Buyer's Guide to the Elektra A3 - Page 4

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srobinson
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#31: Post by srobinson »

A friend of mine has recently purchased an early 80s Ferrari and he says owning one is like dating a supermodel: beautiful to look at, expensive maintenance and extremely hot tempered....but when he's driving it, he's the king of the world.

After a couple mornings with the A3, I started to wonder whether the design engineers from Elektra and Ferrari both attended school together because I saw some of the same traits.

As I have mentioned before, I am focusing my comments on using these machines in a true home environment and some of these observations would be laughed at in a commercial environment, but the goal here at Home-Barista.com is making the world's best espresso at home.

Since I have not installed a timer on this machine yet, my routine is to turn it on at night and have it ready to go when I first wake up. On the first morning with this machine, I found that you need to be on your toes to control some of its strength and power. Now I will stop short of saying that the first few minutes with the A3 is violent, but I had to take a few pics to show you what you are in for.

A full pull on the hot water handle will leave you with a spa treatment that will clear your head enough to make sure that the spout is fully pointed to the drain:

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First pull of the group lever will also remind you of the importance of a cooling flush:

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And a quick hit of the steam handle reminds you of the power of a four hole commercial tip:

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While all of these are easily controllable with a bit of practice, you will find that your spotless supermodel from the night before leaves a bit to be desired in the harsh morning light.

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Steve Robinson

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#32: Post by srobinson »

I wanted to get another quick post in before I headed out of town for a couple weeks and talk a bit about the shot process with the A3. Since most of you know me from my lever write-ups, I am the real newbie on the HB team when dealing with commercial grade machines. My attack plan on the A3 was to focus on technique, take a few hints from Dan and play away.

The Grind

After doing my post on the Pavoni/Elektra comparison, I thought that I had been using a pretty tight grind to get some of the ristrettos that I showed in my write-up. What surprised me the most is that I had to dial back 2-3 notches on the Rocky to get an ever finer grind. I found it almost impossible to choke the A3 which shows the strength of this machine as I tried to find its limits and got one pull stretched out of over a minute of extraction.

The Tamp

To start diagnosing my pulls I decided to use a naked portafilter and based on the recent discussion on the board did some initial experiments with both convex and flat bottom tamping. I use a standard distribution technique with no pressure on the final sweep across the basket. I found my best tamps finished with the top edge of the tamper pretty even with the top of the basket.

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One observation that I am going to have to play around with a bit more, is that when I did this same level with the convex bottom, that I would overfill which would make lock-in on the A3 close to impossible. So this week I stuck with the flat bottom to work on my consistency.

The Temp

As Dan mentioned in his earlier posts on this machine, we are trying to be a bit more practical in our initial uses of it and focus on the feel of pulling a shot, rather than breaking out the thermocouples with the first pulls. I think a good home machine is one you can build a routine to, get a rhythm with and get a feel for. In getting some advice from Dan on how long to flush before the pull, he simply said Listen, and damn if that did not become my mantra this week. As I showed in my earlier post, when the group is hot the start of a pull will really sizzle and spray on the group screen. What you are looking and listening for the water to settle to 4 clear streams and the steam noise to subside. When you are ready to go it will look like this: (I will ask your forgiveness on the dirty grouphead...I did take this shot after my pull....mea culpa)

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The Pull

Once you reach this stage you are ready to lock in and pull the lever. I was finding myself with a rhythm of about 6 seconds from the end of the cooling flush to locking in and pulling the handle. I was surprised with the good shots I got this week. I ran into minimal channeling, no gushers and I got fairly consistent by the second day with the machine. Here is a quick pic with some older beans and not my best glamour pull of the week:

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My compliments also to Lino and his handiwork on the portafilter. Damn nice.

The Shot

And here is what you get for your hard work:

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Steve Robinson

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Decent Espresso: espresso equipment for serious baristas
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#33: Post by HB (original poster) »

For those who may be wondering about an update to this thread on the Elektra A3... Steve is away on vacation this week and will resume his commentary next week, afterwhich I'll begin the wrapup in preparation for the final published review.
Dan Kehn

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#34: Post by srobinson »

Well I am finally back from work travel and a week of vacation and can get back to HB and good coffee with the A3. In looking at the pictures of my last post, I was shocked that I posted some with a dirty machine, so I thought I would outline how to clean the group head and also point out to you another fascinating Italian design feature of the machine.

In looking at the A3, it looks like a simple task to drop the group head and give it a good scrub. First step is simply to remove the screen with a straight blade stubby.

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Screen and dispersion disk separate easily and cleanup begins with a snap.

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Next logical step is to get a metric allen wrench and remove the three screws on top of the head.

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Moving all three screws you notice that the head is free, but will not release. Does it unscrew? Does it slide forward? Is it up and out? NO to all three. Further inspection shows that it is held in place by a fraction of a millimeter of the guard below it.

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At this point I am scratching my head over this design. I must be doing something wrong, but the only logical solution that I can find is to drop this guard. Now while the allen nuts are commercial finished steel, the four 7mm nuts are chrome and the guard is chrome and the rear ones are so tight against the body of the machine that you must use an open ended wrench. As I have mentioned in other posts, I play around with old cars and I get nervous when I wrench around painted surfaces, lightweight alloys and I really tighten up when I put wrenches on chrome....one slip and you are off to the yellow pages for powder coating and plating shops.

Fortunately the nuts loosen easily and the head could now be removed easily.

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Note to Elektra...Fix this


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Steve Robinson

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#35: Post by srobinson »

Well I am finishing up with my time with the A3. It's going to be sad to see this one go. We'll be bringing in Junior as the next machine to add a different perspective to the prior review.

With regards to the A3, the machine really impressed with me with quality and consistency of good shots I could get from it. I believe that it is true that with these higher end machines that you end up with less variables to deal with rather than having to work around the shortcomings of the machine.

The A3 delivered in all aspects. Temp management was easy, setup was straightforward and operation was effortless. I spent one night just trying to pull bad shots with it...finger tamping, convex tamping, flat tamping, no tamping, under dosing, over dosing and I wrote to Dan on how impressed I was on continuing to get very solid shots from it.

I was also impressed with the mouth feel of the shots with the A3. As you know, I love the levers mainly because of that thick, smooth shot that you can consistently get. The A3 will spoil you in this area. Due to the power of this machine, I could really grind down and build some ristrettos that you could stand spoons in.

I talked to my wife to get her input on the livability of the machine. She loved the coffee and loved the ease of steaming that allowed for instantaneous lattes. She liked the styling but felt that it did dominate counter space. We both agreed that if we did a dedicated coffee bar in the house that it would be a perfect machine....if just sitting out then you may have to compromise space..this thing has presence.

I did my high volume run on it last weekend at a dinner party for 8 and it performed flawlessly. My favorite quote was from a buddy who had just spent about 2K on a Jura. I asked him how espresso was from his machine compared to the A3 and he said "Coffee from the Jura is like kissing your sister. It classifies as espresso, but it is not what you are pulling out of that Elektra."

So the A3 passes the home test with flying colors and will be the second Elektra to pass through my doors after the Micro Casa. These machines are truly beautiful and if you have a chance to evaluate them in your search then please do....they are quite elegant trophies.

Dan and I will do a final jam this weekend as we swap out machines. Many thanks to Chris' Coffee for the opportunity to use this machine...if only for a short while.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

puffinjk

#36: Post by puffinjk »

I would like to thank Dan, Ken, & Steve, what a great review for a new owner(one week). This review gave me a good heads up on a lot of stuff, making my first encounter a pleasant experience.

I got a Marzocco portafilter with a triple basket and rancilio bottomless portafilter, all from chris coffee, what a nice experience this was.

About my Elektra, she performs just as reviewed, I agree with Steve about her stability. We have not had a bad shot yet.

Thanks H.B. Jim

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#37: Post by HB (original poster) »

Peter at Counter Culture offered a more "challenging" blend (acidic, complex, demands higher temperatures, more elusive sweetness) for a final round with the A3 this morning. After a quick jam at Steve's place, we swapped the A3 for the Cimbali Junior. Look for Steve's final impressions of the A3 this week and Junior soon thereafter.

Organizing the SwagFest judging will keep Team HB pretty busy. In the meantime, please post any final questions about the A3 that you would like me to look into before I start the final writeup. Thanks Steve for your review comments! Honestly I'm glad to have the A3 back, if only for a few more weeks. :-)
Dan Kehn

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#38: Post by srobinson »

Like an old Hall and Oates song....She's gone....going to be the Devil to replace her.

Dan dropped by yesterday morning for an early jam session as I showed him what I had learned with my short time with the A3. Shots were flowing, the kitchen was stuffed with high end equipment and Dan and I both got babysitting credit by doing this while the moms were out....life is good.

We did some great pulls with some super fresh Black Cat and then we played around with Peter's new blend. While we had a couple sink shots while warming up, we got a great round of solid shots and got to discuss quite a few merits about this beautiful machine. I had been joking with Dan about the stability of the machine and even he was impressed with one of my no-tamp shots that scored around a 7-8.

Once we had it humming, we tried Peter's new blend and both of us were very impressed with the complexity of this new espresso. Very earthy at the start and finished with a nice citrus bite. Reminded me of some excellent French white wines where you got multiple layers of taste building the overall experience.

But all good things must come to an end and as such we disconnected the Elektra and introduced Junior into the house. To soften the blow I will be testing one of the new doserless Mine-Es. So by the time the wife came back home, a new setup was fully in place.

My nine year old daughter noticed the change right away. "Dad, this machine does not have as much stuff on it as the last one and it is not as shiny".....and so we begin the acclimation of yet another machine into the home test.

Thanks to Dan for all the help and best of luck in the write-up. We should be putting the final touches on the review in the coming weeks... For everyone who contributed to this thread thanks for the comments and the hits and thanks to our sponsors for giving us the chance to test these great machines.....off to the next one.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

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#39: Post by HB (original poster) »

Between SwagFest, an update to the Feature Spotlight on Espresso Grinders, a new baby, and a summertime cold, I'm behind on the originally planned publish date for the Elektra A3. It will be a few weeks longer. Chris Nachtrieb, owner of Chris' Coffee Service, took the news in stride and I appreciate his understanding.

Over the weekend, I mentally started listing the mundane but necessary items for the final writeup. For example, how long does it take to heat up? Although some leave their machines on 24/7, that's simply not an option in North Carolina during the summer. To determine the approximate warmup time, I stuff the basket with sponge filler and lock it into the group with a thermocouple wire pressed tightly against the dispersion screen. The datalogger records the temperature every minute and the maximum. Once it settles on a upper bound (197F), then it's safe to assume the rest of the machine is warmed up. From start to finish, approximately 75 minutes. That's a little faster than the Cimbali Junior, I assume because (a) although the Elektra has a larger boiler, it has a more powerful heating element, and (b) Elektra's thermosyphon aggressively moves heat to the grouphead.

Since returning back from Steve's place, I noticed that the extractions were notably off; many of the shots channeled heavily along the backside. At first I shrugged off this relapse to my lagging mental acuity brought on by lack of sleep (new baby) and the cold. But the problem continued into day 2. It was time for some diagnosis.

Blaming the equipment is many home barista's first instinct. Not me, I faulted my technique. Checked my notes, looking up ideal headspace, grams of coffee, tamper type, flush amount, ... and rechecked. Head cold or not, something wasn't right with this machine. The clue was right in front of me and the answer was plainly spelled out below the driptray:

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Installation requirements are clearly stated in the Owner's Manual too

I had loaned the pressure regulator to Steve during the A3's sejour at his place and neglected to reinstall it (at the time I wondered "I need to re-regulate the brew pressure? It shouldn't have changed."). Why did I think to look under the driptray to reconfirm the proper inlet pressure? My clue was the static pressure shown on the brew gauge:

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Static pressure reading after pressure regulator was put back in place (machine is cold)

So instead of the gauge over 4 bar (bad), it's now closer to 2 bar (good). Apparently the preinfusion design relies on low inlet pressure to function optimally. Moral of the story: Read the Owner's Manual and plan to buy a pressure regulator, period.

With that little mystery solved, Elektra's back to her old forgiving self. Now if I could just ditch this cold, I would properly appreciate the result. :(
Dan Kehn

puffinjk

#40: Post by puffinjk »

Hi Dan, very interesting info on your inlet pressure. I do not have a regulator on my machine, and after reading your thread I checked my gage at idle and guess what, between 2 to 6 bar depending on what my well pressure is doing at the time. Needless to say a new regulator and gage is on the way, it will be interesting to note any improvement after it is installed.

Thanks Jim