La Pavoni Lives!

Reviving a 40 year old Espresso Machine

Robert McKeon Aloe
7 min readJul 23, 2020

A few years ago, I was poking around in my mother-in-law’s basement. There’s always something interesting to find, like an old Pavoni. She had been given it 30 years ago after the original owners moved back to Italy. A few weeks after i found it, I bought a Kim Express from an estate sale, and I ended up falling in love with the Kim. While I did clean the reservoir, I didn’t do any other maintenance on la Pavoni for five years until I decided it was required (basically the O-ring would swell on one size, so the portafilter wouldn’t fit anymore).

The machine stayed at my in-laws, and it provided a nice machine whenever we visited. I could get a decent shot, but it was quite inconsistent. After replacing or deep-cleaning everything but the heating coil on two Kim Expresses, I felt ready to take on la Pavoni.

The first order of business was to cut off the bottom of the portafilter. I thought that would give me better insights to make a more consistent shot. However, I noticed the portafilter had difficulty locking into the machine because the O-ring on the shower head was swollen on one side. That small detail caused me to buy a seal replacement kit.

The O-ring around the shower head proved difficult to take off. I had to cut it with a knife several times, and finally, it popped out. Beneath was absolutely disgusting. I’m surprised I ever got a good shot from the machine. The shower head was almost completely clogged.

The seals around the piston were brittle and stuck, so I had to cut those off too.

I soaked the parks in vinegar, and it did wonders to clean.

After soaking the shower head for a few hours, I used a brass brush to clean it. It got most of the gunk, but there was quite a bit in the filter holes. For the filter holes, I used a sewing needle. The needle widened the holes just a little bit. I considered buying a new shower head, but I don’t feel like spending $50 on a new one just yet.

The one issue with the shower is that the center of the shower is purposely blocked which doesn’t help with donuts appearing. Here is the before and after:

Left: Before, Right: After

Next was the group head. I used vinegar and elbow grease to clean it up, and I then replaced the tiny c-clip and parts. It was a little tricky getting the c-clip back, but I’m glad I spent the $20 buying the c-clip pliers.

Then I put everything back together. I made sure the piston wasn’t hitting the screen, and I applied some grease. When I put the new O-rings on the piston, I was getting frustrated until I realized instead of putting the top O-ring over the piston head, I should go on the other end because the piston was out of the group head.

After struggling a little bit trying to get the O-ring to hold the shower screen in place, I figured I could use the portafilter to jam the O-ring in place.

I cycled the machine with vinegar after it had sat for over a day. The first tank of water came out green, and the second had some large bits left in the tank when I dumped it out.

Ultimately, I could see the performance just in how the shower heads acted in the cleaning process, and I was very excited.

Shower Screen Before

Shower Screen After

The only issue with the cleaning was that some of the chrome came off of the grouphead.

Two major problems were resolved by this maintenance: water loss and slow to heat.

1. Water Loss: Before, it would slowly drip, and I could only get two to three shots out of one tank of water. Now, I get 4 to 5 shots for each tank.

2. Slow to Heat: Before, it would take 45 minutes to heat up using only one of the heating coils. I would use the other heating coil meant for steam to get it to temperature faster. Now, even with just one heat coil, it can get to temperature in about 10 minutes. That means the heat, water, and pressure loss were due to bad seals.

I only delay in doing the right amount of maintenance because I’m cheap, but ultimately, it completely changed the experience and put the machine in great shape.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.