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.

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Location: Trondheim, Norway

Tuesday, April 26

Elektra machines in Trondheim

Some time ago I spotted an advertisement-board that said something like: "Have a look at the most beautiful espresso machine in Trondheim!". The place was Bær&Bar, a bar and restaurant with a truly good atmosphere. The machine turned out to be an Elektra Verticale from the Belle Epoque series of Elektra. That is certainly a machine to be proud of -machines like that are not a common sight in Norway. It was bought at a trade fair in Milano.

The Elektra Verticale at Bær&Bar in Trondheim

They have put out a new advertisement-board now: "Do like the Italians, espresso 10 kr". That's quiet cheap in Norway. A good thing. Except they don't know how to prepare proper espresso. The shot (preground...) came out whitish and bitter, as they didn't flush the group to get the correct working temperature, and the cleaning routines were obviously not good.

Anyway, it's a cool machine!

Pouring my shot

Close to this place, there's another bar, "Cielo" who has an Elektra Maxi from the Modern series of Elektra. I ordered an espresso, but got the worst nightmare of a drink I've ever had. They even invented a new rule to break, when serving the drink in a cup cake beaker. It's a shame, they should know better -they sell the best Italian style icecream in Norway!

A few years ago, I tested the espresso at almost every café. I was just eager to discover what was out there. I don't do that anymore, as most cafés are not interested in educating their employees to make good espresso. But at the moment I make an exception when it comes to Elektra machines :-) Gotta be a patriot!

Wednesday, April 20

Searching for a favourite italian coffee blend

I have tried several Italian espresso blends. Last summer, I brought with me 6-7 kilos of coffee from Italy. That is just a very small and random selection of Italian espresso coffee, because in Italy there are somewhere between 800 and 1000 different coffee roasters. However, I think I came home with the typical supermarked quality coffee. They were nicely packed in bags with one-way-valve. But most of this coffee had a quality that was far below what I've ever had before. I guess some of the blends were 60+ % of robusta. The huge amounts of crema could make you laugh -or cry! My Valentina espresso machine simply couldn't cope with all the foam trying to get out of the spouts. Are such blends meant for mocha pots? I don't know. Most of these beans ended up in the trash bin -I'm sorry to say so. Other blends were OK. I consider it a nice experience to try common italian blends, and it makes you apreciate the good blends even more.

Ottolina is an Italian roaster, based in Milano. Like many other Italian roasters they sell various blends, each containing different beans. The blends differ in roast, taste, appearance and other characteristics (in Norway, the whole product range can be bought from Temperato).

The Ottolina blends are very well balanced and with sweetness and a good mouthfeel. They must be considered high quality. I have tried three of these blends, the Classica, Fortissima and Buongiorno blends. The Classica and the Fortissima works very well with my la Valentina. These blends seem to have a balanced and moderate robusta content, giving a full-bodied espresso but the robusta not being a major taste component.

Line up of three Ottolina blends in bags with one-way valve. The Classica, Fortissima and -to the right -the Buongiorno blend.

The Buongiorno is a bit different. It consists of three different beans, among them a large share of indian robusta. It wasn't a favourite with my la Valentina. It's not as sweet as the other two blends, and a bit too "strong", having an unpleasant bite for someone used to 80-100% arabica blends.

But guess what? This blend is a LOT better when prepared on my Micro Casa. I got 2 kg of beans yesterday. It seems like the taste components that I at first called "unpleasant" have been diminished, and the taste is now balanced and sweet, yet strong. It was not a bad guess that a blend like this would be a success with the Elektra. It gives less of the taste components that are not wanted, and the high robusta content gives all the crema that I want. The Buongiorno blend seems to be a good choice with the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva . And the cappuccini I served some friends yesterday were among my best ever :-)

There are other blends which I look forward to try. Among them, a Lavazza blend that has a caramel flavour that I remember as very good. I also hope I can get fresh Illy beans somewhere.

Sunday, April 17

Better understanding of grouphead cleaning

In my last post, I wrote that I had removed the piston and taken a closer look at the grouphead, and that it was dirty. It worried me. But now I know that there are some good news about the daily maintenance of the Elektra. The machine has no pressure relief valve. That makes the wet coffee grounds splash around if the portafilter is taken out too soon after brewing. The pressure must be allowed to drop first. But, also, because there is no pressure relief valve, no coffee is sucked into the brew chamber; all coffee and all the water goes "downwards". The shower screen is easily rinsed when you run some water through the group after brewing. The reason everything was so dirty after three weeks of use, was that I have rarely been patient enough to let the pressure drop sufficiently before taking out the PF. I blame old habits....

A dedicated brush and a cloth can be used to keep the group gasket free of grounds. I still want to do some detergent cleaning from time to time. Tomorrow I will receive a device (in lack of a better word) that clogs the coffee filter. I hope this will imitate a blind filter, making it easy to perform detergent cleaning (and maybe a portafilter wiggle, too).

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I tried a new espresso blend, Preben's espresso, roasted by Solberg&Hansen, under direction of Preben Oosterhof. He was one of the founders of the Dromedar café concept in 1997. He's both an eminent barista and a man who gets things done. A couple of years ago, he started a café driven by drug addicts under rehabilitation, called "Stolt" ("Proud" in english), and for this he won the "Young entrepreneur award" of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) this year.

The recipe of this espresso blend is still a well guarded secret :-) , but it consists of beans from Central and South America and I think it has some robusta in it. But the great news considering my Elektra, is that this blend tastes truly great when brewed on the Elektra. Decent amounts of crema, and a sweet, very fruity taste. Yes, I have tried the blend on my Valentina too, but this time I feel that although different in taste, there is nothing lacking in taste when brewed on the Elektra. I guess the temperature this time is bull's eye, the beans fresh and everything else to my liking. This is the first time I feel that the Micro Casa can produce great espresso, when everything is right.

Thursday, April 14

Group cleaning problems

My first espresso machine was a Rancilio Silvia. I made espresso for several months before I unscrewed the dispersion screen to take a closer look at it....Then I really understood how important cleaning is. I began to apply the portafilter wiggle* on a daily basis and I rinsed the group with espresso machine detergent almost weekly. When I received my la Valentina with an E-61 group I was a little disappointed that the dispersion screen couldn't easily be removed. I was eager to take out the group gasket, remove the dispersion screen and have a look at the state of cleaning. When I finally did, I was happy to see that my routines were indeed good enough. And having good routines there will be no need to take out the dispersion screen very often.

But what about my Elektra machine? After three weeks I thought it was due time to take out the piston and have a look. The brew chamber and the dispersion screen of the Micro Casa is accessible from the top after removing the piston (just unscrew two hex bolts and let the piston slide out).

View from top of the group after removing the piston. Dispersion screen at the bottom.

Things didn't look good. It was pretty dirty. The reasons for that, I think, is that 1) The machine doesn't have a pressure relief valve, so the portafilter has to sit in for a minute before taking it out. Otherwise it gets really messy -coffee is thrown everywhere and the group gasket gets a thick layer of coffee on it. Being a little patient before removing the portafilter pays off when it comes to cleaning. 2) The machine doesn't come with a blind filter (I'm checking out if I can get one). Doing the portafilter wiggle with the double filter isn't half as good as having a blind filter. I know that the spring lever mechanism makes the wiggle a bit more difficult, but it should still be possible. Also, detergent cleaning is much easier and can be done by use of the portafilter -that is easier than removing the whole piston unit. I found that the piston has a very, very close fit. It took me three minutes to get it back in position, because the gaskets were slightly wider than the diameter of the cylinder.

Piston with spring and lever

And the cleaning? It was easy to clean the group and the dispersion screen from the top. But it is not a satisfactory way of cleaning the machine. Cleaning the machine from the top is something that I seldom want to do. That means there has to be a way to keep the machine tolerably clean on a daily basis. I will improve my cleaning routines, and I will write about it on this blog.

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* Portafilter wiggle: The cleaning technique where you run the pump, and with a blind filter inserted you wiggle the portafilter around without completely locking it in. This rushes water around to clean the group gasket and the dispersion screen.

Monday, April 11

Improving the tamping technique

It's easy to get into habitual thinking. I have always had a rubber mat for tamping -this is good to have with a regular 58 mm portafilter. But up til now it has been a bit difficult to get a level tamp using that mat with the Micro Casa portafilter, because the spouts are not symmetrical around the axis of the handle. But now I get it -it is much better to do like in the picture.

Proper tamping technique with the Micro Casa portafilter

To use the edge of the kitchen unit is easy. People who are accustomed to making espresso with a single basket and a portafilter with a single spout know this technique very well. I've never tried that! Now my tamping is less variable, and that's important for keeping control of all the other variables.

I had a friend for visit this weekend. I served cappuccinos and was very happy about the feedback I got :-) And people really like how the machine looks.

Monday, April 4

Producing more crema

Malabar espresso (from Solberg&Hansen)

I went to the local coffee store and bought malabar espresso, which is a single origin espresso. I knew from some time ago that this espresso, although 100% arabica, can produce a lot of crema.

I was happy when I found that there was produced quiet a lot of crema with the Micro Casa too. That means the Micro Casa is capable of producing nice looking crema in fair amounts. I feel really happy about that :-)

I usually prepare two double ristrettoes per "session". There is a temperature difference from the first to the second preparation (which I will measure soon). I know that the machine can be further tricked to produce more identical shots if the power is turned off at some point. The machine doesn't have an electrical pump, so it doesn´t need to be turned on at all times. I haven´t tried to apply such tricks yet, as both the first and the second shot is acceptable, yet different in taste. With the coffees I´ve tried so far, I usually prefer the second shot. Can the temperature difference be 1-2 degrees celsius? I´ll find out. Later on, I maybe won't say that "acceptable" is good enough, as a temperature diffence of 1-2 degrees is quiet a lot, and every coffee has its ideal temperature. Temperature surfing is something that I will have to learn properly. But so far I´m very happy that the machine seems to produce "correct" espresso.