The History of La Pavoni
How to Pull an Espresso Shot
Bring to Pressure: Before you turn the machine on, unscrew the knob on the top of the tank and fill it with water. Screw it back on, switch on the machine, and wait for it to come to between 0.5 to 1.2 bars of pressure, which is marked green on the pressure gauge. If you’re using the Europiccola, you’ll know the machine is at pressure when the green light turns on. Attach a clean portafilter to the machine.
Purge & Eliminate False Pressure: When the machine comes to pressure, clean out any residue by 'purging' the machine of old water into an empty espresso cup. Just lift the lever for a few seconds, let the water fall, and discard the water. This warms up the portafilter and the espresso cup. Now, you have to eliminate something called ‘false’ pressure, which will make your espresso watery. The best way to do this is to place your cup or a tea towel at the base of the steam wand. Open the steam by unscrewing the steam wand’s cap, and wait for the spurts of water to turn into cloud-like steam. You want to hear a consistent hiss.
Prepare the Coffee: Fill the portafilter with 12 to 18g of ground coffee, about three tablespoons; in the office, some of us measure and some of us eyeball it. Freshly ground beans are absolutely crucial here, and they should be ground finely. We recommend the second- or third-finest setting on your grinder. Tamp down the coffee grounds in the portafilter. You want to make it tight and uniform, or else water will gravitate towards ‘channels’ that will result in uneven extraction. To get a nice layer of crema, we found that at least 15g of coffee, fresh coffee beans ground finely, and a hard (but not too hard) tamp were key.
Pre-Infuse: Place your coffee cup under the portafilter and lift the lever up slowly. If you go too fast, it will disrupt the coffee in the portafilter and lead to uneven extraction (the enemy!). When you’re at the top, you’ll hear a click. Wait 10 to 20 seconds, or until you see the first few drops of coffee, then...
- Make Espresso: Pull the lever all the way down in a slow, steady motion and watch the espresso fill the cup. We like to pull for about 30 seconds, with the lever horizontal at the 15-second mark. It is deeply satisfying to see your espresso fill the cup, watching for a nice layer of crema. Enjoy.
How to Froth Milk
Steam Wand: This wand has three holes for thorough frothing. To use it, place a small pitcher of milk just under the wand; it should not touch the milk. Unscrew the knob until steam comes out in a steady, cloud-like stream. Then immerse the wand in the milk. You can keep it still for a tighter foam (latte) or swirl the milk in a whirlpool motion for a looser foam (cappuccino). (Keep experimenting with this to find the texture that works for you!) To stop, just tighten the knob shut.
- Cappuccino Automatic: This attachment is meant to be a faucet that opens to release perfectly foamed milk. To use it, detach the default steam wand and attach the steel wand with the vertical spout. Secure the attachment by turning the small plastic knob clockwise until it is shut. You should have what looks like a faucet, under which you can place your espresso-filled mug. Then, place the transparent tube in a pitcher filled with milk. Release steam by loosening the larger knob on the side of the machine. The milk will travel through the tube and release from the faucet, straight into your glass, perfectly foamed for cappuccino.
Essential Tips for Success
- Grind your beans fresh before every cup of espresso. For espresso, you want finely ground coffee, and a high-quality grinder that’s primed for espresso. The ideal grind for lever machines tends to be two steps coarser than your grinder’s finest setting. See our selection of coffee grinders here.
- Look for beans that are fresh and slow-roasted. A local coffee shop is much more likely to have better-quality beans than a supermarket.
- Ideally, use filtered water when filling the tank for a cleaner-tasting coffee.
- Always remove the portafilter gently, stopping after your first turn for a moment before releasing. This dissipates the pressure from the machine—otherwise, the used coffee will spurt everywhere and make a mess! A knock box is a great tool to have by your machine; shop here.
- If you’re passionate about perfecting espresso, keep a piece of paper near the machine so you can note your dosage, grind size, time taken to lift the lever (pre-infusion), your final yield amount, and additional notes. That way you can figure out the recipe that works for you every time.
- Touch any metal parts of the machine, except for the lever handle or top knob (for support), when it’s on, as it gets extremely hot. Keep a tea towel nearby for when you need it.
- Open the tank (the top knob) unless the machine is off. The sudden release of pressure would be hazardous, so the tank should be tightly shut when the machine is on.
- Though you can make up to six espressos in a row, we do not recommend making more than three. That's because after three, the group head tends to overheat, resulting in bitter coffee. Turn the machine off, refill with water if necessary, then turn it on again before making your next batch.
Cleaning & Maintenance
- Clean a La Pavoni lever machine by rubbing it with soft, damp cloth after each use
- Empty the residual coffee collection basket at the base when it gets full
- Every six months, it’s worth descaling the interior of the machine. We like to use a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar, fill the tank, and purge the solution completely. Repeat the process with water to remove any residual taste of vinegar. You can also use a store-bought solution.
- La Pavoni Professional Lusso (Wooden or Resin Handles): Introduced in 1974, the La Pavoni Lusso (with wooden or black handles) has remained unchanged because it is extremely popular with coffee enthusiasts. With a pressure gauge on the tank and 1.6-litre capacity, it’s an icon of 20th-century design that has a permanent place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Shop wood-handled here, and resin-handled here.
- La Pavoni Esperto (Abile or Edotto): The Esperto Abile and Esperto Edotto have a second pressure gauge and a temperature stamp, so you can monitor the activity of the tank and the group head. It allows for the ultimate precision. Both machines come with La Pavoni’s signature eagle on top. The Abile has a chrome finish, while the Edotto’s is copper. Shop Abile here, and Edotto here.
- La Pavoni Europiccola: Also called the La Pavoni Piccolo, this was the first espresso maker ever made for domestic use, and it’s been updated with the safety features of later models. It doesn’t guide the process as much as the others—there are no gauges, for example—but professional baristas and coffee fanatics love it because they already have some know-how before using it. Shop here.
- La Pavoni Cellini (Classic or Evoluzione): A semi-automatic lever espresso machine that lets you make back-to-back espressos, foam milk simultaneously, and looks beautiful on any kitchen counter. The Evoluzione is quieter than the Classic, thanks to a rotary pump, and can be connected to a direct water source through plumbing. Shop Classic here, and Evoluzione here.
- La Pavoni Botticelli Specialty: The gold standard of semi-automatic lever machines, with a rotary pump and a BPPC system, like the one on the Esperto, that has a gauge on the grouphead. The added benefit here is that you can control the pressure of your extraction, not just monitor it. This allows for consistent, foolproof espresso. Shop here.
Is a La Pavoni Lever Machine Right For You?