Cremina Crazy

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#1: Post by »

I've been recently on the prowl for a restored/'good-to-go' Cremina and have been following several on Ebay within the last month or so.

Lately, it seems these Cremina's on Ebay are going for WELL OVER 1000, one I had bid on had a full restore VIA OE's workshop and it went for just below 1500. Is it just me or do these prices, all of a sudden, make no sense? Sure, I haven't been REALLY following the value of the used Cremina's for that long, but I've seen many sold in the CG B/S/T forums and have checked out 'completed listing' searches on Ebay and these prices north of 1000 without many 'extras' other than what is usually seen sold with the Cremina's seems like craziness, lately.

I know it's a great machine, but I wouldn't spend north of 1500 on a used Cremina when I can get a used DB for the money...
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#2: Post by drgary »

That cost and curiosity have certainly made me explore a number of the other lever alternatives! Dave Stephens rates the espresso pulled on a Gaggia Achille as better than a Cremina. Others who have compared say you can pull an equivalent and similar shot to a Cremina on a pre-millennium Pavoni equipped with a bottomless portafilter and an Elektra double basket. Then there are other wonderful levers, like the Elektra MCAL or the Conti Prestina I'm restoring or other commercial levers vintage and otherwise, or the highly rated Ponte Vecchio Lusso or vintage machines like the Caravel. And there's been lots of excitement here about the Bezzera Strega.

Everyone extolls the build quality of a Cremina, but at what price point can you entirely replace one that's getting worn with a brand new machine that makes great espresso so that build quality becomes less important? And then, after all, how much does one really need a Cremina, particularly, to make great espresso? Doesn't something positive need to be happening on the other side of the handle to do that? To tease this out a bit, let me ask, how many of you Cremina owners find yourselves having difficulties with your Cremina too? Or, how many have tried a Cremina, gotten frustrated with it and moved onto something else you find more satisfying?

Is the thing that makes the Cremina so compelling that it sits at the top of manual levers for user feedback -- the intuitive feel and sense of control when pulling a shot? If so, how distant are the other manual lever alternatives? Add: And does all of this distract from paying more attention to the quality in the cup?

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#3: Post by Sherman »

I've tried pulling shots on a few different La Pavoni machines, am currently holding Pipeguy's Achille hostage, and own a '91 Cremina.

There's no contest, IMHO. The LPs are finicky and inconsistent, requiring a rather steep learning curve as well as the operator having their wits about them, the Achille's build quality is lesser (and parts are in short supply) and just about any other manual (not spring) lever is out of production (Peppina, Caravel, etc.). The appeal of this machine is the combination of small footprint, build quality, workability, forgiveness and clarity in the cup that is unparalleled as the sum of its parts. As a new model, it's ridiculously overpriced but I can certainly appreciate the argument of amortization and total cost of ownership. If I had the money to spend, I'd certainly consider buying new.

I also think that the current market is overpriced; I bought mine used for $1k and consider it a fair, but not great, deal. The OEM portafilter has seen better days, there are stray bits of rust on the bottom, and it was missing some accessories. I'll live with these flaws because of what I get in return; rock-solid, repeatable, bell-ringing clarity in a package that is so small, elegant and simple to maintain with parts readily available that even I can do it. As much as I love cooking analogies, I can't think of one that comes to mind (SHOCK!).

drgary: if memory serves correctly, you recently restored a Coffex/Maximatic. Considering the build- and shot quality, how does it compare to your Amica? What about the Europiccola - what, if any, compensatory measures do you enact as part of pulling shots or making milk drinks?

I turn on the Cremina when I wake up; it's ready to go, grouphead steady at 194°F, in the 15 minutes it takes for me to complete my morning ritual. With the vac-breaker boiler cap, no false pressure worries. Grind for 2 shots, dose into basket #1, lock and load. Pull my shot (grouphead thermometer reading ~200°F), empty the basket, wipe the screen and then reach for an empty 12oz. pitcher and fill milk for a latte. Dose basket #2, lock and load. Pull shot (grouphead ~200°F), immediately steam the milk. Latte served.

In my usage pattern, the delay between shots (2-3 min) does not overheat the grouphead. Then again, I've only pulled a maximum of 5 shots in a row, using this pattern, in one sitting.

Now, the kicker.

This thing is completely stock, all original parts that are approximately 20 years old (wear items - gaskets and seals - are new).

Second kicker.

I've had several people pull shots on this machine (including romanleal, earlgrey_44, Pipeguy and ddr) after I prepped the baskets. The worst of them was still a solid, drinkable shot. None have never touched a Cremina before, and a few of them (including earlgrey_44's special guest at one of the HBCGTs) have never touched a lever before. I can't think of any other machine that would fit that bill.

Despite this, there is one weakness that immediately comes to mind: higher brew temperature modulation. At the current pstat setting I can consistently pull at medium temps (200°F), or apply the kitchen sponge technique and easily pull at lower temps (197°F), but I can't easily switch to high temp (202+°F). Then again, I can't think of any lever that can do that.

Everyone has their own ideas about the perfect machine, the perfect lever, etc. but for my usage and tastes, the Cremina beats 'em all. I'm considering hunting for another one to have a "2-group lever" setup, but that would mean either getting rid of the Maxi or convincing the SO that I need even more kitchen countertop real estate. Neither option is especially appetizing., the prices are indeed silly, and you could easily buy either a used DB or new HX for that kind of coin. You could just as easily buy a new Honda Accord for the price of a used '08 S2000 (hooray, analogy!).

Ultimately, value is in the eye of the buyer. I'd recommend getting your hands on one first. Find a local HBer or CGer who might be willing to give you some facetime. Determine for yourself if it's worth the asking price. With that said, I'll extend the invitation to anyone who wants to pull shots on mine. You just have to get yourself to Chicago first :).
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#4: Post by drgary »

Sherman, what a great post! BTW, you didn't mention whether you can pull consistent, great shots on the Achille. How does that experience, and the espresso itself, compare to the Cremina?
Sherman wrote:drgary: if memory serves correctly, you recently restored a Coffex/Maximatic. Considering the build- and shot quality, how does it compare to your Amica? What about the Europiccola - what, if any, compensatory measures do you enact as part of pulling shots or making milk drinks?
I'm still restoring the Coffex. When I first got it, I liked the consistency and the steaming power and small footprint. I can't yet speak to the quality of espresso since I have yet to reassemble it and get the pressure setting dialed down a bit. Formerly it was consistently bright, but that made it the ideal cappuccino machine. Build quality looked rock solid but not better than my Amica. After I took apart the Coffex to restore it, I was dismayed at the rust issues and disappointed that the folks at Olympia Express didn't take better precautions to prevent something like that from getting out of hand, including some rust on the inside of the outer case. Those parts will soon return to me chrome plated and powder coated. Parts availability is also limited so far on the Coffex. It had a very worn steam arm and a captive nut with corners getting rounded that I've sent out for chrome plating. I hope Olympia Express really makes good on their promise to make replacement parts available for these old machines and at an affordable price. So far, no. I hope they do better than Cimbali, where I researched getting a new boiler for my Microcimbali if needed, and they still make the machine. The cost is an obscene $560! Will Olympia do better?
Sherman wrote:The LPs are finicky and inconsistent, requiring a rather steep learning curve as well as the operator having their wits about them....
I seem to have lucked out with my Pavoni. It may be that it's a millennium edition, engineered for better temperature stability, and that I've had the plastic piston replaced with a brass one. The one disadvantage of the millennium model is it has a 51 mm group instead of 49 mm, and this makes it incompatible with the deeper Elektra double basket whose geometry may allow the denser, more generous shots you get with a Cremina. In any case, my experience with it very much parallels yours with the Cremina. I can turn it on when I wake up. It's ready in about 13 minutes. I then pull a beautiful shot. I may cool the portafilter under the faucet for a second shot. I steam the milk, and I'm happy. I've even experienced pulling several different kinds of coffees in a row with the same grind and differential cooling of the portafilter and three out of four shots were good. Also in my usage pattern I don't usually pull many shots in a row but the point is with the factory pressure settings I'm able to handle the heat issues easily and consistently under the faucet. Steaming on the Pavoni Europiccola is not as strong as on the Coffex, which is intense. Added: Temperature control for multiple shots in a row on a dual switch pre-Millenium Pavoni from the early '90s is easy by toggling the power switches on and off while watching the pressure gauge I added on top of the steam wand. Shot quality is consistent after dialing in dose and grind.

Getting the Pavoni was a revelation in how much easier it is to pull consistent and clear shots than with the Amica. That converted me to a lever user, where I really like the simpler dosing and light tamping. I infer this is possible because of the lower pressure combined with a narrower brew chamber. I still struggle with getting inconsistent pours with the Amica although temperature control with the PID upgrade is very reliable. I'm about to get in 5 lbs of Red Bird that I'll dial in on the Amica so I can finally get fully comfortable with dosing, distributing and tamping with that machine. Another positive feature of the Amica, with its steady temperature control, is the ability to keep refilling the tank and crank out espressos and milk drinks at a party. The single tank no/HX setup has the advantage of not depleting water from the HX, requiring a shut-down and refill. The time delay for cranking up the steaming function doesn't bother me. But in a large party, I look forward to having a true commercial machine on hand, the Prestina, which promises solid temperature stability and as much steaming as I want. Added: I learned to pull wonderful, consistent shots on the Amica after dialing in dose and grind and making my distribution and tamping consistent.
Sherman wrote:Ultimately, value is in the eye of the buyer.
I've thought about whether I would trade my other machines for a restored Cremina. The Duchessa? No! Not even for a new Cremina. Even though a cosmetically damaged Lady Duchessa recently sold on eBay for under $500, there's something so charming about having a collectible machine and one that looks like that, that I wouldn't go for it. Also, I like the elegant shots it pulls and find it forgiving, like the Pavoni.

The Amica? Maybe, but right now it's my go-to party machine while the Prestina's being restored. The Coffex? Well, sure, but no one will take me up on that one.
Sherman wrote:I'd recommend getting your hands on one first. Find a local HBer or CGer who might be willing to give you some facetime. Determine for yourself if it's worth the asking price.
Yes, I'd very much like to try a Cremina and see if I like it that much more than my Pavoni. If anyone in the Bay Area is willing, please PM me. If I do like the Cremina, I may sell the Amica and maybe another machine to fund the purchase. When it's time, I'll have one. Even at current prices, they're not out of reach. People pay much more for a bicycle or a camera!
Sherman wrote:With that said, I'll extend the invitation to anyone who wants to pull shots on mine. You just have to get yourself to Chicago first :).
That's very gracious of you! I've really been enjoying the connection with community here and the ability to go out of town and gather with friends already met online.

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#5: Post by Boldjava » wrote:I've been recently on the prowl for a restored/'good-to-go' Cremina and have been following several on Ebay within the last month or so...
Interesting in that we had the same topic come up on GCBC these past two weeks. I can only comment as a newcomer to the Cremina fold thanks to Warrior's rebuild on an '82 Cremina 67. '82 Olympia Cremina Restoration

I think there is what I term a 'Cremina-Cult-Lite.' Right now, it is riding the crest of mystique, based on a solid reputation and a not-so-subtle push in price from the $3650 retail side of the house. I personally don't look for too much rationale when bidding wars start. There is a very limited supply of vintage Creminas out there. The hunt is on. Price points will find their own level.

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#6: Post by peacecup »

I went through similar thoughts 5-6 years ago when I became obsessed with going lever. At that time I needed to choose between used Creminas in the $300-400 range or a new PV Export for the same price. I chose the new machine because I had no interest in restoration projects, or worse, a total lemon. I had a lot of reservations about the PV - small basket size, lower-pressure brewing by spring lever, quality. As it turns out I now find manual levers a bit of a bother, and I love the espresso I get from the spring lever.

My point is that if you want a Cremina you'll need to buy a Cremina. if you want great lever espresso there are other options. If you have the space you can get a used commerical lever for around the same price a a good used Cremina. You can also buy a new PV Lusso with a return policy for that price, and try a spring lever (btw, these function quite like double boilers in that you can brew and steam at the same time). Not sure about Elektra and Pavoni prices, but I guess they are also in the $1000 range.

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#7: Post by uscfroadie »

If anyone curious about a Cremina lives near Ogden, Utah and wants to try one out, send me an email. I can type all I want to say things about this machine, but nothing replaces actually using one.

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#8: Post by espressoperson »

I paid $269.95 (plus tax) for my new Cremina. In 1985. Overpriced even then? It was on sale at Zabar's in NYC from it's usual $300 price. About 5 years later it was getting hard to crank the lever and I decided to buy a new machine. (Back then I knew nothing about maintenance and restoration.) I looked around at the machines available then, circa 1990, and it was obvious, even to a non engineer like me, that there was nothing available close to the quality of the Cremina. Complaining to the sales people at Zabar's, they offered to "fix" the machine for me. So I decided to keep it. (Second best decision I ever made - I have been married longer than I have owned the Cremina). So every few years I would take it in for whatever magic they performed to restore it to brand new operability. Then Zabar's stopped servicing machines but recommended Rudy's in midtown Manhattan. Then they disappeared and 1st-line did the servicing. Now, as a student enrolled in Orphan Espresso Trade School, I do my own maintenance and service.

The biggest expense I've had over all that time of almost daily use was replacing a heating element ($100) in 2004. Jim at 1st-line told me it was worn and not absolutely necessary to replace, but I decided to splurge and spare no expense.

I was talking up the Cremina back in the early and mid 2000's, first on alt dot coffee, then on coffeegeek, and now on h-b. People dismissed my comments about the quality of the machine and, even more important, the quality of the espresso it produced. It took a long time for others to catch on and jump on board. A lot of interest was generated by Steve Robinson's rebuild. He shared his ongoing experience with us on this forum a few years back. But still, even today, threads arise all the time about the claims and the worth of the machine. Except for an occasional burst of enthusiasm from me, like this one now, fueled by the sudden improvement in the taste of my shots thanks to the Pharos grinder, (and more caffeine than usual !!!) I mostly lurk and enjoy my home espresso experience. I've given up trying to convince people. To be fair to doubters, I have little competitive comparisons; mostly just what I occasionally taste at local quality establishments, Spruce St, Ultimo, Shot Tower, and the usual suspects when I travel to NY, Seattle, etc.. So I know, to my taste, that my shots are at least equal to the best these establishments produce.

If something were to happen to my Cremina (more likely a robbery committed by a "Cremina Crazy" wannabe than a mechanical problem), I would immediately order one with overnight delivery from Orphan Espresso. While this action might stress the first best decision I ever made, I would risk it. One must choose one's battles.

IMO the reasons to not buy one have more to do with your style of making and drinking espresso. I am working at home these days so my pattern of usage is, cappuccino to start the day, followed by a few espressos, spread out over the day. My wife may have a decaf cappa weekend mornings, and several evenings after dinner. Given the 11 minute heatup to full operating temp, and the small number of shots I pull at one time, I don't have a problem with overheating. Except when I forget to turn off the machine after my 10AM espresso, and come down lunchtime to have a shot. I've learned that I should probably have a press pot instead. So don't even think about buying one (or stealing mine) if you really want to pull more than 5 shots at one time, or can't wait 11 minutes to pull a shot, or can't wait a couple of hours between sessions for cooldown.

Speaking of cooldown, time to go...
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#9: Post by drgary »

peacecup wrote:Not sure about Elektra and Pavoni prices, but I guess they are also in the $1000 range.
Last week I had to bite my lip when a very flashy brass and copper pre-millennium Pavoni Professional was offered on Craigslist in the next town over for $295. I already have enough machines in the pipeline and won't be greedy. Another Professional with slightly rusted drip tray was offered at the same time for $275. I got my EP for much less and put in about $150. Elektras are generally more expensive but some months ago an MCAL was offered locally for $295.

BTW I read on the "reviews" that the Gaggia Achille is notorious for leaking and for low build quality, such as a plastic knob with no metal inner sleeve on the steam assembly that breaks down.

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#10: Post by RAS »

(Yes, Sherman, we're now in together on another thread dealing with Olympia machines!)

The issue I'm dealing with is that while I love a great shot or cappuccino, I only "mess with it" on weekends. Because of that, I don't have enough data to answer a question Sherman asked of me months ago: To compare the shots between my restored Cremina, Livietta and Caffarex (though the Caff needed NO restoration... One of those once-in-a-lifetime finds of a vintage machine in like-new condition). During the week, I just prefer filter or vac-pot coffee - especially at 5:20AM.

So, my impressions of the Cremina so far? Clarity and separation of flavors like I've never experienced before. The shot I had this last weekend (an SO Bolivian Canton Rosario) was eye-opening. My wife was nice enough to listen to me go on about the complexity of flavors, and so on. I can also say that the VERY FIRST post restoration shot I pulled was incredible. The FIRST! That's an easy-to-use lever.

And how does this compare with the Livietta (Maximatic)? The Livietta's flavors seem more compressed. The separation and clarity just aren't there. Now, to be fair, with the Cremina, I've been grinding pre-measured doses using a Pe De grinder I've recently restored, while with the Livietta, I use a Vario, and finally measured the weight of what I grind to fill it's deep 54mm basket... 20 grams! I'm going to scale that back to 16gm, and see how that changes the flavor.

For my usage, the Livietta is my machine in the morning where I'll make a total of three caps and an Americano. It just steams so darn good. Then, the Cremina is my afternoon-shot machine.

What I may do is bring a machine to the office so I can start pulling shots in the afternoon during the week. Issue there is that I work with others who drink espresso, but won't maintain the machine they way I require. If I do bring it it, I'll get more data for comparison.

As far as the Caffarex goes, that's been sitting idle covered in my garage for almost a year since I restored the Livietta. Got to also bring that back in and spend some time with it.

Now, as others have said, there PV Lusso (and Export) are absolute alternates to the Cremina. But, it (they) make a very different shot. Far lower, ristretto, volume. For me, that really works with some coffees, and is just too intense for others. I will add that no other machine I've ever used produces the dry steam of the Lusso. I can make the absolute most silky steamed milk possible. And that results in a great cappuccino.

Finally, the 15-year old LP Europiccola my wife bought me when we got married. It's now more counter-art in our kitchen, and I need to spend more time with it. The problem is that for the amount of espresso I drink, I just know that I'll get a great shot with one of the Olympia machines or the Lusso... with the LP, it's been a crap-shoot. Going naked and using a MCal basket sounds intriguing though.

So in summary, do I recommend a restored, or new, Cremina? Yes. As another said, consider what you can spend for a decent bicycle or camera. The president of my company just got a Specialized Venge with DuraAce electronic shifting... $10K. Others here have Nikon D700 cameras with lenses that cost close to a grand each. It's all about what you're passionate about, and willing/able to spend. Then there's the fun in searching for the like-new vintage machine... I've read stories here about old Cremina's at garage sales, in thrift stores, or sitting unused on a shelf in some business. All purchased by HB'ers for next-to-nothing. Search Craig's List, look in thrift stores, and glance at garage sales as you drive by. You may just get lucky. eBay is always an option, but I agree that it's an overheated market.

OK, one final thought - you all have me thinking - if I sell my Livietta, Lusso and Caffarex, I may be over half-way to a new Cremina. Just may have to consider that (and that, in and of itself, tells you which machine I really do prefer).