Article Feedback: Buyer's Guide to the Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica

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another_jim
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#1: Post by another_jim »

Over twenty years after its introduction, the Semiautomatica has remained unique. As the market for home espresso matured, other companies also produced home heat exchanger machines, but these were derived from small catering machines and looked far more conventional than the Elektra.

If one imagines espresso machines as cars, they would range from subcompact little home machines to Mack truck four groupers. The Elektra Semiautomatica doesn't fit anywhere along this continuum, because it's the motorcycle of espresso machines. It's as light and narrow as a standard home machine, has the drink making capacity of a small commercial machine, and has none of the conventional comforts.

Join me as I unravel the mystery behind the Elektra Semiautomatica, the ravishingly beautiful espresso machine that delivers surprising results with equally surprisingly ease. The Semiautomatica does this all while bucking the trend of ultra-flat brew temperature profiles. How did they do that?!?

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Jim Schulman

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another_jim
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#2: Post by another_jim »

An update:

I've removed the OPV and restrictor I previously retrofitted into the machine, and returned it to its stock, 14 bar single configuration. As I already said, it didn't make a lot of difference to the taste, and doing a Basset style overload on the doubles lets me be my usual sloppy self while levelling and tamping and still avoid the tendency to get overextraction on the edges.

Second, the feedback configuration of the OPV developed odd problems -- occasionally the pump would strangle, reducing flow but not pressure. I tried to analyze the problem but couldn't find anything wrong. My guess is that one can get a sort of merry-go-round, where the water just races through the exhaust port of the OPV back into the pump, and so on, and that this cuts the flow to the group. The original Valentina came in this configuration, and a beta tester Milwaukee found it very glitchy. They changed it to the conventional hose back to the tank configuration before they went into full production. The problem would go away when I blipped the boiler refill, dropping the pressure momentarily and cutting off the OPV exhaust. My guess is that the feedback configuration works well on rotary pumps because the mains pressure forces new water into the system and prevents this odd volume drop.

In any case, these two reasons together tipped the balance for me, so I'm back to stock.
Jim Schulman

rjkramek

#3: Post by rjkramek »

I actually got a chance to see an Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatic in person at a local Williams-Sonoma store of all places. My first thought was that I can now understand Jim's comments in his review regarding pictures not capturing the presence of this machine. It is striking and the store model was more so because of it being on the optional rounded wood base.

And I have to admit my second thought was "Wow, Williams-Sonoma is actually selling a real espresso machine" (I didn't ask but I assume only limited stores are selling these). They also had the Elektra espresso grinder. The grinder surprisingly is very small and I thought with the small hopper was kind of cute. Of course at $1999 for the espresso machine and $900 I believe for the grinder these weren't bargain prices, but hey it was nice to see one in the store as an option compared to all the autos.

Also today I was leafing through Christmas catalogs and see Hammacher Schlemmer is selling the Gaggia Achille.

Are places like HB actually having some influence on what is being offered? Of course, it is coming up to Christmas ....

It would be interesting to see if more high-end espresso machines end up on eBay after Christmas versus some other time of year ..... :wink:
Bob

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another_jim
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#4: Post by another_jim »

Stores like WS and HS will be attracted to any gorgeous kitchen equipment, since that will have a ready audience among its customers. I can't speak for the Achille, but the Semi may work out for them. Conventional espresso machines are a risk, since most people never use them properly and don't get shots that are as good as their local cafe's. This means the return rate may be unacceptably high, even at the markups they have. The Semi steams very easily, and is quite charitable on the shots. Also, one can pull the first two shots without flushing and be in the ballpark. So regular people may actually keep the machines.
Jim Schulman

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cannonfodder
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#5: Post by cannonfodder »

Williams-Sonoma, that is kind of surprising. One of my daughters friends mother is the WS manager for the local store. She stopped by to pick her up after a sleep over a few weeks ago and noticed the plethora of espresso machines in my kitchen. We got talking coffee, I made a few drinks, got into the coffee education talk and she offered me a weekend job running their coffee bar.

I had a hard time coming up with a way of politely saying you machines suck and your famed Illy coffee is horrible. I can not in good conscience push bad super-auto machines and bad coffee on people. I am afraid I would decrease their sales and increase the HB sponsors sales. WS would probably not approve of me telling folks to skip the Illy can and get a good grinder and beans from companies x, y, and z.
Dave Stephens

javajay

#6: Post by javajay »

I have a semiautomatica coming to the house this week!

Jim's review here and Mark's at CG really prepared me for this purchase versus all the other options in this price range. I spent 2 years with Silvia, about a year with an S1, and now am awaiting this beauty. I plan to do my own mini-review here after some time. There are very few people out there with this machine so I hope to provide more info from a consumer perspective. I'm looking forward to getting back into a routine also- As many know the Silvia routines are many but these routines can create a bond between user and machine. You have to be very well acquainted and treat with lots of respect if you want Silvia to play nicely. The S1 was the polar opposite. Most variables are well controlled so you can focus on tamping, grind volumes, etc. No more surfing! This was my primary reason for going from Silvia to a temp controlled dual boiler. My honeymoon with the convenience didn't last very long though. So now I'm going in another direction which I hope will be sort of 'the best of both worlds'. More stable and predictable than Silvia yet more demanding of my attention than the S1. I'm not knocking the convenience of dialing in a temp and pressing a button, I just want to be a little more involved in the process. I certainly will have some adjusting to do: No more quiet rotary pump, manually filling a reservoir, cooling flushes....... But I'm looking forward to all of it! Well, maybe not the vibe pump. I also needed a more portable machine. I'm an RN and my wife, 4 month old son, and I are going to be doing some traveling. The S1 was far from portable and plus needed to be plumbed. Many of my other HX considerations were heavier than I wanted for lugging around every 6 months. I'll be sure to post some of my experiences with the semiautomatica for those that may be leaning in the same direction. It's a little disconcerting to purchase a machine that has so little feedback (except for Jim and Mark) and that apparently fills such a small niche in the home espresso lovers arsenal.
Jay
Jay Jewett

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another_jim
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#7: Post by another_jim »

I look forward to hearing about your experience
Jim Schulman

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howard seth

#8: Post by howard seth »

I am a fairly new owner of an Elektra Semiautomatica purchased a few months ago. I became intrigued about the Elektra Semi after reading Jim's guide to the Semiautomatica- and Mark Princes guide (at Coffeegeek). I bought it when my nearly 5 year old Isomac Millenium was in the repair shop -

I really like the beautiful Elektra - it is particularly terrific as a cappuccino foamer. But after getting back my Millenium - and using that again for a few days recently- I seem to be getting sweeter espresso singles and deeper color with it than with my Elektra - which surprises me. could be my technique but....

.....I am wondering if another_Jim or anyone else has adjusted the pressure stat on the Elektra Semiautomatica in order to affect the espresso flavor. Is this the right thing to be fiddling around with? or is there some other component to adjust?

It would certainly be a lot easier to open up the Elektra Semi to get at the pressure stat (remove one screw at the base) -than it is to open up an Isomac Millenium.

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another_jim
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#9: Post by another_jim »

The shots on the Semi tend to taste lighter bodied. This is an illusion, the shots are heavy, but not as muddy. I find them sweeter.

My pstat was factory set so it turned off just as it gets into the green zone. I never adjusted it. I flush 3 to 4 seconds past the time the boiling ends.

For doubles, dose a little less than on the Millenium 16 top 17 grams, rather than 18 to 19, be very finicky on distributing, and keep the shots to around 27 to 30 seconds. You can go longer if you use 21 grams on a triple. Keep the shots shortish, around 1.5 ounces.
Jim Schulman

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howard seth

#10: Post by howard seth »

Jim -Thanks for your imput on the Elektra.

I opened up my Semiautomatica and turned the pressurestat screw up just a little towards the + (higher) It raised the pressure on the gauge a bit past the 1.5 line at the top of the cycle. More than I expected. I thought the espresso didn't taste as good, and the color was lighter so I subsequently turned it down again - now it goes up to about 1.3 - and better taste results.

Ah, Another thing I am wondering about - The group head gets quite messy with coffee grinds after every shot, so I flush it and wiggle the portafilter, and take a towel and wipe the screen, and then flush again before the next shot; am I perhaps overdoing the 'between shots' cleaning regimen? Should I wait to do such thorough cleaning till after the last shot -and then also include a few backflushes with a blind filter? (Which I usually do after the last shot.)

Howard