It's quirky, but it's a gorgeous machine that makes superb espresso and has one of the best steam wands you'll ever use.
Positive Product Points
-makes superb espresso when used properly. -allows fantastic milk frothing, almost foolproof. -since the lever "does the work," it is possible to pull shots and steam milk at the same time without ANY attention to espresso extraction, nothing to turn off or watch. -it's a completely beautiful piece of equipment.
Negative Product Points
-I could have bought an excellent HX machine for the price I paid- was hamstrung by only having one local supplier, added to inherently higher Canadian prices. -machine cannot be left on constantly, and warm-up is slow when the machine is cold (eg in the morning). -other mechanical quirks can be really annoying- non-standard PF, PF sneeze, immovable steam arm, all characterful but all annoying at times. -form factor is really hard to work around given its height.
I've now owned me EMCaL for six months and am in a position to write a review for it. I purchased this machine after having researched several HX machines in the same price range (Bezzera BZ02, ECM Giotto, etc) to replace my Brasilia Lady. I'd been getting more and more into latte art and was desperate for an HX so that I could steam immediately after pulling a shot instead of doing the convoluted switchover for my single-boiler, non-HX Lady. I came across Mark Prince's detailed review of the EMCaL and realised that, given our domestic pattern here (I have three espressos per day, generally; my partner has two, generally) and the fact that even when we entertain I've never made more than, say, three or four espresso-based drinks, is an HX my best option? What about a really, REALLY good lever machine that could satisfy my interest in latte art, bang out a relatively small number of drinks per day, and "stand out" from the generic look of most e61 clones?
So I decided to give the Elektra a try. I brought home the chromed model with murano glass replacement for the eagle on top of the dome, and a 49mm Reg Barber tamper. My initial attempts, with my partner out of town and my ability to really, really get to know my leva, not bad at all. I've never encountered the purported learning curve for this machine, and I still don't consider it hard to operate. I've had to tweak dosing and tamping and grind for different beans, but I had to do that with my Lady and even with the Krups Novo that I had for years before that. Stories I've heard about thin or nonexistent crema with the Leva have been, in my experience, exaggerated, but it is true that the "mouth feel" of a Leva shot will not be the same as with any pump machine. But many shots are beautiful, with varying, but always present, amounts of crema, and I cannot complain about the quality of my espresso with the Leva. I cannot moreover say that it was hard to learn the machine. My typical routine is like this:
Make sure the reservoir is at least 1/4 full. If not, refill, and turn the machine on.
Put last night's dishes away. Clean up around the machine. Take your medicine. Do something for about 10 minutes.
Purge a little steam from the steamwand to relieve false pressure.
Pull some hot water through the brewhead, pf AND your cup to warm things up.
Dry off the pf.
Dose, leaving a bit more headspace than you would with most pumps.
Tamp as per usual with a decent tamper (not the one supplied with the machine, a tamper that sets a new standard for crappy).
Pull down the lever (you pull DOWN on a spring lever, not UP as with a Pavoni) to preinfuse the coffee bed for about 10 seconds.
Release the lever and get your milk ready.
When the lever is at about 9:00 (parallel to the ground, in other words) I sometimes give a second pull for a "double," but no shots are ever remotely large with that tiny PF and tiny chamber above it.
Steam away. When you're done steaming, the espresso is done too, and you can pour your latte art like a pro, because this machine microfoams like no other home machine. It's brilliant like that.
I've delighted in trying out new beans with my Leva more than I had been with my old machine, because the Leva really does allow you to taste diferences in blends and varietals. I've had great luck with Malabar Gold, Black Cat, 49th Parallel Epic and Organic, Hines Public Market Espresso, and SO's including various Ethiopian, Nicaraguan, and Costa Rican.
Oh, the murano glass ball is no more. Too hot, scary hot. I replaced it and the eagle with a small wooden drawer pull, MUCH nicer to work with even if it's aesthetically.... odd.
I purchased from Cappuccino King in Calgary and found them professional and pleasant. They had many in stock, so I didn't have to to order and return back, which was gratifying, and it's good to have a local repair source. All that said, I know that I could have saved hundreds of dollars getting the machine mail order (or used), and I would have taken that route if I could do it over again.
Three Month Followup
This is more like a six-month followup, and what an interesting journey this has been. I actually purchased a naked portafilter, one designed and milled by a home-barista.com contributor for the Oly Cremina but it fits my Elektra perfectly, and I've used it to good effect to fine-tune espresso making. I get much better shots now than I did when I wrote the review, and not only because of the insights of the bottomless. I also followed a suggestion on HB's lever machine boards and do NOT do a ten-second preinfusion anymore. I only hold the lever down for a couple of seconds, until the chamber stops filling (you can hear this, a very faint hissing sound). Ever since I've done the quick preinfusion, I've been getting much more beautiful looking shots, with leopard spotting consistently (with or without the naked pf), and more durable crema. Shots were usually tasty before and they're still tasty, but more visually alluring and more consistent. Of course the naked pf plays a part here since it's helped me with dosing, distribution and tamping, but as I say a lot of my recent improvement is, for whatever reason, because I've abandoned those 10+ second preinfusions. The naked pf only supports this theory. I'd go so far as to say that Elektra should change its instruction booklet.
I've also come to realise the absolute importance of NEVER EVER updosing with the Leva. Less is more. I put barely 12g of grounds in my double pf and have what looks like a huge amount of headspace post-tamp, but I never get good shots, all other variables being equal, unless I leave that space.