Elektra Semiautomatica
Conclusion


1st-line equipment There is always a honeymoon when getting a new machine; one seeks out its strong points and ignores its weaknesses. A good reviewer has to get beyond this to where he or she can see the faults clearly too. In my case, however, the honeymoon has turned into a marriage; so I clearly see the machine's weaknesses, but find them charming rather than annoying.

I've made no attempt to conceal my bias because readers deserve to know and compensate for a reviewer's personal tastes. However, I've also tried to be blunt about its faults and keep my scores objective by calibrating them against those in other Buyer's Guides covering espresso machines that I know. I hope I've communicated my enthusiasm for the Semiautomatica without misleading anyone.

In head-to-head tests with the Isomac Tea, my doubles were initially about even in quality, but required more attention to pack. A friend who has used the Elektra for several years made doubles and triples that were cleaner and clearer tasting than my best from the Tea. I was able to match this performance after about six months by underdosing the supplied basket, using only the classic 14 grams. So for doubles, balancing the additional difficulty and longer learning curve against the ultimately better quality, I would give an exceptional espresso score of 8.5, same as the E61s.

In head-to-head tests with my Peppina, a home lever machine particularly prized for its clarity of taste, the Elektra singles (roughly the same dose as the Peppina doubles) tasted as good or better, and had a lot more body and power. The only other time this has ever happened was when 2006 US Barista Champion Matt Riddle was playing with the Peppina and then worked a bit to pull some shots with the Robur and Linea at Intelligentsia's lab that equalled the Peppina's taste, and clobbered its body. Since that's quite definitely the major leagues, I feel justified in giving the singles a record score of more than a 9.0, say9.25.

Overall, the exceptional espresso score is 9.0, one notch higher than the E61s, and the same as the Expobar Brewtus and the Semiautomatica's big brother, the A3. I should again note that I'm biased towards clarity of taste in espresso. If your primary concern is maximal body and powerful taste, even at the expense of clarity, singles are probably not your thing, and therefore the HX E61s are slightly preferable.

The morning after score reflects the ease with which a new owner can master the Semiautomatica. As described in Espresso Performance, it is helped by the fact that:

  • the first two shots will be fine even if you forget to flush,
  • a single can be packed adequately even when bleary eyed or hung over, and
  • it's a great steamer.

But again, packing the doubles requires extra attention, and cleanup is harder than E61s, so I'd say it's a tie at 7.5.

If the cappuccino lover's score were purely for cappuccinos, I'd rate the Semiautomatica a 10, since it's perfect. However, because the performance for lattes is anemic, I have to knock off a point and give it a 9.0. If you are one of the right thinking people who smashes any cup larger than six ounces that gets too close to an espresso machine, it earns a perfect score. If you are one of those lost soul +12 ounce latte drinkers, the Semiautomatica will disappoint, only meriting a 7.0.

While the high quality merits an equally high materials & workmanship score, a lot of things usually found on machines at this price are left out. When I initially wrote this review, I rated the build quality at 9.0. However, the use of the failure prone MATER pressurestat, rather than the more reliable CEME or Yaeger ones that fit in the same space, requires a score reduction to 8.5. Given the lack of some usual features, I can only give it a score of 6.5 for its convenience and features score. Personally, I'm happy there's one espresso manufacturer that chooses to put beauty ahead of features. I'm even happier that on the Semiautomatica, the promise made by that beauty is almost entirely fulfilled in the quality of its build and espresso.

The capsule summary is very simple: the Elektra Semiautomatica is a split personality machine. On the one hand, it is among the most beautiful, best single shot pulling, and best short milk drink machines on the planet. For experts, it offers a wide working range of doses, shot times and volumes. If this is what you want, it's a huge bargain. On the other hand, it's average-plus in this price class for doubles, subpar for large lattes, and doesn't do Americanos, cup warming, auto-filling or fitting under cabinets. For experts, it offers only vague temperature control and no pressure control. If you value these things, it's not a good fit.

Note: The exceptional espresso score is a compromise between the singles and doubles, and the steaming score a compromise between those for cappuccinos and latte volumes.

Exceptional
Espresso

Morning
After

Cappuccino
Lover's

Convenience / Features

Materials / Workmanship

Elektra Semiautomatica

9.01

7.5

9.02

6.5

8.5

Expobar Brewtus

9.0

9.0

8.5

9.0

7.5

Isomac Rituale (3)

8.5

7.5

8.0

8.0

7.5

Rancilio Silvia

7.0

3.0

6.0

5.0

8.0

(1) Score is 9.25 for singles, 8.5 for doubles
(2) Score is 10.0 for six ounces or less, 7.0 for eight ounces or more
(3) Scores also apply to the internally identical Isomac Tea and Millenium

I'd like to end this with a nice objective statement like "if you know what you want in an espresso machine, you'll know from this review if the Semiautomatica is right for you." However, that isn't quite correct. The Elektra is a charmer. On any other machine I would have regarded its drawbacks as very annoying, but for the Elektra Micro Casa Semiautomatica, I don't.

Acknowledgements

Mark Prince's review of the Semi Automatica is perhaps the best of his many excellent reviews, a true labor of love and a model for espresso machine reviewers. It would have been futile to imitate it, so I tried to cover the machine from a different angle.

My thanks to Dan Kehn and the HB crew for their invaluable editorial support.

My particular thanks to Jim Piccinich of 1st-Line Equipment for sponsoring this review. 1st-line is a Master Importer for Elektra espresso machines and grinders, including the awesome Elektra A3 and Elektra Microcasa a Leva.

Want more information?

The Appendices follow this conclusion and are for those who want to understand the Semiautomatica's performance characteristics more deeply. It begins with temperature and pressure performance, followed by the section entitled Mano, which is my attempt to shed some light on how the Semiautomatica pulls such great shots. If you would like to read about the research that went into the creation of this review, refer to my blog-like thread in the Bench forum. It will give my impressions in rawer form, including some my initial misapprehensions and headscratching.

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