Even for the clueless, good value in a solid coffee machine.
Positive Product Points
• Straightforward to operate • Lots of online resources (great for the inexperienced like me) • Responsive customer service • Well built, thus easy to dismantle and adjust
Negative Product Points
• Heat exchanger, therefore tends to run hot • Near-useless user manual
I have no idea if this machine makes good espresso or not because I have no idea if I myself can make good espresso. It tastes good to me. So what on earth am I doing with an Expobar Leva/Lever and not a Nespresso?
My wife is the coffee drinker. I am the geek. Nature pre-ordained that I buy her a coffee machine weighing 2/3 as much as she does for her birthday and only then figure out how to use one. But that's the point of this review: we've managed to figure it out and use it properly with no prior experience.
Much surfing led me to the Leva 1 among the various machines available here in Hong Kong. Simon James' review on this site (http://ow.ly/1Sgn8) was particularly helpful. So were the detailed comments on another site (http://ow.ly/1Sgg0). Knowing that I might have some tinkering to do, I took the plunge anyway.
There is of course a learning curve to this machine. Our local retailer made it much easier by helpfully adding a thermometer to the E61 group head. They also schooled us (http://ow.ly/1SgtN) in the art of cooling flushes. Yet right out of the box, the Leva 1 was heating up to 101C/214F after 20-30 mins, according to the thermometer. Not surprisingly, the first few pulls I attempted tasted like gopher fur after a lightning strike.
My first response was to unplug, remove the cover, make for the pressurestat (http://ow.ly/1SgBq) and rotate it counterclockwise to lower the pressure and thus the boiler temperature. This came after reading posts on this site (again, starting with the Simon James review). Now the pressure gauge on the front panel reads 0.7 bar instead of 1.0-1.1 bar; the thermometer still peaks out just below 100C, however.
Cooling flushes of 125-250 ml (1/2 cup to 1 cup) would result in no more than a 2C decline in temperature at the group head. So I wrote to Expobar (a bit circuitous since they don't make it obvious on their web site where to go for spare parts, unless you live in Australia) and was told that they could supply me with a substitute flow restrictor (http://ow.ly/1SgHk) to further lower the temperature.
Our retailer all but refused to give us one. This was frustrating. But using their own Leva 1, they hooked up a test portafilter with a thermocouple attachment and showed us that water coming through the PF was 3-4C cooler than the reading on the thermometer. They insisted that swapping for a smaller diameter aperture on the flow restrictor (and I thought I was just going to make espresso, mind you) was not the way to go.
Whew. At times I wondered if I had done something really stupid. My wife kept looking at me with a look on her face that said, just give me back my pre-ground coffee and el cheapo French press.
For whatever reason, the group head thermometer now cools down to 96-97C (205-207F) after small cooling flushes and hovers around 98-99 otherwise. Believing that this machine can produce great coffee in the absence of operator error, I have kept playing with grind and tamping (coarser and lighter, respectively). Today I finally pulled a 70 ml (2.4 oz) double with about 1/3 dark crema after 25 seconds of extraction, using 17 g of coffee. Ahhhhh. This is quite sufficient to keep my wife happy and let me get on with life.
Fresh Coffee Beans and Tea House is a tiny roasting shop in Hong Kong with a sideline in expensive equipment (unless you think US$12,000 for a Synesso Cyncra 2 is cheap). They serve a small contingent of coffee lovers and definitely know the technical side of coffee making. Not the greatest businesspeople but honest and transparent.
Three Month Followup
• I enjoy the espressos pulled from the Leva • But, no micro-foam in the milk. Could be the milk but I've seen comments that the low tank pressure (0.7 bar to keep the group idle tem below 101C) is a contributor • The machine operates smoothly • Cleaning the water filter is a minor pain; the tank needs cleaning, too, as some kind of gritty material floats in the water