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HB
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#1: Post by HB »

From the ornate features of the towering copper and brass Belle Epoque series to the ultra modern Nivola espresso machine, Elektra combines beauty, function, and capability in a compelling offering for discerning espresso aficionados. Functionally, it is a no-nonsense heat exchanger machine destined for small cafes. But its distinct styling is an attention magnet to anyone who enters the room. The Elektra Sixties model A3 espresso machine announces her presence unlike any home machine.

But man, it's big! Is this machine a little over the top for your average espresso lover? You bet! For that reason alone, the idea of reviewing Elektra's one-group offering was enticing and nicely consistent with the site's motto, "Your Guide to Exceptional Espresso." So began an intensive four-month review process. More...

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Dan Kehn

sheygetz

#2: Post by sheygetz »

I'd positively l o v e one of these! <sigh> Thanks, Dan, for this nice walkthru.
Actually I could get one used, 5 years old, for ~40% of the list price. But I am a little afraid of this huge boiler and the ensuing electricity bill. I've read the posts about insulation, but experience with other machines has shown that it'll reduce power consumption by no more than 10%, give or take.

Also - does it run from the proverbial bucket? At least until I have located and moved to new dwellings more appropriate for Her Royal Highness. :wink:

sheygetz

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

I haven't insulated the evaluation model (see Bob's step-by-step instructions), but I definitely would if it were mine to keep. For now I turn it on before going to bed and off before leaving for work. Those who have insulated it report a startling reduction in the heat that escapes. As for hookups, you'll need a FloJet if you won't have access to regular plumbing:

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The owner's manual says "Water supply must be fed from a suitable drinking water supply which will provide at least 2 to 4 bar pressure." I double-checked with the technicians at Chris' Coffee and they recommended 25 PSI.
Dan Kehn

Abe Carmeli
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#4: Post by Abe Carmeli »

I paid Chris Coffee a visit last week, and finally had a chance to pull shots on the A3. That machine is the most beautiful single group machine I've ever seen. It is hypnotically captivating. There were eight machines on display in Chris' exhibit room, including a 3 group commercial La Cimbali, and my eyes kept going back to the Elektra. I was pulling shots on it for almost two hours. Temp surfing with the A3 is a dream. It is extremely easy to identify the point in the flush where you need to start counting down to temperature. I did it all by sound, and with a little help from the thermofilter, I developed my count down rhythm to pin point brew temperature.

Dan, I admire you for having the will power to return that art piece back to Chris after your review. I wouldn't have. I was seriously thinking of camping out in his warehouse - her pull was just too strong.

P.S. For those of you who are wondering which Illy Collection cups are featured in the A3 picture, those frogs are part of the 2001 PS1 collection series.
Abe Carmeli

Bob Barraza

#5: Post by Bob Barraza »

I have been thinking of upgrading from my Livia 90 for quite a while now (actually, shortly after I bought it). I have taken my time and read about the many wonderful machines out there. However, I think that the choice is very subjective, based on skill, needs, space, $$, etc. Therefore the ability to 'test drive' a machine is invaluable. Well, thanks to Dan's generosity I was able to get some time with the A3 while it was at his home.

First, I had read a lot about how big she was. I agree that she has presence to say the least, dwarfing the Brewtus and Andreja that Dan had in the room. However, I had also been doing a lot of measuring at home comparing it with my Livia. What I found was that it is only a couple of inches wider and a couple of inches deeper (sorry I don't remember the exact differences). The biggest difference is in the height. It will still fit under my overhead cabinets, although the cup warmer area will be compromised which is not a big deal to me. Conclusion: it is bigger, but it will still command essentially the same footprint and space on my counter top.

I am six foot tall, and most prosumer machines with a bottomless portafilter mean that I am doing a lot of bending over. In fact, I have been using a small mirror to monitor the shot in order to spare my neck and back. The added height of the A3 is perfect for me! Ergonomically, the group and all of the controls are at a much more comfortable level for me. Monitoring the shot was very easy and natural.

The second thing that impressed me was how easy it was for me to pull great shots. Dan had dialed in the grinder, and he walked through the cool down rinsing step. I can't say that I was totally consistent with my dosing and distribution due to the difference in the portafilter weight and balance, etc. However, the shots were very good. Not as good as what Dan had just pulled, but better than 90% of what I could do at home on a good day. I pulled shots for about an hour or so, and things kept getting better. At home, I work at a pace and rhythm that comes with familiarity. No doubt in my mind that with a little more experience the shots would continue to improve.

The machine is very quiet. This is what makes it so easy to hear when you reach the end of the super-heated water flushing. With my vibe pump machine the end point for the super heated water is more vague because the 'hum' of the pump seems to vary depending on how long the machine has been on stand-by. In other words, I can see and hear the super-heated endpoint, however, feedback noise from the pump varies depending on how hot the machine is. It doesn't seem like it should matter, but I can taste the difference. Dan mentioned some of this in his review of the Cimbali Jr. where he said that he would do a short cool down rinse when he approached the machine after a long stand-by. He then did the normal cool down rinse just prior to pulling the shot. In any case, with my vibe machine the 'end point' is a lot more vague than what I experienced with the A3.

The third key point was the steaming power of this machine. It has an incredible flow rate with the four hole stock tip. Add to that the 'toggle' control valve (full on/full off), and you have what I would consider full commercial machine power to handle those 24 oz lattes. It was a bit overwhelming for me compared to my Livia with a two hole tip and my usual 6 oz of milk. My first attempt at steaming milk was not very stellar. It was probably comparable to the average coffee house, but far from what I normally achieve at home. The key difference was the volume of steam which cuts the time down dramatically. I asked Dan if he had a two-hole tip that I could try, 'training wheels' as Dan referred to it. Actually, a fair term for it. I only played around with it for a little while with water, but it was enough for me to feel confident that this too would improve with time.

Bottom line? I fell in love. I knew that this lady was for me. I slept on it, got up the next day and called Chris Coffee to order my A3! Another Elektra is coming to live with me.
Bob Barraza

LMWDP#0021

k7qz

#6: Post by k7qz »

One of my favorite things about this site is that it is such a great repository of collective espresso wisdom!

The following are a couple of things that I have discovered about the Elektra A3 since she came to live with me. The veterans here will likely find this $0.02 old hat. OTOH, relative newcomers to espresso passion who, like me, have only been at this obsession for 2 or 3 years may find these hints useful.

For comparison, I might mention that my prior machine was a LaCimbali Junior DT1.

The power cord to the Elektra terminates in three wires- one blue, one brown and one yellow/green striped. Not being familiar with international wire color standards I called the local electrical supply house and was told that the green striped wire was ground (I would have guessed this) and that blue was hot. I wired the 20-amp plug that came with the A3 as such and so far no explosions!

The factory band on my machine boiler came set triggering at 1.0 to 1.1 bar. Not bad but I thought I might want to play with the pressurestat setting at some point. In order to access the interior of the machine one simply has to lift the warming tray out, remove one screw and the top cover lifts right up and out. Very simple compared to my other machine.

The Sirai pressurestat is easily seen at the rear of the unit. To access the adjustment you have to pop out the little yellow button/cap on top of the stat, which then exposes the adjustment screw. I initially thought the other slotted screw present there was the adjustment, but it is the screw that holds the stat cover in place.

I then wanted to adjust the brew/group pressure from a factory setting of 8 bar to 9 bar as Dan recommended in his A3 posting. The owner's manual was a little vague to me on just how to accomplish this stating: "If necessary adjust pressure by operating the pump adjusting screw, located on the back of the machine." Hmmm. Dan was kind enough to direct me to the appropriate screw in question. It's the acorn shaped screw on top of the rotary pump. Once he pointed this out to me, it seemed rather obvious. But hey, that's how we learn ( at least me )- by asking dumb questions! I used a Sharpie indelible marker to make a dot on the nut for the factory screw setting to provide myself a reference point. I then set the pressure to ballpark simply by free flowing water through the group. Once I was close I then started pulling shots and fine-tuned the brew/group pressure to a reproducible nine bar reading on the gauge. On my machine an approximate 3/4 turn of the adjusting screw produced the desired one bar change in pressure.

If you decide to remove the sides of the A3, again it is a snap. Remove two screws from each side and the U-shaped cover lifts right off. As others have mentioned, it helps to have a second set of hands holding it while you remove the last screw to keep the pretty, shiny cover from crashing down onto your counter once it is free. Found this out the hard way...

After several days of use, I began to note that the "Really Big Lever" began to slip and drift down by itself. This was annoying because it would actuate water flow at the most inopportune time, such as when I was loading the PF into the group. I looked and looked for some way to tighten the handle but could not find one. I finally called tech support and they recommended I remove the nut on the top of the group head and stretch out the spring inside the group head to increase tension on the lever. As I said earlier, I am a relative new guy here but this did not make sense to me. Therefore, I pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the machine to think. That is when I noticed a small (read very small) indentation in the bottom of the "Really Big Lever" mount. Got my flashlight and sure enough I saw a tiny setscrew inside the indentation ( 2 mm hex ). Tightened the screw and no more problems. Within a couple of minutes of my Eureka! tech support called me back and said they had machines mixed up and mentioned this setscrew to me. If you do not know it is there, it is easy to miss.

The A3 is a somewhat "messier" than other machines that I have used in terms of water spray during the cooling flush. I think it is probably because the drip tray is shallow and the group head is really high. Someone mentioned they cover the on/off switch with a bar towel to keep it from getting soaked. I expanded on this a bit and lay a folded lengthways towel on top of the front quarter of the drip tray. This seems to catch a good share of the overspray. It also keeps the switch dry as mentioned.

I also was a little worried about the heat this un-insulated boiler might throw out. Yes, it is hotter to the touch than the Cimbali, but not uncomfortably so. I leave my machine on 24/7 and I do not find the generated heat to be excessive. It may have something to do with the fact that it is blue sky, sunshine and 20 F outside here! Perhaps I will change my mind when summer in the high desert rolls around!

The last thing that I would say is that I really love this machine! Temperature management is a piece of cake! Thanks to the A3 and the excellent help of those on this board, I am pulling consistent 9 shots and not infrequent 10 shots with the Elektra. Those of you looking for an HX unit of this caliber really owe it to yourselves to call Chris at Chris Coffee to find out more about this superb Elektra A3!

-Mike

electricbuckwheat

#7: Post by electricbuckwheat »

This week, I purchased and received a new A3 from Chris Coffee. Your review was extremely helpful in deciding on this machine.

However I have a couple of questions which might be of interest to other new and perhaps less experienced A3 users (If this is more appropriately posted in the "Tips and Techniques section, please relocate it!)

First a brief background. I have been home roasting for a couple of years and have several months experience with an Andreja Premium and Cimbali Junior grinder. I always found the Andreja frustrating since I have difficulty determining when the "water dance" ended. Not so with the A3, it is quite apparent and I feel much more comfortable with temperature surfing.

My first question relates to dosing and distribution. I am consistently overdosing - as evidenced by the dry coffee adhering in fairly large patches to the dispersion screen. I am using the same procedure that worked fine on the Andreja. Basically, I grind about 17 grams and distribute it evenly in the basket using a straight edge before tamping. This leaves about 16 grams in the basket. After tamping with 15 pounds or so of pressure, I lightly tap the basket a couple of times to loosen the coffee on the sides. Then I apply 30#s of pressure with the Espro automatic tamper and polish off. It is then slightly over the inside basket ring and that means it makes the unwanted contact.

My question is how can I reduce the amount of coffee and still evenly distribute it since that will mean the smaller amount of uncompressed grinds will not quite reach the top of the basket? Or is there another approach that works better for others?

My second question is: What is a good bottomless portafilter for this machine and where can they be purchased? The salesperson at Chris Coffee said their offering didn't work well with the A3.

I am sure that my relative inexperience is a HUGE factor here so any help is greatly appreciated.

BTW, the A3 is beautiful, well made and a complete pleasure to use. I am certainly looking forward to enjoying it.

Charles

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

electricbuckwheat wrote:My first question relates to dosing and distribution. I am consistently overdosing - as evidenced by the dry coffee adhering in fairly large patches to the dispersion screen. I am using the same procedure that worked fine on the Andreja. Basically, I grind about 17 grams and distribute it evenly in the basket using a straight edge before tamping. This leaves about 16 grams in the basket. After tamping with 15 pounds or so of pressure, I lightly tap the basket a couple of times to loosen the coffee on the sides. Then I apply 30#s of pressure with the Espro automatic tamper and polish off. It is then slightly over the inside basket ring and that means it makes the unwanted contact.
As Ken Nye mentioned in the Bench comments, the extractions were better using a convex tamper. Bob Barazza and I made the same observation. A little bit more puck-to-dispersion screen clearance than your Andreja should be adequate. Personally I never never tap the portafilter to knock down loose grounds since the risk of breaking the puck adhesion is greater than a supposed harm of a few floating granules of coffee. Some pros prefer to give the portafilter a quick flip to drop off the loose coffee. I do a four corner NSEW "Staub" tamp myself.
My question is how can I reduce the amount of coffee and still evenly distribute it since that will mean the smaller amount of uncompressed grinds will not quite reach the top of the basket?
If you wish to downdose, a nice fluffing using the Weiss Distribution Technique will give you heaps of height to play with. If you're having troubles with channeling / uneven distribution, the WDT and the extraction troubleshooting checklist are the answer.
My second question is: What is a good bottomless portafilter for this machine and where can they be purchased? The salesperson at Chris Coffee said their offering didn't work well with the A3.
They are mistaken. I used the Verna original / bottomless Rancilio commercial portafilter and it locks in perfectly. That's the one pictured in the article:

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Dan Kehn

stevendouglas

#9: Post by stevendouglas »

Charles,

I've had my A3 for about 7 months now, so by all means and measures, I'm no expert nor do I have prior experience with another prosumer espresso machine. So take this for what it's worth.

1. I believe that my A3 came with a bottomless portafilter, and I have another one from Espresso Parts. I've never had any problems with either. In fact, I never use anything but a bottomless portafilter.

2. As for the dose, I had problems initially with overdosing (the grouphead is rather low). However, I dropped the dose down to about 17 grams (in the filter), and I don't have problems. My routine is similar to yours, but here's how it goes:

- I use the Weiss Distribution Technique so I dose into a yogurt cup.

- After I've stirred it, but before I remove the yogurt cup or distribute, I give the portafilter a gentle tap on the counter to settle the coffee.

- After removing the yogurt cup but before distributing, I give it another gentle tap on the counter (nothing too hard). This time to both further compact the coffee in the PF and to fill in the space left by the cup.

I then distribute, tamp to 30 pounds, a very light tap on the side, dump any loose grounds, tamp again to 30 pounds.

With this, I can put a dime on the top of the puck and it leaves a light imprint on the puck when I lock it in. Note, that I use a Espro tamper every now and then to calibrate myself, but I typically use a convex tamper since I think it works a little better on the A3.

Most people on here have far more experience so I'm sure they can provide more or better advice. It may very well depend on your coffee blend as well.

Steve

In the time I was writing this and trying to troubleshoot a bad internet connection, Dan has already answered your question!
Steve Douglas
Sacramento, CA

electricbuckwheat

#10: Post by electricbuckwheat »

Dan and Steve,

Thanks for the quick replies and suggestions! I will experiment with each of them. Again, I am certain that my lack of experience with multiple machines is the primary factor here, although I was obtaining decent shots with the Andreja.

Are all convex tampers equal? I did not see one on the Chris Coffee site so I would appreciate a suggestion as to brand and source.

Thanks again,

Charles