Working on that barista cred
January 19, 2007 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I've been fortunate to come into possession of an older La Pavoni Europiccola, but there's no manual. So I have three questions for anyone who's got experience using this kind of machine.

First and most pressing: how do I make sure the water's really boiling? Just listen to it? This machine doesn't have the gauge on top and I need a way to judge that moment to start pulling.

Secondly, cleaning: I know water hardness varies, but how often does one need to run vinegar through to keep it from clogging up?

Thirdly: will the coffee be better if I buy a tamper? I'm a little appalled to find that you can buy handmade and designer coffee tampers for large sums on the web. But researches have also suggested that evenly tamping the coffee does give better results. Thoughts?

(Any other hints from old Pavoni hands welcome.)
posted by zadcat to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Boiling is way too hot!

I descale a couple of times a year, but my water isn't hard.

You can use a small glass with a flat bottom a bit smaller than the portafilter as a tamper.
posted by Wet Spot at 9:53 PM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: OK, if boiling is too hot, then how do I know when it's ready?
posted by zadcat at 10:12 PM on January 19, 2007

On most machines, a light will go out when the temperature is right. If not, you can use a thermometer. You want to preheat the portafilter by running water through it empty. Measure the temperature as it runs into a cup - the optimum is about 90 C. After you've done this a few times you'll get a feel for how long it takes to heat up.
posted by Wet Spot at 10:46 PM on January 19, 2007

I tracked down a user manual for Euricoppola Models EPBB-8, EPG-8, and EPC-8. Hopefully these are similar enough to yours, or the same as yours. As far as temperature, my guess is that the machine does this rather automatically (well, actually it probably does pressure automatically, which is related to temperature. So if your machine is like these ones, there is a green indicator light, which lights when the water has reached the proper pressure. This tells you that the temperature is also ready, because the way it builds pressure is from the heating and expanding of the water. So hopefully that's how yours works as well. So as long as the machine is working properly (assuming it's similar enough to these ones) when the green light lights, both the proper temperature, about 190-200 degrees F, and pressure have been reached.

As far as tamping, yes, a rather tight, even tamp will help quite a bit. You probably don't need to buy a super fancy tamper just yet. Here's a guide from that will give you the basics and then some on tamping. Also, here's a milk frothing guide, if you care to practice on that. Once again a good intro and then some. There are plenty of other resources at coffeegeek to help you make great coffee, so it's definitely worth snooping around.

Finally, on one of the pages I read about the euricoppola looking for your answers (lost the page and link), it said lime buildup shouldn't be too much of a problem, so I guess all I can say about that is don't worry too much about it.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:48 PM on January 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Lair of the Chrome Peacock may be helpful.
posted by zamboni at 10:49 PM on January 19, 2007

Also, using a manual machine is an art. The perfect cup will appear when you hit just the right combination of grind, amount of coffee, tamping pressure, and other things. Be prepared to go through a lot of coffee before you get the knack.

You do have a burr grinder, yes?
posted by Wet Spot at 10:49 PM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: No burr grinder at the moment, but I followed the advice of a friend who's been using a Pavoni for a long time and he recommended getting a small amount of a specific grind of the beans from a specific store, which he uses. The grinder's for later.
posted by zadcat at 11:03 PM on January 19, 2007

My mate Julian had until recently an older Europiccola model (ca 1970) and he sez:

The older europiccolas don't have a pressure switch. For exact temperature I'd recommend buying a cheap multimeter with a temperature probe and holding the probe under the shower head while lifting the handle a few times as it heats up. Measure how long it takes to get to about 92 deg C; it will usually be very a consistent time.

In terms of tampers they're definitely a good thing, but you don't need to pay big bucks. as the pavonis don't use the same size portafilter as other coffee machines you may have to look around for the right one -- models since year 2000 are 2mm wider.

And exactly right on buying the same coffee every time, at least until you get the other variables under control.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:20 AM on January 20, 2007

My first espresso machine was a Europiccola. Not the early version though (lucky you). Fair warning - the machine's other nickname is "the one-armed bandit". No matter how well practiced you are, you have an approximate 50% chance of getting a good shot out of it.

There should be two indicator lights on it - one shows power, and one shows temperature. The temperature light goes out when it's ready to brew. If it's old enough to not have these, then I guess you need to resort to trying to track down a manual online.

I ran vinegar through mine once a year. Don't forget to flush with water a couple of times.

The chrome surface (particularly under the drip tray, under the screw) can scratch easily. It can subsequently rust once the surface is compromised, so watch out for this if you don't want it looking ratty.

Yes, you should use a tamper, although you will see if you drink espresso in Italy that barristas are far less finicky about tamping. You can possibly get away with a plastic one (or the base of a spice jar). Really though, you should aim to tamp with something that is a reasonably snug fit to the basket. The one that comes with the machine is far smaller IIRC.

You used to be able to buy off the shelf tampers that fit by mail order in the UK. In the unlikely event that you're over here, email me and I'll see if I can find the shop that sells them again.

A good tip with the Europiccola is to preinfuse. Basically pull the handle down until you start to experience a small amount of resistance, then SLOWLY pull back up again. Repeat twice over 5 seconds or so, then pull the shot as normal. This basically lets you wet the grounds, helps them to hold together when you're pulling the shot proper (sometimes the puck can crack and you underextract otherwise). I always found the best results with mine were got by grinding so that I had to put a LOT of pressure on the handle to pull the shot - far more than recommended. Almost choking point.

Last thing. The Europiccola makes far smaller shots than other espresso machines. If you do a lot of reading about espresso and try to follow instructions from people that use other machines, then bear in mind that you SHOULD NOT try to get a 2.5 oz shot from the double basket - you will basically get a bitter lungo by doing this. The double basket makes a large single shot at best - about 1.75oz.
posted by bifter at 3:05 AM on January 20, 2007

Bifter has it, assuming it has indicator lights. In practice, I typically just leave mine on for about 20 mins before I want to pull a shot. If you are lazy like me, get a timer (the kind you use for lights when you are going out of town) and set it up to automatically come on about half an hour before you want a shot in the AM and you never have to wait.

You do really need your own burr grinder with this machine--it can be pretty picky about grind and the ability to adjust on the fly will save you a lot of frustration. It took me a couple months of lots of practice (and wasted coffee) to get to the point where I can pull consistently good shots, and, as Bifter said, sometimes the machine just ain't giving you one no matter what, although this happens far less than 50% of the time in my experience. Part of the charm, I guess.

Hit up's forums for all the info you would ever want and then some. And don't take any crap about your machine--its a classic. Think of it like those beautiful, old Italian sports cars. Sure, you can get something newer and more reliable, but what fun is that?
posted by jtfowl0 at 6:05 AM on January 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to all for clues and links. I pulled a creditable shot this morning!
posted by zadcat at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2007

Zadcat, I encourage you to get a grinder soon. You will really notice a difference. Great espresso great is great owing to the fragrances and tastes carried by the oils in the bean. Those oils are very fragile; they begin to oxidize within seconds of grinding. I've noticed significant changes in the quality of the shot if I let the coffee sit after grinding long enough to get the newspaper from the end of my driveway.

While I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for Peet's. I use their Arabian Mocha-Java to make espresso.
posted by Wet Spot at 10:50 AM on January 20, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, I've used a grinder successfully for years with my moka pot, but it's the spinny kind that doesn't produce a fine or uniform enough grind for the Pavoni. A burr grinder is on my list.

As for Peet's, well, I'm in Canada, but I live near an Italian neighbourhood with a big food market so I have a massive choice of coffee beans, so I'm all set. I'm not a coffee novice, just a Pavoni noob.
posted by zadcat at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2007

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