Truth be told: Elektra Microcasa a Leva can be set to produce amazing espresso or perfect dry steam, not both

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#1: Post by boren » least not both at the same time.

When the pressostat is set to 0.7 bar and the machine is left for 25 minutes to get the group-head to the same ideal temperature as the boiler (about 90c), it can produces amazing espresso, cup after cup. No overheating, no need for Teflon separator. The machine delivers proper temperature espresso that tastes great and is very clear and revealing about the origin of the beans. No sourness to talk of either. You can however forget about steaming milk with this pressure.

When the pressostat is set to 1.4 bar, the machine produces ample super-dry steam and is a joy to steam milk with. You can however forget about getting good espresso with this pressure and the super hot boiler.

When the pressostat is set to the default 1.1 bar, you get neither. Espresso is frequently sour, because you have to rely on the grouphead to serve as a heatsink, and it isn't predictable or consistent for this purpose. Pull the shot when the grouphead is too cold and you get sour coffee. Flush some hot water first? Good luck guessing how much and how early would be just perfect. To make matters worse - subsequent shots are practically always too hot. The Teflon separator or wet towel methods aren't predictable or consistent either. You may get an occasional good shot, but repeatability just is not there. Milk steaming is possible, but isn't great.

Setting the pressostat to 1.4 bar and turning the machine off to get to 0.7 bar for espresso (and back on to 1.4 bar for steaming milk) improves things, but since the group-head takes longer to cool espresso is still too hot, and manually switching the machine on and off to achieve two desired pressure settings is no fun. I didn't buy this machine to become a human pressostat.

The best solution I guess it to own two MCaLs - one set at 0.7 bar, the other set to 1.4 bar. If you can afford it and have enough space in your kitchen, great. If not, pick one - great espresso, or great steam. You're not going to get both, and if you're under the impression that you do, try setting the pressostat to 0.7 bar (don't forget to get rid of the Teflon!) and 1.2 bar for a few days and experience what the machine is really capable of in both departments. It's a night and day difference.

I'm at a crossroads as to what to do with this conclusion. I currently have the machine set to 0.7 bar and enjoy its espresso immensely. I use my Quick Mill Alexia EVO for steaming, but its steam is a lot more wet and I don't find it to be an optimal solution. I previously did the opposite - set the MCaL to 1.4 bat and used the Quick Mill to produce espresso. This was fine, but I don't want to give up on the great espresso the Elektra is capable of producing. I guess the only good solution is to upgrade the Quick Mill to a DB machine (ACS Minima looks good), have both machines set to produce good espresso and use the new machine for steaming milk. The only catch is cost. I didn't really plan on upgrading my gear in the near future, but I don't see another way to solve this.

Update: I added a comment with more information about the steps I use to brew espresso when the machine is set to 0.7 bar.

Update #2: I edited this post after I noticed that I misread the pressure gauge. The default pressure (within the green zone) is 1.1, while the improved pressure for steaming is 1.4.

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#2: Post by samuellaw178 »

I concur with your observation, that's the conclusion I come to too when I was using Olympia Cremina & La Pavoni. A high boiler pressure allows you to steam really well, but the shot capability would take a can still get good shot if you surf the temp right, but the group will overheat rather quickly. If you lower the pressure to maximize your ability to pull consecutive shots, then the steaming becomes rather subpar (difficult to get microfoam).

There's one potential solution you can try though if you're into modding, which is by adding a teflon/heat breaker between the grouphead and boiler. This should allow you to run at a higher boiler pressure (in theory), but I haven't tried that to confirm.

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#3: Post by drH »

Just to add one more experience: I have been using a newer model Cremina for over a year and it doesn't overheat if you leave it on- idle temperature is great for pulling shots. Certainly it can overheat when you pull multiple shots, but I find that putting in a cold portafilter for 3-5 minutes is all it takes to return to an acceptable temperature(still not as fast as you can pull shots on a pump machine but pretty good). I monitor the temperature with a tiny thermocouple- not necessary but it really helps.

I've never used an elektra but I have read great things about them. I hope you eventually nail the routine that works for you. If you are open to an upgrade and really value temperature stability, can you go for a londiniumR?


#4: Post by vit »

I was thinking about mounting an additional switch to La Pavoni if I eventually decide to buy it, that would bypass the pressure stat and heat the boiler up to sec. valve opening pressure after pulling espresso, just not sure how long it would take and I think that someone wrote here it can damage the pressure stat ...

I don't have much experience with different machines, but I know that steam on superauto in our secretary's office at 1.25 bar was ok and that on Bellman I prefer to reach opening pressure of sec. valve before starting steaming, which is around 152°C/5 bar ...

boren (original poster)

#5: Post by boren (original poster) »

@samuellaw178 - I do have experience with the teflon heat breaker and added one between the grouphead and boiler. I don't consider it to bet a good solution. The whole concept of hoping that the grouphead would serve as a heatsink without true control of its temperature or cooling attributes is ill fated in my opinion. It's a lot more repeatable to have both the grouphead and boiler in the same optimal espresso temperature. The resulting coffee is great and repeatable, but steaming milk is no longer an option. BTW, when aiming for the grouphead and boiler to have the temperature the teflon just interferes and is best removed.

@drH - the issue is I don't want to use a workaround to cool the portafilter or the grouphead and only get acceptable results. I want to have a straightforward way to get optimal results, repeatedly. Switching to 0.7 bar provides just that. With the obvious downside of milk steaming.

The londiniumR is out of my budget. Moreover, I actually like having both a lever machine and an E61 grouphead one and don't want to give that up. Upgrading my Quick Mill to a dual boiler E61 machine would be the ideal solution for my needs and would cost less that the londiniumR. It's just that it's still not a cheap upgrade. Selling my Quick Mill and getting the ACS Minima would require spending roughly an extra 1K USD. Not unthinkable, but not something I would do without careful consideration.

@vit - a dual mode pressostat with an external switch would have been a decent solution. Much more practical than disassembling the machine every time I want to switch pressure. I don't know though if such a device exist. A PID with a switch between the two modes would also be a good option, but I don't have the skills and knowledge to install one to my machine. Maybe I should look for a technician who can do it. It would probably be less expensive than upgrading my other machine to a dual boiler.


#6: Post by vit »

I actually had in mind only a switch to bypass the pressure stat, without additional pressure stat for steaming (or dual mode pressure stat). So it would need monitoring the machine - but it's the same what all Bellman's users do - they put it on the stove and then decide when to start steaming (by the steam power or when the security valve starts opening). It would be easy to install and on my own risk. The question is just how long it would take to raise the pressure for about 0.5 bar (probably a few minutes)

Surely, additional pressure stat would be a better solution with additional level of security and that's what manufacturers would probably do in that case

boren (original poster)

#7: Post by boren (original poster) »

It sounds like a relatively simple solution, but my concern is that if I bypass the pressostat and get a phone call or some other distraction, I won't be around when the boiler overheats. Not sure I want to leave safety to chance.

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#8: Post by baldheadracing »

It is unfortunate to hear of your experiences. It sounds very frustrating. I love the steam from the MCaL and haven't had your experiences on the espresso side. However, machines/coffees/technique etc. will vary. I hope that you find a solution.
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boren (original poster)

#9: Post by boren (original poster) »

@baldheadracing, I'm using the MCaL since 2010, and for most of this time had it set to the default 1.1 bar pressure. I just accepted the inconsistent espresso and blamed it on luck. Reducing pressure to 0.7 bar was an eye opener though. The quality, consistency and repeatability of the espresso are all very significantly improved. Just make sure to remove the teflon heat breaker if you use one, and let it warm up for at least 25 minutes. Or don't do it if you want to continue to be at peace with your machine :wink:

boren (original poster)

#10: Post by boren (original poster) »

I realize I wasn't specific enough about my technique, so here it goes:

Initial setup
  • Before turning on the machine, set the pressostat to 0.7 bar. If it's set to 1.1 bar (the default), this would require 3/4 of a turn toward the minus sign.
  • Remove the teflon heat breaker if you use one. Put away any wet towels ;-)
Espresso preparation
  • Turn on the machine and give it at least 25 minutes to warm up
  • Use the double basket with 13 gram of coffee, for 1:2 ratio.
  • If you're using double-sided espresso cups, there's no need to warm them up. If you use a heavier cups you may want to warm them up a bit.
  • Before attaching the portafilter, flush a small amount of water through the group
  • Grind, distribute, tamp, then attach the portafilter and lower the lever. I like to start a timer at this point. Hold it down for 15 second pre-infusion. No drops of coffee are expected during this step (unlike when using the machine at 1.1 bar)
  • Release the lever very gently and let the spring do its work
  • It should take another 15 to 25 seconds until the lever reaches the top and stops (until second 30 to 40). Espresso drops should continue and will gradually slow down
  • Remove the cup when you get 23~26 gram of coffee. This usually happens around the 1 minute mark.
Now enjoy fabulous espresso and go search for another solution for milk steaming...