Quickmill Alexia
Conclusion


Chris' Coffee Service To be perfectly honest, the Quick Mill Alexia exceeded all expectations that I had for it. This review was my first exposure to the much-lauded and discussed E61 grouphead. The bulk of my home experience was with a PID-equipped Rancilio Silvia espresso machine and a commercial HX machine or two. I didn't anticipate the E61 group to be as forgiving as it is and to live up to all the hype, nor did I expect the PID brew temperature controller to perform at the level that it does. Simply stated, it delivers idiot-proof brew temperature control with pinpoint precision.

If you're an espresso-only or occasional cappuccino drinker that enjoys experimenting with brew temperatures without the fuss of learning the nuances of HX flushing or the higher cost of a double boiler, the Alexia is an excellent choice. The PID brew temperature controller allows one degree incremental adjustments and the group restabilizes quickly (e.g., adjust down one degree, flush a few ounces, wait a few minutes, then continue as usual; if you want extra precision, a second flush / wait helps for the first extraction after an adjustment). Optimally the Alexia needs about two minutes between extractions to nail the brew temperature in a long series, but you can get away with a pair of more tightly paired extractions if you're serving yourself and a friend. Sometimes I would prepare two baskets and served the first espresso to a visitor; by the time I brought the first drink to the table and returned to the Alexia, it was ready for the next shot.

Let's put some scores to the Alexia and see where it falls with other E61 machines as well as in comparison to the Rancilio Silvia.

First up, is the exceptional espresso score. This is a relative scale of the espresso quality a barista with moderate experience should expect on a daily basis. The Alexia, especially with the PID controller, scores a solid 9.0. The stock machine is equally capable of great espresso, if you're willing to tolerate the added inconvenience of temperature surfing. The Rancilio Silvia, while perhaps occasionally equivalent on espresso taste with excruciatingly rigid barista techniques and perhaps a little luck, doesn't perform with the same level of consistency as the Alexia, thereby justifying a lower score of 7.0.

Next up is the morning after score. This is another relative scale that considers those who are learning and what they should reasonably expect in the early days following delivery. Here the Alexia, much like the Isomac Amica, scores an 8.5 (assuming that you've taken the added effort / time to temperature surf for consistency, no need for that on the PID-equipped machine). If you're rushed or not exceptionally demanding, choosing a "pull whenever I darn well feel like it" approach would only lower the Alexia's worst-case score to 7.0 in the stock configuration. The Alexia's gentle pressure ramp up of the E61 preinfusion system indeed demonstrates to me that the E61's reputation as a desirable and forgiving group is warranted. As witnessed by countless reports in the forums here and elsewhere, Silvia the "harsh mistress" regularly mets out punishment to unsuspecting newcomers of the home espresso world. Her morning after score is equally harsh, a crushing 3.0.

Owing to the fact that the Alexia is a single boiler espresso machine that requires a few minutes before it's ready to steam milk, but considering the multi-holed steam tip and multi-directional steam wand that makes producing microfoam a bit easier, (and in the case of the PID-equipped machine, a temperature display to let you know when you can to start steaming), Alexia's cappuccino lovers score is 7.0, giving it an edge over the Rancilio Silvia which scores a 6.0. Note: A "no burn" steam arm like the one on the Andreja Premium and Vetrano is available at an additional cost; this option was not evaluated in this review.

On the convenience and features score, the Alexia shows the weaknesses of its single boiler design. It lacks instant steaming and a dedicated hot water tap as found on an HX-based espresso machine. In the stock configuration, it earns a 7.0. On the other hand, the possibilities opened by the on-the-fly one degree F temperature adjustment of the PID controller warrants a higher score of 8.0.

The Alexia takes a slight hit for using a non-commercial over-pressure valve and compression-style steam valves in comparison to the Quick Mill Vetrano and Andreja Premium, resulting in a materials and workmanship score of 8.0 in the stock configuration. However, with the top notch PID implementation which includes the heater cutoff relay and added boiler insulation, it deserves a higher score of 8.5.

Exceptional
Espresso

Morning
After

Cappuccino
Lover’s

Convenience / Features

Materials / Workmanship

Quickmill Alexia

9.0

8.5

7.0

8.0*

8.5*

Quickmill Andreja Premium

8.5

7.5

9.0

8.0

8.5

Rancilio Silvia

7.0

3.0

6.0

5.0

8.0

(*) Score shown is for Alexia with optional PID brew temperature controller.

With the popularity of the PID-equipped Rancilio Silvia, it's natural to compare these two models. Below are my thoughts on two key questions a shopper should consider:

Is the Quick Mill Alexia right for me?

First off, just as Chris' Coffee Service markets it, I think the Alexia is best suited to the espresso only enthusiast, or minimally the "occasional" milk-based drink consumer. I would be loathe to recommend the Alexia to someone that hopes to consistently build two or three milk-based drinks back to back. For my consumption habits, the Alexia has been an extremely good fit. I prefer straight shots and Cafe Americanos. At most, I make only two or three cappuccinos a week. For that sort of volume, I'm willing to wait 2 minutes before I can steam milk.

Second, Alexia may also be a good fit for the beginner—someone that may be considering the Rancilio Silvia or a similar single-boiler dual-use class machine—but would like to get a machine that they know they will be happy with for a long time. The well-deserved reputation of forgiveness of the E61 grouphead preinfusion will be especially welcome to beginners. Potential Alexia buyers could start without the PID kit if they are on a tighter budget, and add the PID later as their finances allow.

Since it has a small foot print, the Alexia is also a good fit for someone with somewhat limited kitchen counter space. It may also be a good choice for someone that needs to use bottled water. With the PID-controlled Alexia, you should expect to use less water than temperature surfing the stock Alexia machine or any HX-based machine. Less water usage also equates to less filling of the pourover reservoir and dumping the drip tray, both very mundane chores.

With the PID controller installed, the Alexia is a very easy machine to use. There is no need to temperature surf the boiler, no "water dance" to observe as in an HX-based machine. If a higher or lower brew temperature is desired, just bump the PID setting up or down a few degrees, wait a few minutes, do a quick "warm-up" flush of the group to stabilize the group (as well as warm your cup) and the Alexia is ready to go. No watching, no listening, no thermocouple or thermometer adapters needed, no timing or measuring flush volumes. Just tweak the temperature and pull the shot.

If you frequently entertain latte and cappuccino lovers, the Alexia is not a very good fit. While you can easily pull shot after shot at two minute intervals, pausing to steam or pulling a bunch of doubles that will sit waiting for the boiler to reach steam temperature is not a good thing. If you have a small crowd and own the Alexia, play it safe and say "Would you like a coffee?" and then serve them a Cafe Americano. If you don't want to be a slave to the espresso machine, serve your drinks stretched out over an extended period of time. Let your guests know that good coffee takes time. After all, you're likely about to serve them one of the best coffee drinks to pass their lips anyhow!

Is the Quick Mill Alexia worth the extra cost compared to the Rancilio Silvia?

The Quick Mill Alexia machine puts the potential buyer in a bit of a quandary in terms of its price point. In comparison to the ever popular Rancilio Silvia, current machine pricing puts the PID-equipped Alexia at about a $300 premium over a PID-equipped Silvia. The extra cost of the Quickmill Alexia offers:

  • Infamous E61 grouphead,
  • Extra portafilter,
  • Bigger boiler and a bigger drip tray,
  • Larger pourover reservoir,
  • Ergonomic articulated steam wand.

In my experience, the Alexia delivers great coffee more consistently and with less effort than the Rancilio Silvia. It may be hard to justify $300, especially for a budding enthusiast, but let's just say I have not shed a tear for Silvia during the course of this review and I don't relish the thought of going back to "her".

At the slightly higher end range of espresso machines, espresso machines like the heat exchanger based Quick Mill Anita come into play. It's not an easy call between the no-brainer brew temperature control of the Alexia without instant steam versus the brew management required by heat exchangers. Alexia's advantages are smaller size, precise control, minimal water usage, and much less temperature management attention required. But, as previously mentioned, the Alexia is best suited to the straight shot espresso drinker. If you and/or your spouse are a daily cappuccino or latte drinker or if you frequently entertain, an HX-based espresso machines would be the better choice, if not a dual boiler machine at a considerable increase in cost.

Acknowledgments

A warm thank you to Chris Nachtrieb, Mary and Roger at Chris' Coffee Service. Without their support, this review would not have been possible.

Jim Gallt of MLG Properties, LLC, has been very helpful in providing help and answering questions regarding the optional PID kit for the review machine. This review resulted in the addition of a heater cutoff relay for the PID kit. Thanks are in order to both Jim and Chris Nachtrieb for addressing this issue.

A special note of thanks to Sebastian Little of Great Infusions for sharing some great ACF espresso cups.

Home-Barista.com would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the following coffee roasters for coffee donations during the review period:

  • Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters - Kid-O's Organic Espresso blend
  • Caffe Fresco - Ambrosia and Daterra Reserve Espresso
  • PT's Coffee Co. - Bella Vita and Bella Vita #2, Big Planet F.T.O., and Capre Ballanti Espresso blends
  • Paradise Roasters - Espresso Classico and the S.O. India Sitara
  • Coffee Klatch Roasting - Klatch (House) Espresso, Bella Espresso, US Championship (USBC) Espresso and the WBC Championship Espresso blends
  • Northern Italian style espresso from the now defunct Coffee Partners, LLC, Asheville, NC
  • Super Tuscan Espresso from The Roasterie, Kansas City, MO
  • Several espresso blends from local shops that use house blends from Counter Culture Coffee
  • Raleigh, NC-based Larry's Beans.

Dan Kehn and all the Team HB members at Home-Barista.com, thank you for your editorial corrections, support, understanding and most of all for letting me play like a kid in the candy store.

All the sponsors and members of the Home-Barista.com community also deserve a note of thanks. Home-Barista.com is a community, without our readers, sponsors and contributors, this wouldn't be half the fun it is. Thank you for taking the time to read, ask questions or respond in any of the Home-Barista.com forums. If you are a long time lurker, I invite you to participate in the Home-Barista forums.