A Lesson from Christopher Cara in Using a La Pavoni Home Lever Espresso Machine - Page 2

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drgary (original poster)
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#11: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Matt,

I wasn't looking that carefully with everything else going on. From what I do remember, he was using demitasse cups and filling them moderately. I just filled a demitasse cup similarly and measured it with a shot glass from Orphan Espresso and came out with one ounce.

Please keep in mind that Christopher wasn't prescribing the "right way" to pull a shot. For my personal taste (admittedly novice) I've been experimenting with a cooler temperature and a slightly tighter grind. This makes for a longer pull, but taking his lead I'm tamping light and not choking the machine. I've been using these modifications -- closer to the norm written about on this site -- mostly with lighter roasted espresso blends from such sources as Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Blue Bottle. The shorter pull may work well for the darker roast that he uses.
Gary
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What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

hperry

#12: Post by hperry »

topotail wrote:I sincerely hope that he has taken the trouble to educate himself on espresso since my visit, and I'm sure he knows more about how lever machines work than anyone else one is likely to encounter, but I still cringe at the idea of him giving lessons on anything having to do with espresso preparation.
I wonder if you are not being a bit judgemental. There are a group of folks, Joe at the Good Coffee Company in Seattle is another one, who have been around the coffee scene lots longer than most of us. who have a different "take" on what makes good espresso. Their preparation tends to be more casual and their coffees tend to be roasted darker - although not charred in my experience with Joe's. I have come to prefer a more contemporary standard of roasting. But at the lower temperatures of the levers they typically use (or the HXs they set up), finer grinds, and more casual preparation they make a good, if darker and more bitter shot - kind of like those I had in Italy.
Hal Perry

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MattJ

#13: Post by MattJ »

Gary, thanks for the response.

Shot size is my biggest complaint right now with my EP. I find that I only get about an ounce out of my double and sometimes a hair less.

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drgary (original poster)
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#14: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Have you tried the Fellini move? Fellini does espresso ... With some finesse in temperature control and slightly denser grind I'm finding it works for me, especially for milk drinks. But I'm also enjoying the single ounce, buttery, crema rich shots I'm getting with a single pull, including not getting over-caffeinated for the pleasure of tasting the elixir.
Gary
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RioCruz

#15: Post by RioCruz »

Hey Gary-- Thanks for the update on your visit to Cara's cool shop and his take on things. I agree with what Hal said about the more "casual" attitude some "old time" coffee folks have about espresso and other coffee preparations. On one of my visits to Cara many years ago, his relaxed approach to his espresso making was clearly in evidence and the result more like what I experienced in Italy, Argentina and Brazil..than the more "refined" results I prefer at this point.

I think I posted the following before, but it's one of my favorite posts from the old Danial Ho board, so here it is again:
When I was young (that's about two years ago ;) suddenly all my *cool* friends got una pavoni, and so did I (wasn't it cool?). Me and my friends learned to handle their handles, followed different schools, some gave up. So here are the results:

*You should grind very fine. If you feel like doing so.

*Cleanliness is important, but not necessary for a good ristretto.

*A good cafe espresso takes about 15 to 60 seconds, maybe less, sometimes more.

*Thermostat is nonsense, we are sure (that's why we bridged it)

*The water should be as clear as water, definitely.

*LaPavoni is designed junk, and beautiful.

Everybody squeezes high end cafe from their own pavoni, but we are all incapable to reach such a good quality from the pavoni of a good friend (it must be a good friend to be allowed to use your pavoni, eh?). This is a sign how individually these beasts behave (I know the right temeprature from the sound, a friend recognizes the vibrations of the lever at the right moment !). So it's YOUR pavoni, and if you are new to it, remember: you both need to get used to each other ;-). Alternatively you can surrender, but never tell a pavonisti "that you once owned one, but then the pressure went off and ruined the carpet so I sold it" or something. You will be disappointed, get bruised by steam and hot metal -- it's worth it, or you are too weak (but you want to be cool, don't you?).

It's a lot of empty cups out there -- You have the force to change this!
Contributed by Phillip Olk on October 22, 2001.
"Nobody loves your coffee more than you do."
~James Freeman, Blue Bottle

MattJ

#16: Post by MattJ »

Gary, I've tried the fellini move. I go back and forth about it (pun intended).

I hear ya about the caffeine. I'm scared I'm going to have to go to rehab before I pull a decent shot :evil:

thanks for posting your experience with Christopher - I followed from the original thread and found it interesting.

mborkow

#17: Post by mborkow »

My experience at Cara's is the same as topotail's. Chris actually told me that crema wasn't important to him because he always adds warm milk to his espresso...I am still puzzled by that response and can only assume it means he does not know much about espresso. I left his shop confused and dissapointed.

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drgary (original poster)
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#18: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Matthew:

I don't know if Christopher had tired of technical questions and was pushing back by saying he doesn't care about crema. He can do that kind of thing. His lesson did help me get a better feel for grind and leveling tamp to play with resistance in the puck and with milk texturing, and I've fine tuned from there for my tastes with different coffees than his. Another way my technique really improved was by being introduced to the two hand grip on a pull, which very nicely controls the tippiness of La Pavoni levers and helps me apply steady, moderately intense pressure to a fine grind or tamp without killing the machine. With that extra pressure and a reasonably fresh coffee, I get very good crema. So rather than leaving his shop "confused and disappointed," I had more information to apply to my technique.

La Pavoni levers have a reputation for being finicky and overheating. But thanks to Christopher's lesson and more practice, this morning I was able to pull two very nice shots and one drinkable one, in quick succession, using three very different coffees, a medium roasted Sumatra from Yo el Rey, Christopher Cara's dark roasted secret blend, and Intelligentsia Black Cat Organic. Because I didn't grow up with my dad telling me how to do it, I may experiment with technique more than Christopher does. I pulled his roast quite cool (PF was body temperature after cooling under the faucet) and it was smooth and delicious and punched through the milk flavor in a cappuccino. Since I ground it a bit coarse and barely tamped, there was little resistance or crema, but that didn't matter because I was making it for a capp. I tamped the Yo el Rey Sumatra with about 10 lbs. force after starting the grind too coarse, and it yielded lots of crema and distinctive sweetness. I pulled it slightly warmer because of the lighter roast. Subjectively the PF felt equivalent to the water in a slightly warm bath. The Black Cat wasn't as successful, coming through slightly bitter because, I believe, I let it pre-infuse too long, which may have either heated it too much or over-extracted too. So I'll pay more attention to preinfusion timing now. This appeared to be a problem at the barista side of the lever.

Because Christopher grew up in the business, I think he takes espresso making more casually than some, even being used to a traditional dark roast pulled a bit hot so that sometimes it improves with milk. This doesn't mean he can't teach a thing or two about using a La Pavoni lever machine. After tasting his dark blend, which he will only sell in his shop to control freshness, and talking to him about the many different types of machines in his shop, including the vintage ones displayed in the back and what he considers their design flaws, I would not conclude like you that this is someone who "doesn't know much about espresso."
Gary
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What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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RayJohns

#19: Post by RayJohns »

Ran across this thread and wanted to comment...

The initial run down of how to pull a shot (by Chris Cara) is very similar to how I used to do it also. Using that basic approach, I was having such poor luck with my La Pavoni that I was about ready to sell it on ebay (something I had planned to do as soon as I returned home from some traveling).

After a couple month trip, I returned home - ready to list my machine on ebay. Just for the fun of it, I picked up some fresh beans and decided to give it one last try. Since I had been away for a while, my grind was all out of wack. I had also accidentally allowed the machine to over heat, so I just turned it off. Through a combination of events that day, I ended up pulling a shot that took forever - like 60+ seconds. I was barely able to get the shot pulled actually. In order to avoid a big mess when I removed the portafilter, I just pulled through the shot; it seemed to take almost 2 minutes of pulling on the lever. Much to my surprise, the shot ended up looking absolutely beautiful. Rich, thick crema and a wonderful smell. Since the shot took so long, I had plenty of time to watch the extraction through the bottom of the portafilter basket... even that looked almost text book (gone where the channeling problems which had plagued me for so long). Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, although I was pleased to see such a beautiful looking shot develop for a change.

When I drank the final shot (which was messy, with splattering all over the rim of the cup), it was one of the best shots I had ever pulled on this machine. What the hell? Suddenly I was rethinking selling this machine on ebay. With a little more fooling around, I started pulling some of the best shots of my life - albeit them some of the slowest shots of my life. Gone where the 20 second pulls, but what replaced them where 30 and 45 second pulls (some of which I barely was able to even pull, due to the force required) that produced amazing shots.

So, besides the long duration of the shots (and the higher pressure required to accomplish the extraction), what was the only other difference? It was that I had flipped off the machine. This led to quite a bit of trial and error and a totally new method for pulling shots on the La Pavoni - a method which is nearly 180 degrees from what I initially thought would be required for this machine (and nearly exactly opposite of the one explained on this thread).

I certainly mean no offense to Chris, nor the original poster. But, for what it's worth, I would like to relate how I use my machine. Perhaps having another point of view will help for those who love the La Pavoni.

Okay, here is a run down of the method I have been using lately and the results have been far and away better than anything else I have ever gotten from the machine.

My La Pavoni is from the 80's, as far as I know. It has the two stage switch. I've also modified it with an adjustable pressure regulator on the release valve and made my own bottomless portafilter (in order to view the extractions in real time). The grinder I am using is a ceramic hand grinder - the one by Kyocera.

So the method I use goes like this. Fill the machine with water. Turn it on to the II setting and let it heat up. Once it starts to steam like crazy, then I bleed some steam off using the milk wand. At this point, I just turn the machine completely off and let it start to cool down (it will still be steaming). I basically allow it to cool down to where it has almost stopped hissing at all.

Using fresh, good quality beans is super important. So is the grind. On the grinder, I dial it down until the ceramic burrs just touch (to the point where you can no longer rattle them around by shaking the grinder back and forth). Usually the ideal setting is within one or two clicks (generally tighter) from that point. I would say the resulting grind is fairly fine and powdery.

My machine has a double shot basket. I used a digital caliper to measure its diameter and then ordered a Reg Barber tamper that was 49.6 mm in diameter. I have the stainless tamper with the C-flat bottom. The tamp pressure I use is relatively light. I would say probably about half what you would typically use - so maybe 10 to 12 lbs or so. It's enough to compact the grinds, but nothing crazy as far as pressure. I tamp it down and knock the side a few times. Because the tamper is nearly an interference fit with the portafilter basket, I don't have much problem with getting a good tamp. As long as the coffee is fresh and the pressure in the boiler isn't anything crazy, then I have almost zero channeling issues.

First thing I do is pull a little water through the group head. This isn't so much to warm up the head or the portafilter basket, but it's more to reduce the crazy pressure that tends to build up in the machine. What I have found is that you want the machine to only have just enough pressure to push the water into the group head - but little more. Again, the machine is off at this point (or if it cools off too much, I will turn it back on to the I setting for a minute to give it a little additional pressure). I have found, through trial and error, that if you leave the machine on constantly, the pressure in the boiler and the water temp is just too hot. When you lift the lever, too much pressure blows steam and water into the group head and screws up your tamp (and this results in major channeling issues, more times than not).

In some cases, when I go to pull a shot, the machine has cooled down (and pressure has dropped) to the point where there is not enough pressure to kick water into the group head. In this case, you can flip the machine on to the II setting for just 5 or 10 seconds and the sudden increase in pressure will force enough water into the group head so that you can pull a shot (usually takes two lever pumps though).

Anyway, as far as the initial suggestion of only using a 10 second extraction, I have to take issue with that. If you are able to pull the handle in 10 seconds, then you are just running a little hot water through coffee grounds (almost like a french press). It's no wonder there is no crema - there's barely an extraction taking place. In my experience, if you lock the portafilter in and lift the handle, then if you see a few drops show up in the cup (prior to pushing the handle down), then your grind is way, way off.

What I shoot for is a tamp/grind combo where the shot takes more like 30 to 45 seconds and is difficult (sometimes hard as hell) to accomplish. Sometimes it's so difficult that you have to let up on the handle and pull the handle up - not to bring more water into the group head, but to break the downward pressure and attempt to "suck back up" some of the mixture in the group head in an effort to dislodge some of the grinds in the basket. Typically, in my experience at least, I have the best luck when the shot either is very difficult to pull or pulls very slowly (where the handle almost doesn't move initially). When viewing the basket during the shot, normally the initial downward pressure will force drops to appear all over the screen in the bottom of the basket - however, then things almost stall out for a bit. This is also why it's important to have the machine off and cooler, because the water is often times in contact with the coffee grinds for 30 to 45+ seconds. If the machine is on and super heated, the water will burn the coffee and you'll end up with a bitter and over extracted shot.

In any event, if all goes according to plan, then the shot is about twice as long as you would normally expect - however, the extraction should start very slowly and then pickup as you keep a lot of pressure on the lever. You should be thinking to yourself "this is way too hard; I'm gonna break something on this machine" - that's when I get my absolute best shots and/or god shots from the machine. I also don't bother with pre-heating my cups. I actually like them a bit chilly, as this sucks off some of the heat from the shot. I personally do not like burning my taste buds off while drinking espresso - I like it so you can drink it down and enjoy it, which means a slightly cooler temp than what you would normally find at your local coffee shop.

As far as explaining the right tamp/grind, here is the best explanation I can give (although you need a naked portafilter to really see this). When you tighten up the grind (i.e. go finer), sometimes the shot will be so difficult that it pops and splatters out of the portafilter basket. You'll end up with a lot of little specs of coffee all over your cup as you extract. Okay, that's just about right. If I see that happening, then I will back the grinder off 1 click (btw, I should mention that with my kyocera, I have modified it to have 16 clicks, not the normal 8 or so from the factory). Anyway, you get the idea - if you see the popping and cracking and specs of coffee all over the place (indicating a very difficult and tedious extraction), then back off the grind and/or the tamp just a bit in order to fine tune things a little. You still want it to be an extraction that requires a great deal of pressure on the lever, however.

Myself, I have long since given up aiming for 20 seconds or 25 seconds. None of that stuff matters in the real world. It might mean something if you are working at Starbucks and have a $10K espresso machine. But in the world of doing it "by hand" using a fussy machine that is maybe 20 years old or more, you sort of have to take the bull by the horns and develop your own style. In all the experimenting I have done, it seems that erring on the side of a more difficult / longer extraction (with the pressure and temp of the machine way down), always results in a beautiful extraction with great flavor and tons of crema. If the extraction takes 30 seconds or 60 seconds, I really don't care - so long as the flavor and appearance of the final product is on the mark.

With the shots I get using the above method, they are very smooth with a hint of sourness (which I like, personally). The best I can explain the flavor would be if someone melted butter and chocolate together. Maybe I'm no espresso expert, but to me, this is what I feel a good shot should taste like. And when it come to using the La Pavoni, the above method is how I have best been able to achieve those shots.

That's my 2 cent contribution to the subject :-)

When I have a minute, I'll make a video of the current method that I've been using, if anyone is interested in seeing it.

Ray

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drgary (original poster)
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#20: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Hi Ray,

And thanks for your detailed description. As the original poster, I'll comment next to quotes from your thread.

"I certainly mean no offense to Chris, nor the original poster. But, for what it's worth, I would like to relate how I use my machine. Perhaps having another point of view will help for those who love the La Pavoni."

Christopher said and I agree that there's no single correct way to make espresso. Like you, I'm not an espresso expert either. I'm certainly not offended with your finding your own way to pulling espresso that pleases you, and you'll soon see that I agree with much of what you're saying.

"Just for the fun of it, I picked up some fresh beans and decided to give it one last try. Since I had been away for a while, my grind was all out of wack."

If you're not using fresh beans and if your grind is off, you won't get drinkable espresso. So these two corrections seemed essential. And you agree: "Using fresh, good quality beans is super important. So is the grind."

As I've gotten more settled into a working technique, I've found the biggest difference is the quality of the coffee I'm using. And Christopher agrees, emphatically saying, "It's the coffee"!

Back to your post: "I had also accidentally allowed the machine to over heat, so I just turned it off."

Without going into the rest of your method for the moment, here's the next essential variable you corrected, temperature control.

"Through a combination of events that day, I ended up pulling a shot that took forever - like 60+ seconds."

As I wrote in the original thread, you'll see that I like to do a longer pull than Christopher's ten seconds or so, and for similar reasons to you. I get a richer, more buttery, nuanced shot with more crema. I don't know if you've tasted his blend. It's very dark and benefits from a low temperature pull without suffering much from a looser grind than you or I would use.

"My La Pavoni is from the 80's, as far as I know. It has the two stage switch. I've also modified it with an adjustable pressure regulator on the release valve and made my own bottomless portafilter (in order to view the extractions in real time)."

It looks like you've put good thought and effort into getting results that really please you.

"The grinder I am using is a ceramic hand grinder - the one by Kyocera."

A quality choice, and you've modified that too to refine what you do.

"So the method I use goes like this. Fill the machine with water. Turn it on to the II setting and let it heat up. Once it starts to steam like crazy, then I bleed some steam off using the milk wand. At this point, I just turn the machine completely off and let it start to cool down (it will still be steaming). I basically allow it to cool down to where it has almost stopped hissing at all."

"First thing I do is pull a little water through the group head. This isn't so much to warm up the head or the portafilter basket, but it's more to reduce the crazy pressure that tends to build up in the machine. What I have found is that you want the machine to only have just enough pressure to push the water into the group head - but little more. Again, the machine is off at this point (or if it cools off too much, I will turn it back on to the I setting for a minute to give it a little additional pressure). I have found, through trial and error, that if you leave the machine on constantly, the pressure in the boiler and the water temp is just too hot. When you lift the lever, too much pressure blows steam and water into the group head and screws up your tamp (and this results in major channeling issues, more times than not)."

I wonder if you're getting too elaborate here, when what you're aiming at is temperature control. Of course, the proof is you're getting good results. Christopher recommends bleeding off false pressure using the steam wand, as you do. But for temperature control the method I use is so much simpler, which is to run the portafilter through cool water, radically cooling it down before locking in. Have you tried that? I get very consistent results and good temperature control without having to turn the machine off and wait, and I can it on all day. But you may not be able to get as much of a cooling effect if you're using a naked portafilter, which has less mass. Also we don't know other differences between your Pavoni and mine, which is a Millennium model modified with a brass piston. The temperature setup may be different from yours, and the pressure setup certainly is, since you've modified yours.

"The tamp pressure I use is relatively light."

You also say you use a fine grind and don't pay much attention to shot timing. These things are consistent with what many lever owners say they do, and me, too, compared to how I operate my E61 pump machine.

"In some cases, when I go to pull a shot, the machine has cooled down (and pressure has dropped) to the point where there is not enough pressure to kick water into the group head."

I wonder if that's at least partly a function of the very fine grind you're doing?

"Anyway, as far as the initial suggestion of only using a 10 second extraction, I have to take issue with that. If you are able to pull the handle in 10 seconds, then you are just running a little hot water through coffee grounds (almost like a french press). It's no wonder there is no crema - there's barely an extraction taking place."

I pull longer than that but have found when my grind is too loose and I get a quick pull, good temperature control still yields a drinkable cup but without the satisfaction of rich crema and buttery mouth feel. Those shots go into milk drinks!

"What I shoot for is a tamp/grind combo where the shot takes more like 30 to 45 seconds and is difficult (sometimes hard as hell) to accomplish. Sometimes it's so difficult that you have to let up on the handle and pull the handle up - not to bring more water into the group head, but to break the downward pressure and attempt to "suck back up" some of the mixture in the group head in an effort to dislodge some of the grinds in the basket."

Do you ever pull the handle all the way up to infuse more water into the coffee puck?

"Typically, in my experience at least, I have the best luck when the shot either is very difficult to pull or pulls very slowly (where the handle almost doesn't move initially). When viewing the basket during the shot, normally the initial downward pressure will force drops to appear all over the screen in the bottom of the basket - however, then things almost stall out for a bit. This is also why it's important to have the machine off and cooler, because the water is often times in contact with the coffee grinds for 30 to 45+ seconds. If the machine is on and super heated, the water will burn the coffee and you'll end up with a bitter and over extracted shot."

"In any event, if all goes according to plan, then the shot is about twice as long as you would normally expect - however, the extraction should start very slowly and then pickup as you keep a lot of pressure on the lever. You should be thinking to yourself "this is way too hard; I'm gonna break something on this machine" - that's when I get my absolute best shots and/or god shots from the machine."

Here I wonder whether you are actually risking breaking your machine. Christopher warned about that, and whether or not you agree with how he pulls a shot, he has been fixing Pavonis for decades. Also, in another thread, Doug Garrott of Orphan Espresso warns people off a Cremina on eBay because he sees in the seller's photos that where the lever pins secure the lever to the grouphead, the metal is bulging and about to break through. Once that happens the grouphead is shot and you've got a parts machine, and he's seen that a number of times.

When you come to the point you feel like you're pulling way too hard and are about to break it, have you tried backing off to steady pressure that is still limited by a nice, tight grind? This is something I adopted from using an AeroPress where at a certain point, the density of grind almost stops you. When I back off to steady pressure of about 25 - 30 lbs, I still get a rich shot but without as much crema as with a more intense pull. This may be why many lever owners distinguish between the reduced crema of lever espresso and the denser crema of pump machines. I wonder if shot clarity is related to reduced pressure too and wonder if others might comment. But the main thing I'm saying here is this may be where I compromise rather than risk breaking my machine. At 6'4" if I lean into the thing really hard, I probably will break it! I do find that my pump machines produce more crema, and they're set at least at 8 1/2 bars.

"It might mean something if you are working at Starbucks and have a $10K espresso machine."

What coffee beans were you using when you were thinking of selling your Pavoni on eBay? :wink:

"But in the world of doing it "by hand" using a fussy machine that is maybe 20 years old or more, you sort of have to take the bull by the horns and develop your own style."

+1!
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!