What you don't see is what you get:
Once upon a time, I thought you made a shot of espresso by putting coffee in a basket, the basket in an espresso machine, and turning it on. That was before I owned an espresso machine. Then I learned about all the variables I had to control, and all the contortions I had to go through to control them. I learned that there are three kinds of espresso machine: those where each of the variables had its control setting, those where each of the variables had its control contortion, and those where there was no control and no hope of a good shot.
Now there is the MaraX, which is pretty much the espresso machine you thought you would get before you know anything about espresso machines - no contortions, no settings, but the variables are controlled. There is actually a hidden switch for setting temperature, but mostly this machine controls itself and makes good shots with an absolute minimum of fuss.
Note: This thread is closed for comments until the initial research is complete. If you have questions you would like addressed as part of this review, please post them in Lelit MaraX.
The X is based on prior versions of the Mara, which is what we coffee hobbyists call an "E61 Box." An E61 Box is a stainless steel box with an E61 group in front, and a boiler with a heat exchanger and vibe pump inside. E61 boxes make great shots if you go through all the right contortions. You flush the group to get it to the right temperature, you manually adjust the pump to play nice with the basket and coffee you are using, you have a wide array of baskets and a lot of experience on dosing and grinding. E61 boxes have been very, very popular because once you know the contortions, you can make great shots. This means that their build quality has been getting better over the years. It's been about a decade since I Iooked inside one, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much better the innards look now. The improved build quality make the new features on the X possible; I'm pretty sure my old 2002 Isomac Tea would have been spraying water and steam from a dozen leaks if you had tried to do what Lelit does on the X.
Keeping it simple:
What the X does is pretty revolutionary. On espresso machines, even double boilers, the boiler temperature is controlled. But the shot's temperature is mostly determined by the group's temperature, not the boiler's. In the Mara, the steam boiler cycles up and down to keep the group at the target temperature. In E61 machines, the group is heated via a thermosyphon that circulates boiler water through the group. The Mara measures the water flowing out of the group, back to the boiler, and cycles the boiler to keep it steady. The reason this takes high build quality is because the boiler is cycling up to pressures much higher than is usual in steam boilers. At warm up, the boiler pressure can get up to 2.75 bar.
The result is that with no contortions and no flushing, the temperature is about as accurate as the larger and more expensive double boiler E61s (the same control system on a DB E61 would probably take that up to the saturated group big leagues in temperature stability).
The other big change on the X is that the preinfusion time is longer, and the pressure ramp up is much more linear. The result is that you can use finer grinds just like on a commercial lever and profiling machine. I made 14 gram shots using a Turkish grind with George Howell's Rwanda Kanzu; the shots took 40 seconds to get to 30 grams shot weight, and the taste was very good. In fact, I did go to a slightly coarser grind, not because the machine was limited, but because I wanted a more forward taste.
These tweaks make using the machine a lot more like using a profiling or lever machine than using a conventional fixed brew pressure machine. It will still get into trouble with super light roasts that don't produce fines, and gush regardless of grind setting. For these you do need pressure throttling throughout the shot. But other than those, the machine will produce fine shots from any coffee given a proper grinder. I had the machine set up beside the Lelit Bianca, my regular machine, which uses a needle valve in the group to manually control pressure. Setting the paddle to a fixed position does not reproduce the pressure profile of the X, since the set up is never as linear. You have to start with the valve wide open, throttle it, then open it back up, to get the linearity of the X's ramp up. This shows the kind of "what you don't see is what you get" tuning effort that went into the machine.
Inside look at the Lelit MaraX:
Here is a rambling video that covers the innards and functionality of the X. Apologies for the quality: it's my first cell phone video; and I still need to learn how to point and talk at the same time.
I received a beta machine from Lelit last July, and the production version early in February. My review is based on using each of these machines for about a pleasant month each. The machines are freebies; otherwise, I received no compensation.
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