The La Pavoni Professional Manual Espresso Maker Review
Chances are, when you fell in love with espresso you saw a gleaming copper and brass espresso machine behind the bar at a cafe. There it sat, a shimmering monument to the romance of that thick brown elixir we all crave: a freshly pulled shot of perfect espresso.
Someday, you swore you’d own a machine like that. Has that time come? Does the La Pavoni Professional espresso machine deliver the goods, or will it leave you wanting more? Read on to find out!
Summary: La Pavoni Professional Espresso Machine
- Glorious classic copper and brass construction
- Sight glass and pressure gauge
- Lever action puts all control in your hands
Pure-gold-plated, they are a precious piece of furniture for creamy espresso coffees and foamy cappuccinos.– La Pavoni
The La Pavoni Professional Espresso Machine Review
Is the La Pavoni Professional worth every penny? Here’s our detailed review.
Design – 5/5
Constructed of gleaming copper and polished brass, the La Pavoni Professional lever machine dresses up any kitchen you put it in. The look is half Art Deco and half steampunk, with a dash of saxophone or French horn in with all the tubes and levers. It’s the kind of device that makes people say “Wow!” when they see it on your counter. (Just think of the Instagram posts you can make with one of these babies!)
Brewing Capability – 4.5/5
The brewing system of the PC 16 is about as simple as it gets: fill the filter basket with coffee, tamp it to make sure it’s flat, fit the portafilter into the group head and pull a shot.
Yeah, and playing the piano is easy – you just wiggle your fingers over the keyboard and music comes out, right?
The LaPavoni Professional PC 16 isn’t quite as complicated as Chopin, but you still have to learn what you’re doing, which is why we took off half a point. Some of the things to look out for:
This manual/lever espresso maker’s 38 oz boiler capacity makes 16 2-oz shots of espresso. The small filter basket holds 9g of ground coffee; the larger holds 13g, 14g if you really mash it with the tamper. That large basket gives you about an ounce of espresso (28g) if you’re looking for the popular 2:1 extraction ratio, or 42g if you’re going for 3:1 (1). In practice, you can produce exquisite espresso with a yield between 30 and 45g, especially if you’re using an intensely flavored Italian espresso like Lavazza or Illy – that’s what these machines were made for, after all.
The most important reason most baristas should question the 2:1 ratio is that they may be serving underextracted espresso. By “underextracted” I simply mean the coffee would taste better if the extractions were higher.
Preinfusion (the espresso machine’s equivalent of “bloom,” when the coffee grounds take on water and swell up inside the filter basket) is simple, but not obvious – no lights or buzzers (2). How it works: raise the lever until you feel it catch at the top of its travel, then wait about six seconds. When you see a few drops of “free run” espresso trickling out of the portafilter, preinfusion is done. You may now pull your shot.
Aim for a 30-second pull, and with the La Pavoni PC 16, you’ll realize why it’s called a pull: you slowly lower the lever, keeping an eye on the time relative to the lever position. Perfectly horizontal is halfway, so watch for the 15-second mark to get the lever flat and keep that pace (3).
At this point, measuring the yield of your espresso is a great way to shorten up the learning curve.
Tare your demitasse cup (or your cappuccino cup) on your kitchen scale, pull your 30-second shot, and check how much it weighs. A 30-35g shot with the big basket is bliss, with or without steamed milk.
Speaking of milk, the La Pavoni Professional comes with two ways of steaming milk: a classic steam wand, and an auto-frothing attachment. It’s simple to swap between them: they press onto the boiler fitting and use a notch to hold them in place.
The auto-frother is easy to use and makes foam that’s at least as good as your average green mermaid’s. Just drop the end of the supply tube in a container of cold milk, place your cup (with espresso) under the business end, and open the steam valve. In a few seconds, the auto-frother draws milk up the tube and dispenses frothy, milky deliciousness into your cappuccino (or latte or cortado, depending on how much milk you want). We made a great cappuccino on the first try. It’s not up to making latte art, however, as the foam goes directly into the cup, but it tastes wonderful.
The classic steam wand works adequately, but it’s let down slightly by the three-hole tip which tends to make looser foam. You can make a huge pile of foam with it if you like; in fact, our article on steaming versus frothing milk includes tips and photos using the La Pavoni Professional’s steam wand. But word on the street is that a simple one-hole tip for the steam wand will give you luscious, creamy microfoam. All this contributed to a half-point reduction.
Cleaning & Maintenance – 4/5
When it comes to cleaning, you’re on your own – no reminder lights, no descaling apps, just a tank that needs the occasional batch of white vinegar and water run through it. You can purchase descaling compounds, of course, but either way, you’ll want to keep an eye on the calendar as the machine has no automated tracking system. This is especially important if your water has a high mineral content.
Fortunately, descaling is easy: mix up a solution (which can be as simple as 50% water to 50% distilled white vinegar), fill up the reservoir, heat it up, and then pump away. When you’ve run all the mixture through, run at least one tank of clear water through to rinse out the cleaner. (This is one reason we like white vinegar: it’s easy to smell if you haven’t got it all out, and while it’ll make your coffee taste pretty bad, it’s safe to drink if you don’t get it all out. That’s a mistake you’ll only make once.) For details, check out our article on how to descale your espresso machine.
Cleaning the outside is even easier: a damp kitchen towel will take care of any dust, coffee powder, etc.
There’s a coat of jewelry varnish over the brass and copper which prevents tarnishing, so you don’t need to use any abrasive cleaners or metal polish – in fact, doing so is a bad idea.
If you use the steam wand, you’ll need to wipe it down after frothing milk. Also, blow some hot steam through it to make sure no milk remains inside the steam holes. If you’re doing a deep-cleaning, you can remove the steam wand and let it soak in a cleaning solution overnight.
If you use the automatic milk frothing attachment, clean it out by running hot water through it – be sure to put a cup under it or it’ll spit steam all over your kitchen counter.
Another tip for any espresso machine: get into the habit of soaking the portafilter and filter baskets in a little hot water with dish soap mixed in at the end of the day; that will help ensure that no stale coffee film clings to the equipment. Because the portafilter to this machine is varnished brass and the baskets are stainless steel, it’s safe to leave them in the cleaning solution overnight – no worries about rust or corrosion.
The two-piece drip tray simply slips out. Cleaning it is as simple as removing the grate from the top, emptying any spent coffee in the bottom, and giving it a scrub from time to time.
It’s a little trickier to clean the group head. Coffee can get into the recess where the portafilter fits, and it’s hard to see. A cotton swab or soft brush is a great way to get the coffee out of there, if you don’t want to buy a special tool for the job (4). To clean the brew head screen, simply install the portafilter with a basket (but no coffee!) and run a little water through it. That will remove any coffee grinds stuck to the surface of the screen.
But again, this is a manual espresso machine, not a superautomatic. You brew manually; you clean manually. And if you’re the kind of person who’s drawn to the seductive gleam of copper and brass, it’s like waxing a vintage Italian sports car: a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Build Quality – 5/5
Like the ROK, our other favorite manual espresso machine, the La Pavoni Professional PC 16 is really solidly built. There’s a coat of jewelry varnish over the brass and copper which prevents tarnishing (and is why we stress not using abrasive metal polish) and will keep this machine looking great for years.
Over time – we’re talking decades, not months – the seals and gaskets may need replacing; these are readily available and easy to swap in and out. Current models have more effective electrical and thermal overload devices than the older ones – but it’s worth pointing out that La Pavonis from the 1970s are still brewing killer espressos.
One note of caution: it’s a little topheavy, especially with a full water reservoir, and using the lever can make the La Pavoni tip. The solution: leave one hand on the front of the base when lifting the lever, and place a hand on the filler knob when pulling a shot.
Value For Money – 4/5
Nothing else looks like this machine, and the satisfaction of controlling every aspect of the drink you’re making is huge. But it’s a lot of coin.
On the other hand, if you want a gleaming steampunk icon on your kitchen counter that also lets you make kick-ass coffee drinks, it’s worth every penny. Just be certain you’re up to the learning curve and you don’t mind doing everything yourself. And if you’re not certain, well, keep reading…
Do Not Buy The La Pavoni Professional If…
You just want a cup of espresso right now – We get it – the well-deserved satisfaction of learning to pull a shot with this classic is a real draw for a lot of us, but not for everyone. If you just want to wake up, press a button, and have a cup of espresso in seconds, there are ways to get that. Fortunately, we have the ultimate guide to help you figure out what machine is best for you: our comprehensive review of the best espresso machines.
Your budget won’t stretch this far – Some of my friends point out that they’ve bought cars for less than the price of the La Pavoni Professional. (They’re not wrong, but let’s face it – an oil leak only looks like an espresso.) Still, if you’re set on a traditional lever machine but have less to spend than this one requires, take a look at the La Pavoni Europiccola. It’s got most of the goodness of the Professional but in a smaller package, without the copper and brass, and will set you back a lot less than this one. Or if you want something more affordable, the Flair Espresso Maker just might be the one you’re looking for.
The Verdict On The La Pavoni Professional
Steampunk styling and a classic Italian cafe vibe make this a unique and satisfying machine for those who are willing to put in the time to learn to use it well. It can take a while to develop the feel of pulling a shot, and to do it #baristastyle and learn to make a monk’s head with the steam wand. But with a few tips from this article, you too can make espresso, cappuccino, cortados, and more, with the satisfaction of learning a new skill – and it’s even a little easier with the automatic milk frother. How cool is that?
If you think the La Pavoni Professional isn’t the right one for you, perhaps you can pick one of our favorite manual espresso machines right here.
Lever espresso machines are better at putting you in control of all elements of the drink. From loading the filter to pulling the shot to steaming or frothing the milk, a lever espresso machine requires you to be “hands-on” with the whole process. The result is that once you become proficient, you control every aspect of the drink, from coffee strength to milk quantity and temperature, and more.
An espresso machine has at least 9 bar of pressure at the puck (the coffee grounds in the filter basket) in order to be considered espresso. Note that the pressure gauge on the La Pavoni, which only goes a little over 2 bar, reflects only the boiler pressure. The pressure at the puck is determined by how hard you pull the lever down while “pulling a shot.”
It takes the La Pavoni ten minutes or less to warm up. Some of the variables that affect warm-up time include how much water is in the reservoir, how recently you last pulled a shot, and what temperature the water is when you pour it into the reservoir.
- Rao, S. (2017, December 18). The 2:1 Ratio. Retrieved from https://www.scottrao.com/blog/2017/12/17/the-21-ratio
- Santana, C. (2019, August 5). Pressure Profiles, Pulsing & The 3 Phases of Espresso Extraction. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/07/pressure-profiles-pulsing-the-3-phases-of-espresso-extraction/
- Defining the Ever-Changing Espresso – 25 Magazine: Issue 3. (2018, February 17). Retrieved from https://scanews.coffee/2018/02/01/defining-ever-changing-espresso-25-magazine-issue-3/
- Espazzola and Hygienic Innovations Offer New Tools for Cleaning Espresso Machines. (2017, March 1). Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2017/03/01/espazzola-and-hygienic-innovations-offer-new-tools-for-cleaning-espresso-machines/