The Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica is a machine that, at first view, seems like it might require a lot of care and attention to keep it going. Again, blame this on all the exposed "plumbing" that a person sees in the machine.
In truth, the machine requires more or less the same maintenance as other heat exchanger machines - change the gaskets once a year, keep the grouphead and portafilter clean, maintain the surface quality, that kind of stuff. After using the machine for over a year, I've picked up on a few fundamentals to keep the Elektra Semiauto happy, shiny, and producing great shots.
The grouphead and portafilter
From a maintenance standpoint, this is probably the most important part of the machine for the user. Keeping the portafilter, filter baskets and grouphead clean and running well will keep the shot quality on this machine high. I did notice over the term of testing that the grouphead tends to get gummed up and dirty if you don't maintain it, but this isn't a problem with a regular cleaning regimen.
Here's what you do.
| Solenoid |
Tucked up under the copper cap sits the machine's solenoid valve.
| Grouphead |
The machine's screen and grouphead can get pretty dirty.
| Keep it clean |
Keeping these parts clean is easy, and only needs to be done every few weeks.
After every shot: Do the portafilter wiggle (wiggle the portafilter loosely under in the grouphead as you run the pump) for a few seconds. Wipe the filter clean, put back in machine
Every few days: A quick blind filter backflush sans detergent. This uses a blind filter (which you'll have to buy separately) and water from the machine - backflushing helps to dislodge many built up coffee grounds and grime. Run for five seconds, off for fifteen, repeat two or three times, then rinse (run the pump with no portafilter in place).
Every other week: Apply a full backflush, with detergent. Because this is a vibe pump machine, you have to go easy when you do backflushes - they can't stand the abuse as much as rotary pumps (typically found in commercial machines) can, plus the solenoid valve is not "pro calibre" in its build.
I recommend using a minimal amount of Cafiza, perhaps half a teaspoon in the blind filter (Urnex Cafiza is a fave around CoffeeGeek). Put the portafilter in the group, run the pump for five seconds, pause for fifteen, repeat four or five times. Rinse out everything by running the pump with the group exposed (pouring into a shallow bowl so you don't overfill the drip tray). Backflush again without detergent, five seconds on, fifteen off, repeat five times, remove and rinse again. Continue until you are sure there's no detergent left in the system.
You can remove the cover on the drip tray when doing this, but bear in mind you will splash hot liquid about if you do so. Remember to empty the drip tray often.
Every month: Full backflush, dispersion screen and plate cleaning, full grouphead cleaning. Follow the backflush procedure above, then unscrew the dispersion screen, remove the nut, screen, and the plate - be careful, the plate is heavy and extremely hot. Soak all three items and your portafilter (stand it up so the handle is not in the liquid) in a bowl full of boiling water and about a tablespoon of Urnex Cafiza for about 30 minutes.
While it is soaking, take an old stiff toothbrush, a small bowl containing Cafiza and hot water, and scrub the interior of the grouphead. Rinse it well - here's a tip - I use a tiny water pistol to do it - works wonders!
After 30 minutes remove the screen, plate, screw and portafilter from your soaking dish, scrub any remaining dirt off (most of it will be a soft coating), and reinstall. Do some non-detergent backflushes to rinse out the group, and you're good to go.
Maintaining this cleaning regimen will keep your machine in top shape, working wonders.
Water and the Elektra
I'm fortunate to live in a place where the tap water is almost ideal for espresso machines - there's very little chance of scale buildup, and if I want, I can use unfiltered water almost with impunity. For most folks, this isn't the case. Some have hard water, some have soft; some will have water that builds up boiler scale in as little as six months, others just have plain bad tasting tap water.
Because of this, I recommend using filtered or bottled water with any espresso machine. I'm not a water expert, and I purposely don't go into detail in my reviews about flushing and "decontaminating" espresso machines because I'm out of my depth on that subject. But I will mention a few points.
First, the reservoir water: I don't recommend keeping it full. Instead, maintain it about half-full, so you can add fresh water every day. The reservoir water does get hot, but I have not noticed much deterioration in the taste of the brewed espresso, either from "stale" water, or hot starting water (more on this in the performance section).
Next, how do you empty the machine should you need to do a full boiler descaling? The answer is placing the machine on its side and letting water flow out of the steam wand. Here's a couple of caveats: First, make sure you lay the machine on its side as gingerly as possible, with the wand's three holes placed over the sink when you do this. You can easily scratch the finish of the machine. Second, and most obvious, don't even attempt this unless the machine is unplugged and there's absolutely no pressure in the boiler. You can release all the remaining pressure (should your descaling require the boiler to be active) by turning off the machine, placing a large container (like a juice pitcher) under the steam wand, and opening up the steam valve.
Steam and milk
I can't stress enough the importance of immediately cleaning the steam wand after every use, and running the exposed wand for a few seconds to flush out any stray milk that may get sucked up the tube through contraction. Some commercial and high end home machines have complex assemblies for their steam tubes and valves that prevent milk from traversing up the wand and into the boiler. The Elektra Semiauto does not have anything like this, and is as old-school as you can get with regard to the steam wand - what you see is basically what it is.
The steam knob on the assembly turns a ball valve located where you see the brass and copper connectors jutting out of the side of the boiler. Turning it progressively spins the ball, which has a hole cut out of it. As you turn, the hole becomes exposed inside the tubing, allowing built up steam pressure to go directly from the boiler down the steam tube, and out the steaming tip.
When you cease steaming, that tube cools down, and if any milk remains inside the tip of the tube from your milk frothing section, it will travel up the machine. If the machine is turned off, and the steam valve is opened on a cooling machine (with no remaining steam pressure), that milk will continue to traverse through the tube and deposit right in the boiler.
Prevent this by always flushing the steam wand after use.
In addition, the copper and brass tubing and steam tip on the Elektra are more susceptible to aging and dulling than chrome is, and if you don't clean the wand immediately after each use, you will age the parts faster, and dull the finish. It will eventually happen regardless of how fastidious your cleaning regimen is, but you can slow down the progression of age and wear by cleaning often and cleaning well.
| Keeping it Clean |
Keeping the surfaces of the Elektra clean may seem a task, but it only requires minutes of attention per day.
Many of the major surfaces on the Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica are polished then coated with a clear coat material. It makes wiping down the machine clean easy, prevents the build up of oils and fingerprints, and keeps the colour of the brass and copper more "fresh". One thing it doesn't do is prevent the machine from picking up scratches easily. But it could be worse if the clear coat wasn't there - copper and brass are notoriously "soft" metals, and they scratch and mar very easily.
In addition, some large portions of the machine, most notably the boiler, do not have the clearcoat finish (or not the same type) as other portions, and the boiler will get dinged and scratched in its lifetime - there's no prevention of this. One place that does get marked up fast is the forward section of the boiler just under the grouphead - the act of putting the portafilter in place often has some contact happening between the chrome grouphead (super hard surface) and the boiler wall (soft surface).
You can minimize surface scratches on the base and so forth by simply not letting abrasive substances (like the bottoms of porcelain espresso cups) touch the surface, but after a few years, you may not care if the occasional hairline scratch shows up on the machine.
So, scratches are a way of life with this machine, but how to maintain the surface as best as possible? Well, don't even think of using copper or brass cleaners, that's for sure. The clearcoat is what you're cleaning, not the metals. Brass and copper cleaners are for the most part abrasive cleaners, and you will damage the finish.
I use good old Fantastik or Windex to clean and maintain the machine's aesthetics. That and a soft cloth do wonders in keeping the machine looking spiffy. Use it to clean the boiler (be careful, this is extremely hot when under operation - I only recommend wiping down the boiler when the machine has cooled down), the base, the grouphead surfaces, the reservoir, you name it. Doing a daily wipedown of surfaces with a wet cloth, and a weekly clean with a soft cloth and Fantastik will keep your machine looking great.