Archive for October, 2007

The Europiccola Has Landed.

October 19, 2007

pavoni-c.jpg

Like some alien beast from another dimension, the Europiccola emerges… gleaming, snorting and triumphant, with elongated arms and extremities in strange places, from amidst a burning cloud of steam.

…It has begun. 

After a long wait (for various reasons), the parts arrived for my recently acquired second hand La Pavoni Europiccola machine, which is now descaled and fully operational! I now know that it is a pre-millenium model, but as far as I can find out, this is no real problem; some people even say this earlier model is better in some ways.

So now the experimentation begins, and I write this post with an overall air of optimism for the machine’s capabilities, as, with burnt finger, I clutch the third latte made with the Pavoni during my second session with it this afternoon. Yes, my finger is burnt. Yes, I have nearly had my face taken off by cascades of boiling water more than once in the short space of time I’ve owned the machine. And yes, the latte I sip is rather revolting; both the espresso and the milk being well below par. But, having used the Pavoni a couple of times now, I can see the potential is certainly there for making some really good coffee. I am slowly getting to grips with the way it works, and this third cup is the first to approach something drinkable – I have a big hill to climb, but from here it looks as though the summit is both attainable, and a place worth being.

A word of warning though. I’m a full-time barista, used to working with espresso and milk day-in day-out, and I’m struggling to use this machine well – and feel it’ll be some time before I can get the best out of it. Therefore, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have some degree of coffee knowledge as well as boundless patience and perseverance. Having said that, as a barista my expectations and requirements are going to be that much more demanding, and some people might be quite happy with the sort of coffee you can make with the machine without much practice – but you’d get better coffee more easily from other machines: I feel the Europiccola can potentially deliver great coffee, but not without excercising significant knowledge and skill.

At present, I’d say the main problems I’m having using the machine are milk foaming and coffee freshness: I’ve not yet been able to get to the subtler stages of temperature surfing. Of course, the coffee freshness issue is no fault of the Pavoni – I just don’t have a home grinder! I was naively hoping that I could grind my coffee on our La Spaziale Astro 12 at work for use at home, but it’s quickly becoming apparent that this will just not do! I’m used to grinding by the cup at work, and the difference in both flavour and crema of pre-ground espresso is so noticeable. I believe this is the single biggest factor affecting the quality of the espresso I’ve got from the machine so far, over and above any temperature or extraction issues. Even though I instantly sealed the coffee I ground on our work grinder in air-tight clingfilm, and used it the next day,it already had that kind of stale, raisiny aroma to both the grounds and the espresso extracted, that I associate with ground coffee that’s been exposed to air for any length of time – and a lack of crema due mainly, I presume, to damaged coffee oils and lost CO2. The problem is, decent espresso grinders cost a pretty penny, and I will struggle to afford one just yet.

coffee.jpg      pavoni-esp1.jpg      pavoni-latte1.jpg

Grounds                         Espresso (?!)          First latte 

With regard to the milk steaming on the Pavoni, the jury is still out. It’s no mean feat, even when you know what you’re doing. With the third cup I made during today’s session, I achieved milk that wasn’t awful. However, it still wasn’t properly microfoamed – and when you know what that consistency looks, tastes and handles like, nothing else will do! The main problem seems to be the amount of steam pressure the Pavoni kicks out. It’s pretty good… It does spin the milk around in a whirlpool, and allow for a degree of texturing. But I’m not sure if there’s sufficient pressure to generate that real pitcher-climbing vortex necessary to create real microfoam, even with a smallish volume of milk (I used about 7oz today). But, with any steaming wand, there’s a period of acquaintance where you have to figure out the best angle and find the best pressure, etc, and to be fair, I’m currently using a plastic measuring jug to steam, which probably isn’t helping matters! One thing I have figured out is that the much mentioned problem with the Europiccola’s steam wand being sited too close to the body of the machine is no problem – all you need to do is angle the arm so it sticks out to the rear of the machine – giving you plenty of room to angle the pitcher as needed …the only problem is that this tends to site one’s face in a perilous position directly over the pressure-release valve, which I am eminently wary of!

Speaking of which, I think there might be a problem with the valve that’s causing a lack of pressure, and consequently affecting the brewing and steam power… it emits steam plentifully when the machine’s fully up to pressure after about five minutes – then you can switch the pressure switch to ‘1’, or steam milk on ’11’, but even before it gets up to pressure and after I’ve switched it to ‘1’, there is some steam escaping from the pressure-release valve, which makes me think it could be damaged or jammed somehow. I can order parts to try and fix this quite cheaply, but I would also need to invest in some special spanners – and I don’t really know if there’s anything wrong with it or not… Any advice on this or other aspects of the machine would be much appreciated!