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the detailed review - microcasa semi automatica
MicroCasa Semi Automatica - Performance
Introduction | Overview & History | Specifications | First Use | Operation | Maintenance | Performance | Comparisons | Long Term | Conclusion
Eagle

During the progression of this Detailed Review for the Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica, I measured, timed, evaluated and weighed just about everything. I even have data in several "stacks" - tests done when the machine was new, and tests done when the machine was a year old.

In this performance section, I'll talk about these numbers and also cover the machine's ability to produce a quality shot, how it stands up to brewing multiple shots, and the Semiauto's ability to steam for multiple cappuccinos or lattes.

Shot Quality

I've talked about this here and there throughout this review, but I'll reiterate - I've had some amazing shots from the Elektra Semiauto. In fact, the machine is easily in my top three machines for the past few years in terms of its ability to produce a superior shot.

I've found the Elektra is fairly forgiving on grind fineness - I've put in a variety of grinds, and the pump almost always seems to match the level, and turn out a decent looking shot. This is a good thing: machines that are forgiving on the grind type tend to produce the best shots when you really super-tweak the grind closer to what you consider the perfect grind for a given shot - a single, a true double, or a ristretto.

Bottom line? Like any machine, experiment with your grind, your dose (amount of ground coffee used), and your tamp, but the Elektra will be gentle with you if your volumes, tamps or grind fineness are off.

Multiple shots

Nice Shot

Recovery time on the Elektra is short. The machine loses a lot of heat through the exposed boiler, but thankfully the pressurestat is tuned tight, and while the machine cycles often (roughly every 25 seconds), the cycle time itself is short (about 9.5 seconds). What does this mean? It means the machine's electrics are very much on top of maintaining boiler temperatures and the heating element, at only 800W, does the job efficiently; that said, the machine does lose a lot of ambient heat by nature of its design.

In empirical testing, I found that prepping and brewing as many as six doubles in a row showed very little degradation or sourness (result from too cold brewing temperatures) between shots. One session where I brewed eight traditional doubles in less than four minutes resulted in shots that had a tinge of sourness, and the boiler gauge indicated this - it was reading about 0.9BAR and the machine was working furiously to keep up.

If you have to do a manual boiler refill during a multiple-shot brew, you will also see some sourness in your shots as the brewing water comes out a bit too cold. But other than that the machine, thanks to the built in 3 way solenoid and the fast acting boiler can bang out multiple shots with nary a worry.

Steaming performance

Elektra's Steam wand

One thing I noted with both the a Leva and Semiautomatica machines from Elektra: they steam exceptionally well, but also steam slowly. The a Leva takes about 38 seconds to do our standard 7oz milk frothing test,(we base all machines' performance in steaming on 7oz of milk - enough for two cappuccinos - starting at around 40F, and finishing at 155F maximum temp), and 38 seconds is slow for a machine with a large boiler.

The Elektra Semiauto is faster than the a Leva model, but still slow when you consider the size of the boiler. In five tests of 7oz of milk frothed in a 12oz pitcher, I averaged just under 32 seconds. Compare this to 23 seconds for a Pasquini Livia (which has a boiler that is .4L smaller than the Elektra), or the stellar 11 seconds record time on a custom La Marzocco.

Is this a bad thing? It would be if the Elektra was like any other consumer machine that takes 30 to 40 seconds to steam this volume of milk. But the Elektra has an ace up its sleeve: the design of its steam tip, and the smaller steam tube.

The Elektra is slow at steaming, but that is because it maximizes the pressure of the jets of steam coming out of the tip. With three holes and a smaller hole diameter than almost any other machine I've tried, the Elektra doesn't just "release" steam through its wand - it actually works on building up a bit of extra pressure by not allowing all the steam to escape from the machine - a lot is "held back" (in comparison to other HX machines).

What does this higher pressure and faster jet mean? Microfroth, Baybee! This machine is a microfrothin', latte art pourin' wannabe's dream machine. The swirling, turbulent action in the frothing pitcher is more than enough to dispel any "accidental" big bubbles a noob might make. The angled exit holes on the wand tip lead to superior microfoam ability, but the slow speed of the temperature ramp up lets noobs and intermediates take their time forming the milk.

And here's the kicker. Tied in with some experimentation several of us at CoffeeGeek have been doing, we believe, based on side by side testing, that the milk frothed with the Elektra Semiauto is actually "sweeter" than the milk frothed with a La Marzocco, or an Isomac HX machine. And here's why we think it is.

If you read our Guide to Milk Frothing, you'll read about the chemical changes in lactose and other sweetening agents in milk as it heats up. You'll also read that the introduction of heat at different "speeds" can affect the milk taste differently. We've found in the CoffeeGeek lab that super autos with their automated frothing systems can indeed produce good microfoamed, good temperature milk, but the milk tastes "dead", or almost flavourless. We blame this on the near-instant change in temperatures in the milk, a millimeter at a time, from 40F to 150+F, and the sugars not having any chance to gel and "do their thang".

We have no scientific proof for this, save for actual taste testing. Milk frothed on traditional machines has a certain sweetness in the foam that super autos can't touch. And the Elektra with it's superior, yet slow-mo frothing action seems to further prove this theory because side by side by side, the Elektra has produced the sweetest tasting foam we've had the pleasure to sample.

All in all, I have to say frothing on the Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica gets a 10 out of 10. It's a pleasure to use - even for this crusty oldbie at latte art.

The Numbers

Since the introduction of the Specifications section, I've placed less emphasis on producing numbers in the performance section, but people still enjoy seeing how the machine rates in terms of timings, temperature tests and so on, so here's the results of some of my testing of the machine.

Elektra Semiauto Machine Timings
Test 1Test 2Test 3Test 4Test 5Average
Boiler Ready (1)12:4212:5612:5412:5312:5312:52
Machine Ready (2)31:1231:5933:0430:5232:0631:55
Cycle Time (3)9.12sec9.66sec9.82sec9.04sec9.12sec9.35sec
Time Between Cycles (4)24:50sec24:12sec25:30sec24.91sec24.96sec24.77sec
  1. Boiler Ready indicates when the machine's boiler light turns off for the first time after a cold start to the machne.
  2. Machine Ready indicates when I measured 150F after a start from cold, in the interior of the grouphead. This is done without any machine "flush" or run of boiler water through the grouphead and portafilter.
  3. Cycle indicates the amount of time the heating element inside the boiler activates under normal operation of the machine to maintain the appropriate pressure and temperatures in the boiler.
  4. Time between cycles indicates the amount of time between boiler cycles, when the machine is in "standby".

The most surprising numbers to me are the cycle times (short, which is good) and the time between cycles (also short, which isn't so good). This indicates two things. First, the Elektra Semiauto's pressure stat has a pretty high tolerance. It tries to maintain pressure within about .1BAR, which is much better than most of the other machines I've tested. Second, because the boiler is exposed to the world, there's a lot of temperature loss, requiring the boiler to be active more often. Bottom line - there's good and bad here. Good is a tight temperature control. Bad is the machine is also heating a portion of your house.

Steam Performance.

There's not much more to write here than what has already been covered. The Elektra is slow at steaming, but offers some of the best overall control, and some of the best tasting microfoam we've ever had the pleasure to try. We pitted the Elektra against the Pasquini Livia in one of our last tests with the Pasquini before it found a new home.

Steam Tests
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
Elektra 210ml (7oz)32.4sec32.8sec31.7sec32.3sec
Elektra 300ml (10oz)39.4sec39.0sec40.2sec39.5sec
Livia 210ml (7oz)23.2sec23.0sec23.7sec23.3sec
Livia 300ml (10oz)31.2sec30.3sec30.2sec30.6sec

A note on the testing. Our target goal was 155F (69C), but that is the finishing temperature. Both machines have a slight amount of "float" from the time the steam is shut off to the final measured temperature - on the Elektra, it's around 4 to 5F (we'd stop steaming at 150F); on the Pasquini, it was more around 6 or 7F, which means we'd stop steaming (and stop timing) at about 148F.

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Introduction | Overview & History | Specifications | First Use | Operation | Maintenance | Performance | Comparisons | Long Term | Conclusion
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