Espresso Preparation

(Pavoni Express)

A photograph of my la Pavoni

Since there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different coffee blends I will not go into that subject. Taste is subjective. My advice is for you to try as many types of coffee out there and decide for yourself. I like the Lavazza brand of coffee. It has a lighter roast than many of the espresso brands of coffee. I previously used the pre-ground Lavazza in the gold can but lately I have been noticing inconsistent grind from can to can. Now I grind my own Lavazza beans. I now mix Malabar Gold with the Lavazza and it seems to give the crema a little boost. I have a KitchenAid® burr grinder. I use the #7 setting to get the right grind. You don't want powder but you should have a gritty feeling when you run the grounds between your fingers. I use a very light tamp on the first pull and increase the pressure of the tamp on successive pulls. What grind is right you say? The one that lets the water flow through the grinds a bit, and when you lower the handle, there is a firm feel downward. If you have to stand on the lever to get the water to flow through the grinds, the grind is too fine or tamped too hard. I think with a fine grind you can eliminate the "bad second pulls" that a lot of la Pavoni owners complain about when drawing multiple shots. Since all burr grinders have different settings, experiment with your own grinder settings and get the right grind for your machine! Pavonis need a finer grind than pump machines. You also don't have to tamp as hard with a finer grind. Fresh ground beans don't need a hard tamp. The following instructions are more basic than what you will eventually use in preparing your espresso.

Once you find the right coffee and grind, fill up the double cup filter, right below the rim. Use your tamper and tamp the grounds down 1/8" to 1/4" below the rim. Don't tamp so the coffee is even with the top of the cup. It will just it make it that much harder to lock the cup holder in place. What you're looking for is just enough downward resistance on that lever when your drawing your espresso. The resistance is determined by your grind and tamping. It may take a while for you to get it right. When starting with a new blend or grind, I suggest a light tamp and add more force to the tamp, if needed, on additional draws.

[Linz] :
I feel I must disagree with the tamping regime expressed above. Trying to adjust the "pull" of the handle is extremely difficult by adjusting the tamping pressure - which I've gleaned from many years of personal experience.

When you tamp the coffee, it compresses quite easily until the point when the granules are all in firm contact with each other, and then further pressure has no effect until the pressure is so great (impossible by hand) that the coffee granules start to disintegrate.

Tamping lightly leaves small gaps whose size and distribution will be irregular and can easily cause channeling. I believe the only way to get the pull resistance correct is by adjusting the grind.

Having the group at the wrong temperature will also affect the pull (and the flavor). Get the temperature right first, then adjust the grid using a firm tamp. You'll be able to feel when the coffee has stopped compressing, or you can simply tamp with as much pressure as you are able to apply. If this causes the pull to be too hard, coarsen your grind.

One word of caution. You should wait 20-30 seconds after drawing your shot before unlocking the cup filter holder from the Group. As a precaution, when you start to unlock and the right side of the cup filter holder handle is just to the left side of the chrome lever, slightly rock the cup filter up and down. If you see steam or hear pressure coming out, don't unlock the cup filter from the Group. You can continue to rock the holder till all pressure is released or just let it sit for another 30 seconds. Don't apply too much rocking motion as to break the Group or cup filter holder. A 1/8" movement is all you need to check for any residual pressure.

Lock your cup filter into the Group. Fill up the boiler with water past the sight glass. Screw on the boiler tank knob and make sure the steam knob is closed. Both of these tighten in a clockwise fashion. Newer machines do not have a I/II switch setting, just an on/off switch and a green light. Click here to see instructions on the newer machines. You need Acrobat Reader installed on your PC to view it. The link is in the SEAL REPLACEMENT section. Flip both switches toward you. This will turn your machine on, and also turn on the high heat setting(position II). This goes against the manual that says to make your espresso under the setting I. The video that came with the machine said to put it on setting II then back to setting I. To me it's a little confusing, but technically you are making the espresso when the switch is on setting I. Now, for you that don't have a pressure gauge, don't feel left out. You don't need it! The top of that boiler can hold only so much steam and pressure. Also to retrofit to a pressure gauge it is expensive. As of this writing it will cost you $120 to add a pressure gauge. You would need a gauge, gauge bolt, and a top sight glass fitting that goes to a Professional model. Too expensive for my taste. Once the steam is getting released out of your pressure valve at a steady rate, you're ready to draw a shot of espresso. Newer machines that have pressure stats do not emit as much steam as the older models. See your manual if you have one. Now flip the white (high heat) switch back to setting I. Let the machine sit for about a minute to let the water cool down a bit. At this point your ready to draw your espresso. Put your shot glasses, or whatever container you use, under the Group. Push the lever in the up position to fill the Group with water. It will take only a few seconds to fill up the Group. Push down on the lever and force the water through your grinds. You should have about an ounce or ounce and half of espresso in your container. If you use shot glasses, the crema will look more impressive. Larger containers tend to spread the crema out further. No big deal. If you're making multiple cups of latte or cappuccino, draw all of your shots first, then prepare your milk. A word of caution. When you try and lower the handle and are getting a lot of resistance where the handle will not go down, STOP, "Do Not Unlock The Cup Filter From The Group!". You will have to turn the machine off, and open the steam knob, not the boiler knob!, to bleed off the pressure from the boiler. I guarantee you that if you don't do this, you will have coffee grounds all over your kitchen. There is still a lot of pressure between the piston head and grounds. Once you have removed the cup filter, dump out the grinds, refill, and adjust to a lighter tamp or a different grind.

Don't be misled on the pressure concept. The main enemy of the Pavonis that don't have pressure stats is heat. You should worry more about letting your water get too hot than having the correct pressure in the boiler. The pressure comes from the force of water generated from the piston, not from the pressure inside the boiler. Basically we all have a bought an expensive tea kettle. Machines that have pressure stats help keep the water at the right temperature. How do you prevent the water from getting too hot? You have to switch off of the II setting before you get to the point where the steam is getting released from the safety valve at a steady rate. If you get to that point, the water is probably too hot. I switch my heat setting back as soon as I see a wisp of steam getting released from the safety valve. I draw all my shots at this point and if you are making cappuccino switch back to the II setting to froth your milk. The main thought is that the water should be at 194┬░ F. for optimum brewing of espresso. Buy yourself a good digital thermometer ($20). Experiment without the cup filter holder installed and see how long it takes your machine to achieve that 194┬░ F. temperature from a cold start. Put a container under the Group, lift your handle and let the water flow into the container. Write down the temperature of the water, wait 20 seconds and take another reading. I would do this a number of times from a cold start to get a good idea where you should be drawing shots. I would worry less about getting to that magical number of 194 than achieving a good draw of espresso. You may have to adjust that 194 number, higher or lower, to your own conditions. No one has a lock on this espresso thing. You can get too hung up on achieving perfection than enjoying your machine!

One word on drawing a shot. If you are using the double cup filter and you are getting no or little crema, try changing to the single cup filter. The double cup filter is a misnomer, it isn't double the area of the single cup filter on the Pavoni. The single cup filter holds about 1/2 cubic inch less of coffee than the double. Not much to lose sleep over! The single cup filter has less of an area for the espresso to flow through thus adding more resistance to the pull. You should get a little more crema, not a lot just a little more. The tamping of the single filter amounts to just leveling off the coffee and lightly pressing down on the grinds. You need to experiment with this a little to get it right. I did an unscientific test on the amount of grinds each cup filter can hold. No tamping involved, just filling up each cup lightly to the top of the cup filter and then measuring the difference of what the single cup held vs.the double. You are not sacrificing much by using the single cup filter in my opinion.

Now it's time to froth your milk. I flip the high heat switch to position II, which goes against the manual. I have been doing this for a number of years and the heating element is still holding up. I do this to get more steam back in the boiler. If you make more than one cup of cappuccino, you'll need to do this. If you're a purist, use your steam arm. The cappuccino auto aerator that comes with the machine works great. When I first got my machine, I was skeptical, but it really does a good job. If your machine didn't come with one, I highly recommend buying the attachment, if one will fit on your machine. I like to take the chill off of the milk by putting an 8 ounce glass of 1/2% milk in a microwave for 50 seconds. If you don't, the steam doesn't quite heat the milk up hot enough. It's lukewarm, not to my liking. Place your coffee cup under the cappuccino auto aerator. Put the silicone tube in your milk and then turn your steam knob a few turns. This will draw your milk up through the aerator. You may have to fiddle with the adjustment pin that's on top of the aerator to get the right flow. If you allow the milk to come through too fast it doesn't get hot enough. Again, practice! Once you have drawn all of your cup(s) of milk, pour your espresso into your cup(s). If you use a tall (clear) glass for your cappuccino you'll get a nice layering effect. Frothing milk is the only step that I recommend leaving the high heat switch on position II for an extended amount of time. What you never want is for steam to be coming out of the pressure valve at full force for longer than 30 seconds. Once you start frothing, the previous condition should subside if you are preparing more than 1 cup of cappuccino. I would leave the switch on position II until you are done frothing your milk. Frothing uses up a lot of steam. Keep an eye on the water level in the sight glass. Do not under any circumstances run the boiler dry. If you have to add water, turn the machine off. Bleed off any pressure using the steam tee knob and refill the boiler. Turn the machine back on and finish frothing your milk.

One comment on the automatic frothing attachment (auto aerator). The worth of the attachment comes in when you are making more than 1 cup of cappuccino. As long as you have steam and milk, you can run off a lot of cups of frothed milk in a very short time. Steaming the conventional way becomes a hassle after frothing the first cup. It's hard to get a big frothing pitcher between the steam arm and counter top and in the Europiccola model the boiler just isn't big enough to froth more than 2 cups of milk. The adjustment pin on top of the automatic frother doesn't get much attention in the manual. It is necessary to understand its importance. If you look very closely, you will see that there is a flat on one side of the pin. By pulling up or pushing down, while turning the pin, will affect the way the milk is heated or not heated. Always make these adjustments slowly. It doesn't take much to get the necessary result. Never jam the pin down in the hole. If you like your cappuccino hot, lessen the flow of milk through the frother. For a cooler drink, pull up on the pin. Again, practice makes perfect.

This is the method I use everyday. Practice, experiment, and see what works for you. It may take you a while to get an algorithm that is right for you. Lastly, unplug your machine after you're done preparing the coffee. Don't take a chance on accidentally leaving the machine on. It's easier to do than you think!

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Page last updated 02-25-07 by Dr. Pavoni