Why I Bought this Machine
I became interested in making coffeegeek level espresso about a year ago and plunged into another of my fanatical obsessions. After reading everything I could, I bought a used Cimbali M30 Bistro on EBay along with a Cimbali Junior grinder. I tore both of those down and rebuilt them so that I would understand how everything worked and went together. Our kitchen was also being renovated so I set up the machine in the basement and learned how to use it. The renovation took longer than anticipated but I finally installed the Cimbali in the new kitchen in my coffee/bar area which was built for this machine (upper cabinets at 19" above the lowers, a sink, and a dedicated 20 amp line). Although the Cimbali made great espresso, it looked very dated and very industrial in its design. As a result, I "volunteered" to find something that would make equally good espresso but would "fit" better into the new kitchen. In thinking through which machine to buy, my requirements were as follows:
- More modern design with "curb" appeal
- Commercial grade components including rotary pump
- Ability to make "coffeegeek" level espresso
- Not too large so that it appeared to overwhelm the coffee/bar counter
- Strong steaming ability for milk based drinks
- Fully plumbed in for ease of use/cleaning
- Automatic dosing which I used on the Cimbali for cooling flushes
- Ability to turn it on/off on a timer
I looked at everything on the market and narrowed my choice down to the Elektra, the Cimbali Jr. and the S1. The Cimbali Jr. was basically the same as the machine I was replacing but in a smaller package. The design was still very much industrial and I wanted to try something different. The S1 was not fully plumbed in, would not work on a timer and did not appear to be truly commercial grade in its construction. I also felt that a dual boiler machine would require flushing to reach the proper temperature even though a separate boiler is used for the brew water. In the HX design, you are flushing to cool down the overheated water in the exchanger. In a dual boiler, you are flushing to bring the brew head up to the brew water temperature. The machine that met the most requirements was the Elektra.
Setting Up the Machine
The Elektra arrived on a 1/2 pallet in perfect condition. I had previously installed a water softening filter and carbon filter that I bought from Chris' Coffee for the Cimbali. This unit also required the use of a water pressure regulator, the Cimbali had a regulator built into the machine. The regulator came with the unit as a part of a package for early purchasers of the Elektra from Chris' Coffee. I used John Guest fittings, also supplied, to add the regulator. The supply line screws into a John Guest male fitting and the drain line clamps to the underside of the unit. I found the drain line difficult to clamp without getting any leaks due to the very small area where the clamp makes contact with the drain line connection under the unit. In comparison, the Cimbali drain had a screw on fitting built into the drain line. The unit requires a dedicated 20 amp line which I had in place for the Cimbali. I plugged the Elektra into a 20 amp timer to automatically turn it on before I wake up in the morning. I find that the unit requires 45 minutes plus a few flushes to get up to temperature. Alternatively, you can let it warm up for a few hours and skip all but one flush.
I was used to the Cimbali which has a very different kind of heat exchanger. On the Cimbali, the HX is a cup that sits in the boiler and has a large volume of liquid in it. It is very difficult to temperature surf but it is extremely stable and you do not have to flush between shots. On the Elektra, the HX has a small volume and you have to flush before every shot. Also, the brew temperature is a function of how much you flush and how long you wait after flushing to pull your shot. It is, however, very easy to determine when the overheated water has been flushed by watching the steam coming off of the brew head. I flush the machine without a portafilter in place. I then count six seconds of additional flushing to brew at 200 degrees. After flushing I immediately insert the filled and tamped portafilter and pull the shot. For each second that I flush, more or less than the 6 seconds, my brew temperature changes by about +/- 1 degree F so I can experiment with different brew temperatures.
I thought I would use the programmable buttons to flush the machine but I found it easier to flush manually. The volume of water to flush is a function of how long the machine has been idle. The only button I could really program for flushing would be one for a machine that has been idle for a long time and needed a full flush. I also find that the volume settings on the dosing buttons are not as consistent as I would like, especially when I blow it on the grind or tamp and the shot is too fast or too slow. In retrospect, the semi-automatic machine would be fine the way I use it.
I added both double and triple bottomless portafilters to the set up. I think that these provide much more feedback about the quality of the grind/tamp than the standard Elektra portafilters. Also, the Elektra double spout requires two shot glasses as it is wider than my 4 oz glass that I was able to get under the Cimbali double spout.
This machine has lots of power to steam milk. The steam is controlled by a lever and not a knob. I prefer the lever because it is very easy to control volume and even easier to shut off. It takes a while to get used to the strong steaming power and the 4 hole tip. On the Cimbali, for larger volumes of milk, my pressure would fall with the standard 4 hold tip and I changed it to a 2 hole tip that would steam continuously. (I ran the Cimbali brew pressure lower because it was difficult to flush the machine to lower brew temperature and this affected the steaming). You can steam 6 oz of milk in about 15 seconds with the Elektra. Now that I am used to the power, I would have trouble going back to something lesser. I was more consistent in getting micro-foam with the 2 hole tip on the Cimbali but steaming 6 oz of milk took about 45 seconds.
Hot Water Tap
I get lots of boiling hot water out of the hot water tap. Much more than was available from the Cimbali. If you want a machine that can fill a 12 oz cup with hot water, this one fits the bill. I use the hot water mostly for cleaning. One negative is that the hot water comes from the 6 liter boiler and is likely to be stale given the volume of water running through the boiler.
The biggest negative I have found is that large height from portafilter to drip tray along with the narrow tray does not contain the spray from cooling flushes and the occasional off-angle spurts from poorly tamped/distributed shots. I always have some water spray in front of the machine sometimes with water making its way over the counter to the floor.
I insulated the boiler with a 1/2" of fiberglass-like material as recommended on this site. It was a dirty job but it controlled some of the heat. At 2000 watts, there was a lot of heat going up to the warming tray and the cabinet above the machine. The insulation helped cut down on the heat and the cabinet is now cooler if the machine has been on for an extended period.
In terms of fit/finish and quality, I think the machine is great with the exception of the supporting structure for the exterior shell. All of the interior components are commercial grade and their layout makes it easy to work on the machine. The interior construction is well done with a professional appearance to layout and routing of lines and wires. The exterior shell is one piece that covers three sides and is held on with 4 screws. There is no real frame under the shell and it is easy to have the shell fall off and get scratched when removing or installing it.
I am very happy with the Elektra and would purchase it again. It met virtually all of my requirements and looks impressive sitting in a kitchen. The steaming power is terrific. I appreciate the ability to have the machine controlled by a timer and be ready to brew when I make it down the stairs in the AM. The ability to temperature surf and adjust brew temperature offsets the need to flush before every shot.