The Elektra Micro Casa a Leva home espresso blog

The Elektra Micro Casa a leva is a beautiful home espresso machine. But is it capable of making great coffee? Follow my pursuit of ultimate espresso coffee as I learn to use this exciting machine.

Location: Trondheim, Norway

Thursday, March 31

Great improvement

Things are going much, much better. I'm learning fast, thanks to my experience with other machines (Silvia and la Valentina). I still concentrate about making double ristrettos (forgetting about introducing more water in the middle of the shot) and I have been quiet happy about some of my shots.

Double ristretto. Ottolina Classica blend.

When the spring is loaded and water is introduced into the group head, the volume of the shot will pretty much be decided, unless you take the cups away before the spring finishes the shot. The volume of the double ristretto is just below 30 ml, and thus can be described as a pretty short ristretto. Nothing wrong about that :-)

I've been experimenting with the grind and the tamp. I'm leaving the dosing out of the question till later (all I've done is to make sure that there's room for swelling of the coffee below the dispersion screen, checking that there's about 1 mm clearance when applying what I would consider a "standard" dose and tamp). I'm getting the best results when tamping pretty hard (18-20 kg pressure) and adjusting the grind to make a 20-24 second shot. That gives some dripping in the beginning of the shot, but mostly a steady stream of espresso. How the coffee should flow is very dependent on the blend you're using! I have tried a lighter tamp and a finer grind, but I get less crema and it is too light, so it seems that a firm tamp works better with this coffee.

Every shot has less crema than I get with a pump machine with this coffee. But it's a nice coloured crema, and how the crema looks is much more important than the amount of crema. I guess the amount of crema can be contributed to the fact that a spring gives a "pump pressure" starting at 8-9 bars and gradually going down towards zero bars at the end of the shot. An electrical pump gives 8-9 bars throughout the shot, which will release more insoluble substances and thereby give more crema in the cup. Can this be a problem with spring piston machines? Well, I won't know until I've tried different coffee blends, but maybe it can exclude some blends that are already weak on crema. Some of these may be 100% arabica blends. But I don't know yet. More experience is needed.

The taste profile of the coffee is what really occupies my mind now! I'm dying to try another coffee, just to check out which of the flavours can be contributed to the lever machine (i.e. typical of a lever machine). There is a very noticeable difference in taste between the Micro Casa and my vibratory pump machine. It tastes LESS somehow, but it is still very pleasant and with a longlasting taste. It lacks some of the punch I'm accustomed to, but it is different in a way that is still acceptable. I hope to extend my vocabulary after testing other coffee types....

Monday, March 28

Making espresso again!

I´m making espresso again! The grinder and the Micro Casa arrived on the same day, Friday before easter.

Unpacking of the Elektra espresso machine

It was hard to leave the city. At that time, I could easily have skipped going to the cabin with my family. But now I´m back, rested and extremely motivated for further investigation of my new lever machine.

Not small. Not big either. But it has style!

The Mazzer Mini without bean hopper mounted.

The Mazzer Mini is 100% good news. Firstly, I really like the dark red colour (relief!). It is heavy. It seems to be rock solid. I was surprised that it grinds so quietly; the Rancilio Rocky was a bit more noisy. The doser is very good and it leaves few grinds behind. I gave the Mazzer a first test with the la Valentina espresso machine that I know so well what is capable of. It wasn´t much trial and error before the grind was right –the first two shots went into the sink, but the third shot was a nice and steady 25 second pour (2 * 30 ml) with dark brown crema and no whitening. Just as good as the best shots I´ve ever made on that machine. The Mazzer seems to be a very good purchase!!

I´m using Ottolina Classica beans. I know that blend very well and I´m aware that when I´m learning to use a new machine, with some new principles and a lot of variables that I have little control of, it will be a good help to know the coffee blend. I have bought 4 kilos in bags with one-way-valve.

My kitchen. The Mazzer Mini in the background.

But what about the Elektra? Well, it would be naive to think that everything should be allright immediately. I admit that I was expecting better results the first shots than I actually got. The first shots were terrible –only traces of crema on a black surface and the coffee was pretty much undrinkable. But was I doing ANYTHING right at this point: No!

The tamping was difficult, mainly because the portafilter felt strangely small and toyish compared to a 58 mm standard size, and secondly because the spouts are positioned to the side instead of symmetrical around the handle of the portafilter. This is of course because the PF locks in differently (i.e. in a four o´clock position, and not pointing straight out in a six o´clock position). I´m getting more used to this already, after just a day, but at first I couldn´t tamp properly, which of course makes a good shot impossible.

In the beginning it can be a bit troublesome to lock in the PF, because the grouphead is so tight (because it is brand new) and the machine is sliding around a little. The grouphead will be less tight after short use, and I have already improved the technique of inserting the PF. I keep my left hand on the base of the machine, and I find this very steady and it is better than holding around the lever with the left hand. I felt terribly clumsy making my first shots…..

And then of course it is the new principle with the lever. The lever is lowered to load a spring and to fill a chamber with water, and then you wait for the preinfusion and the first few dribbles of coffee to appear at the spouts (after 8-10 seconds) and you then release the lever. And to introduce enough water to build a double shot, you have to lower the lever once again in the middle of the shot (after the lever has raised 2/3 ). I stressed too much doing this, I wasn´t very gentle. More practise is required!

After making 2-3 shots the machine overheats. As a consequence, I make coffee every 3-4 hours, and I do a lot of thinking in between. Which improvements can be made? How fast should the lever raise? 25 s? 30 s? 15 s? It is an obsession to get to my first drinkable espresso!

I made one clever decision, and that was to start making double ristrettos, skipping the second introduction of water in the middle of the shot. I can come back to that later. It´s better to concentrate about all the other factors first.

And my first double ristretto was quiet nice :-) It took the lever 28 s to raise. The crema looked fine and dark brown (but not more than 3-4 mm thick). And the taste? Nice….but as expected it is quiet different from the taste from a vibratory pump machine. I would describe that first tolerable shot as: Pleasant, but lacking something. Maybe it is just habit from my taste buds.

The rest is good news: I´ve got the nicest looking machine I can think of. Rumours are spreading among my friends who still haven´t been here, and they are all coming for coffee and for a look at the machine. When it comes to my skill, I´m definitely not THERE yet. But it looks promising thanks only to that last double ristretto….

I'm back in business. And that shows when looking at the dishwash.

Sunday, March 13

Great news!

Now I can say for certain that the espresso machine and the grinder will arrive in just a few days! The Micro Casa is in Norway and will be shipped to me on wednesday, while the Mazzer grinder is said to be right around the corner as well.

I spent all of saturday watching the final round of the norwegian barista championship in Oslo. I went to Oslo for this occasion and I'm happy I did. I do not have the time to write about it now, but I will put out some pictures later and give some comments. Thomas Gauperaa has covered the championship with excellent photos and comments, and the best thing I can do is to refer to his blog.

Monday, March 7

Coffee time...

In the show window of the local coffee store

Yes, it is definitely coffee time.... I consider it hard work to wait for the new grinder and the Micro Casa to arrive. It takes a long time. I must say I regret selling my old Rancilio Rocky grinder too early. I was just happy to find a buyer. I haven't been able to make espresso with my la Valentina espresso machine since christmas! I keep up the spirit by going to the excellent local coffee bar, Dromedar (I will tell more about Dromedar in a later post).

I have focused on drip coffee after selling my espresso grinder. I roast at home, using my Imex CR 100 roaster. Roasting small batches for drip coffee allows me to have fresh coffee -always! For the last couple of months I've been drinking a lot more drip coffee than usual, and now I think that a fresh home roast is better than buying a week old beans that are professionally roasted. I don't know if a blind test would give the same result, because knowing that I roasted the beans myself gives me a very satisfactory feeling. And my friends love it! I do not roast for espresso with this roaster. More about my roaster in a later post.

I look forward to saturday. I'm going to Oslo to watch the norwegian barista championship. Not only will it be a lot of fun to watch the competition, but I look forward to meet the baristas, the trade people that I know and of course other friends. The winner will be qualified for the world barista championship in USA in april. Last summer I went to Trieste, Italy, and watched Tim Wendelboe from Norway become the world champion! Since then, I will always have fun watching the best baristas compete. I will give a report from the norwegian championship.

I hope I will receive the postal parcels soon, maybe before the weekend? :-)