I got turned onto espresso at Starbucks about 10 years ago. It’s been almost a cappuccino a day since then, with the occasional straight single shot or doppio espresso. Con panna is especially nice. I bought a Starbucks Proteo Grande espresso machine back in 1997 and have been pretty happy with it. I was always annoyed though, that the espresso never was very hot coming out and it never seemed to give me very much crema on my shots. Crema is the sign of a good pull(see attached photo). A couple of months ago, the machine started to act a little strange (steam coming out of the group head), so I decided to upgrade (It ended up just needing a good cleaning/de-scaling). I always loved the design of the La Pavoni lever machines with their gleaming chrome and old-world style. And I read that this was the most pure method for making espresso, so I ordered one from an Italian-based company on the internet. Well, to make a long story short….it was a bitch to use. They say you have to get the coffee grind, amount, and tamp pressure right, but this machine was ridiculous. The margin of error must have been miniscule because I could never get any crema. It came out hot and the frother was powerful, but the liquid was watery and weak. I read everything I could find online. Most said it is difficult to find the right combination of grind and tamp, but it was possible. There were entire web pages dedicated to the difficulties of the La Pavoni. There were also internet forums. Many tips and tricks were suggested and it gave me hope. I spent a good part of a weekend trying everything, but my patience was wearing thin. I attempted over 50 pulls and went through at least $20 worth of espresso before I finally gave up. My conclusion was that I may have gotten a lemon. For one, the little light that indicates when the boiler’s water temperature is right, never illuminated. Secondly, I discovered the temperature of water coming out of the group head, while hot, was not what it should be.
I ended up returning the La Pavoni. Sad, because it really is a beautiful machine. It’s like having a piece of art in your kitchen, but at this point I had a serious jones for a good espresso with a rich head of crema.
I had to find another machine.
I had a lot of time on my hands since AussieGirl was still in Australia. Surfing around the www, I found out that there are some serious coffee nerds out there. They astounded me with their knowledge of the bean and their dedication to quality. I was so impressed, and I now have the espresso bug so bad, that I added a whole new set of links to java pages on this blog. My favorite sites are CoffeeGeek, CoffeeKid, and WholeLatteLove. I’m seriously thinking of starting to roast my own beans, as well.
Anyway, back to my quest….
After narrowing down my choices to the Pasquini Livia and the Rancilio Silvia, I decided on the Rancilio. I ordered it from the very nice ladies over at Sweet Maria’s. The Pasquini sounded impressive, but $1000+ is probably a little more than I wanted to spend. It’s practically commercial quality and I may graduate to it, or something similar, in the future. But I thought it was too big a jump going from my little, underpowered machine. Sort of like going from a Pinto to a GTO. The Rancilio sounded pretty damn awesome anyway and it seems to have a loyal, cult-like following. I received it in the mail two weeks ago and it’s been pumping out the black gold with a guiness-like head each day since (again, the proof is in the photo). I’m really happy with it. Anyone want to buy an old Starbucks machine?