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A few days with the Livia 90
A few days with the Livia 90
Posted September 30, 2000 9:50am
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Livia 90 in the kitchen

There she is.

Hey, you wanna know what frustration is? I'll tell you. It's taking delivery of a machine like this, having it on your counter all shiney'ed up, and not being able to use it for 48 hours. That, my friends, is frustration.

See, the Livia arrived Thursday, and after I cleared customs and raced back home, I discovered some (not much) moisture around the bottom of the unit. The guy I bought it from said in an email to me a few days before that if there was exposed moisture from the boiler (which was not completely emptied after testing and tuning), I should wait 48 hours before plugging the thing in and rocking and rolling. Well, it had moisture, but only at the bottom of the machine (seemingly away from the electronics and the motherboard and computer) so I fired off an email to Jim - is this really necessary? A very short reply - please wait 48 hours before using. I fired off another email before I got that message, joking (half joking, completely hoping) that I might just take a hair dryer to it.This garnered another short reply. Please wait the 48 hours.

Okay, I couldn't win. And I guess waiting was definitely preferable to being without the machine if it was damaged by water. Still, I couldn't help thinking Jim was like my grandma :-) :-)

So I waited. I took all the panels off to facilitate the air drying and dehumidifying. Thankfully our humidity in the house is very low (sometimes we wish it was higher) and this probably helped promote evaporation. And finally today, I fired her up.

Know what music is? Music to an espresso hound is a machine humming away, refilling itself on its own account, and the sound of a boiler quietly doing its job. Music to an espresso hound is that sound the pump makes as the shots dribble down from the portafilter. Music to this espresso hound is the sound of a steaming jet 2 seconds after I complete the brewing of a shot. The Livia is very musical.

I did promise some initial observations about the machine, and they will come below, but first, there's another thought I've been thinking about while being forced to stare at this machine for a few days. The prime one is this. Who the hell in their right mind would spend $1100 USD for an espresso machine for the home? I mean, spending that kind of money on a machine that returns financial benefits makes all the sense in the world - and $1100 is cheap as heck for a commercial machine. This machine would see good duty in a catering environment or a very small restaurant with occasional calls for espresso-based drinks. $3000, $5000 or more machines also are wise financial moves for higher volume situations, where the ROI on these machines is measured sometimes in weeks, if not months.

But for home use? $1100? (or for that matter, $1500? $2500?) You'd have to be insane, right? Even if you measured your own ROI against something like going out for a daily espresso or cappuccino, this machine would require as much as four years or more, once you factor in materiel costs, to finally meet its ROI. Heck, in some situations, double that time, if you only have one drink from it a day. And that doesn't even factor in the cost of the grinder.

So why buy something like this? Why go nutbar and blow what for many people is a half month's salary (after taxes) on something that produces what is to most people just a fancy-pants coffee?

I still don't know if I know the universal answer for all Livia owners or all owners of commercial and near commercial machines for the home, but I think I know my answer. At this stage in my life, for the loves of my life, I want the best. That means nothing but the best when it comes to Jeanette. Nothing but the best when it comes to my family. Nothing but the best when it comes to my close friends. And, when it comes to espresso and the bean, I want the best.

I'm not saying the Livia is the best machine out there. I'm not going to make that kind of blanket statement that more than a few disliked me for in alt.coffee. I am saying that, based on about 9 months of research, testing, reading, picking brains, and theorizing and extrapolating, I decided that, for my situation, the Pasquini Livia was the best possible machine I could have in my home at this point in time. Was I right? Time will tell, and who knows, maybe in the future I may want a Rancilio Millenium single group hard wired to my espresso bar in the family rec room of the future, but for this time, today, right here, right now, I wanted the best, and I through luck, good fortune and frankly through the success I've been enjoying in my business, I have it.

Okay, enough of that. Let's get to the stuff I think a few of you really want to read.

The Livia controls up close.
Livia 90 Control Panel features from left to right the steam knob, power switch, boiler active lamp (orange), water okay lamp (green), brew switch, hot water knob. Simple, efficient, smart.

Initial Observations
What can I say. As with many amazing looking stainless steel products, no picture you see of the Livia90 can do her justice. In person, her 360 degrees of shiny, mirror polished steel just exudes quality and style. Unlike the Giottos I've seen, the Livia isn't completely shiny though - she is framed by a base of painted black metal, and sits about 1 inch off the counter thanks to beefy, shock obsorving rubber feet.

Livia is a heavy beast. Over 40 pounds dry, she weighs in at around 60 pounds when soaking wet in boiler and reservoir. (guessing here - I forget how much a US Gallon of water weighs (but for some reason I think its 12 pounds?), and add to that 1.5 litres for the boiler water). The controls in the front are mostly logical and simple, and she has the following accrutements on the front: Steam knob (yehah - this is the sole reason I avoided buying a Salvatore - I must have a steam knob); power switch with inline light (which is not working on my machine), and a side light of orange that indicates when the boiler heater is working; green lamp to show adequate water in the reservoir; brew switch; and hot water knob for dispensing from the very powerful hot water wand.

Livia Boiler Gauge
Boiler Pressure Gauge indicator with partial portafilter view and hot water wand in foreground.

Underneath the control deck sits the brewhead and portafilter of course, and a steam wand on the left (which I think will take a bit of time to get used to - the Rancilio Silvia's wand was on the right), and the hot water wand on the right. On the splash plate sites the model information tag, a boiler pressure gauge (thanks to Ted, Barry and Ken for getting me up to speed on this thing and all it informs), and a nifty outlet for the 3 way solenoid.

The top deck contains a grate for cups (though no drainage), and a stainless steel lid with an angle for covering the reservoir. In fact, in person you notice how different the current crop of Livias is when compared to the ones you see in pictures. There is no knob for this reservoir lid (as seen in pictures), and there is a boiler pressure gauge on the front of the unit (most photos of the Livia do not show this). The side panels of my girl are polished stainless steel - not the painted black metal of the pictured units. And the side panels have writing on them - the right side has Pasquini in fancy script. The left side contains a three line quote: "For Music - Puccini. For Art - Bernini. For Espresso, Pasquini". Normally I would find this kind of thing to be very egotistical, but it almost seems understated when on this machine.

Rounding out the initial observations, I was seriously impressed to see a glass and bevelled logo on the back plate of the machine. This is presumably done so that if you use this in a commercial environment where the customers see the back of the unit (you brew while facing the customers), it presents a nice package. I think it's amazing, especially after dealing with the quick-fading Rancilio logo on my Silvia. Nice touch, and probably none too cheep either.

All ready to go
Livia 90, loaded up, topped off, and ready to go at a moment's notice.

First Use
This is my very initial observation of the first use and shots, but I will remain as objective as possible. That said...

I maybe just lucked out, picked the right grind from the Rocky grinder, the stars were in alignment, I dunno, but the very first shot I pulled from this machine was as close to perfect as possible. Amazing, rich, tiger flecked shot with no touch of bitterness in the finish.

Let me back up a bit. Okay, so I shined this puppy up, I loaded the reservoir with water, and I turned on the switch. So far, so good, nothing blew up. About 2 seconds after I turned it on, the pump kicked in and started auto filling the boiler. Nice. Love that self priming. The boiler went active, and it made a lot less external noise compared to the Silvia. Nice again. The pump was quieter too, even though I have the 52 watt version of the Ukla in this machine (current Livias are shipping with the 41 watt version found in the Silvia and other machines - mine is 4 months old, and from the $1200 breed of this machine with the different pump).

I let her heat up for a full half hour (more waiting!!) before I attempted to do my first shot. But then I remembered something Dung Truong and another fellow told me in email - if the Livia's been sitting for a while, that first shot is excessively hot from the water sitting in the heat exchanger, so it is always a good idea to run off an ounce or two of liquid before doing the shot. So I did so. I grinded my coffee 3 clicks finer than the Silvia normally takes, tamped, locked, loaded, and did the shot into my preheated Tognini cup (best espresso cup I own).

I got tiger flecks. Good sign. The flow hung heavy just like the best Schomer shots from his videos. Even the stream itself had texture. That was amazing to see - I don't recall seeing that often with the Silvia. 31 seconds later (I practice the longer timing for shorter shots theorem that Al from alt.coffee preached), I had approximately 1.4 ounces of ristretto in the cup. Added my bit of sugar twin (apologies all around) and sampled.

Solenoid Close Up
Livia's Solenoid Exit Valve - Livia don't hide her solenoid. She has it out in the open to see, and it is beautifully machined to compliment the look of the machine.

Thank God Jean wasn't around. I probably looked like I was having an orgasm or something. It was just that damned good. And I was worried I'd have to do a lot of fine tuning on this puppy.

And of course, I pulled another shot almost right away. Same consistency. Same taste. And I should note, I'm using beans that are about 8 days old from my Rocky. I can't wait till I get fresh beans to try, but I can't right now - my Hearthware was sent back for warranty replacement last week (another story, another time). Heaven. I pulled another double shot, this time into my Bodum Doppio glasses, and now it was time to see what steaming was like. As soon as I pulled the shot, I activated the steam into my 30 oz. pitcher with about 10oz of milk. (I am using the 4 hole steam wand attachment, not the froth aider). Woah. Woah.... WOAH!

Okay, so I just ruined 10 ounces of milk. Bloody fast. I knew it was faster than the Silvia, but not this fast. I drank the shot, and decided to steam a bit, getting used to the quickness. About a half gallon later, I felt confident I could do adequate microfoam in the approximately 15 seconds or less it takes to get 10oz of milk up to 155F.

So I brewed another shot in the Bodum doppio glasses. Ristretto Doppio Machiatto, here I come. 2 seconds after killing the shot switch, I opened the steam valve, did the quarter second bleed of water, and super dry, super hot steam came out. Frothed up my milk (this time about 4 ounces in a smaller pitcher) and about 8 seconds later, had tons of nice microfoam. Dolloped the shot, and walla, A Ristretto Doppio Machiatto in about 40 seconds. Sir. That is what I paid for.

Okay. That's about all the playing I did. I'm completely hopped up on espresso, having had the equivelant of 3 days' worth in about an hour, so I'm off to run a marathon or something. I'll be updating this page in a few days with (hopefully) some more info about the machine that isn't so gah gah, but till then.... thanks for stopping by!

PS and an important one. We lost Canada's last great politician the other day. RIP to the Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I'll miss your flair, style and dedication to principles. And I'll never forget you and the times you stopped to talk to me as a kid when I lived in the neighbourhood you used to like walking in.

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