Although the A3 can be powered by the 110V electrical circuits found in US homes, it still has many of the hookup requirements that are common to commercial installations. This includes power requirements, water supply, and waste water drainage. This guide presents a general overview of the requirements and planning involved, but it does not substitute for professional advice. You should ask questions before buying and contact the necessary installation professionals to better understand the costs involved (for example, electrician, plumber, and potentially kitchen design specialist). A little extra planning will assure your first days with your new purchase go smoothly.
The A3 has a huge six liter boiler driven by a powerful 2000W heating element. Ample power means a faster warm-up and zippy recovery when steaming milk, but it also means that you should plan for a dedicated 20 amp circuit. While it's true that most modern kitchens have at least two such circuits, the Elektra A3's requirements leave little power remaining for typical kitchen appliances, which are typically power hungry in their own right (for example, a small microwave will require 800W). Rather than risk overloading your house's wiring, invest in a separate circuit installed by a certified electrician and rest easy knowing that your home meets local electrical codes.
Warning: If you are handy and wish to save money, it's not difficult to add the extra wiring up to the point it reaches—but does not connect to—the circuit breaker board. However, even if you've successfully completed your own small home wiring jobs in the past following a do-it-yourself guide, connecting to the circuit breaker board is a job for a certified electrician! The circuit breaker wiring in most houses is live at all times; it is not worth saving the cost of an electrician's visit at the risk of electrocuting yourself!
In addition to electrical considerations, some planning is necessary before Elektra's arrival for its water supply and waste water drainage. If you need assistance, you should discuss the required hookups before ordering since the technicians at Chris' Coffee will gladly determine the required fittings as part of your espresso machine purchase.
Elektra's stainless steel driptray is flat and very shallow because it's designed to drain into the location's waste water system. There is no provision for a drainless installation, so plan accordingly. Your own kitchen may not be well suited for such an installation, especially if you have granite or marble countertops. One convenient option, if Elektra will be located next to a sink, is to run waste water directly into the adjacent drain. Elektra is NSF approved, so there's ample clearance under the machine for cleaning. This extra room could alternatively allow a drain line to run beneath the machine and behind your kitchen's backsplash, and then connect to your waste water system, avoiding the need to pass through an access hole in the countertop. However, ideally I recommend an access hole for drainage and water hookups be located beneath the machine near the back wall for the best looking installation and a good slope for waste water to evacuate quickly.
I believe the additional installation effort is worthwhile to have the luxury of a direct-connect espresso machine. Pourover tank models need refilling more frequently than you might expect. It's easy to drain half the tank of your typical pourover espresso machine in one morning and require refills if you're serving company. In addition to the convenience, you can also save the expense of bottled water by filtering and softening your water instead. Believe me, nobody misses emptying driptrays or cleaning water reservoirs each week.
Delivery and Setup
The Elektra A3 was shipped by air strapped to a 3x3 heavy wood pallet. A local delivery service will bring it to your home and you must be present to accept delivery. Chris' Coffee charges no additional cost for this premium delivery service that greatly reduces the possibility of shipping damage. There's no need to double box the machine and the evaluation machine arrived in flawless condition.
Reminder: If you want the delivery person to take the pallet back with them, make arrangements in advance. Depending on the company and local disposal ordinances, they may charge a fee. Despite the extra steps involved in this type of high-value delivery, it is definitely worthwhile for the added confidence that the Elektra will arrive without damage.
I'm never patient enough to wait for unpacking help when a new evaluation espresso machine arrives, although I recommend you do your best to enlist someone's aid. Since Elektra passes by way of the comparatively gentle hands of a freight shipping company, there's very little packing material to deal with. Each interior side of the box is padded with a thick slice of solid core foam. Lifting it straight out will require extra hands to separate the machine from the box. If you slit the box vertically along each corner, you can simply fold down the sides, remove the top and four side foam panels, then lift the machine out easily (well, as easily as one can handle its 70+ pounds!). Do pay attention that you cut slowly and only the depth of the cardboard to avoid damaging the machine!
In addition to the machine's container, a second accessory box was strapped to the pallet. Inside I found a 3/8" stainless steel braided water line, clear flexible drain tubing, single portafilter, double portafilter, owner's manual, all the needed plumbing fittings, plus a few odds and ends like a stainless steel backflush disk.
Once the machine was out of the box, I took a few moments to read the owner's manual accompanying the Elektra. It is well written and informative. It begins with the usual warnings to deter oddball lawsuits ("After having unpacked the appliance, make sure it is intact."). There were warnings for parents of young ones ("The packaging elements should not be left within reach of children since they are potential sources of danger"). By the fifth warning, I found my first violation: "Do not operate the appliance barefoot." Well, the floors are wood and the machine is grounded on a GFI circuit. What about "do not allow children or incompetent persons to use the appliance"? Oh well, one out of two...
In all seriousness, it is the owner's manual tenth warning that I want to bring to your attention. Because the machine emits considerable heat, you may be tempted to slow the outflow by covering the cup warmer. From the owner's manual:
Do not obstruct the intake and outlet grilles. In particular do not cover the cup warmer with a cloth or such like. [sic]
The manufacturer is concerned about the interior components being subjected to excessive heat. And indeed I found that if I ignored their warning, the machine's exterior got hot. And not a little warm, but really, really hot. Fortunately the electronics are located underneath the driptray away from heat, however A3 owners should heed the manufacturer's warning. For that matter, although the owner's manuals from Italian espresso machine manufacturers are generally devoid of useful information, Elektra's is an exception. Read it carefully, as this guide will only touch on the highlights.
The machine arrives with the plastic chromed stock legs installed. If you will be locating the A3 under kitchen cabinets, use the shorter rubber legs shown in the photo to the right. The original (left) leaves 2½ inches of clearance under the machine and the shorter version (right) as little as ¾ inches, allowing the A3 to easily fit under standard kitchen cabinets. One end of the braided stainless steel inlet hose must be attached to the pump inlet under the driptray on the left and the other end to your water supply. The drain hookup is comprised of an underside 3/8" barb-end tube on the bottom center of the machine. It accepts the flexible drain hose included among the accessories. If you've ever hooked up a dishwater drain, it's a similar setup and plumbing fittings for tapping into an existing drainline can be purchased at your local hardware store.
The manufacturer installation specifications dictate a maximum standing pressure of 4 bar and minimum working pressure of 1.5 bar. The machine's performance depends on proper inlet pressure regulation and I was reminded of this fact during the evaluation period. To gather additional feedback from local home baristas on the A3, it went on the road a few times during the test period. One time upon its reinstallation I neglected to reinstall the pressure regulator and shot quality dropped off. After some headscratching and diagnosis, I realized my error. The moral of the story: Buy a pressure regulator. Since the inlet pressure indirectly affects the brew pressure for a rotary vane pump, you will need to adjust the pump's pressure post-installation. I recommend 25 PSI as in inlet pressure and 9 bar as a starting brew pressure.
Some Elektra A3 owners will choose to keep it powered on at all times. If not, plan for at least 75 minutes of warm-up time to bring the group to brew temperature. It was springtime when I began this review in earnest and Elektra's uninsulated boiler gives off a ton of heat! I didn't want to overburden our air conditioner during the daytime hours by adding another heat source, so I turned it on before heading to bed and turned it off before leaving for work.
The fact that the boiler is uninsulated and the machine includes a specially designed drip-resistant two piece cup tray underscores that this is a commercial espresso machine. In a busy café, dripping cups often go straight from the dishwasher to the top of the espresso machine and they won't linger there for long. So the cup tray must be very hot if it is to warm the cups significantly. Such an effective cup warmer is good in a busy café, but in your home these cups won't be just warm, they will be hot, almost too hot to handle comfortably.