I didn't have that much problem with dosing to be honest - but then again, I don't mind mess and a little waste. I think this could be a large difference between the home baristas and pro baristas from what I've seen.
I really never felt that the light base problem went away. I hated having to use both hands as it made it impossible to get a really good view of the shot.
I didn't try any single shots. I've never been into them - regardless of machine.
Training Guide in outline with some notes:
A Brief Intro to Using a La Pavoni Professional Lever Machine
The La Pavoni traditional manual lever machine is not only a gorgeous piece of industrial art - in the hands of a skilled barista it is also capable of producing world-class espresso. Producing great espresso is not easy, and requires patience, effort, understanding and skill. The keys to getting good espresso from the La Pavoni include: using high quality, fresh coffee; using the correct grind and grinding with a high quality burr grinder; using the correct amount of coffee and packing it into the basket correctly; understanding the temperature profile of this machine and extracting the coffee at the correct temperature and keeping the equipment clean.
What you'll need:
- La Pavoni Lever Machine
- High-quality burr grinder
- Correctly sized coffee tamper
- Small bar towel
Step One - Fill machine with water.
Unscrew the top of the water tank and fill the tank with filtered (not distilled) cold water. It is suggested that you fill the tank to about 3/4 of it's volume. Tighten the top back on.
Step Two - Turn machine on.
The La Pavoni machine is not intended to be left on and will get hot enough to burn coffee if you do leave it on.
Step Three - Open steam wand valve.
While it is not required, it is a good idea to leave the steam wand valve open while the machine heats. This has two results - first, it bleeds off any residual, "false" pressure if you didn't open the tank and refill and second, it give you a visual and auditory warning when the machine is starting to near brew temperature.
Step Four - Wait for machine to get hot.
This is a good time for you to get your coffee into the hopper of your grinder, clean your countertop, pre-heat a cup, read the newspaper or maybe eat a bowl of cereal. Eventually you will see and hear water coming from the steam-wand and the needle on the pressure gauge will start to rise.
Step Five - Close steam wand valve.
At this point you'll want to close the steam wand valve (and probably wipe up any water that came out). Be very VERY careful when wiping up as the machine gets quite hot. In fact, as a general rule you need to realize that this is an entirely un-insulated machine and pretty much every bit of metal on it gets hot enough to burn you. Be careful!
Step Six - Wait for machine to get to brew pressure.
The needle will continue to rise. When it gets up to 0.9BAR of pressure, you will be ready to prepare to pull your first shot.
Step Seven - Grind coffee.
You should grind about 12grams of coffee for the double basket. The grind needs to be quite fine. Figuring out the exact right grind is half the battle with espresso and tiny adjustments to the grind have large results in the cup. Note that in reality I actually reverse steps 7 and 8 and grind as I dose. I have found, however, that with this machine (perhaps due to the small size of the portafilter) people who have not pulled a lot of shots of espresso struggle with that sequence. Thus, the alteration. In addition, I slightly overdose and find it is incredibly valuable to rotate the portafilter while dosing in order to get better initial distribution.
Step Eight - Remove portafilter and wipe clean.
Carefully remove the portafilter from the machine (again, be careful as the machine is hot). With your small bar towel, wipe the inside of the basket clean and dry. Also wipe down inside the group head.
Step Nine - Fill basket with coffee.
You're going to want to have the coffee form a heaping pile. Using your finger, spread the coffee so that it is evenly distributed in the basket. While I'm a big fan of the Stockfleths method of distribution, the Schomer method seems to work better with the Pavoni. In addition, I've actually found that a small amount of overdosing helps a lot - I lightly rap the portafilter on the grinder fork once and, of course, I apply downwards pressure while distributing.
Step Ten - Pack the coffee in the basket.
Using your tamper, press down lightly (10lbs of pressure) once. Then wipe loose grounds from the portafilter and press down fairly hard (25-35lbs of pressure) to pack the coffee into the basket. Wipe the portafilter clean again. I found that it was a very bad idea to tap the portafilter at all to loosen any grounds. My theory is that the process of pulling air into the chamber is likely to exacerbate any potential gap channeling. Also, due to the weird spout layout, I've found that I get better results if I tamp with the portafilter on the edge of a counter, wedged for stability against the spouts.
Step Eleven - Put the portafilter back into the machine.
You want to make sure that the portafilter is fully and tightly inserted. Again, be careful when it comes to touching the machine - it is hot. Once your portafilter is inserted, put your pre-heated cup under the spouts.
Step Twelve - Lift the lever.
You should lift the lever slowly and steadily. This draws air through the coffee, so yanking it up hard will disturb your carefully distributed coffee. When you reach the top of the lever's stroke, hot water will enter the chamber. You should hold the lever up at the top for a count of ten. This allows the water to gently infuse the top of the coffee.
Step Thirteen - Push down the lever.
If getting the grind right is half the battle, this is the other half. You're going to want to apply smooth, steady and consistent pressure. The pressure required is somewhat significant. Theoretically, your goal is to apply between 40lbs and 50lbs of pressure. With the mechanical advantage of the lever, this will translate to the desired 9BAR extraction pressure. The key is to provide this pressure in a smooth and consistent manner. Again... be very careful of the hot metal on the machine!
Step Fourteen - Watch the espresso.
As you press down the lever, the espresso will begin to flow from the spouts. If the flow gushes and is light in colour then your grind is too coarse. If the flow only trickles, no matter how hard you press, the grind is too fine. The idea is to get that thick, heavy, continuous stream of espresso that looks like super-heated honey. The colour should be a dark, rich brown with hints of red and gold. In the cup, a thick layer of reddish-gold tan foam (crema) should form. With this machine, the ideal extraction should take between 15 and 25 seconds.
Step Fifteen - Taste the espresso.
If the grind was right and the espresso looked right you should taste the espresso. It is likely that the first shot will taste a bit sour as the machine might not be fully up to optimal brew temperature yet. Don't worry if this is the case, just pull another shot. If the shot tastes bitter, you should make the grind a bit more coarse.
Step Sixteen - Adjust your grind (if needed).
Based on how the flow looked, you should adjust your grind either finer (if the espresso pulled too quickly) or coarser (if it was too slow, bitter or didn't flow at all). An important note is that the grind seems to need to go consistently and steadily coarser as the machine heats up. Thus... if your first shot is both sour from the cold machine and slightly too fast, you might not want to adjust the grind much if at all.
Step Seventeen - Return to Step Seven (grind coffee) and repeat.
There are two (very important) differences when repeating this process. First (and foremost) you need to wait a bit to remove the portafilter and you need to be careful while doing so. There will be residual pressure in the portafilter and removing to early or too quickly will result in hot coffee grounds spraying everywhere. In addition, you'll need to knock the old coffee out of the basket before wiping it clean and dry. I tried the "cold towel" trick and found it to be both a hassle and to introduce yet another variable. I got better luck from being patient.
One important note - because these machines get very hot, by the fourth or fifth shot the machine will be so hot it will begin to burn the coffee. If you've not managed to get a good shot by this point, don't despair. Just turn the machine off and let it cool back down (watch the pressure gauge) and start over.
Making great espresso on this machine is an incredibly manual and hands-on activity. You're going to have days when it just doesn't seem to work right, and there will be shots that are simply perfect but you don't know why. Making great espresso is a pursuit and a passion and you never stop learning. Be patient and enjoy the process.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin