For clarification, the Alexia is NOT a heat-exchanger machine, it is a single boiler machine. The CoffeeGeek description lists it as a heat exchanger.....
I purchased the Alexia almost one year ago and an upgrade to my tried and true La Pavoni Europiccola. I wanted to go to an electric pump machine and something that had stable temperature control instead of the wide swings of most mechanical temperature controlled machines. I also did not want the hassle of temp surfing and wasting a bunch of time and water waiting for a heat exchanger machine to cool down to brewing temp. Since I mainly drink shots and only make 1-2 milk drinks per day for the wife, I decided on a single boiler machine, with an installed PID, or a kit that I could install myself.
After playing around with my friend’s Rancilio Silvia, I looked around the internet coffee sites to see what was available. I did not want to upgrade again, so I looked at some double-boiler machines like the Brewtus, but the cost turned me off. I stumbled upon the Alexia on Chriscoffee.com and then researched it until I went blind from staring into the computer screen. The Alexia had all of the features that I was looking for (PID available, temp stability). The manual lever E61 group, larger boiler, and pressure gauge is what finally convinced me to go with Alexia instead of Silvia. I also found an old stovetop milk steamer that I use instead of heating the single boiler to steam pressure to make the milk drinks.
After talking to Chris (Chriscoffee.com) on the phone about the Alexia, he referred me to Dave of Hittechespresso.com, to whom Chris wholesales Alexia’s for PID installs (Chris now offers his own PID installs and kits and hitechespresso installs on his Chriscoffee.com website). I took the plunge and ordered from Dave at HiTech.
The Alexia is a serious espresso machine. It is larger than the Silvia, and quite heavy. If I remember correctly, the Alexia is about 40 lbs dry.
The Alexia comes with a single and double basket, a blind filter for cleaning and back-flushing, two portafilters, and a cheap throw-away tamper/scoop. From what I have seen, Chris and other vendors usually have a "package deal" where you can add a real tamper and/or bottomless portafilter for a small extra charge.
The reservoir holds plenty of water for pulling shots over a few days. I use RO water from the grocery store as my tap water is extremely hard. I mix the RO with a little bit of tap water (about 100 RO:1 tap) to get some minerals back in to supposedly prevent the boiler from leaching copper into the water. The instructions state to use filtered and soft water to protect the boiler from scale.
I have been in espresso nirvana since receiving Alexia. After an initial break-in period of figuring out the proper temp to set the PID and how fine to grind the coffee, everything is now repeatable. I also purchased a bottomless portafilter to help me dial-in the variables and get a better idea of what is happening.
The PID allows temp adjustments to suit different coffees. I hardly ever need to adjust it, unless I make a decaf, which seems to “like” a higher temperature. I usually keep the PID set at 222º F, and once the machine heats up (about 20-30 minutes minimum) it stays nailed there. While pulling a shot, the temp goes down, but quickly returns to normal within a minute or two. Pulling multiple back-to-back shots is no problem on the Alexia as the temp stays within a few degrees of the set-point. 222º F PID boiler temp delivers 200º F water to the grouphead ± 5º F depending on how many shots I am pulling in a row. For my palate, 195-205º F means tasty espresso.
The instructions say that the machine can be left on 24/7. I don't like the idea of leaving it on all the time, but I do leave it on during the day until I have had my fill of coffee and decaf. I also purchased a high-wattage timer that allows me to have the Alexia warmed up when I wake up.
The E61 group is large and stays hot, as long as you purge the air/steam from the top of the boiler frequently. If you forget to purge before making a shot, you will quickly realize that it takes about 20 seconds for the pressure to build before water hits your puck. The air and steam bubble on the top of the boiler causes the E61 to stop circulating hot water through it, so if it seems cool to the touch, try purging. This only happens a few times before you remember to purge prior to every session. The Instructions that come with the Alexia, written by Chris and a supplement from Dave, both state to purge the air before every use.
Speaking of the instructions, both sets that came with my machine are well written and have great information. These are not the standard “poor translation from Italian” that I have seen with other machines, like my Pavoni.
In the negatives, I stated that the pump is noisy. Well, every vibe-pump machine that I have used or seen all sound the same, so as far as a negative, it is the same as other machines. Also, the Alexia is not what I would describe as “sexy”. It is the standard square stainless-steel box with a E61 grouphead sticking out the front and metal toggle switches on top. After having the Pavoni on the counter for years, the Alexia is a little bit of a let down. But the functionality and availability of being able to pull a shot whenever I want throughout the day quickly makes up for it.
I use the Alexia with a Mazzer Mini grinder and repeat the advice given to me, which is spend as much as you can on a grinder before getting this (or any other) machine. I have tried using my older cheaper grinders and the difference in taste and performance is obvious.
Clean-up is easy with the supplied blank filter and following the instructions. I do the portafilter wiggle once a day, and backflush every couple of days with just water. Detergent backflushes happen about once a month and I have de-scaled twice since owning. For descaling, I use Urnex (citric acid) and let it sit in the boiler for an hour, then flush about 4 reservoirs of clean water through.
If you are looking at a Silvia or other high-end single boiler machine, give the Alexia a hard look. If you regularly steam milk, you may want to spend the extra for a double-boiler or heat exchanger machine.
I would buy an Alexia again if I needed to, but I think this will be the last machine for a very long time for me.