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The Pavoni Europiccola

The Pavoni is an espresso machine. What is espresso? Espresso is more than just strong coffee; a special brewing method is necessary to create it. Espresso must be created under the proper conditions of pressure and temperature. In order to create an espresso, 1.5 ounces of 200° Fahrenheit water is pushed through 14 grams of coffee under approximately 9 atmospheres of pressure. Total flow time should be about 25 seconds. With the proper equipment these conditions can be met, more or less, every time.

The Pavoni is a machine which makes creating such conditions simple. There are those who would say that La Pavoni is a difficult machine to use, and that only espresso experts should consider one. Nonsense. Good espresso is difficult to achieve with any machine, but with practice and consistent technique anyone can do it with a Pavoni. Here I will try to express my experience with La Pavoni Europiccola, but please remember that I am not an expert - just a user with an opinion.

Pressure

Pressure is created when a viscous fluid meets resistance to flow. Pump water through a straight, clean pipe and there is very little resistance to flow, and thus very little pressure in the pipe regardless of how much water you are trying to move. Stop the flow by putting a cap on the end of the pipe and the pressure will quickly rise as more water is pushed into the pipe until either the pipe or pump fails. Now consider the case where the pipe is packed with small pebbles. Water can still flow through the pipe, but it has to flow through the cracks between the pebbles. Not as much water can flow through the pipe in a given time as could when it was clear due to the interaction of the viscous fluid and the obstruction. The pebbles are providing resistance to flow.

In an espresso machine pressure is created by grinding coffee and then pushing a volume of water through it. Why is pressure necessary to create espresso? Beats me. Probably something to do with emulsifying the essential coffee oils.

Fresh Coffee

Coffee is a food. It is perishable. Coffee is made up of hundreds of compounds, many of which are volatile. This is why coffee smells so good. This is also why coffee becomes stale quickly - all those wonderful volatile compounds are going out the window! To get the best cup of coffee possible one must start with freshly roasted and ground coffee. The only way to guarantee that your coffee is fresh is to roast it yourself and don't grind until you brew.

Coffee storage is always a big question. Should roasted beans be frozen, chilled, or what? The answer is very simple. Don't roast more coffee than you can use in a week, and store those roasted beans in an air-tight glass canning jar in a dark, cool place. Just be careful not to put the lids on tightly for the first few days to allow the beans to de-gas.

Which coffee to use is a matter of taste. There is no such thing as an "espresso roast" - most coffee labeled as such is probably too darkly roasted for any method of preparation (i.e. the beans are burned). As for which variety to use, the sky is the limit. Mix and match. Whatever works. 50% Sumatra, 40% Zambian and 10% Yemen works for me, but your mileage may vary. There are several professional blends sold as green beans which are highly thought of if you don't want to blend your own.

I suggest you don't buy roasted coffee. You are paying too much for stale food. Buy green coffee beans and roast as you need to. Green beans are about half the price of roasted, green beans last for months, and only take about 10 minutes to roast a batch. It is a monument to modern advertising that people buy roasted coffee at all! What did P.T. Barnum say?

Finely Ground

Getting the fineness of the grind right is critical. Pressure is resistance to flow. We are trying to move 1.5 ounces of hot water through the coffee grounds in 25 seconds. We need to balance the resistance to flow so that it requires 9 atmospheres of pressure to achieve this rate of flow.

Although the Pavoni can produce top quality espresso, no espresso machine can produce a drinkable beverage without properly ground coffee. Grind is critical. Absolutely critical. The Rancilio Rocky is a superb grinder, and I would not want to try making espresso from a Pavoni without a grinder of this quality or better.

For espresso the coffee should not be ground to a fine powder, but rather should resemble small salt grains. It is impossible to tell by looking if the size is good - only experimentation will lead you to the correct grind. Start with the finest grind your grinder can deliver and work your way up from there.

I only grind as much coffee as necessary for each shot. To measure the beans needed I simply fill the filter with whole beans and dump them the in the grinder.

The Proper Tamp

Tamping the coffee into the filter will pack the coffee particles tightly together. How tightly to tamp depends on many factors. Again, we are trying to present the correct resistance to flow by providing a disk of coffee grounds with the desired degree of pack. The rule of thumb is that pressing the coffee into the filter using 30 pounds of force is optimum. Practice pushing down on a bathroom scale a few times to learn what 30 pounds feels like. Rotating the filter between each application of force is also good form. How many times pressure is applied will depend on your grind, the humidity, age and roast of coffee, and who knows what else. Experiment. Balancing the grind with the tamp is the key to nice espresso. Adjusting the grinder up or down a click may require changing the number of times force is applied. If one grinder setting is too coarse and the next too fine, try varying tamp force and number of repetitions to compensate.

Use the "double" sized filter to make about a 1 ounce espresso. I don't know what the "single" sized filter is for.

I remove the filter from the filter holder and fill it with ground coffee. After lightly tapping the filter against the counter twice to settle the grounds I use a flat tool to push off the excess. It is very important not to have too much coffee in the filter. If there is too much coffee then you will be unable to insert the filter handle in the machine. Next, use the tamper to press the ground coffee into the filter. Push, rotate, push, etc. as required. Place the filter into the heated filter handle and insert the handle into the machine. If it is difficult or impossible to lock in then there is too much coffee in the filter, so scrape some out and try again. The danger here is that you will be able to insert the handle, but the act of twisting it in place will cause the dispersion screen to compress your coffee much more than desired. This is bad, and usually results in over-extracted espresso. Yech.

Temperature

Older Euros have two power switches. Controling the temperature with one of these devices requires the operator to turn switches off and on manually. Newer Euros have a pressurestat (similar to that used in the Pavoni Pro) which will automatically cycle the heating element to maintain the desired water temperature. For info on how to deal with the older model see the Links and Resources section. With the single switch Euro just turn it on and wait for the light to go out.

If the water is too hot then the coffee will scald, destroying the delicate compounds which make up coffee. Too cold and these compounds will not be extracted. 203° Fahrenheit is considered ideal by some, but a couple of degrees on either side will not hurt too much.

To prepare my Euro for pulling the first shot I open the steam wand valve and release the air out of the boiler for a few seconds. Then lift the lever and let a small amount of water flow out. I also have put the kettle on to boil so I have a secondary supply of hot water that I use to heat up cups and wash out and heat the filter holder. Everything the espresso flows through or into should be warmed.

The Pull

The lever is a simple machine. It can translate a small force applied at one end into a large force at the other. With a Europiccola the lever has about a 10:1 ratio. This means that 20 pounds applied to the long end creates 200 pounds of force at the short end. 9 atmospheres of pressure is about 130 PSI. The piston on the Euro has a surface area of about an inch. 13 pounds of force applied to the lever, more or less, is plenty. Don't lean on the lever with your full weight. If more than 20 pounds of force is necessary to move the lever then revisit the above discussion on grind and tamp, because you either are grinding too fine or tamping too hard.

To pull a shot on a Pavoni

Total elapsed time: about 20 to 25 seconds.

 Crema

The substance which flows from the filter group should resemble a thin stream of dark red-brown foam. This foam is called crema, and during the next 30 seconds or so the crema will condense into the thick black fluid known as espresso, leaving a thick layer of crema floating on the top.

Light color crema indicates that the shot was over-extracted. No crema usually means under-extraction (too quick a pull which did not exert enough pressure on the coffee), but it can also mean that your coffee is old.

There are those who like to add robusta coffee into their espresso blend because this type of coffee produces extra crema. I don't use robusta, as you can get plenty of crema with pure arabica. What are we trying to produce, anyway? Crema, or nice tasty espresso? Remember, crema is not a reliable measure of nice tasty espresso. Only the taste can tell.

 Links And Resources

A good collection of coffee links can be had at The Espresso Top 50. Loads of commercial sites.

the coffeekid.com is an excellent resource. Machine reviews, photo sequences and movies of espresso shots... all kinds of neat coffee stuff. Five stars.

The Espresso FAQ is very useful even though it presents an anti-lever sentiment. Ignore that part. Also, I find making espresso easier and cleaner than the author makes it out to be.

The coffee FAQ lives here.

Smithfarms grows and sells very nice green Kona beans. Hightly recommended (brewed in a french press).

A fabulous source of green coffee, roasting equipment and information is Sweet Marias. Their Espresso Monkey blend is out of this world!

The Coffee Bean Corral is another good source for green beans.

Another Pavoni page, this link has information on how to deal with the older, two power switch Pavoni model. Good site.

The Lair of the Chrome Peacock is a very stylish site devoted to the Pavoni. Again, focus is on the older two switch model. Great photos, great site.

Trouble

Complaints, comments, questions?

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