Buyer's Guide to the
If you're like most Americans, you were introduced to espresso as part of a cappuccino or latte. When prepared correctly, the sweet, creamy milk and rich espresso transform an enjoyable morning coffee pick-me-up into an intoxicating blend of flavors and textures. Over time, some home baristas' taste preference will drift towards straight espresso as they come to appreciate the nuances of the coffee itself. If you are such an "espresso purist," or perhaps an occasional cappuccino drinker, the Quickmill Alexia, offered by Chris' Coffee Service, was designed with you in mind.
Based on the time-tested design of the E61 brew group, the Alexia is forgiving of minor errors in barista technique. As a single boiler espresso machine, it also offers simple brew temperature management. With the addition of an optional electronic brew temperature control (or "PID"), it can reliably and easily pinpoint the desired brew temperature over a range. This is an enticing option for those who wish to fully explore the effects of brew temperature changes on the coffee's flavors.
Note: For a quick review of the three popular boiler designs (single, double, and heat exchanger), see Espresso 101.
Taking a cue from the success of the Quick Mill Anita, Andreja Premium and Vetrano heat exchanger espresso machines, the Alexia has the same rigid stainless steel frame and casing, resettable high-temperature limit switch, ball-valve steam wand, and easily removable drip tray and cover. All this in the decidedly smaller package of 9"W x 15.75"D x 15.25"H, but still packing a 0.75 liter boiler and weighing in at 38 pounds.
At the beginning of the research for this review, the Alexia was used with the stock adjustable brew thermostat. Later it was reconfigured to take advantage of the unique option of a pre-configured PID temperature controller. Whether installed by Chris' Coffee Service technicians prior to shipment or added at a later time, you'll appreciate how the Alexia's PID temperature controller reduces brew temperature management to the trivial task of setting the desired temperature on its digital display. The PID controller upgrade kit was developed by Jim Gallt of PIDkits.com exclusively for Chris' Coffee Service.
Is the Quick Mill Alexia the espresso machine of choice for the espresso purist? A beginner? Or latte lover? Let's find out.
Chris' Coffee Service has an unbelievable shipping department; Alexia was shipped late on Monday and arrived at my doorstep on Wednesday at noon. The machine was well packed, double boxed with foam corners separating the boxes, and topped off with Instapak hard foam. It was ready for all but the roughest "What can Brown do for you?" treatment. In the inner Quick Mill box, the machine was in a plastic bag, the portafilters and accessories in a smaller cardboard box that was nestled between the grouphead and the drip tray, hard Styrofoam on the bottom and another Instapak foam on the top.
The Alexia includes:
- Double and single spout portafilters with baskets,
- Blind basket for backflushing,
- Plastic coffee scoop with a plastic tamper end,
- Water hardness test strips.
There is no translated Italian Quick Mill manual, but instead a much more useful six page insert written by the owner of Chris' Coffee Service, Chris Nachtrieb (*). Only the first-time setup page and steaming operation section is espresso machine specific. The rest of the insert covers espresso brewing tips, frothing hints, and cleaning recommendations. This information is geared towards the first-time user and is worth reading.
If this is your first espresso machine purchase, I recommend the following accessories:
- Quality 58mm tamper,
- 12 or 20 ounce pitcher for milk steaming,
- Espresso machine cleaner for backflushing,
Optionally, I also recommend:
- Bottomless portafilter (the Rancilio commercial "Verna Original" portafilter sold by Chris' Coffee is my personal favorite),
- One or two of the so-called "La Marzocco ridgeless" double baskets,
- Tamping mat (although a bar towel will work just fine),
- Digital 0.1 gram accuracy scale.
These optional items are helpful and useful tools that will get you on the road to pulling great espresso sooner rather than later.
A dedicated espresso grinder and fresh coffee are a MUST for the Alexia. Pre-ground, store-ground, or whirly-blade ground coffee will only lead to end-user frustration. The Alexia also does not include an adaptor for espresso PODs. If you do not have an espresso grinder, the folks at Chris' Coffee Service will be glad to help you choose one to pair with the Alexia (see the site's espresso grinders review for shopping advice). For exceptional coffees, I suggest you look to one of the HB sponsor roasters; they're listed under Commerce on the Resources page.
The Alexia has a very simple and understated design. The highly polished, curvaceous E61 grouphead is complemented by curved side panels; together they help avoid the "square box" look so common among home espresso machines. The entire frame and exterior are made of relatively thick stainless steel, with the exposed outer surfaces being highly polished. By E61 home espresso machine standards, the Alexia is small, only a little taller and deeper than the Rancilio Silvia. Exterior fit and finish is excellent; everything is sturdy, well-designed and made to last. The level of fit and finish easily exceeds that of the Rancilio Silvia. All the steel edges that you will ever come into contact with are either rolled, polished, or filed to remove any sharp edges (I've received many a bad cut from the Silvia drip tray). My only complaint is that keeping that shiny steel looking good becomes a chore; microfibers cloths are great for recovering the chrome's brilliance after a long session of espresso-making.
The switches and panel lights are mounted across the angled top front edge. The labels are screened or etched; 'On/Off' for the power toggle, 'P' for the pump toggle and a steam icon for the steam mode toggle.
The Alexia is a pourover-style machine. To access the water reservoir, remove the cup warming tray. This is a bit of an inconvenience, but manageable as the cup tray only accommodates 6 cups. The cup tray has finger holes for a secure grip and the edges of the finger holes are rolled over, not sharp edges.
The swivel joint steam wand is to the left of the E61 grouphead and, like most single boiler machines, serves as the hot water dispenser when the machine is in brew mode. The steam wand tip is a two hole design. The machine is also equipped with a boiler pressure gauge that can be used to monitor brew pressure and to guesstimate the readiness of the boiler for steaming while in steam mode. While Americano lovers could use the wand for dispensing hot water, it splashes a lot and the sudden introduction of larger volumes of water perturbs the brew temperature; I recommend using a nearby microwave for hot water, if available.
The drip tray on Alexia is quite large and easily pulls out like a drawer while the drip tray's mesh cover remains. There is no handle on the drip tray like some machines, but the front edges protrude slightly to offer a decent grip. The drip tray cover also removes easily for cleaning. All edges of the drip tray and cover are either rolled or polished and not sharp; the bottom edge of the drip tray cover is scalloped for added visual interest. One nice detail of the drip tray cover is the raised and rolled lip edge at the back. This helps keep errant drips and water from getting under or behind the drip tray below.
For those that are considering the electronic brew temperature controller, Alexia features a precut front panel specifically designed to accommodate a 1/32 DIN PID controller! In my mind, the precision of the brew temperature control is the stand out feature of the Alexia, separating it from all other E61 grouphead single boiler machines. I'll return to this topic in detail later in Controlling Brew Temperature.
(*) In the spirit of full disclosure, the Quickmill Alexia guide was copyedited by Home-Barista.com writer Dan Kehn.
Setting up the Alexia is quick and easy.
- Rinse, clean and fill the water reservoir. The reservoir is listed as having a 3-liter capacity, but the useful volume is closer to 2.5+ liters. Reminder: Test the water hardness with the included test strips. Water hardness of 3 grains or less is acceptable. My water test was between 0-3 grains. If your water tests high, Chris' Coffee can discuss water treatment options.
- Locate the machine at an appropriate spot on the counter and plug it in. I like to work near a sink to clean up easily, but this is not necessary. Since the steam wand is on the left, you'll probably prefer to locate the grinder to the right.
- Fill the boiler. With all toggle switches in the off position, plug the machine in. Turn the power on (left toggle) and lift the brew lever. The left green lamp should be lit to indicate power and the middle red lamp will be illuminated since the heating element is on. As the boiler fills, confirm that the reservoir water level is dropping. If you don't hear water gurgling, don't wait too long—kill the power switch to avoid burning out the element. Once a steady stream of water is coming out the group, lower the lever. The boiler is now full and there should be little to no air left in the boiler. Top off the water in the reservoir.
- Warm up and wait. Lock in a portafilter and let the machine heatup (as indicated by the center red lamp). Once the lamp is out, the boiler has reached temperature. The owner's manual suggests a minimum of 30 minutes warm up time. I allow an hour if possible.
This is a summary only; please refer to the owner's manual for complete instructions.