The best HX machine for the money, and darn sexy too.
Positive Product Points
- Excellent price vs value - Heavy duty machine - E61 Group - Very large drip tray (2 l) - Small footprint - Large 1.7 ltr boiler - Cool factor with the "leva" - Functional cup warmer - Excellent steaming capacity for milk drinks - Handy hot water dispenser - Both h-water & steam wand are on ball joints
Negative Product Points
- Seems to vibrate a little loudly - Water reservoir could have been larger with level indicator
When I was looking at buying a new machine I knew I wanted an heat exchanger machine. The issue came down to dollars and cents, where I could spend more than the Silvia was worth and less than Giotto. That put me in the Expobar market and so I began to research furiously so I could make an informed decision.
The reason for the upgrade: My wife and I entertain guests regularly and I was beginning to grow frustrated with my little Saeco's warm up time. By the time I made 4 coffees and then made mine, everyone had finished theirs. I could not make coffee and steam milk, and had very limited steaming capacity. My "consumer" portafilter did not retain much heat after emptying the basket and therefore the coffee would often vary in consistancy. This could be cured by a warming shot, but then I had to wait for the boiler to warm up.....I think you get my point.
The reason I chose the Office Leva: I work very hard for my money (I am a teacher), so I wanted the best bang for buck. The machine is very commercial in feel and has a no nonsence look that I like. It has an E61 group head clone and works brilliantly. It has a massive drip tray which requires fewer emptying trips and a fairly large water reservoir (could be larger though). The machine ships with a water softener and and a 2 hole steam tip that works a treat. Overall, any extra money spent on a simillar machine (IMHO), would be solely on the looks and finish, not performance. as far as I can tell every HX machine has it's quirks and much of it comes down to personal preference. In my books a good machine is a good machine, so if I can buy a good machine $500 AUD cheaper than another good machine, I will.
Driving the rig: This machine will expose any inconsistancies in your technique, so you need to be tuned in to what you are doing. I simply filled the water container, switched it on and it self primed. A half hour later......ummmm, make that an hour and a half later I had tuned the grinder in and was making coffee. Yarrrrrrr, the dreaded wet puck. It looked like the droppings of a coffee machine fed solely on a diet of coffee grounds and prune juice. With a little research and help from the coffesnobs forum (thanks guys), I had the dose right and ensured the PF was tightened all the way. This machine has an auto cut off to stop it when the water is low. This system seems a little inconsistent as it cuts out at different volumes, however it does ensure your machine won't run dry. The HX cooling shot is mandatory for this machine if it is left unused for more than an hour (though I do it for 40 minutes of no use). I also make sure the leva is returned to the down position fully to ensure the valve is completely shut. Failure to completely close the valve results in a loss of water and therefore temperature instability as water has to flush through the "dry" group. There are features that make this machine a joy to use such as the ball jointed steam wand and hot water dispenser. Having the degree of movement a ball joint provides is very convenient as is the length of the steam wand for steaming milk in large jugs. I also like the fact the PF seems to be quite high from the drip tray grill allowing access with larger cups / mugs. This extra clearance provides an open view allowing you to easily see what you are doing. It seems that the cup warmer is functional rather than a gimmick, keeping the cups quite warm.
Recommendations: I would recommend any person who purchases this machine or any HX machine to practice tamping on a set of scales and to use a quality tamper (the machine ships with a crappy plastic one). Take the time to become consistant in your operation of the machine. You will notice the difference. I use a stopwatch and a glass with 60 mls marked on it to time my shots when tuning it in. When I see the shot start to pour I start to time, when the watch reaches 25 seconds I turn off the water. Practice will ensure you make great coffee on your new machine. I have tuned the grind for my double basket, as I usually pour 2 coffees at a time. Purchasing a good grinder is a must and I bought the Iberital Challenge (again, quality on a budget) so the Office Leva would not get lonely.
Further Comments: I understand that image and prestige are important to many people, however don't overlook this great machine because of it's less-popularised / romanticised name. Some people may swear by the Giotto or Butterfly, however, good is good is good. At the end of the day, the coffee is no sweeter, just the machine may be a little prettier. As I had mentioned before, looks versus quality versus price this machine comes up trumps. If you are on a budget this could well be the machine for you.
Great, I dealt with Coffe Lovers Online and they were fantastic. The guys included a free blind filter and frothing pitcher. When buying a machine do your research. The prices vary wildly (so does the price for freight here in Australia). I saved 600 dollars on the machine and grinder package by shopping around a little.
Three Month Followup
Three months has passed and I am more than happy with my purchase. Since I have bought the machine I have been asked to provide coffee for fund raisers where coffees need to be mass produced. The machine not only pumped them out but was extremely consistent in it's quality. This machine has changed me to the point where I no longer drink coffee out at cafes anymore as I produce better coffee in my kitchen. I do not regret buying a "budget" HX machine and feel that I have made a sensible choice. If you want great coffee and a reliable machine, get a Leva.
One Year Followup
Well 1 year has passed and the machine is still going strong. There have been a couple of problems however these have been either rectified or to small to worry about.
Problems: 8 months into owning the machine the rocker switch broke apart and became inoperable. I simply contacted the shop I bought it from and a new one was posted to me no questions asked. Some chrome has cracked off the pressure dial however this is only aesthetic and no one would notice except me.
I would have easily put 14 - 18 kilos of coffee through this machine and it has not missed a beat. I have absolutely no regrets about buying my machine. It has actually increased in price over the last 12 months in Australia and at the time I bought mine it was a steal (250 aus dollars cheaper than today).
Recommendations: Short of a back flush and a monthly service and thorough clean each week, this machine has been very low maintenance. If you want your machine to last and make great coffee, spend the time to keep it maintained. Keep the porta filter and basket clean and your taste buds will thank you for it.
A year on and I still can't fault it or recommend it enough. Go the Expobar Office Leva if you want a great espresso machine.