In keeping with the artisanal-come-craftsman spirit of travelography and travelosophy, I have begun to put energy into refurbishing and overhauling my impulsive purchase of an undated La Pavoni Bar T 2L commercial espresso machine.  The machine will become the centerpiece of my humble abode.

I have long sought a unique and seldom-found appliance for such a project, and to brew my home-roasted espresso.  I have been brewing on a Saeco Stainless Steal home unit, but I have found the internal pump to be inadequate to fully extract the rich crema from espresso.  Then came my impulses. On a rainy day in Vancouver, as my trans-continental journey came to a close, I came across an advertisement on craigslist for a used Pavoni commercial espresso machine.  The seller is a couple who had recently sold their restaurant and was liquidating their supply of restaurant equipment.  They provided a dearth of specs and details on the machine and offered to show it to me at my convenience.  On a steamy Vancouver afternoon, I drove to Burnaby, in the suburbs of Vancouver.  I eyed what appeared to be a diamond in the rough.  The machine looked weathered, heavily used and in retirement.  One lever piston was missing an arm pin, and the boiler was half-full of semi-year old back-filled milky water.  I knew this machine would need my TLC, but what I did not know upon purchase (for a nearly 90% discount I might add) was the extent of the overhaul needed or whether the thing would even work.  The cherry on top was a commercial La Pavoni Zip grinder, which turned on and buzzed marvelously.

As my previous posts illustrated, I hauled this 200 lbs. behemoth of an espresso machine in my trunk from Vancouver, B.C. to PV, NY where it is being stored and refurbished…specifically, in my parents’ garage.  Mom, fearing a household explosion or massive water leak, refused to let me DIY-plumb and electrify the machine.  With the aid and reassurance of our over-confident 17 year old neighbor (who’s father is a master electrician and has helped us with numerous household projects), we wired the machine’s 230 volt (4600 watt) electrical heating coil to the dryer outlet (which pulls up to 40 amps).  This precocious 17-year old assured us there would be no fire, so long as we operated EITHER the espresso machine, OR the dryer, but NEVER the two in unison.  That seemed reasonable.  After purchasing $60 in plumbing and electrical components, and having our handy 17-year old neighbor jerry-rig the electrical, we were set for lift-off. 

Flipping the power switch created music to my ears.  The boiler knocked and hissed as any functional water heater would, and I knew the electrical and heating components were soundly functional.  What I didn’t expect were the numerous outlets for steam seepage.  The left steam wand was persistently dripping steam and each brew group oozed a red, rusty film…the spoilage of months in storage and a slowly decaying body of cloudy boiler water.  I thought to run decilitres of water through the steam/water outputs, to flush out the internal plumbing.  When this didn’t clean out the rusty effuse, I knew I was in for a larger overhaul job…

I unplugged and untapped the machine and La Pavoni went right back into the ‘rents’ garage for expert consultation.  When I learned that a professional servicing would run me $85/hr for labour alone, the prospect of trial by fire (or steam burns) didn’t sound so bad. 

So on another steamy day, this past Sunday, I went nut by nut, and screw by screw, disassembling the Pavoni’s labyrinth of copper pipes, electrical wires, and bolts. This machine features a 14 litre boiler, 2 steam wands, 1 hot water dispenser, a 4600 watt heating element, an option for natural gas heating, and more brass than a navy brigade (Disclaimer: don’t worry, I love this country).  The chromed brass is a soft metal used for its superior heat transfer properties.  The brass heats up with the steam and hot water, and permits the steam to pass through to the espresso ground without heat loss- the primary culprit in bad espresso.

I soaked the brass brew groups, the spring and piston, and some of the copper pipes in a descaling solution with some baking powder, to remove some of the rust and scale build up.

Upon removal and inspection, I noticed that one of the control arms on the left lever group had cracked and was missing an arm pin, which secures the lever to the brew group.  I will take this hulking piece of brass to a local welder to see if he can DIY it back together, so I don’t have to purchase a new one (likely direct from Italy).

I will post pictures of the dismembered Pavoni shortly.  For now, take my word that the machine looks like a skeleton with its innards neatly displayed at its side.  Once a shipment of replacement gaskets and a new steam tap come in, I will begin to reassemble.  The true test of my memory, mechanical proclivity and puzzle-making ability will be if I can match the copper pipe to its original fitment.  With 3 new piston gaskets per brew group, a new brew group gasket and the new tap installed, I should be a-brewin’ by the end of next week…

Now all I need is an abode in which to install, electrify, plumb and operate this relic Italian beast…More on that next time.

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