Ponte Vecchio Lusso
Conclusion


1st-line equipment For me, the Ponte Vecchio Lusso turned out to be a surprise. Lever espresso machines as a class are frequently labeled as finicky beasts that demand months of focused attention to master. The Lusso, in sharp contrast, is exceptionally forgiving, making it an ideal candidate for an "espresso newbie" shortlist.

As always, the conclusion offers scores for the various equipment criteria, starting with the exceptional espresso score. This is a relative scale of the espresso quality a barista with moderate experience should expect on a daily basis. Because many of the site's past reviews have evaluated E61-based espresso machines, it's worth asking which produces a "better" espresso, a pump-driven E61 like the Vibiemme Domobar Super or spring-driven lever machines like the Ponte Vecchio Lusso?

It's a loaded question, I know, but if high body espresso with lots of crema volume, gorgeous color, and rich consistency are your thing, it's an easy win for the E61 tribe. If it's all about taste, the answer is less definitive. In my opinion, some blends play to the strengths of spring-powered lever espresso machines. For example, Paradise Roasters' Espresso Havana morphed under the influence of the spring-powered lever, becoming a brighter, fruitier blend with subdued tobacco notes. That is, a darker roasted coffee that I'd expect to have less varietal characteristics brewed more like its lighter roasted counterpart. On the other hand, so-called "comfort espressos" that are very popular these days (lots of chocolates, heavy body) play against the spring lever's strengths and right into the hands of the E61 crowd. So which produces a better espresso? Unsatisfying as it may be, my answer to-date is: It depends on what espresso characteristics you treasure, and what blends you typically choose. For the purpose of this review, I scored the espressos as defined by the Special Coffee Association of America and taught at sessions like the USBC sensory judges' certification workshop (see What does your typical espresso rate? for discussion).

These caveats out of the way, I found the Lusso's espressos consistently creamy and rich, albeit less nuanced for complex espresso blends than delivered by other espresso machines (e.g., Elektra Semiautomatica, Ala di Vittoria La Valentina, Elektra Microcasa a Leva). Spring lever espresso machines don't reach the 9 bars of brew pressure that their pump-equipped peers do, which reduces crema production. On the other hand, the ease by which one can pull consistently good espresso with the Lusso deserves recognition, leading to an overall exceptional espresso score of 7.5.

The morning after score captures what a modestly experienced barista can expect in the early days with the Lusso. Thanks to its exceptional tolerance of less than perfect technique and its simple brew temperature management regime, the Lusso merits a 9.0. This score is surprising for a lever espresso machines; in fact, it's higher than any E61 HX espresso machine reviewed to-date on HB! As I frequently commented to friends, the Lusso has a sweet spot the size of a swimming pool—if you have opposable thumbs for grasping the portafilter, you're 80% of the way to good espresso.

The cappuccino lover's score considers the speed and ease of frothing. The Lusso is no speed demon, but even a rank beginner will have little difficulty steaming quality microfoam. Among lever espresso machines, the Elektra Microcasa a Leva reigns supreme with high speed and perfect balance of steam volume, velocity, and dispersion pattern; it's a tough act to follow. Even so, the Ponte Vecchio Lusso's high forgiveness factor offers some compensation for the steam arm's lack of articulation, earning it an 8.0 for this score.

As noted in the introduction to this review, the Lusso is a no-nonsense, no frills espresso machine. Still, it includes niceties like a water tap and goodly sized cup warmer. Those new to manually-filled espresso machines will appreciate the sight glass and a low-water level cutoff to protect the heating element. On the other hand, the lack of even a plastic tamper that fits and an ineffective driptray sized to Lilliputian proportions are unexpected oversights for an otherwise well executed, practical answer to a home barista's espresso needs. The Lusso earns a respectable 7.5 for the convenience and features score, just edging out its cousins like the La Pavoni Europiccola and pricey Olympia Cremina.

Lever espresso machines have a natural advantage when it comes to the materials and workmanship score; they're less complicated than pump-equipped espresso machines, which translates into easier maintenance and less things to break years down the road. Matching its appearance as a working-class machine, the Lusso engineers chose working-class components like the valves with nylon compression fittings. They're inexpensive, do the job, and are easy to repair. That said, level espresso machine aficionados have a strong appreciation for craftsmanship, which means some may bristle at the manufacturer's choice of mid-grade componentry. Similar comments apply to the assembly itself. The steam pressure gauge wasn't properly centered on the cutout in the faceplate; neither was the sight glass. Minor points that are easily addressed by a skilled do-it-yourself'er, but justifies docking it a full point relative to its peers, earning it a score of 7.0.

Exceptional
Espresso

Morning
After

Cappuccino
Lover's

Convenience / Features

Materials / Workmanship

Ponte Vecchio Lusso

7.5

9.0

8.0

7.5

7.0

Olympia Cremina

8.0

7.0

8.5

7.0

9.5

Rancilio Silvia

7.0

3.0

6.0

5.0

8.0


Honestly, it isn't the Ponte Vecchio Lusso's espresso that struck me as remarkable, it's the remarkable predictability of the Lussso's temperature profile. Add the Lusso's high forgiveness factor, and you've got an exceptionally newbie-friendly espresso machine that grows with the skills of the barista.

Acknowledgements

My thanks to 1st-line Equipment and Jim Piccinich for supporting this review and the Lever Espresso Machine Smackdown. You can read more details about Ponte Vecchio's offerings including a 2-group on 1st-line's Ponte Vecchio Espresso and Cappuccino Center. I would also like to recognize the other reviewers: Greg Scace, Dave Stephens, and John Weiss. The many comments, corrections, and encouragement offered by the forum members are also appreciated. Home-Barista.com would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the following coffee roasters:


Without the support of coffee sponsors, these reviews would be fiscally impossible, not to mention far less interesting for our palates. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and the fruits of your work with us.