Miss Livia In Da House!!!! Okay. Here's the deal. I loved my Miss Silvia machine from Rancilio, but since 1998, I'd been reading about the Livia 90 from Pasquini, a California company. This was the be all, end all of home "prosumer" espresso machines. This machine was essentially a catering machine, built for home use. I had to have one.
In August 2000, I put some feelers out. Any Livias out there at a decent price? Remember my cheap bastardness. Plus I figured that for one time (I actually never do this normally), for one time only, I could hit up some of the retailers that have benefited from my positive relationship with them. In other words, it is no secret that Silvia sales have been strong with some online retailers because of the pages I've put up about the Silvia, and the words I spewed often in alt.coffee.
Again, I don't think it is very ethical of me to expect discounts from these retailers, and I try to avoid hitting them up for discounts simply because I have helped to promote their businesses. Just recently, I turned down a rather gracious and generous offer for some rare and expensive beans, offered gratis, simply because I was cheerleading a particular bean source. After all, the only reason why I've promoted their businesses in the first place was because they treated me decently, gave me a fair price, and "took care of me" when I was an espresso nobody. I consider it payback, and I'm a firm believer in saying good things about good businesses.
That said, $1,200 is a lot of freakin' money!!!! I couldn't bring myself to spend that. So I put the word out to a few folks online that I was looking for a refurb'ed, demo, or returned but in good condition Livia if the price was right. One retailer took care of me (as he always has) - Jim from 1st-Line hooked me up with a demo model Livia that was in perfect operating condition, and had the bonus of the older, more powerful Ukla pump inside (newer Livias ship with a 42W pump - mine has a 52W unit). And the price was right. The only problem with the machine was a slight cosmetic scratch on the finish in front. Jim didn't know about this damage before he made a price offer: to show how great a retailer he is, he offered a slightly further discount because of it - I turned him down, saying the initial offer price was excellent.
So I placed the order and paid my bill, and waited for the Livia to arrive. It did, and I drove down to Point Roberts, Washington State, to pick it up and bring it back through customs. Cost a bit (grrrr, I hate the Canadian government and their tax grabs) but it was mine, mine, mine all mine! Then the shocker - I couldn't use it for at least 48 hours.
The reason? Livia arrived a bit damp, and Jim said it must sit for 48 hours before using, in order to dry the insides. That was some of the hardest 48 hours of my life, I tell you.
But it did pass, and I did get to brew my first shots. HOT MAN! Damned hot! Too hot! Livia was pouring out shots much hotter than the Silvia was - so hot they ruined the shots!
Okay, let me step back here a second and describe the kind of machine the Livia is. She is a "heat exchanger", or HE system. This means the main boiler is used for steam production and hot water, and brewing water is drawn from the water reservoir, on demand, through a device inside the boiler that flash heats the water up to brewing temps as it passes. The problem with HE machines in the home are two fold: because of the low volume of shots (a couple a day), water sitting inside the HE gets as hot as the boiler water - about 235F, or about 24F above boiling. The second problem is that the reservoir water gets warm, hot even, during the course of the day, and screws up the HE water delivery temps, making it hotter than normal. These are the prices one pays for having a commercial grade machine, with commercial grade technology, in the home.
I learned to work around these aspects. Before brewing a shot, I would flush the HE, by running a few ounces through the grouphead. One of the commercial options on the Livia is the ability to change the boiler pressure, thereby reducing or increasing the boiler temperatures. By decreasing the pressure a bit, I've reduced the temps, and now have hot water delivery through the HE at about 198F at the grouphead, near perfect (for me) brewing temperatures.
The reduction in boiler pressure had one negative side effect. It reduced my steam pressure through the steaming wand. My actual steaming timings were fine - I could do 7 ounces of milk up to 155F in about 22 seconds. But I couldn't microfroth worth a damn. I fixed this too - I replaced the Livia's 4 hole steam tip with a 2 hole tip. Less holes = much more pressure. Works like a charm, and all is good in the Livia brewing world.
Having steam on demand is something that, today, I don't know how I could live without. We use it so much, it isn't funny. I often "recycle" my coffee brews that have gotten a tad too cold by zapping it with a few seconds' worth of steam. Jeanette has taken to making steamed milk whenever she wants. I like hot apple cider, and use the steam wand to steam up a cup of apple juice, with some cinnamon added. We also use that steam and superheated water for a lot of things completely unrelated to espresso or cappuccino. For instance, I use the steam wand as a "sanitizer" for cloths, sponges, and some of my brewing equipment for home brewing. We use the superheated water from the hot water tap to dissolve built up grime and stuff in cups I've forgotten about for a few days. Jean uses the steam wand, get this, for steaming out wrinkles in her clothes when she's rushed and cannot iron them.
I just like the fact that I can actually brew and steam at exactly the same time. Seriously. I can start the brew switch, and while brewing, do the steaming for 4 oz of milk. By the time I've finished steaming to 155F, the shot is ready as well. Not too shabby - cappuccinos built in 30 seconds.
It's taken me about 3 months to get as happy with the Livia as I was with the Silvia. But the good news out of this is the next 3 months after that, I got happier and happier with the Livia. There's so many things this machine is capable of. For instance, at Thanksgiving, 2000, we had 8 people at dinner (myself and Jean included). I had to build 8 drinks: 2 teas, 2 cappuccinos, 1 espresso, 2 lattes, and one hot chocolate. I prepped all 8 drinks in under 7 minutes. Completely amazing.
It is now 2001, and unless some amazing deal comes along for a Rancilio S27, an Elektra, or a high end Pavoni or Gaggia commercial, I believe I have the machine I will want to have for years to come. The only purchase option I'm even remotely considering is a new grinder - a Mini Mazzer, or the new grinder that Pasquini is selling. But for now, Rocky is doing just fine, and unless he has some catastrophic event, I don't see a need for upgrading in my grinder department.