both impressed how smooth and chocolaty the drinks were. I am still imagining how much better they will be when I know what the hell I am really doing!

    Some Closing Thoughts

        The coffee we have been using for the last several weeks is “Peet's Big Bang” which is a medium roast described by them as, “a brilliant blend with natural Ethiopia roasted to bright, sweet, medium-bodied perfection.” It is presumably a blend of a Panamanian/Colombian (according to the map on their website with the Ethiopian. While the bag I am presently using was roasted on 11/29/19 (!) it still makes a much better cup than the garbage in the large, red jugs. The bag we recently bought was roasted on January 13, 2020. Feel free to use that information if anyone asks you why you home roast!
        In our confined quarters with such a small workspace the LP will likely be a weekend machine for now. The workflow is just a bit slow for me right now for weekday use when my wife is heading off to work, and my inexperience just adds more time to the process.
        It will take a lot more than just the five extractions I have done over these two days, and the addition of a scale, before I get consistent results. Still, the change in grind setting could be tasted right from the first extractions I have done with the La Pavonni.
        Since the boiler is a sealed vessel for the most part, if the machine needs refilling during a session, care must be taken. The pressure in the boiler must be relieved first, and while that could be done by turning the machine off, opening the steam valve and lifting the lever fully with a vessel under the group to catch the water (or something like that), I have to imagine that it is best to not pour cold water into a hot, mostly-empty boiler.
        If one negative factor stands out it is the small brew basket, but beyond that, and more importantly, there is no retaining spring in the portafilter so knocking out a damp, sticky puck can be an adventure. I think you could spot a long-time La Pavoni user by the callous on their thumb caused by the heat from holding the basket in the portafilter when knocking out a puck. CafeLat has a newly designed, stainless steel, bottomless La Pavoni (PRE Millennium 49mm) Portafilter with an option to make it into a standard portafilter with a double spout, and the body has a retaining spring! I see that item in my future!
        So thus ends my first baby-steps into brewing espresso with a manual-lever espresso maker.
  • Coffee Cup
      -   -   - Silvia
      -   -   -
    To Next Chapter