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

Monday, May 30

Improved cleaning with a blind filter membrane

Some time ago, I bought a small rubber device, a blind filter membrane. Its diameter is 49 mm, exactly the diameter of the filter basket of the Elektra. It seals the basket completely, much like a blind filter does. I missed having a blind filter for detergent cleaning of the shower screen, and for applying "portafilter wiggle" as a daily rinsing of the group gasket. I don´t know if Elektra sell blind filters?

Portafilter + blind filter membrane

I couldn´t really see why these routines should be much more difficult or less necessary with a spring piston machine. And although there are a lot of good news about the cleaning of home lever machines -all you have to do is to run some water through the group after brewing. Because there are no three-way-valve involved to even out the pressure, all the coffee will go downwards and the brew chamber won´t become too messy.

But coffee deposits have a tendency to build up and add taste. I will not believe that detergent cleaning every week, or every two weeks, shoudn´t be necessary. I don´t want to remove the entire piston that often, so cleaning the group head from the bottom will be my prefered tactic.

And it is really easy. I put the membrane into the filter basket, and then I hold the portafilter loosely in the grouphead, and wiggle it back and forth while carefully holding the lever on the point where I can control the water flow into the piston brew chamber. Water will slosh around and clean the gasket and the shower screen. I don´t do the wiggle every day with this machine. I usually clean the gasket and the shower screen with a cloth.

Completely sealed. There´s no dripping even when pressure is applied.

I sometimes add detergent, one little tea spoon, and then I insert the PF and pull the lever. The lever will not rise as there is now a water column over the PF. I´m pretty confident that no detergent enters the boiler. I am really careful when I take out the PF after a minute or so, after all there´s some hot water involved.... But if the lever is held firmly, there´s no problem. The water that comes out is sligthly dirty. I run a lot of water through the group after this. I´m convinced that the shower screen and the piston chamber need this routine.

Sunday, May 22

Milk froathing

So far, I haven´t mentioned the steaming abilities of the Micro Casa, although I have been making milk drinks since day one. I have focused mostly on getting the espresso right, and luckily I feel pretty confident that I´m doing things fairly well now.

For someone familiar to the Rancilio Silvia, the Micro Casa steamer will appear familiar. The Silvia has a thin steam arm, which gives a powerful and very directed steam. Steaming with the Micro Casa feels somehow the same. Both the Silvia and the Micro Casa have very good steaming abilities. Someone who knows the principles of making micro foam, will soon succeed in getting perfect milk. I´m not good at latte art, but when the milk is right, it is easy to make a simple heart or a rosetta that is decorative.

Cappuccino Originally uploaded by audunso.

When I attended the Norwegian Barista Championship in Oslo this april, I talked to one of the judges, and he told me that not only does cappuccino derive its name from the colour of the drink (monks belonging to the capucin order (16th century) wore robes that were reddish brown). He felt that the cups should also be filled to the very maximum, to state that these monks also had cowls (small, round caps -go see the movie "name of the rose"!). I haven´t heard that opinion before, but anyway, I have begun to fill the cups more than I used to before. My cups are really small -1.3-1.4 dl to the top.

When I froath milk with the Micro Casa, I let the steam arm rest against the mouth of the pitcher. That gives full control of the depth of the steam arm. First, I work in the surface to introduce air into the milk and thereby to get the wanted increase in volume. This introduces a few bobbles, but these are knocked down when the steam arm is lowered a bit to reach an optimum angle for rotation of the milk. It´s important to stop froathing when the milk is 70 degrees or just over.

Using the steamer of the Micro Casa is a joy. And the machine is always ready to steam, since the boiler sits at steaming temperatures. When making cappuccinos, I begin by making the espresso, and then I froath milk when the spring is about to finish the shot. The milk reaches 70 degrees in 20-25 seconds :-)

Tuesday, May 17

Coffee in Bergen

I´m finally back in business with my own computer and access to internet. I have bought an iBook G4 laptop computer. I´m very happy about my new purchase! It has taken a week to get started with the computer, but now everything is working fine. I´ve downloaded most of my records to the computer (patient work!), and with the music shuffling in the background I can sit here for hours. I´m not too fond of computers in general, but things are great now :-)

I have figured out how to post pictures again. As an exercise I will write about this weekends coffee drinking experiences in Bergen, the beautiful city that is located between seven mountains. The main reason for going there this weekend was to attend a wedding. But I had plenty of time to stroll around in the narrow streets.

I lived in Bergen in the year 2000, It was there I took a vivid interest in coffee. That happened as a consequence of my frequent visits to Dromedar between lectures. I was also given a mocca pot by HeatherLynn Welde, an american girl in the student house. I was in never-never land!

This weekend I knew pretty much where to go for the best coffee. Bergen is lucky to have several places which serve correctly made espresso. First, I went to have breakfast and cappuccino at the most obvious place for me, Dromedar.

Dromedar Originally uploaded by audunso.

The baristas at Dromedar are well educated and they usually have people qualified for the final round of the norwegian barista championship. Other branches are located in Trondheim (where it started in 1997) and Jessheim north of Oslo. I´ve always been a regular at Dromedar in Trondheim.

Another very exciting place is "Det Lille Kaffekompani", with their small, charming café between old, wooden houses near the cable car to the Fløien mountain. The baristas have tons of passion for coffee, and this café won the "coffee bar of the year award" in 1999 and 2002, if I remember correctly. Their coffee is roasted at Solberg&Hansen, like with most coffee bars in Norway. They use another blend than Half&Half (which Dromedar use), a stronger one -maybe the Barista blend? The barista that day was very secretive about their blend of choice.... I had excellent espresso and cappuccino there, and at a later visit I had drip coffee. Do you want a really BIG cup of coffee for a low price? Go to "Det Lille Kaffekompani"!

Det Lille Kaffekompani Originally uploaded by audunso.

Close to where I was accomodated, I found a café, "Kaffekunst" in the Marken street. They have a very italian profile, selling biscotti, calzone and other italian style food. I ordered an espresso and got a nicely prepared shot. Very clean taste! They use the Lavazza Crema&Aroma blend, and serve the coffee in Lavazza cups, too. I smiled for an hour, of course because of the taste but also because I felt like being back in italy after drinking a quick shot by the counter in such a place, located in such a moody street. Later, I came back for cappuccino and was disappointed to get dry foam and cinnamon without being asked. But all in all a nice experience, and I´m very forgiving if a café can serve good ESPRESSO, good food and have a nice atmosphere :-)

Kaffekunst Originally uploaded by audunso.

There´s one more café selling an italian espresso blend, the internet café at Galleriet shopping mall. And they are good! The Illy espresso they sell are prepared according to the rules and served in Illy cups. It is Friele, the old coffee company from Bergen, that import and sell Illy coffee in Norway. The baristas present the milk drinks with latte art and a big smile :-) I know they have been working hard educating the baristas ever since I lived in Bergen in 2000. Nice to see that they maintain the quality. And it´s impressive that an internet café take the effort of doing things well. Pretty rare.

Internet café at Galleriet Originally uploaded by audunso.

I think Bergen have a quiet nice selection of cafés. There might be other cafés that I haven´t been too. Anyone who knows about other good cafés in Bergen? What would be REALLY relevant to this blog, would be to track down lever espresso machines, but I know of no other machines than the one at Stockfleth´s in Oslo.

Monday, May 2

Testing a blend from a local, norwegian roaster

Saturday was a strange day for me, as I left Trondheim after living there more or less since 1995. But I´m out of work, applying for a new job. I have bought a brand new apartment in Oslo, which will be ready in november-december. I will move to Oslo soon, but right now I´m staying in a very small place, Hundorp, just north of Lillehammer. There are no cafés around here, but I have installed my Elektra in the kitchen, no need saying.

The day I was moving out, I checked my letter box one final time, and I was thrilled to find a very unexpected postal parcel. It contained espresso coffee -one bag of freshly roasted coffee from Skien Kaffebrenneri! How nice -thank you! The roaster, Håvard Larsen, has been reading this blog. He thought I would like to test one of his espresso blends on the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva. The best coffee one can have is when it is roasted just a few days ago, at its peak of taste potential. This is when it has finished resting, some 4-5 days after roasting. Maybe it reaches its peak even later than that. It is a fine thing to know which day the coffee was roasted :-)

Skien Coffee Roaster roast mostly for local cafés. It is something genuine about having a local roaster, delivering one or more unique blends, even giving cafés an opportunity to have their own blend. The freshness a local roaster can deliver is another great advantage. They use a gas fired drum roaster, with a capacity of 2-5 kilos. Very few places in Norway are lucky to have local "mini"-roasters, Oslo is of course one of them, Skien another.

The blend contains some robusta. I don´t know other details about the blend, except the beans are all dry processed, enhancing body and crema and therefore often chosen as the main ingredient (base) in espresso blends.

The blend is very good with the Elektra. First, I had some problems finding the correct grind, as the optimum grind seem to be a lot coarser than other blends I´ve tested. This is a characteristic of the freshness of these beans. Older beans need a finer grind because they lose water. Since these are very fresh beans they can be ground pretty coarse. I will do some experimenting with the dose and the tamp later.

There´s a lot of nice looking crema produced, medium dark brown with darker spots and some tiny bobbles in it. I can´t include a picture at the moment, but I will do that later. The taste has a noticable sweetness and is not at all affected by robusta characteristics. It seems to contain a balanced amount of robusta. I will emphasize the good mouthfeel this blend has. That´s a hard-to-describe sensation of the coffees density and viscosity. As with all coffees coming out of the Elektra, a clean taste is a characteristic, and I´m getting more and more used to it and I appreciate it now. I don´t associate with berries, chocolate, spice, earthiness or anything that is easy to describe, but I will say the coffee is very balanced, harmonious, with a crisp acidity. I must work with my taste vocabulary...and with my tasting skills! But I appreciated this coffee very much :-) I will try this espresso blend in cappuccinos very soon, it might be suitable with milk too.