Artisan-ship


I must apologize to Pavoni-philes who are wondering what has become of the esteemed unidentified Pavoni machine that has found itself in my grips.  I’m here, finally, to update the story…this will be a work in progress.

Shortly after the overhaul, I ran into electrical issues with the Pavoni’s automatic water refill solenoid – it just didn’t work.  I deduced several theories:

a) The  balance of the water in Putnam Valley is outside the range of operability and therefore the water valve will not trigger; or

b) I had made mistakes when I re-connected the copper plumbing and mistakenly by-passed a valve that would give the solenoid a proper water level reading; or

c) the water refill level sensor was not making proper contact with the water (testing this hypothesis produced a low-voltage shock that discouraged me from meddling with the Red Lady while electrified); or

d) the water refill solenoid was clogged; or

e) the only on-board electrical circuit board was fried (a common problem according to Home Barrista); or

f) the water refill solenoid was just…simply…broken.

Turns out, based on my amateur sleuthing and diagnostic skills, the issue was a hybrid between (e) and (f).  I replaced the water refill solenoid and spent considerable time researching the proper wiring match-up for the GIAC ECU control module (which does not exist for my configuration).  I utilized some simple deductive reasoning and the fact that I am not color blind to properly power the water solenoid and when I clicked on the machine, the solenoid made its productive clicking noise, opening the valve to allow water into the boiler.  These machines were way ahead of their time, and the water refill solenoid, when active, cuts off power to the heating element, so that the heatingelement does not generate steam that will combat the incoming cold water and cause interference.

I spent the next several weeks perfecting the proper balance of grind coarseness, dosing quantity, and brew group pre-heating to obtain the zeldaof espresso shots.  I promise a video of the Red Lady in action, producing an awesome stream of caffeinated greatness from the bottomless (aka naked) portafilter.

Fast forward 2 months and the interference of other of life’s obligations and I find myself in the process of moving out of the parents’ house to my own apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Of course, when inspecting the apartment for the basics- working faucets, sturdy wood floors and ceiling, and basic aesthetics, I also investigated the potential for installing a 220-volt outlet and plumbing for the Red Lady.  This machine has become an appendage much like a pet.  The apartment has a washer and dryer in the unit, so I knew I could split the water line for the washer into two lines; one for the washer machine and one for the Red Lady. 

I will spare readers the tedium of hearing about the moving process and the details of the remainder of my life…frankly, I realize the Pavoni is the only interesting thing going for me.

The Pavoni needed a station, and so I researched commercial stainless steel work tables, which provide a superior spill-proof surface and a sturdy platform for barrista-ing.  I settled on a good deal; an Aero table measuring 30″x48″.  The table features a lower deck, for the wine cooler (courtesy of woot.com) and bar tools.  On top of the table, I placed the Red Lady and the grinder.  This absurdum is the first thing guests and visitors see upon entering my apartment – a testament to my relative insanity or level of commitment to the bean.

Moving day was busy…to say the least.  On top of orchestrating painting, moving, boxes, neighborly welcomes, the cable/internet installer, I also had an electrician provide an estimate for wiring a 220-volt outlet.  He quoted $400 for the job, including all parts and labor.  The electrician, we’ll call him “Enabler,” came a couple of days after the dust settled (literally and proverbially) from moving day.  His work took only 3-4 hours to run 220-volt juice from 2-30 amp breakers to a space on the wall adjacent to the Barrista station.  The plug is a typical 3-prong dryer plug, which will look awfully out of place if I ever move.

To plumb water to the Red Lady, I purchased a brass Y-splitter, which will split the cold water between the washer machine and the Pavoni.  There is a water shut-off on each, as extra protection for when either machine is not in use.  I snaked 1/4″ rubber tubing from the laundry area through the kitchen and around the wall to the Pavoni. 

Red Lady lit right up on the first try…which is not surprising since it requires only the flick of a switch.  But, more importantly, turning the Pavoni on does not dim the lights of the apartment, or interfere with the electrical load of the rest of the building.  The electrician simply cautioned me against using the air conditioners and the espresso machine simultaneously. This may trip a breaker for the whole building. I guess duringthe summer I’ll be sipping espresso while sweating, or cooled by the de minimis cross-breeze.

Again, I promise pictures and further maintenance best practices…check back for updates.

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.