Learning the La Pavoni

In late August, I purchased a La Pavoni espresso machine. I have wanted one for sometime and when I saw one on usedVictoria, I went for it.

I knew that these machines had a learning curve and it can take a good while before you can pull a good shot. It took me over two weeks and two pounds of coffee to get it right, here are my notes in honing my La Pavoni shot pulling.

2013-08-25 Bought the machine, playing around

My first couple of shots were inconsistent and mostly not very good. I was shown what to do from the guy I bought it from:

  • Grind just courser than 10
  • Don’t tamp too hard, just hard enough to compact the grinds
  • Pull twice, but stop once you see blonding

This produced decent enough coffee, but I knew I had to learn how to use this machine.

2013-08-28 Slightly visible crema, good taste

After watching a few videos, I got the idea to pull the shot based on the colour of the stream, when it looks like it is about to turn (blonding?), slow down. You want to go down at the fastest speed without blonding the shot. Do it twice and when it starts to blond, stop (either refill or drink).

  • Second cup, 20 min wait from first one
  • 7 second at 100% (to fill)
  • 23 seconds to pull down, until about 10% down
  • Slowly up and 4 seconds at 100%
  • 20 seconds, down to about 25% before it looked a little squirelly and blonding

2013-08-29 Visible crema, great taste

An improvement from yesterday. I read that your want to have a 27 second pull to get the best espresso. So I tried to emulate this with two pulls, which means you have to pull the lever really fast. In the end it seemed to work well because I got a better cup than yesterday.

  • 7 seconds at 100%
  • 15 second pull (really fast) to about 20%, the stream was turning blonde, so I stopped
  • Slow up to 100% and wait 4 seconds
  • 13 second pull to about 30%, when the stream was turning blond

2013-09-06 poor/no crema, bad taste

After reading this guy I thought I would try to get a better shot. In the end, it was a fail. Here is what I did

  • Dropped the grind to 10
  • Fill to 12 grams worth of coffee
  • Put more pressure when tamping (not sure how much, but more than usual)
  • At 100% for 10 seconds (below are two different cups of coffee)
    • Pull down at 23 seconds with one pull
    • Pull down at 18 seconds, back up for 4 seconds and pull down at 15 seconds.
  • only at the very end of the pull did the stream turn blonde, the slower pull must account for this.

This produced horrible coffee. It was bitter with no crema and was not great. Next time I should try to drop the grind even more and see what I can do with 12 grams of coffee.

2013-09-09 decent crema, great taste

I think I have found the right combination for a good shot of espresso. I am shaking with excitement as I finish my second espresso in as many minutes. Over the past few weeks I have been fine tuning every variable to get it right, and I am thinking I am getting really close.

  • Grid finely, I have it set around 8 on the Ranchilio
  • Tamp the coffee. On the Internet I have read everything from 10lbs to 30lbs of pressure. I found that compressing the coffee more than I would think is necessary. I don’t know if it is 10, 30 or 100 lbs of pressure, but I feel like it is a lot.
  • Fill the grouphead, which I have found takes between 7 and 10 seconds.
  • From 100% to 0% it should take about 27 seconds, and there should be some resistance. When I was doing a coarser grind there was very little resistance.
  • There was no blonding, which makes me think that am doing it right.

The coffee tastes great and there seems to be the best crema I have seen thus far.

2013-09-10 lots of crema, amazing taste

Ok, I know I am getting closer. This shot had a ton of crema and taste was what I would call perfect. I tamped this one pretty hard and for the first time in two weeks, it was difficult for me to pull the shot. All in all, I think I tamped it too hard, but the end result was good.

  • Ground set around 8
  • Tamped hard
  • Waited about 7 seconds to fill the grouphead
  • Long pull, not sure exactly how much time, probably around 30 seconds. I tried to go faster, but it was difficult, I couldn’t go any faster.
A shot of espresso in a small white mug pulled from a La Pavoni Espresso Machine

Perfect cup of espresso?

Thoughts so far

I don’t think that I have mastered this coffee machine, but I feel like I am getting closer. I think that the finer grind, with the added pressure to pull the shot and the magic 27 seconds will produce the best cup of coffee. The real lesson is that you have to burn a few pounds of coffee before you will figure out how to use this machine.

After looking back on my notes, I am amazed at how changing just one thing a little bit can make a huge difference. For me, it was making the grind a bit finer and packing a bit tighter that resulted in the best cup.

## 2013-09-19 great taste, not so great crema

I am never satisfied and I will always try to do something different. Today I thought I would mix it up a bit, change the ground and change the tamp. I did two cups.

Grind 8, strong tamp

This one worked out pretty good, of the two, the flavour was pretty much the same but this one had less crema. I think that I didn’t fill the group head enough either. It was tasty, but not amazing. The lever came down fairly easily (no too much effort). It seems that the extra effort in the leaver pull means extra crema.

Grind 6, light tamp

I expected that these two cups would be similar. There seems to be balance between the fineness of the grind and pressure of the tamp. This one just like the other was tasty, with slightly more crema. The lever was about the same difficulty to pull down, but I barely tamped it. Moving forward, I am going to set it at 6 and tamp it a bit more to get the cup I am looking for.

2013-09-20 amazing taste, great crema

You get good at things you do every day. I have been making espresso for every day for almost a month, and things are starting to get much more consistent and good.

  • I know the feeling of machine and they way to get adjust mid pull.
  • I am learning the fine balance between grind size and tamp pressure
  • I am starting to taste notes in the coffee that I never noticed before.

Here is my recipe for a good shot:

  • Grid at 6, about 12 -14 grams
  • Tamp at medium low, enough pressure that you are use some muscle, for me this is like 30 -40%
  • Fill the head unit for 8 – 10 seconds
  • Pull down slowly, going for that 27 second pull, and adjust half way through if you need to.

This is creating great taste and good crema.

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