La Marzocco Linea Micra Espresso Machine Review - Page 2

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HB (original poster)
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#11: Post by HB (original poster) »

I loaned the Linea Micra to my friend Martin to get a "newbie" point of view; I've updated the first post to include the video. Later we'll post a comparison of the Linea Micra and a popular E61 double boiler, the ECM Synchronika.
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
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#12: Post by cannonfodder »

As my time with the Micra is nearing a close and I prepare my performance notes I find myself becoming bored with the machine, and in a very good way.

I find myself looking at my cup or pitcher and thinking, "Huh, another picture-perfect espresso". It just works, to the point the machine has become agnostic to the coffee-making process. Letting me focus on the cup, and not what it took to get to the cup. Weigh, grind, dose, tamp, flip the lever on, flip the lever off, and another perfect espresso.



By the way, that is a brown speckle glaze cup, that is not a messy spritzed all over the cup shot.
Dave Stephens

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HB (original poster)
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#13: Post by HB (original poster) »

As part of the review process, I like to "stress test" an espresso machine by serving a crowd. The General Manager at Leith Porsche in Cary, Jason Jones, was happy to host me and the La Marzocco Linea Micra for their monthly cars-n-coffee event:



Jason said the turnout was still down from pre-pandemic times; he expected around 40 people over the course of 3 hours. I planned for 60 and only had barely enough to make 3 more espressos when I shut down. It has been a few years since I catered an event and my speed /attention to detail were both a little rusty. It kind of shows in this video: :?
The pace was not a problem for cappuccinos and lattes, but Americanos really cratered the steam boiler. I had to use a mini pitcher to catch the espresso since the 12 ounce cups they supplied don't clear the portafilter, even if it's bottomless:



The extra step didn't really impact my workflow much -- the drink-to-drink time was around 2 minutes, which was fine for this relatively small crowd. The Linea Micra was plumbed in using a Flojet and accumulator, so there was no time lost to refilling the reservoir. I didn't count how many times I emptied the driptray, but I'd guess it was 2 or 3 times during active service and once for final cleanup. The longest the drink line got was 4 or 5 drinks, far from the record of more than 12 (!) from pre-pandemic days.

I had the steam boiler at its lowest setting. Given that the Linea Micra, grinder, and Flojet were all running off the same power strip, I didn't want to risk popping a breaker (my setup is the receptionist's desk and there's only one outlet). But even at its lowest setting, steaming was fast enough for a modest pace and producing microfoam was ridiculously easy.



Botton line: As La Marzocco mentioned in the announcement, the Linea Micra handles 5-6 drinks in succession without issue. But given its low clearance not allowing for go-to type cups beyond 10 ounces and the steam boiler struggling with Americano water draws, I recommend sticking with a home environment, or if it's a group setting, restricting it to a slow paced event (i.e., not faster than 90 seconds drink-to-drink time and use a hot pot for Americano water).
Dan Kehn
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cannonfodder
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#14: Post by cannonfodder »

The Micra performs like a champ. La Marzocco machines are known for their quality shots but not necessarily for ease of use. They can be a bit fiddly and demand your attention to detail which is rewarded with exceptional shots. The Micra on the other hand is a very forgiving machine. As long as you pair it with a good grinder, good coffee, and modest skills you are rewarded with easy-to-pull espressos. It is one of the most consistent and easy-to-use espresso machines I have used.

Heat up time
La Marzocco says ready to pull shots in 5 minutes, which is a very fast heat-up. While timing the warmup the brew boiler is at temperature (91C) in 5 minutes, the steam boiler is not. The system energizes the brew boiler first, then the steam which takes an additional 5-6 minutes to heat (steam boiler power setting of 2). If you want to make a cappuccino, plan for 10-12 minutes. It takes additional time for the portafilter and group mass to fully warm and stabilize. Personally, I would suggest giving the brew group 10 minutes. It is one of the fastest heat ups I have seen in a double boiler home espresso machine.

Steaming
The steam boiler has 3 power settings, 1, 2, and 3. Simple enough. I have been running the machine on setting 2, which is right at 1.5 bar. Steaming 4 to 8 ounces of milk is quick and simple. If you plan on steaming less than 4oz, you may want to lower the setting to 1. If you are a fan of big milk drinks, 10+ ounces, then a setting of 3 would be appropriate. You can turn off the steam boiler in the app, but I would suggest not. Even if you only steam milk once a day (more on that later).

Steaming times are quick. In my tests I was using cold tap water since milk is expensive these days. Using 55°F water and heating to 120°F (carryover continues to around 130F) with a power setting of 2. I was measuring with a Fluke and Type K thermocouple. Using 8, 6, and 4 ounces of liquid consistently took 14, 11, and 7 seconds to heat. If you are using 40°F milk in a frozen pitcher, add another 3-4 seconds, which still makes it a fast steaming machine.

Steaming is easy. I had a friend over to use the Micra and he was surprised by the speed and ease compared to his double boiler espresso machine. He was asking how deep to bury the tip at the start, how long to surf the tip before plunging, pitcher angle, etc... My response, "Just put it in and turn it on." No surfing, no dancing. Put the tip just off the bottom of the pitcher, turn on the steam, and when you feel the pitcher getting warm, turn it off. No fuss steaming and silky microfoam.




Brew temperature stability
Checking temperature stability with a Scace-II and Fluke, the Micra performed very well. With the steam boiler on I was getting 1.4 degrees Celsius above the boiler set point (91°C). With the steam boiler off, I was getting 0.5 degrees Celsius above the set point (91°C) with slightly more delta through the shot.

Earlier I hinted at keeping the steam boiler on, even though you can turn it off. That is for consistency and stability. The Micra has a preheat coil that runs around the steam boiler. With the steam boiler off, you do not get the benefit of pre-heated water hitting the small brew boiler. The result can be seen in the videos. Even with the steam boiler off, it is still a very stable machine, but the preheat adds that little extra.

91 Celsius with steam boiler on
91 Celsius with steam boiler off
Pre-infusion
The Micra has the ability to do real pre-infusion, provided you plumb it in. Pre-infusion is configured through the app (detailed in the first portion of my review). With most of my coffee, I found a pre-infusion setting of 7 to 9 seconds at 3 bar ideal. That gave me a gentle saturation of the coffee puck with slight beading of coffee on the basket's surface just as the pump engaged. That may have aided the Micra's forgiveness factor.

Plumbed-in you also have the benefit of never bothering with filling a water tank. All the water you want without being interrupted in the morning when you realize the tank is low and the machine did not heat. You also have the benefit of fresh, cold water. No stale water in the tank if you do not use the machine for a couple of days. Once you go to a plumbed-in machine, going back to a tank-based system is difficult.

Espresso
Yes, it makes espresso.

It took 3 shots to get the machine dialed in. After a week of use, it became silly easy to make drinks. I have used several La Marzocco espresso machines and own a GS/3 MP. Whatever LM did in the design of the Linea Micra, they succeeded in making one of the most forgiving and easy-to-use LMs to date. It just works.

One thing I noticed is that baskets needed a slightly reduced dose when compared to the GS3. On average I ran 0.5 gram less in dose on the Micra in comparison to my GS/3. It appears to have just a little less headspace. Dosing too high will cause the top of the puck to scrape on the shower screen and screen mounting screw. That will obviously disturb the puck and you will get uneven extractions.

Shots were creamy with ample body and clarity. Shots often ran to just below the rim of my demitasse cup with 36-38 grams extracted and crema to the brim of the cup.

For reference, I was using a KafaTek Monolith and Weber Key grinder. My basket of preference was an IMS competition precision basket. As with everything subjective, your preferences will probably vary.

I have really enjoyed having the Micra on my coffee bar. It has been my daily driver for over a month with zero issues. It does have its own little quirks. The most prominent is the app. It does occasionally drop the connection and without the Micra on your Wi-Fi network, functionality is limited. I had one instance in particular where I was using the backflush option in the app. It simply refused to connect. It would link over Bluetooth but not Wi-Fi. The function is disabled unless you are on Wi-Fi. I rebooted the phone, and the machine, turned things off, and on, reset my router, and it simply refused to connect for almost an hour. I was frustrated to the point of nearly tossing it back in the box and walking away. Then a half hour later it just worked. So expect an occasional application glitch.

The Micra became so simple and repeatable to operate that I eventually stopped thinking about the machine. It became a means to an end and part of the workflow. I could concentrate on the coffee, blends, and extraction ratios and not fiddle with the machine. Paired with a good grinder, quality coffee, and modest skill it turned out exceptional coffee with remarkable ease. I am going to miss this little guy when it goes back to La Marzocco.

Dave Stephens

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HB (original poster)
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#15: Post by HB (original poster) »

The question "How is the Linea Micra packaged?" came up offline and I thought it would be helpful for the review. Thanks to Ben at La Marzocco for the photos.






Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)
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#16: Post by HB (original poster) »

My time with the La Marzocco Linea Micra has come to a close; it's boxed up and ready to go to the next round of reviewers. Before sending it off, I wanted to experiment with a wide range of coffees, including some lighter roasted ones.


Medium-roast "comfort" blends, competition-style blends, and several single origin coffees

The lighter single origin coffees are from Demitasse Cafe (Best of Yemen) and George Howell, which they described as "filter" coffees versus one explicitly targeting espresso preparation. I've found that with the right equipment and adapting your technique, almost all coffees can work as espresso (exceptions being very acidic/bright coffees and ones that are very dark-roasted - espresso amplifies these characteristics).

I've found that single origins, especially lighter-roasted ones, can be more "fussy" as espresso, i.e., they are more likely to channel, and benefit greatly from longer preinfusion. The Micra's app has a "pre-brew" option that wets the puck, but I find the more helpful option for trickier coffees is line preinfusion. So I converted the Micra from reservoir to plumbed-in, using a Flojet pump, 5 gallon bottle, and an accumulator to smooth out the pressure profile (without an accumulator, the Flojet pump will cycle on immediately and run for the duration of the extraction).

For the first extraction in this video (Best of Yemen), I used 7 seconds of preinfusion. For the second one, a George Howell / Guatemalan coffee, I extended the preinfusion time to 10 seconds. Both espressos were slightly over a normale brew ratio (17 grams in, 40 grams out).
The first one was a pricey coffee; I felt a little guilty making espresso from a mere 8 ounces (Best of Yemen #20, $35). But oh man, it delivered a delightful floral-fruity espresso that was sweet and clean! Surprisingly, I preferred that to the more expensive coffee, Best of Yemen #3 ($40 for 4 ounces), which was intensely fruity with more acidity and a lingering aftertaste. To my taste, it was a coffee that excelled as pourover and not as espresso. Oh well, a lesson in making espresso with expensive coffees - cup them first!

In contrast, the Guatemalan coffee, despite being described as best for filter, was laid back and easy to pull, delivering on mild chocolate notes and a clean finish. While it wasn't as exotic as other coffees (e.g., the Klatch Golden Bean, an experimental blend), it was thoroughly enjoyable and showcased the benefit of longer preinfusion to help reduce the likelihood of channeling (i.e., the second extraction above was typical and almost qualifies as an "espresso p**n" extraction).

All four evaluation Micras are on their way back to La Marzocco for a quick checkup, then off to the next round of reviewers (Jake, Ira, John, Gary). I'll miss the Micra -- it was an easy setup to fall in love with.


Final shot count was on the low side :lol:
Dan Kehn

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Jeff
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#17: Post by Jeff »

TL;DR
  • Unpack
  • Plug in, add non-scaling water, turn on
  • Throw 16 g of George Howell Alchemy into the grinder
  • Lightly whisk and level with a LeverCraft/JKim Makes WDT tool
  • Tamp
  • Lock it in
  • Flip the paddle on, remember to flip it off
  • Enjoy great espresso
That's what an espresso machine should do and the La Marzocco Micra delivered on that for me, nearly effortlessly.

If within or close to your budget, it deserves a spot on your short list. Though a high-performance machine, it is surprisingly forgiving of grind and even sloppy technique. As a bonus, it should fit easily in most kitchens under the cabinets, consuming only about a foot of width on a counter. There is a lot to enjoy and little if anything to fear, even for a relative novice.

The evaluation Micra I had was loaned by La Marzocco, without charge. I intentionally haven't really followed the posts or comments of others as I wanted to provide my impressions, rather than parroting others'. My apologies if I repeat the obvious.


First Impressions

On unpacking the machine, the attention to detail and quality of execution is immediately evident. The materials, fit and finish are all top notch. There is an ETL (UL standards) certification and a NSF logo proudly displayed on the side, along with the classy nameplate. The drip tray fits well and has a float to indicate if it is overfilled. It slides out easily revealing a clear water reservoir that is closed against bugs, dust, or other contamination. The water reservoir is filled from the front. It sits comfortably on robust feet. It is quiet. The interactions are clear enough that you can walk up to the machine and just start pulling shots. You know that there is a worldwide support organization there if you need it. This is a machine that needs no promises, it delivers right out of the box.

The TL;DR is close to my first-shot experience. I didn't remember where I was setting the Option-O Mini Moonshine (a $428 grinder) for espresso and guessed. Exploring around with grind and dose I found a wide sweet spot, perhaps even greater than an E61. There aren't many high-end machines that I'd describe as "forgiving", but the Micra qualifies for that in my book.

It is tight under the group head to the drip tray, but I can easily get in a scale like the Timemore Black Mirror (the "pour-over" one) and a typical 75-100 mL espresso cup under the portafilter with its spouts removed. I'm sure the reduced overall height is a welcome change from trying to figure out "If I remove the cup rail from [insert machine name here] will it fit under my cabinets?" The front-filling reservoir makes such installations even more usable on a day-to-day basis.

Here's the obligatory first-shot photo.




Espresso Experience

I had good results with not only the Alchemy, but also B&W The Natural and Tim Wendelboe Naciemento at "espresso" roast. The first two of these are what I consider medium roast, with the Wendelboe running medium-light. This was using the 93.3 °C that perhaps Tom had last used, no pre-brew or pre-infusion set. I wanted to test with what I think an average user might do. I tested using local "Hetch Hetchy" tap water, reasonably soft, filtered to remove chloramine.

I had very good results across the Option-O Mini, Bentwood, and 98 HU in a LeverCraft Ultra. In most cases the first shot was good or better, just with whatever grind I had last used. I was able to pull good shots at "turbo", normal, and slow-drip grind settings over a range of ratios. Shots were easy to dial in at a variety of sweet spots, not just the typical "1:2 in 25 seconds". It wasn't finicky about prep. I'm sure someone will prove me wrong. but it pulls good shots with little more than dumping the grinds into the basket, a quick level and a tamp.

I found that dropping the blind-basket pressure to 6 bars helped reduce some of the harshness on these medium-ish roasts at a 9-bar setting. My experience with espresso from "filter" roasts suggests that these lower pressures have many benefits. I'll admit that I haven't pulled enough medium-dark or darker roasts to know if the same holds true for those roast levels.

The Micra performed very well on coffees that are significantly lighter than what many people enjoy for espresso. Tim Wendelboe's espresso roast is already lighter than what many people use for filter. What would happen if I pushed into even lighter, well-developed roasts, into the likes of Coffee Collective or, lighter yet, Apollon's Gold or Manhattan?

These are my day-to-day coffees. I've adopted and adapted techniques for extracting these to a balance that I enjoy using both extraction profiling and a declining temperature. Trying these coffees on the Micra stressed my abilities to learn different approaches more than it did the Micra. Using the flat, reduced-pressure profile resulted in enjoyable, but not exceptional shots at either turbo or conventional flow rates, exploring over a 1:2 to 1:3 range. The hint of harshness tasted in the medium-roast coffees became more evident to me with more delicate flavors in play. Could I do better with the preinfusion options the Micra provides?

Pre-brew is available in the app. It works off the reservoir and does not require plumb-in. It has two parameters, how long the pump is on and how long of a pause follows prior to the remaining extraction. I've heard a "woosh" between the fill and the hold. If you choose to use the hold feature, I'd check for evidence of the puck being disturbed by the apparent decompression. My luck with trying this to improve the balance of the shots was not very good. The better of these shots seemed generic, lacking in subtle flavors and "chocolatey", to me and the harshness was still present.

There is also an unsupported method of enabling preinfusion using the heat in the boiler, yet still drawing from the reservoir. I understand there is a risk of running the machine dry if you do this, as the low-water cutout is disabled. My experience here was that the shots were no less harsh than with the default, flat profile.

If plumbed in, there is also a classic line-pressure preinfusion setting in the app. It adjusts how long the brew valve is open before the pump is energized. With a two-bar line pressure, I was seeing around 3.5 mL/s without a portafilter in place. Moving to plumbed-in raised some challenges with using custom-mix water. Reading through the suggestions in Espresso Cart - Goodbye Plumbed In, I rigged up a pump and regulator pulling from a liter jar. I explored a range of options between 7 and 15 seconds at 2-bar and 3-bar line pressures. The results were more consistent than using the pre-brew option. Coupled with dropping the temperature to 90 °C, it seemed to be able to reduce the harshness somewhat, at the expense of the subtle flavors.

If you haven't pulled much light-roast coffee as espresso, you might want to try a straightforward approach. Craig (@baldheadracing) alerted me that Patrik Rolf of April Coffee Roasters had just published a video on the P100 grinder. In that video, he mentions that they pull their light roasts on their Modbar at around 19:58 g in 20 seconds, with a 6-bar flat profile at 93 °C. Though a higher dose than what I typically use, I gave it a try with a VST 20 basket to get enough depth. The results across a couple coffees were enjoyable espressos, nearly filling a Lino espresso cup. The flavor profile was very accessible. This is another route that is worth exploring, without all the fuss of plumbing in and adjusting preinfusion time.

The light-roast shots were enjoyable, but I wasn't able to eek out the depth and complexity of flavor with the Micra compared to my DE1. Some of this is probably extraction profiling and the declining temperature during the shot. Some is certainly the difference that a couple of years of experience with a machine brings. Once you "know" a grinder and a machine, if that first shot is reasonably close, the second shot hits that "nearly there" place without having to explore around. How big of a difference was there? Small, in the grand scheme of things. Things like the sweetness not being as silky and rich and not finding the subtle, third flavor layer. For my tastes, I'd say comparable to the difference between 98 HUs or the Bentwood and 64 Cast v2 burrs.


Warm-Up Time and Power Consumption

I've been using a machine that is ready to pull shots in around five minutes for over two years now. It becomes a real spoiler when you can decide you want an espresso and have one in not much longer than it takes to get things together, prep a basket, and pull a shot. The Micra delivers on this experience as well. My kitchen runs cold, around 60-65 °F (16-18 °C). The Micra was ready to pull shots in the morning in about 5 1/2 minutes and ready to steam in about 9 minutes. The light on the upper panel stops flashing when at brew temperature. The pressure gauge on the lower panel can be checked to confirm that the target steam temperature has been reached. If you're trying to get the most you can out of hard-to-extract coffees, you may want to wait for the steam boiler to come up to temperature before pulling shots.

One of the hidden costs of big-boiler machines is their power consumption. Depending on where you are and your incremental cost of electricity, this can be a significant expense. On US 120-V mains, the Micra consumed about 0.22 kWh to warm up from cold. Peak consumption was around 1,500 W. After the warm-up period, the average consumption tailed off to around 210-220 W at idle. There were brief peaks around 1,200 W when idle. I didn't blow any breakers running a Timemore kettle on the same circuit after the Micra had warmed up (your experience may be different). With such a fast warm-up, I decided to just turn it off when done.


Steaming

I asked my wife after the Micra had been on the counter a day,

"So, what do you think?"

"You're not going to like this."

"OK ..."

"I love the way it steams. Can we buy one?"

The Linea Mini took the essentials of a commercial machine and delivered it in a package that fit in home kitchens. The Micra takes that another step and refines it even further. No need for excuses, it steams well and quickly. The steam wand is shorter than one might be used to, but it quickly becomes natural to use. It can steam 275 g for those mega-lattes or 50 g for a classic cap.


Build Quality, Serviceability, and Support

Opening the machine to install the parts for plumb-in reinforced my confidence in the build quality. The valves that often are left to sputter or flood the machine in other makes are all neatly routed into the drip tray. There are anti-kink springs on tubing. The "brain box" is high-mounted in the back. Care clearly has been taken in choice of materials and how they are all held together. The quiet operation, compact size, and reasonable weight benefit from this kind of engineering. It's very tight in there, but components seemed readily accessible either around the boiler or above the group head. It seemed like it would be easier to work on than something like an E61 box with all its wrist-slashing sheet metal and components buried under boilers or behind panels.

Adjusting the bypass-valve pressure is straightforward. I'd suggest a 1.2 mm blade screwdriver, about 8 mm wide, and at least 150 mm long. The 1.2 mm blade fits the panel screws' slot better than the quality 1/4" or 5/16" drivers I have. The length lets you reach down to the adjustment screw from above. A 7 mm wrench to loosen the two nuts that hold down the front of the panel is helpful as well. I believe the locknut on the bypass valve is 14 mm, though I did not have to loosen mine, nor did I re-tighten it.

There is a lot to be said for a manufacturer that you can call and you get a call back quickly from a knowledgeable representative that resolves your problem. In my case it was "How do I change the WiFi credentials?" that I couldn't find in the app. (Left-swipe the device to remove it then re-add.)

I know that if I ever need parts or service that La Marzocco's support organization is there when I need them. There's no time-zone problem or excuses around how difficult, slow, and expensive shipping has become.


Annoyances

Like any piece of gear, personal preferences will find annoyances or flaws. I'd be remiss in not mentioning them and allowing others to decide on importance to them as a prospective owner. None of these rise to the level of "flaws" to me.

I'm not a fan of the app. It requires too many privileges too often. It can take 20 seconds or so to change a setting or for it to tell you to try again. You need the app to be able to change brew or steam temperature as well as pre-brew/infusion parameters. If you're pulling the same coffee the same way all the time, this is less of an issue than for someone that is changing coffees regularly.

The portafilter base doesn't sit stably on the counter for prep in its bottomless configuration. If you're using a tamping mat, hockey puck, or similar, I'd recommend some kind of tamping stand.

I found the "barista lights" disappointing. They don't really light the inside of the cup and do a poor job with rendering color reasonably. Resolvable with some spot lights with high CRI, especially in the reds so espresso reveals its rich, golden colors.

The shower screen has a protruding screw head. As I found out the hard way, it can bend a puck screen. I found that I had to down-dose baskets 1-3 g compared to my other machine to keep reasonable clearance.


Conclusions

The performance of the Micra with even a modest grinder like the Option-O Mini was excellent. There were no surprises working with other burr sets, such as the 98 HUs. Ease of use and forgiveness were both impressive. There wasn't a learning curve as there would be for most of the extraction-profiling machines out there today. It meets my "I think I want an espresso now" criteria. The steaming speed and quality are first rate. It fits on a counter and isn't overwhelming, yet clearly conveys its quality and heritage visually. La Marzocco support is excellent.

The Micra really shines up through medium and medium-light espresso, such as George Howell Alchemy or B&W The Natural. Its strengths aren't as evident pulling very light roasts, for example Tim Wendelboe or Manhattan. Dropping the pressure to 6 bars smoothed out these coffees significantly. The results from the Micro were very enjoyable, just a bit less smooth and detailed as I can get with a sophisticated extraction and temperature profile like Joe D's Extractamundo Dos! on the DE1.

Even if you're new to espresso, you should be able to quickly learn pull excellent shots with the Micra, a reasonable grinder, and good-quality water and coffee.

Pair a Micra with a compact grinder like the Lagom Mini, a small scale for beans, and a nearly fool-proof tamper like The Force and I think you're about as close to those effortless Sunday morning cappuccino on the veranda vignettes as you can get. It's going to run circles around any luxury bean-to-cup machine for flavor, not take up more space, not be significantly harder to operate, and be a lot easier to maintain. It will also take you far beyond that, into exploring a wide range of coffees and their flavors.