The first thing that stikes you is the appearance. The tip of the wooden handle on the lever is almost 21 inches above the counter. The brass (or chrome) boiler is capped by a dome with an eagle at the top – a Belle Epoque touch that makes a great contrast with all your other kitchen appliances. The handles on the lever and portafilter are five inches of turned wood that provide a natural and comfortable feel in your hand. Everything is in plain sight rather than being tucked away behind sheets of steel or plastic.
Appearance is matched by performance. I’ve read that the spring-powered piston improves extraction because the pressure at the end on the shot becomes progressively reduced, preventing over-extraction and bitterness in the cup. What I’ve experienced is espresso that is noticeably sweeter than I get from my E-61 machine using the same beans, dosing and tamp.
The MCAL really shines if you alternate between several single origin coffees. The individual characteristics of the bean and roast stand out in sharp contrast. If you home roast, as I do, you’ll notice differences between different batches of beans from the same origin. The Elektra’s ability to produce espresso with all the flavor nuances intact is without a doubt the most significant feature of the machine, and it’s the strongest argument for buying one.
My cup of choice is a single origin ristretto. By supporting the MCAL with an excellent grinder (in my case a Rossi RR45), I’m able to create a shot that pre-infuses in six to seven seconds and then pulls through the next forty. The crema is firm but not very deep and the coffee taste is big and rich with full aroma and an almost syrupy mouthfeel.
Although it’s possible to interrupt the pull and re-prime the grouphead to make a double, my preference is to make singles although I’m using the double basket.
When you use this machine, treat it like you’d treat your other espresso makers and let it warm up for about twenty minutes before you pull your first shot. I recommend that you bleed off some steam pressure at about the ten-minute point and that you run a blank pull through the portafilter before you load your coffee. There are a couple of accessories you’ll want to get from Orphan Espresso that will help your preparation – the first is a dosing funnel that fits in the portafilter basket and provides a wider space for your grinder to dispense the ground coffee. Since the basket size is 49.5 mm (compared to 58mm on commercial portafilters) the doser on your grinder will make a bit of a mess if you don’t have a dosing funnel.
The second accessory is a 49.5 mm tamper. There are plenty of 49 mm tampers available at low prices, but the extra .5 mm makes a noticeable difference in setting the puck at the edges. As with any machine, there are many more accessories that you can get for the MCAL, but the dosing funnel and tamper are the only ones I regard as “must-haves.”
The lever is not difficult to pull, and when you have it in the “down” position, you’ll want to hold it there until the first drops of coffee appear in the cup. At that point, let go of the lever and let the machine do its magic. After the pull is completed, you’ll want to wait a couple of minutes for the pressure to subside before removing the portafilter – if you don’t, you’ll experience “portafilter sneeze” with hot grounds all over the machine and the counter. Pulling down on the lever to release pressure doesn’t seem to work with the MCAL.
One of the really nice touches on the machine is a red line in the water level sight tube that becomes magnified by the water itself so that the level is obvious from even a casual glance. There’s a pressure gauge as well and you can see how the pressurestat is working to control the heating element.
I like to make a latte for my wife most afternoons and the steaming ability of the MCAL provides both plenty of steam and the fine control of steam volume that produces as much microfoam as you want. The steam wand extends from the right side of the machine with a small valve to control the flow of steam. It only takes about a half-turn of the valve to fully open the flow and adjusting the amount of steam at any time is a simple exercise. Once you have your milk steamed, stir the microfoam down into the remainder of the milk for a better latte.
When making your latte or cappuccino, wait until the water level is below the ľ point on the sight tube. The open volume in the boiler constrains the amount of steam that’s available.
Everything about the Micro Casa a Leva exhibits high manufacturing quality and attention to detail. The base of the unit is a 10 ˝ inch circle that provides far more stability than the base on the Europiccola. The opening to the boiler is sealed by a machined steel screw with a pressure release built in. Even the drip tray parts fit exactly, not approximately. With everything exposed, it’s easy to keep clean, but you’ll want to polish it on a regular basis as well.
With all the excellent characteristics of the MCAL, there are some limitations.
The first is that this is a personal machine. It’s not what you want to use if you are planning a dinner party for eight with espresso and Armagnac at the end. It requires waiting between shots (no three-way solenoid) and refilling after a limited number of shots.
There is no cup warmer. In the morning, I’ll draw the initial blank shot into the cup and let it sit for a minute or two before making my first real shot, but that gets really old if you are making espresso for more than two people.
The boiler gets very hot, but the combination of the sight tube, the group head and the steam wand provide a “shield” around the front of the machine, reducing the chance of burns. That being said, I think I’d be nervous having this machine if there was an inquisitive four-year old in the house.
All in all, the strongest argument for considering the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva is the quality of the coffee that it makes. If you get a good grinder and “dial in” your dosing and tamp, you’ll have repeatable results that will delight you every time you pull a shot. The MCAL might also save you some money by providing a cure for “upgrade-itis”. Oh, sure, you can spend more (or even a lot more), but this machine will give you the coffee you’ve been searching for.