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Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
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Discussions > Espresso > Machines > Living with an...  
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Sat Jan 19, 2013, 9:41am
Subject: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

After three happy years with my Ascaso Dream, and another couple previously with a Gaggia Baby, I decided I wanted to explore HX machines. I really never make milk drinks so my comments on steaming abilities are strictly limited to wet or dry steam and how much of it there is. What I really wanted to find out is how much better my espresso shots might be. The Ascaso was already capable of better shots than anything I've had at a chain coffee house or a
restaurant here in the USA and combined with my newly acquired Vario the shots had become quite consistent. No more sink shots.

When I first began thinking about upgrading, I'd looked at lever machines and settled on the Elektra MCAL. But when I looked more closely, I realised that my espresso tastes (deep and intense, the way I like my women), wouldn't be well served by the MCAL. Then I read the CG review of the Elektra Semiautomatica and it seemed that it offered the best of both worlds, so that machine became my target. That decision led me to look at other HX machines which led me to the Salvatore. It wasn't the hand-made aspect that attracted me so much as the quality of the components that Salvatore used. And it was based on a known quantity, the E61 group.

By a very odd set of coincidences and opportunities, I find myself the owner of both these machines. The Elektra is a once in a lifetime find, an original vintage Semiautomatica in copper and brass, made in 1988 and in wonderful original condition. It came to me complete with its original Elektra wood base. It is in perfect working order and the design and components are the same now as they were then. When I was offered the Elektra, I'd just acquired a Salvatore Famosa Automatic, built in 2004 and seriously babied. Mechanically, this is pretty much current spec. Thus, for a little less than the cost of either of these machines new, I now own both. At some point, I'll have to part with one or the other but for now I'm enjoying the comparisons. So, on to first impressions.

Looks

Elektra Semiautomatica
What can I say? It's a stunner. If you've only seen these in photos, you're in for a surprise. They look even better in the flesh. In pictures, they seem delicate, almost fragile. In reality, these are beefy, substantial machines.

Salvatore Famosa
What a contrast. Where the Elektra makes a big statement, the Salvatore sits, quietly purposeful. I chose a Salvatore for the component quality but also for its size. I'd almost bought a La Valentina until I checked the measurements and realised that not only would it not fit under my  cupboards, it would barely fit on my counter. The Salvatore is, as far as I know, the smallest of its breed and thus more suitable for a small kitchen than most E61-based machines. Stylistically, it's handsome rather than beautiful, elegant rather than flashy.

In use


Elektra Semiautomatica
Despite it's looks, the Elektra's a very practical machine. Separate buttons for brewing and boiler filling, combined with an old-fashioned sightglass to check the level of water in the boiler offer a reassuring simplicity. No computers and much less to go wrong but also more involving than the modern approach of auto everything. The distance between brewhead and driptray plate is tighter than a lot of machines. Fine for espressos or caps but an inch or two less than the Salvatore. The drip tray is very small but fairly easy to remove without spilling the contents. Takes about 40 minutes to fully warm up.
No hot water tap but huge quantities of nice dry steam.


Salvatore Famosa
Philosophically, the Salvatore is all about coffee. If it improves the shot, then the Salvatore has it and if it doesn't, it doesn't. Thus, the nearest thing to a genuine commercial machine that you can use at home has a laughably badly designed driptray, no visual for the reservoir level and a reservoir that's next to impossible to remove for cleaning. Handmade sounds wonderful but machines can do some things much better. The core of the machine is wonderfully designed and built but frankly the hand fabricated metal work would look and fit better if it had been made by a machine. I don't want to overemphasise this point. It's still a very nice looking and feeling machine but a few tweaks to the build would make it even better*. On the plus side, the interior's much easier to access than most of the competition. If you need to get inside, it'll take around a minute. Ready in about 20 minutes from cold. Copious hot water and good steam. Steam not as good as the Elektra but still good.

  • I understand that while the components are unchanged, Salvatore has now standardised the frame so that build consistency and panel fit is improved. He's also modified the design of the driptray.


The shots

Euro Coffee is a large Los Angeles based roaster and I used their Euro Roast blend, ground in a Baratza Vario.
My taste runs to 17-19g into 1.5oz.

Elektra Semiautomatica and Salvatore Famosa
My first reaction was surprise at how different the shots were. They reflected the perceived wisdom on the relative merits of the Elektra MCSA and E61 based machines. The Salvatore produces big, dense shots (not the way I like my women) with a lot of crema with amazing consistency. The Elektra's shots are lighter and a lot brighter. The crema quantity's about the same but there's a clarity that's not there with the Salvatore. I'm tasting more, for better or for worse but it isn't comfort espresso. Based on my very limited testing, the Elektra seems more analytical and ultimately capable of better shots but the Salvatore produces deep and rich (oh, so that's the way I like my women) shots with no effort over a wide range of variables.

Which do I prefer?
They're both terrific machines and I'm not looking forward to having to make up my mind. Having both has spoiled me and doubled my espresso consumption. Their characters are completely different. I've heard the Salvatore described as the Ferrari of espresso machines but that's not true. It's a Facel Vega or a De Tomaso, an Iso or a Monteverdi. The E61 group and Salvatore's boiler and heating element are the equivalent of a big lump of 8 cylinder detroit iron crammed into a decent chassis and beautiful coachbuilt body. 400bhp and unlimited torque that'll go for 200,000 miles with only an oil change or two. The Elektra's much more of a finely designed and balanced machine, but it's technically very simple. It reminds me of a post-war Bentley. Perhaps a coachbuilt, manual shift MkVI or R Type Continental.

Which would you prefer?
In reality, they're both easy to use. The Salvatore's more tolerant but you wouldn't call the Elektra fussy. In that sense, they're both streets ahead of something like the Rancillio Silvia. I do think the Elektra may be the more revealing machine and if you are chasing the perfect shot and want to spend your life experimenting with beans and grinds and temperatures and tamps, it may be the machine for you. On the other hand, if you just want great espresso that'll impress everybody with the minimum of fuss or preparation, the Salvatore's probably got your name on it.

So it's down to taste and kitchen decor. The Salvatore will fit into any home. It's eye catching and elegant but not an attention whore. The Elektra demands that you look at it and it would be fun to theme your kitchen, or a part of it, around the MCSA. A vaguely Belle Epoque/Art Nouveauish Paris Café look. Or you could take the other route and contrast it with ultra-modern furnishings and fittings.

I'm not looking forward to choosing!

johnjacques: IMG_0314 shrink.jpg
(Click for larger image)
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,031
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Sun Jan 20, 2013, 1:21pm
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

I want photos!!!

 
Coffeenoobie

Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.

My coffee treasure map...
Click Here (maps.google.com)

Oscar trick out: http://s156.photobucket.com/user/GandBteam/story/14231
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Sun Jan 20, 2013, 1:33pm
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

Good point. Let me figure out the best way to add a few.
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:39am
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

Coffeenoobie Said:

I want photos!!!

Posted January 20, 2013 link

I couldn't see how to embed photos, so here are a few I put up at Flikr. Enjoy!

http://flic.kr/ps/hNvuq
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CraigA
Moderator
CraigA
Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 11,248
Location: Rexdale, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: PID/PressureMod 2001...
Grinder: BUNN FPG-2 DBC, Baratza...
Vac Pot: Bodum Santos manual, Yama 5...
Drip: Behmor BraZen, BUNN VPR-APS,...
Roaster: Refurb Behmor 1600, BBQ...
Posted Thu Jan 24, 2013, 11:43am
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

johnjacques Said:

I couldn't see how to embed photos, so here are a few I put up at Flikr. Enjoy!

Posted January 24, 2013 link

Couldn't be any easier..
When you go to post again, or click on your last post above mine., 'edit post'., look near the bottom of the composing window & you'll see this below; look at the "Attach File" section please.

CraigA: CoffeeGeek - Edit Post_2013-01-07_13-51-35.jpg
(Click for larger image)

 
http://twitter.com/CoffeegeekCraig
http://www.facebook.com/craig.andrews.169

Excellent coffee doesn't just happen!
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Thu Jan 24, 2013, 11:57am
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

CraigA Said:

Couldn't be any easier..
When you go to post again, or click on your last post above mine., 'edit post'., look near the bottom of the composing window & you'll see this below; look at the "Attach File" section please.

Posted January 24, 2013 link

Unless you're intellectually challenged as I seemed to be when I looked! Thanks Craig. I've fixed the Flickr link so it actually works now and I'll add a couple of small pics to the original post.
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CraigA
Moderator
CraigA
Joined: 19 Dec 2001
Posts: 11,248
Location: Rexdale, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: PID/PressureMod 2001...
Grinder: BUNN FPG-2 DBC, Baratza...
Vac Pot: Bodum Santos manual, Yama 5...
Drip: Behmor BraZen, BUNN VPR-APS,...
Roaster: Refurb Behmor 1600, BBQ...
Posted Thu Jan 24, 2013, 12:21pm
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

johnjacques Said:

Unless you're intellectually challenged as I seemed to be when I looked! Thanks Craig.

Posted January 24, 2013 link

You're welcome John, it's been easily overlooked when you're new, getting used to a new site, etc.

If you need a place to resize pics to the 75kb size limit, I use & recommend http://www.shrinkpictures.com/ .

 
http://twitter.com/CoffeegeekCraig
http://www.facebook.com/craig.andrews.169

Excellent coffee doesn't just happen!
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Fri Feb 1, 2013, 9:44am
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

A small update on my experiences. Both machines are still performing wonderfully and my first impressions of their respective qualities have been reinforced. I've made two small changes to them. On the Semiautomatica, I really didn't want to touch a thing because it's such a perfect example. However, Elektra had tried to thermally isolate the water reservoir on earlier SAs by adding insulation to the underside of the reservoir and by using nylon or teflon bolts to secure the reservoir to the body. Neither of these features appears on current models. The non-conductive bolts are a good idea but with age one of the three had sheared and I decided to replace all three with current spec brass bolts. On the Salvatore, I'd spoken to the manufacturer about boiler insulation. Salvatore's POV is that insulation is unnecessary because the construction of the boiler (massive 1/8" copper) creates thermal stability. Fair enough but my POV is that if I wanted a 1550W space heater, I'd have bought one!. So, I sourced some melamine foam and did the job. It's not neat. There's not enough space to create one of those enviably professional-looking installations that people post pictures of, nicely secured by cable ties. No pictures from me. However... it works. There's still enough heat rising through the top surface to keep cups warm but I've dropped the internal temperatures and the water reservoir is noticeably cooler. Definitely worth doing to any machine and most will be a lot easier to retrofit than the Salvatore.
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,031
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Fri Feb 1, 2013, 11:26am
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

Both are lovely and thanks for the update and the photos.  I would sell my right arm for that Elektra.

 
Coffeenoobie

Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.

My coffee treasure map...
Click Here (maps.google.com)

Oscar trick out: http://s156.photobucket.com/user/GandBteam/story/14231
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johnjacques
Senior Member


Joined: 10 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Location: Los Angeles
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Salvatore Famosa / Elektra...
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Fri Feb 1, 2013, 1:50pm
Subject: Re: Living with an Elektra Semiautomatica and a Salvatore Famosa
 

Coffeenoobie Said:

I would sell my right arm for that Elektra.

Posted February 1, 2013 link

I need to make a decision at some point and my kitchen is a big factor. My Ascaso Dream was the perfect fit. Small and cute (just the way I like etc.) I can (just) open cupboards with the Salvatore on the counter. The Elektra's on my bar, which is a great spot to show it off but less convenient for actually using it. I'm leaning towards the Salvatore as the keeper. I'd love to keep them both but that was never the idea. I wanted to really experience my two most coveted machines and hoped for a clear winner. Sadly, that didn't happen. The Elektra is gorgeous and utterly practical and built to last (qed.). It also offers a wonderful tactile experience. The post-war Bentley analogy's a good one. That said, in my kitchen, it's a lot less practical. I don't have a good long-term spot for it. On the other hand, the Salvatore is almost as practical, is a little more tolerant of sloppy preparation and actually fits in my kitchen.
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