Initial Impressions of the Ponte Vecchio Lusso

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#1: Post by timo888 »

Vanelis have sent me a Ponte Vecchio Lusso for some dinner party torture testing. When I have the Lusso dialed in, I plan to take it in to the office for one of our quarterly departmental luncheons. I have been experimenting with boiler pressure settings, dose, and preinfusion technique. After using the machine for a week, I do have some initial impressions and will share them here, along with some basic information about the machine. Photos to follow.

The Ponte Vecchio Lusso (a plastic shield under the cup warming tray still bears the SAMA logo :) ) has an indirectly attached thermosyphon-heated group. Directly attached groups like that found on the Cremina 67 (later abandoned by Olympia for a thermosyphon group?) eventually overheat from the heat conducted out to the group from the boiler (if they have not overheated sooner from several pulls in succession); indirectly attached groups do not. The indirectly attached group is kept optimally heated by the self-regulating convection in the thermosyphon loop.

The Lusso can be ready to make espresso in 10-12 minutes. Turn it on, wait ~ 8 minutes till the heating element light goes out, purge the false pressure with the steam wand (the manometer may drop back almost to zero) and then in a few more minutes the boiler will have reached pressurization. If the machine I have is typical, you must pull a warming flush at this point. This flush not only warms the group, it releases air which appears to remain trapped in the thermosyphon tube, impeding the thermosyphon convection. Without this flush after the purge of false pressure and the element light has gone out, the group remains very cool to the touch even after the machine has been on for several hours. With the flush, the group comes to temperature in a few minutes and stays at stable temperature for as long as the machine is turned on. With the exception of this one flush during the initial warm-up, a pre-pull warming flush is not necessary ... unless you want the water to be especially hot, as you might with a very light roast:

I have been able to walk up to the Lusso after it has been on for several hours and pull a sweet shot without any need for a cooling or warming flush. Normally I would not keep the machine on all day at home, but carried out this test to see if the machine lived up to its 'club' designation. It does.

The Lusso, with its large 3-liter boiler*, makes an abundance of excellent, dry steam. You can steam a cup, a pint, or a quart of milk with the three-hole tip. The tip itself is not swappable but an after-market replacement wand is available. When working with a small quantity (250ml) there is almost no need to stretch the milk -- swirling (rolling) will produce excellent microfoam very quickly. With a quart of milk in a larger vessel, stretch then roll.

The manual recommends that the boiler pressure be set between 1.0 - 1.2 kg/cm² (~1.0 - 1.2 bar) but anecdotally I have heard that 1.5 is not unusual for the Lusso in Italy. The cover has to be removed to gain easy access to the p-stat slotted screw. I have experimented with various settings between .9 and 1.5. There is plenty of steam even as low as .9. At .9, the pressure drops to about .7+ when steaming, the steam remains constant, and the boiler takes a few seconds to rebound afterwards. That low, the boiler pressure is not forceful enough to make a fully saturated preinfusion and it needs a manual assist (i.e. let the lever rise gently under the barista's hand part way until a drop appears in the cup -- much like working with La Peppina). At the other end of the spectrum, at 1.5, there is a very forceful boiler-pressure-induced preinfusion; pressure drops to about 1.4 during steaming, and the boiler rebounds instantly. I think the setting recommended by the manual is optimal. At 1.0 you won't see droplets in the cup if you tend to updose, but at the low end of classical dosing levels, you will. 1.1 is a good place to start.

I have not taken the machine apart to measure the spring and compute its force, but I do suspect that the Lusso is operating at ~6-7 bar, not at 9 bar, notwithstanding assurances to that effect from my friendly contact outside Milan.
The Lusso is definitely vintage in terms of its small water draw and 45mm baskets. You won't be pulling "big gulp" triple espressos with this classic machine. A moderate dose and a light leveling tamp work well. The machine produces a very tasty espresso with a rich and syrupy (not a fluffy, mousselike) crema.

The cup warming tray will keep cups warm if the machine has been on for a couple of hours. The tray must be removed to gain access to the boiler fill cap. :roll:

The stainless steel drip tray is 2cm deep and measures 25cm across and 8cm front-to-back. The machine requires only one small warming flush at startup, and so while the tray is adequate to handle the drippage, I would have made it deeper (there is room in the base) just so it would be a little easier for the clumsy to empty it. One grasps it on either side with the index fingers; the finger cutouts in the base were made for a Botticellian babe's delicately tapered digits (see pic above).

*EDIT: According to the factory, the boiler is made of brass, nickel-plated on the exterior only.


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#2: Post by jesawdy »

Heres to hoping for some internal pics, as well as that "not swappable" steam tip, the pstat, the drip tray and more.

What's your opinion of the 1200W heater? Adequate or optimal?

Thanks for sharing.
Jeff Sawdy

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timo888 (original poster)

#3: Post by timo888 (original poster) »

The Lusso's heating element provides nearly instantaneous recovery, and you could probably turn the steam tap on and run it for half an hour non-stop.

Pics in the offing -- camera needs a new battery. Will be sure to show the steam tip.



#4: Post by Cathi »

Excellent, Timo. I'm hording my pennies as I type. I will get there ..... someday. Sigh :( , unless I can score a Cremina for less than $800 (Not looking too favorable at this point).

Can't wait to see the next install.



#5: Post by Arto »

Sound to be a great machine. Only WHY is the location of the boiler-cap...
LMWDP #103

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#6: Post by mogogear »

Nice kick off Timo...... After swapping some of the group heat info with you the other day, I warmed my Bezzera up, flushed, pulled 2 shots and let it sit for 2 hours and it did go back down to a nice "touchable" hot at idle.

I pulled a shot and it was spot on! One small note- I had adjusted my pstat from 1.1 bar down to .95 -1.0 bar.

Seeeems a bit better - but it might just be my head and not my taste buds saying that.

Looking forward to the next chapter!
greg moore

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#7: Post by mgwolf »

Thanks for the comments. What are your thoughts on the quality of the espresso? Is it comparable to the Cremina or La Pavoni? Could you or anyone else tell them apart in a blind taste test? Thanks. Michael

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timo888 (original poster)

#8: Post by timo888 (original poster) »

mgwolf wrote:What are your thoughts on the quality of the espresso? Is it comparable to the Cremina or La Pavoni? Could you or anyone else tell them apart in a blind taste test?
When dose and grind are on the mark, the quality of the espresso produced by the Lusso is very very good. It does not disappoint.

The manual lever and the domestic spring-lever produce a different espresso. Both types of machine are capable of producing godshots: the manual's espresso is Dionysian and the spring's espresso is Apollonian. Good to have both gods around, but if you had to choose... with $700-$800 to spend, and the choice of a new Lusso or a used Cremina 67 from eBay, I would take the Lusso over the Cremina 67, mainly because the Lusso offers superior inter-shot temperature stability.


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#9: Post by chopinhauer »

Very interesting review timo.

I'm wondering if you find the 45mm baskets a bit limiting. I mean, the single must be tiny, and the double must be smaller than the pavoni / cremina doubles, which are only the equivalent of a single on a 58mm machine. (I had a Silvia with la marzocco baskets and the single LM held the same as the pavoni double, and the pavoni double is the same size as the new cremina double baskets).

You do mention that the 45mm basket is a factor, but how much of a factor for those who like a really thick and strong espresso? In short, how would compare the shots of the lusso double against say the cremina double (using the smaller pavoni sized baskets, not the older and larger cremina baskets, not to mention the even larger Elektra baskets).
LMWDP #027

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#10: Post by mgwolf »

Thanks for the comments. Another question. How do you find the build quality of the Lusso? Everyone always raves about the Cremina and I doubt that the Lusso is of the same caliber. What are your impressions as to how it's bolted together? Michael