This is a machine capable of reaching great heights of flavour with show stopping looks!
Positive Product Points
1) Is capable of revealing a lot about the flavour of the beans you buy. 2) Is very easy to use. 3) Looks great - a great talking point for visitors. 4) Came very well packaged.
Negative Product Points
1) Seems to work best when first turned on. 2) Sensitive to variables: grind settings, tamping and preinfusion - not the most forgiving of machines. 3) Drip tray is too small in capacity. I place a bowl on top of the drip tray. 4) Plastic cover over the on/off switch is not put on correctly. 5) If the shower head gets dirty the thermostat can stop working on mine and just keeps heating up and up ...
Dear reader, I just want to say a couple of words by means of expectation management about this review as this review is not intended for anyone looking for:
a) a technical appraisal/discussion of the product, b) an appraisal of its milk-building qualities - I do not milk-build and have never even turned the steam wand on,
I would also like to add that any comments I make about Espresso shot quality are solely in reference to them being consumed in a strongish Americano format - I add around 125 ml of hot water from a water-filtered kettle to a double shot plus a little cold milk and evaluate the output of the machine purely in that format only.
I have owned Espresso machines for around 20 years and from 2003 until the end of 2010 used a La Pavoni lever machine daily and prior to that had a semi-automatic Baby Gaggia.
I had an espresso made for me by what is now called Union Coffee Roasters in London on a La Pavoni machine many years ago and from that point on was sold on the quality of espresso it could make and the romance of the lever machine itself.
My La Pavoni is now in need of restoration and so I decided to buy the Elektra as I fancied a change and had seen good reviews about it on this site.
I was going to have the La Pavoni restored but the gap between the two machines I feel is so great that I could never see myself ever using the La Pavoni again and so I am going to give it to a relative for them to restore for their use.
I use a La Pavoni grinder (also purchased in 2003) which is stepped and I think it is not an ideal partner for the Elektra which I feel would be better served by a stepless grinder. (2012 moved to a Macap stepless - please see 1 year follow up notes - game changer!)
What I am finding is that the Elektra is capable of reaching great heights of flavour excellence but as the beans change over time that without a stepless grinder the bean metamorphosis is very hard to track. A stepless grinder is next on my list of things to buy but I am still thinking about which one I will go for hence the delay in owning one.
I use roasted beans from hasbean.co.uk which provide both a wide range of excellent beans and a very fast turnaround with orders.
I have migrated some of my La Pavoni skills to the Elektra but of course as the Elektra is spring powered there are some differences. The Elektra is very sensitive (punitively so on some days) to: grind, tamp and pre-infusion time - there is no doubt that it takes a lot of time and practice to get a consistent result from it - I would say far more than you need with a semi-automatic but on a good day the results are really amazing!
Unlike some reviewers I find that when I get the very best results from either machines (LP or Elektra) the grind is not too fine and the tamping a lot lighter than others recommend. I found that the best results come from the La Pavoni when it has been turned on for over an hour but the reverse seems to hold with the Elektra - it seems to produce the best results when first warmed up and then it deteriorates after that.
In my opinion the Elektra has produced a far higher quality espresso than the La Pavoni - and by this I mean that the Elektra has revealed more flavours from the coffee especially with regard to fruit notes (and not presenting bitter or sour notes) - on a good day it is like a veil has been lifted and you suddenly get this insight in to what the beans actually are about that you have purchased - those occasions are revelatory and make the daily perseverance with the machine worthwhile!
A major point I want to make is that I have been able to make espresso using the same roasted beans in my Elektra as have been used to make coffee for me by pro baristas using a Synesso and a Slayer so I have some real benchmarking to back up my opinion that the very best shots from the Elektra (when they happen) are on a par with them. But ( and this is a big but) because being an amateur - and I think because of what I find to be the high degree of sensitivity of the Elektra to variables, I rarely manage to achieve high-end results such as these - I am simply not skilled enough to do that.
In conclusion I would like to say that if you are reading this review and are thinking about buying a lever machine for the first time I would say they are not for everyone as they do require more effort to learn than a semi-automatic.
If you are not put off by that I can honestly say that my Elektra has been capable of producing espresso of high-end flavour quality (on a par with the best I have ever tasted anywhere) and so for its price for me it delivers something very special indeed.
Three Month Followup
Did not write one.
One Year Followup
I use it every day to make between 3 to 5 espresso shots which I turn in to Americanos with hot water. In the last few months I purchased a stepless Macap grinder - this has made the results more consistent and the occasional outstanding shots even more outstanding than before. It has also meant more crema than before - so getting the Macap was a game-changer I would say.
On the downside the portafilter holder has blown off (unlocked itself from the portafilter holder) a couple of times causing hot coffee grinds to go flying over everything including me - not sure why that happened and it has not occurred for several month now. But the worst feature of my machine is that the thermostat does not work it seems when the shower head gets too dirty. The pressure just keeps going up and up - fortunately the first time it happened the noise it started to make alerted me that something was wrong and I got it turned off before I am not sure what. I contacted the distributor who emailed me to say basically "clean the machine" - so I guess this is an issue with this machine as they knew what to do about it. The only issue with that is that in order to clean the machine you need to get the showerhead off ( I assume) and I cannot find any way of doing that without forcing it off with a screw driver - in fact I have used the excess pressure build up when it occurs to blow it off for cleaning. Once clean the problem has gone away. The moral is keep it clean and it seems to be OK - personally this is not a machine I will leave turned on unattended now and if I leave the kitchen it is always turned off. I also hold the portafilter handle just in case it wants to blow itself off on its own also.
In summary - and putting aside the consequences of not cleaning it for a moment - I am very very happy with this machine and would only consider replacing it when it dies (if I wanted a change for the sake of it) with a high-end semi-automatic like a La Marzocco GS/3 or higher. The reason I say that is that when I get some great beans in the Elektra - which is easy to do when dealing with hasbean.co.uk - and I get the stepless Macap in the right spot, and the Elektra has just heated up and is not too hot - the results can be staggering. I have brewed the exact same beans in my Elektra that I have been able to try made in both a Synesso and a Slayer by pro baristas and my results (at their best) have been on a par with the one exception that the Slayer produced an oilier texture than I was able to achieve. And of course it still looks stunning and is the envy of friends and relatives when they come to visit!