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Buyer's Guide to the Elektra A3
By Dan Kehn
Chris' Coffee Service
It's true, my admiration for Elektra's espresso equipment began as a
"love at first sight" moment. From the ornate features of the
towering copper and brass Belle Epoque series to the ultra modern
Nivola, Elektra combines beauty, function, and capability in a
compelling offering for discerning espresso aficionados. I've owned the
Elektra Microcasa a Leva for a couple years as my "weekend"
and travel espresso machine; it's so attractive that when it's not in
use, the Microcasa is a decorative accent piece in our living room. The
model A3 espresso machine reviewed in this guide is part of Elektra's
Sixties Series. Functionally, it is a no-nonsense heat exchanger machine
destined for small cafés. But its distinct styling is an
attention magnet to anyone who enters the room. Elektra announces her
presence unlike any home machine that I've seen.
The evaluation model is the semi-automatic espresso machine shown
below (that is, the barista lowers the brew lever to begin the
extraction); the model T1 is the automatic equivalent with programmable
dosing buttons, a feature which adds $150 to the purchase price. The
casing is available in stainless steel as shown below, and it is also
available in brass and copper or 220V models (photos).
The A3's dimensions are 13½" x 17" x
19½" (WxHxD). It's big. Is this machine a little over
the top for your average espresso lover? You bet! For that reason alone,
the idea of evaluating Elektra's one-group offering was enticing and
nicely consistent with the site's motto, "Your Guide to Exceptional
Espresso." So began an intensive four-month review process.
Elektra Sixties model A3
(model T3 is an automatic with programmable volumetric dosing)
The Elektra A3 is a low-volume café espresso machine that is
equally attractive from all angles. The large cast aluminum raised logo
across the back announces the manufacturer's name with the "K"
forming the silhouette of an eagle spreading its wings in flight. It's a
shame that our kitchen's center island doesn't have the necessary
plumbing hookups to accommodate a 360 degree view of this machine. Like
her little sister the Microcasa, the A3 is a showpiece deserving of
center stage. If any home machine cries out for a dedicated espresso
bar, this is the one.
Because this is a machine designed for commercial use, the fit in a
modern kitchen may be tight. Using the extra shorter legs addresses the
height issue, but the A3 is almost twenty inches deep, which leaves
little room in front of the machine. And if you weren't certain of its
commercial provenance based on the available web photographs, the
Elektra A3's specifications make it clear that we've left the territory
of prosumer espresso machines. A few of the features from the high-end
espresso machine segment include:
- Huge 6.0 liter boiler and heavy commercial group,
- Custom dual brew pressure and boiler pressure gauge,
- "Super silent" rotary pump (note: mandatory positive pressure for
incoming water and drain for outgoing waste water),
- Expansive warming shelf that accommodates 30 Illy demitasse cups,
- UL and ETL installation certifications.
And while not listed as a feature per se, did I mention that it's
The saucer-shaped grouphead is very reminiscent of an E61-like group
in appearance, but Elektra's group is a proprietary design. The
clearance beneath the group is an unbelievable 6¼" inches, the
highest mounted group I've measured including the La Marzocco Linea
series. While I really liked the added room and the extra light that it
offers, Elektra's solution to reducing the "fall" that the
espresso pour must endure is clumsy: The portafilters include
2½" cylindrical spout extenders, which I nicknamed
"stilts." I tried to give them a fair trial, but in the end
they joined my collection of el-cheapo plastic tampers and single
baskets (I'll return to my preferred workaround in Espresso
Performance). During most of the evaluation I used a bottomless
Rancilio commercial portafilter to monitor the extraction quality. If
you are a "naked portafilter" fan, note that the stock
portafilter would not make an ideal candidate for "chopping"
to make it into a bottomless because its bowl is rounded. Portafilters
having bowls with nearly straight sides like the Rancilio commercial
portafilter work best as bottomless portafilters (note that the La
Marzocco portafilter does not fit the Elektra A3's grouphead).
Having taken in all of Elektra's polished exterior, I wanted to look
under the hood to see if its beauty was only skin deep. Removing only
five screws—six if you include the controller splash cover under
the driptray—revealed every serviceable part. The large copper
boiler is perched in the middle of the machine and there is ample room
for the pump, electronics, and plumbing. Should it be necessary, working
on this machine would be easy without the risk of scraping your knuckles
in tight spaces. I noted good choices in components like the commercial
Sirai pressurestat, Procon rotary vane pump, and Gicar controller. It
has nice attention to construction too, although not quite in the same
league as the Cimbali Junior, which earned HB's perfect 10 for its materials
& workmanship score.
Elektra isn't shy about her
While I had the back off, I hooked up the water supply line, drain
for the driptray, then carefully put the U-shaped back in place. Not to
belabor the point, but when I stood back and looked at it again, I found
it impossible not to admire the stainless steel buffed to a mirror
finish and shapely woodgrain handles.
Focusing once again on the practical matters at hand, I noted the
expansive driptray area, but was disappointed by its shallow
front-to-back depth. Water dribbling over the edges of the portafilter
during "wiggle rinses" of the group invariably makes its way
past the extent of the driptray and drips over the power switch.
Although it has a protective cover, I adopted the habit of placing a
towel over the switch when cleaning up the grouphead. The power switch
looks neat, but given that most Elektras will see 24/7 operation, it
would be smarter to locate it out of harm's way on the underside of the
machine beneath the driptray like the Cimbali Junior's. The driptray is
designed to route water quickly to a plastic collector container beneath
the driptray connected to a drainline. As an experiment, I tried to
overflow the driptray by draining the boiler as quickly as possible. It
had no problem evacuating the torrent of boiler water.
Before moving onto the performance aspects of the A3, some final
comments from my wife and friends on its appearance. My wife wasn't
enamored to the Cimbali Junior's industrial look, but she warmed to
Elektra's showpiece qualities, despite the countertop space it demands.
Visitors were immediately drawn to its "over the top" good
looks, attractive toggle levers, long activation lever, and contoured
matching portafilter handle. The negative comments always came back to
its size. Friends teased that I needed a dedicated espresso bar, not
knowing that's exactly what I'd do if Elektra were to extend her stay at
our house to permanent status.
Really, enough about the looks, let's move to what matters:
Does the Elektra A3 have as much "go" as "show"? And
how does it perform out of the box?
The Buyer's Guide series strives to strike the proper balance between
technical detail and practical buying advice. Two criteria that have
weighed heavily in these evaluations are the morning after score
(how easy is it to get the hang of?) and the exceptional espresso
score (what can a moderately skilled home barista expect every
day?). You may notice that these scores are slanted towards the
non-professional, and being Home-Barista.com, I believe that
makes sense. After adjusting the pump pressure and then letting the
Elektra warm-up for several hours, I pulled a few test shots and was
impressed how easily I dialed in the temperature and grind setting for a
nice extraction. At the end of day one, I was thinking this was going to
be a fun evaluation, although given the amount of money involved in such
a purchase, I made a mental note not to rush to conclusions.