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Should I? Commercial Espresso Machine.

John Liu
4 years ago

Should I do this?


Years ago, I curb picked a commercial dual head espresso machine. Exactly like the espresso machines you see in a cafe, cranking out lattes and cappucinos. I think it is a "La Marzocca", maybe? It is buried in the garage and I'm too lazy to go look.


The machine needs work, new heads, etc. I've meant to fix it up but it always seemed like too big a project.


Well, to install my dishwasher I had to install a subpanel and now I have plenty of room for more 240v circuits, so I can run another 240v circuit to power the espresso machine without too much work. It needs to be hard plumbed to a water supply too. I'm not much of a plumber but I can do that or have it done. I don't know if I can or want to do the restoration on the espresso machine itself but there are plenty of companies in Portland who do that. The point is, I'm thinking about moving ahead with this.


So here are my questions / dilemmas.


First, where to put it? I really don't have room in my small kitchen for this large machine. I want to put it in the dining room, but SWMBO doesn't want it permanently installed there. It is so heavy that two men are required to lift it, not something that can be put away in a cupboard. I have been thinking about installing it on a rolling cart that would also have storage for cups, saucers, coffee, etc. I could hide the 240v receptacle and water tap behind little access doors in the dining room, then roll the cart there and hook it up when we have a dinner party or whatever.


Second, is it really worth the trouble to be able to pull espresso and make Americanos, lattes, cappucinos etc? As opposed to simply buying a Nescafe machine? I like coffee, I like espresso, I could be tempted to become an espresso snob. But should I?


Third, are these machines hard to use? I guess I could go to my usual coffee shop and ask them to give me a lesson. But maybe someone here has worked as a barista? I'd hate to go to all the effort and then realize I don't have the necessary skills.


One way or the other, I need to use this curbpick or get rid of it. My garage is getting way too full. It is a tiny one car garage from 1911 or so, back when people drove Model As. I long ago gave up trying to park a car in there, and turned it into a workshop. But now it is full of bikes and tools, table saw, SWMBO's kiln, snow tires, stuff awaiting fixing, more bikes, arrgh. I'm going to paint a bike frame soon and I will have to make space to work.


Comments (199)

  • opaone
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    I knew that

    I'm even getting an HX machine.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    The pump costs about $140 new, a rebuild kit about $40. Standard Procon pump, commonly used in foodservice equipment.

    The biggest problem - if they prove defective - will be the electronic controls. Those could actually be show stoppers.

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  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    3 years ago

    I am sure the electronic controls can be expensive. I guess that's because they are not mass produced.

    dcarch

  • M
    3 years ago

    The electronics for a vintage espresso machine really can't be all that complicated. If everything else fails, find a local EE student and ask them to build a replacement from scratch. It'll be a fun project. I have seen people do that for their old dishwashers. And a that's probably more complicated, as you need to run through all the different types of wash cycles.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Hey, on the Bialetti moka pot. I figured out how to replace the pressure relief valve, which is the part that has failed (leaks pressure) on all of mine.

    Bialetti will not sell you this part or tell you where to get it. But if you have a traditional aluminum 8-sided Bialetti pot, I found a valve that works.


    Here is how to replace the valve.

    1. Buy this valve for $2.86. It is a 15-25 psi valve, which is 1.0 to 1.7 bar, the correct range for the moka pot. https://www.mscdirect.com/product/details/03244811

    2. Use a wrench to unscrew the valve from your pot.

    3. Tap the hole for this valve’s threads. If you have the correct 1/8" tap, use that. Or buy that tap at a hardware store. Otherwise, you can go to a bike shop and have them tap the hole for a 10 mm x 1 mm thread, the standard thread used for rear derailleur mounting - that is not exactly the right threading but it is close enough (and is the tap I happened to have). Tapping is easy since the aluminum is soft.

    4. Screw the valve into the tapped hole. If you used a 10 mm x 1 mm tap, you will be able to start the valve in the threads, then use a wrench to turn the valve and it will form the threads to be exactly correct.

    Done!

  • plllog
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    And thus we return to the bicycles!

  • opaone
    3 years ago

    And thus we return to the bicycles!


    Noooo!!!

  • annie1992
    3 years ago

    LOL, John, only you would get your moka pot repaired at the bike shop!

    Annie

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    oh I didn't need to - already have the derailleur thread tap - just thought a bike shop would be an accessible place for people who don't want to do the tapping themselves.

    I have taken the first moka pot SWMBO and I bought, some 20 years ago, replaced the valve and am polishing it to as high a shine as the material allows. It'll be a Christmas present.

    We are supposed to, as in most years, be making presents. DD is making notebooks from leather and paper sheet, SWMBO is firing stuff in her kiln. I'm not craft-y, but I figure restoring her moka pot counts (plus the espresso machine).

  • opaone
    3 years ago

    Kudos to you. I'd venture that your presents have more love in them than anything anyone can buy in a store!

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Here is a quick update and, perhaps, a cry for an intervention.

    I haven't had much time to work on la macchina. But a week ago I did connect it to the garden hose and chased down the leaky fittings. So progress is slowly being made.

    The obstacle to more progress has been, besides work and holiday stuff, the surprising lack of used espresso machine parts on eBay and Craigslist. I've looked high and low for a hot water valve, mine being missing. Used ones are nowhere, not even on eBay Italy. New valves are $300! Portafilters are $60-120 each and I need two. Uh oh, this project is going to blow up my self imposed budget. What to do?

    Well, I found *another* Elektra commercial machine on Craigslist. It is mostly refurbished but not fully working. It is only $200. It is 3 hours drive away in Seattle. And SWMBO is in California. Hmmmmmm.

    On Friday I drove to Seattle and bought the second machine. It is newer than mine, with different electronic controls but all the mechanical stuff is interchangeable. Came with all the parts I still need - hot water valve, portafilters, an extra new-in-box pump, and the seller is a retired espresso machine repairman who is happy to talk me through any confusing stuff.

    The photo above shows my new "parts" machine, hidden in the garage, ready to be harvested for all the parts I'll need, them either be parted out at a small profit, or kept as a source of spares parts.

    I also picked up, from the same guy, an Elektra MSC commercial grinder. This works just fine and cleaned up nicely. It is 24" tall. SWMBO found it and demanded to know "what's with this insane grinder?". I explained they go for $700-1000 new and I paid only $50 - without mentioning that I'd driven to Seattle for it - and she was mollified.

    As you can tell, I'm on thin ice here. Hopefully none of you will rat me out :-)

    I have figured out where the machine will go. Next to the built in cabinet there is 42" to the window wall. Imagine an elegant sideboard here - dark polished wood, slim legs, a drawer or two. La macchina and la grindurata on top. Power, water and drain line brought in through the underside of the built-in, with connections on the side of the lower built-in cabinet, behind a discreet access door.

    Finally, imagine SWMBO serving her girlfriends espresso, expertly prepared by her new Italian beau. All the girls tut-tutting about how it was a shame that her former husband couldn't control his compulsive acquisition of old appliances, but really she had no choice but to get rid of him.



  • weedmeister
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    That grinder is nice, as long as the burrs are ok.

    I paid a bit over $200 for mine when it was new.

  • opaone
    3 years ago

    A friend had that grinder and it worked well for him for several years. His primary complaint was quite big steps on grind adjustment. He now has a Mazzor Mini stepless.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    There is a stepless conversion part for the Macap grinders that costs about $40 - makes it the same as the Macap stepless models - but requires drilling and tapping some holes. I think there is another way to convert it to stepless that won't require drilling, and I may try that.

  • opaone
    3 years ago

    Mine is stepped and hasn't been a problem. Might be worth playing with it for a while to see if it works for you.


    Looking forward to final pics and stories of your first cup.

  • 2ManyDiversions
    3 years ago

    John, still following : ) Great find on Craigslist and wonderful the seller was a repairman! I’m not familiar with the Elektra MCS grinder (ours is a mini mazzer), but I agree, before you go stepless, play around with the roasts and grinds first… you may find it suits your needs without modifying. While ours is stepless, I don’t think it’s a huge thing. The grind is important, but the roast if more important to me. As for the ‘new Italian boyfriend’, you lost me there… why give up a perfectly wonderful fella who can refurbish such things? After all, I should know, I married one too! Looking good – and sure am enjoying your progress and updates : )

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    It lives!


    I took a break from the Elektra during the holidays but got back to it this week. I pulled my garden hose into the garage and connected it to the machine's supply house, then spent an hour chasing down leaks. One group valve had to be replaced, so I ordered a valve and solenoid. Okay, no leaks.

    Now for electrical. The cord won't reach from the machine to the 240v receptacle in the garage, and I can't move it closer because my wife's pottery kiln is in the way. I wasted an hour driving around in search of a 240v extension cord. Two stores told me there was no such thing because they are illegal and unsafe. I went online and bought a 15 foot welder's cord for $15. Apparently welders use 240v cords all the time without bursting into flames.

    Plugged the machine in, turned on the breaker, turned the machine on, got out the VOM and measured voltage. Yes, there is voltage where there is supposed to be, and none where there is not supposed to be. Hmm, what's that smell. Oh, the heating elements are cooking in a dry boiler. Switched machine off, removed the vacuum valve, poured water through that opening until the boiler was about half full, turned the machine back on.

    I had a probe thermometer inserted where the vacuum valve goes, and watched the boiler temperature rise to 190F. Removed the thermometer, re-installed the vacuum valve, and nervously waited for the pstat (mechanical pressure sensor) to click, or the pressure release valve to open, or for the boiler to explode. In the meantime I tightened some more fittings that were leaking.

    Click! The pstat works. Boiler pressure, according to the gauge, was 1.2 bar. DS came into the garage. I explained how full of electricity and pressurized water the machine was and how I was risking life and limb to bring espresso to the family. Dear son was unimpressed, until we steamed some milk. "Wow dad we can make good hot chocolate with this!". And off he went, promising to check back later to see if I had died. As he closed the door I screamed the cry of a dying man, and he told me "stop it, dad".

    I adjusted the pstat to get the boiler to 1.5 bar. Now, do the groups and keypads work? I installed the backsplash and drip tray, locked a portafilter in the right group, and pushed a button. Holy moly, the pump started and some water came out of the portafilter. At, um, 3 bar on the gauge. Adjust the pump pressure screw. Oooo, 20 bar. Fiddle some more. Perfect 8 bar!

    So, here's where we are.


    1. Both keypads seem to work, on a gross level. Big relief. I did find a guy who can repair these, for less than the $700 price of new ones, but best to simply have them work.


    2. The amount of water seems odd, the "big single shot" button delivers less water than the "little single shot" button, so I'll have to investigate further. Maybe they were programmed weird. I don't have the programming key but will simply insert a switch where the lock is. The "manual brew" button works, anyway.


    3. Both groups deliver water at the desired 8 bar, with no dripping other than a few expected drops from the valve drain at the end of the shot. Either my portafilter lugs are worn or my group bell flanges are worn, because the portafilter doesn't lock in tightly. I will get the thicker o-rings meant for worn group bells.


    4. The water as it exits the portafilter seems not hot enough - a thermometer in the stream reads only about 175F, while espresso is supposed to brew at 203F. But maybe the group needs to heat up? Not sure what's going on here.


    5. The steam wands work, though one drips just a little so I'll rebuild the valves. I'm eventually going to take the valves from the "parts machine" as they are newer and nicer.


    6. There seems to be a little leak at the pump, haven't tracked that down yet. And one other very small leak from a fitting that is on the underside of the boiler and hard to get to.


    7. I cannot tell if the autofill works. There is no voltage at the lead that clips to the water level sensor, I'm not sure if there is supposed to be? But the boiler water level is probably up to the water level probe tip.


    8. The stainless steel exterior panels still need to be mirror polished. I am afraid the "Elektra" logo on the upper faceplate is going to be polished off, as I can't get that part of the panel shiny otherwise. DD has access to a laser engraver at school so if I can make a file with that logo in the right font, she can engrave it for me right into the steel.


    9. The exterior end panels need to be re-painted. Or wrapped with thin copper sheet.


    10. The machine is "on" in my garage. I'll leave it running all evening to see if anything bad happens. I might go out there and try to pull a shot. Right now I'm cold - unheated garage - so I'm taking a break.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Frankstein's monster stirs

    that thing with the spring is the pstat, controlling boiler pressure

    pulling a shot. Brew pressure 8 bar. Boiler pressure 1.3 bar.


  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    3 years ago

    Happiness in life is the ability to fix two things:

    1. Ability to fix good dinners.

    2. Ability to fix broken things.

    dcarch


  • opaone
    3 years ago

    Great post. Love a DD that has an engraver at school!


    The machine does have to warm up and a few false shots pulled before you'll see a proper consistent temp at the group. Similarly, if you don't pull a shot for more than about 10 or so minutes you may need to fill a cup up from the group to get things back fully up to temp. Does it have a way to keep the groups hot - via hot water or resistance heat?



  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    This machine has Elektra's version of an E61 group. It has upper and lower lines from the boiler heat exchanger to the group. Heat exchanger water is supposed to slowly circulate through the group by convection - this is called the "thermosyphon". I am not sure how to test if that is working. It is also possible that the machine and groups just didn't have enough time to fully warm up. The group is several pounds of solid brass - a lot of thermal mass.

    These commercial machines are usually kept on 24/7. The boiler water temperature is - well, I can't measure it directly but a thermometer placed on the boiler exterior reads 222F, which is pretty close to the 225F boiling point of water at 1.3 bar pressure.

    I will probably eventually figure out a way to have it on a timer, so that it is merely "warm" when unused and only heats to full temperature during the hours when I'd typically use it. This will require installing a digital temperature controller and other modifications, in a visually tasteful manner.


  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    A digital PID temperature controller with builtin timer is not expensive. In general PID temperature controllers have both outputs to drive a SSR, or a magnetic mechanical relay to power on/off an electric heating element.

    dcarch


  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Thanks. I've been reading and it seems people putting $100 SSRs into espresso machines sometimes experience early failure due to heat/moisture, and some of the SSRs fail in the "on" (closed) mode. I'm thinking about using a mechanical relay ($18 at any autoparts store) that are designed to operate in a hot engine compartment and can be selected to fail in the "off" (open) model. Supposedly mechanical relays are only good for a couple hundred thousand cycles, but at $18 each who cares. I think I even have a PID from the sous vide cooler project that I never finished.

  • M
    3 years ago

    Mechanical relays can definitely fail both on and off. The contacts get damaged each time the relay switches, and this damage builds up over time. The damage can either result in poor electrical connection (aka as "failing off") or it can result in the contacts overheating and welding themselves (aka as "failing on").


    Switching loads with a high in-rush current is likely to cause more damage than loads with smaller currents. Inductive loads (i.e. motors, transformers, ...) are particularly bad with regards to their in-rush currents. But cold heating coils are also known to have significant in-rush currents, and so do any capacitors in the circuit.


    Inductive loads also cause problems when breaking the connection, as you'll get high-voltage transients. That's usually when you see lots of sparking causing more damage to the relay's contacts.


    If you know you need to switch inductive loads, make sure you get a relay that has been optimized for this use case. Also, make sure your relay accounts for peak currents that can be much higher than the steady-state. I'd recommend getting at least a factor of five in extra headroom when dealing with motors; not sure about heating coils.


    Installing a suitable TVS diode on both the load side and the switching side of the relay can help with some of challenges from transient voltage spikes (doesn't help with in-rush currents though). Be careful though when picking the operating voltage for the TVS. You need to measure peak-to-peak for AC loads; don't just measure RMS voltage.


    For DC operation, an anti-parallel snuffer diode is also strongly recommended.


    Finally, relays need proper venting. You can often buy fully encapsulated relays, but they all have a small opening for venting. Sometimes this opening is initially sealed and you must remove the seal after installing the relay.


    One of the nicer relays that I have been using recently is this model: https://www.digikey.com/products/en?keywords=T9GV1L14-5 It is surprisingly resilient when switching motor loads. Not sure if that's what you need though.


    I agree with you that SSRs are not necessarily a great fit. They are much easier damaged.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    3 years ago

    Actually, a 250vac 40Amp SSR on ebay is less than $10.

    People who experienced SSR failure in espresso machines may be due to:

    1. SSR not properly heatsinked.

    2. moisture collected on input terminals (dc 3v).

    3. inductive kicked back voltage surge from the motor going on and off. You should have inline magnetic chokes (those black things on power supply plugs you see on computer cords) to the SSR input.

    dcarch

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Thanks, both of you! I didn't realize SSRs can be so cheap. The SSR or relay in a PID'd espresso machine switches the heating element(s) only. In this case, the elements are rated 3500W at 240V, 15A steady state. I will get a clamp meter to see in-rush current.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    3 years ago

    You should add some more electronics, so every time you use the machine, this comes up :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3MqmV47Lq8

    dcarch

  • weedmeister
    3 years ago

    No such thing as a 240v extension cord? Apparently they've never used a generator. Mine's about 30ft, but it's 4-wire (120/240vac). You could make one with the proper connectors from HD or Lowes.

    I think 190f is a bit low. You may need 205f at the tank and 195f at the head. You probably needed to do some more blank shots to warm it up sufficiently. And maybe check how many you can do before the temperature drops, if it does at all.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Slow progress but almost there. The side panels are removed in this photo. SWMBO points out their red color matches the dining room so we are taking that as A Sign and will respray or touch up/wax and leave them red. Next task is to find a suitable sideboard piece (42" wide, 36-40" tall, dark polished wood with elegant legs), get this installed - in the dining room, is her final decision - and begin learning the Way of the Barista. We've been enjoying milk drinks but my straight shots are still pretty bad. So I'll be touring our local antique furniture stores.

    We had an interesting period during which the machine would flash and pop and plunge the garage into darkness with 240v shorts to ground. Very exciting. Turns out I needed a new heating element and pressurestat. Also a persistent leak from one steam valve. Not exciting, just irritating. That got solved.

    weedmeister, the heat issue is figured out. Running boiler at 1.3 bar (around 225F I think) and I'm getting the expected flash boiling during the cooling flush. The new heating element has three elements but I'm only running two, to keep the amperage reasonable. dcarch, the PID/SSR install is planned for before final installation.

    La Macchina is (almost) ready, the human operator is now the weak link.

  • plllog
    3 years ago

    John, that looks impressive, as, I think, was the point. It also looks pretty, and it sounds like Mrs. Liu is content with having it in the dining room where it can impress all visitors in its steamy glory. The antique pedestal sounds like the perfect bridge between all that shiny buffed metal and the warm, cheery, been-here-awhileness of the room. Between the new parts, and the donor machine, it seems like there's a lot of the inside that isn't even what you picked up off the street, but the blinginess of the case, and potential usefulness of the machine, make up for that. It's not exactly a silk purse, but it has a lot more romance floating about its shoulders than your average commercial utilitarian appliance. Come to think of it, it's a good thing it's not in the kitchen, or the robot coupe might faint.

    Congratulations on a job well done.

  • l pinkmountain
    3 years ago

    Wowza!

  • colleenoz
    3 years ago

    Oooh! Shiny!

    Great job, I’m really impressed- and great that SWMBO is on board with it too :-)

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    I can't tell you how many lattes I've had to bring her, often in bed, to get SWMBO to entertain the benefits of this project.

    The way I got her to agree to the dining room location was to point out that after a dinner party, you don't want the guests coming into the kitchen for their espressos, and seeing all the dirty dishes piled high.

  • Islay Corbel
    3 years ago

    Darch, your picture is fabulous! Love it. The machine is impressive, if a little scary. Lol

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    That's fantastic, dcarch!

  • sheesh
    3 years ago

    I am swooning.

  • 2ManyDiversions
    3 years ago

    John, I'm incredibly impressed with how quickly you've done so much, and what a gorgeous machine! You'll have not only a conversation piece, but one that will be well-used : ) I hope you find the perfect sideboard - and I can't wait to see it in place. What an incredibly journey this has been : )


    dcarch - clever and hilarious!

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Finding a 42" wide antique sideboard with the right look is proving not so easy (that's really narrow for a sideboard), but I'll be patient. Working on the electrical, water supply and drain now. Someday when I'm gone, a future house shopper is going to wonder "Why was this dining room plumbed and powered for 240V 50A? Was this a grow house?"

  • 2ManyDiversions
    3 years ago

    John, just a thought, but if you have any custom cabinet makers around there, you might get some estimates from them... as well as drawings. Some of them can do nice work. I used to build furniture myself, but I don't have the tools/time anymore.


    DH and I were going to build a coffee/snack/mini-fridge/liqueur station (oh, and it'll have a place for DH's humongous TV, and his manly antiques, which I call 'mantiques') ourselves in his man-cave/TV room after we finished our first phase of renovations, but we adore our cabinet maker so much, and he does build custom wall units, etc., so we're asking him to build ours, and we'll just put the patina'd copper counter-top on, do our own plumbing, et al. We want a specific look and shape/shelves as well, so I'm designing it.


    Where I live it'd be cheaper to find what you're looking for and re-finish it oneself, but I know some places are pretty high when it comes to antiques. Just a thought if you don't find what you're looking for : )

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    Traditional antique furniture is often quite affordable in Portland, due to the enthusiasm for mid-century modern and the de-valuing of so-called "brown furniture". Its just a matter of finding the right piece. SWMBO and I used to enjoy going to antique stores, garage and estate sales, antique shows, etc. We stopped, from fear of becoming the sort of hoarders who have to turn sideways to squeeze through their house. But now that we have a specific need - and I use "need" in the First-world sense of "want" - I think we'll be going on "antiquing dates" again.


  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    We're done!

    Okay, nothing is ever really done. I have some machine modifications planned. The pretty Italian espresso ware and coffeegeek paraphernalia are yet to come. And the Italian decor remains to be gathered. But the modifications will be hidden or well-integrated, all the paraphenalia must live tucked away behind doors, and SWMBO is probably not going to permit too much Italian schtick on the walls. So the look of the northwest corner of my dining room - sorry, her dining room - is about like it's going to be.

    Elektra #1, what we're calling La Macchina now, lives on a 42" sideboard from the "Historic Charleston" collection by Baker Furniture.

    I couldn't believe I found this piece, which fits the spot perfectly, matches the existing sideboard, and is allegedly from a old Portland hotel (I have my doubts), so quickly and so cheaply. Facebook Marketplace, folks: its a real competitor to Craigslist.

    The piece is sturdy, but long legged furniture still wobbles when used as a workstation for a 150 lb machine. So I built a sturdy wood shelf, 6" deep, and screwed it to the wall. The rear legs of the machine rest on the shelf and the front legs on the sideboard. It hardly moves now. Future project: paint the shelf white, bolt the sideboard to the shelf, and leash the machine to the shelf. That will be for even more rigidity and also as an earthquake precaution.

    I brought a 240v 30A circuit, a 120v 15A circuit, a 3/8" o.d. polyethylene water supply line, and a 1/2" o.d. poly drain line, up through the built-in cabinet to the left of the machine. Yes, I (carefully) cut holes in the century-old cabinet, but you can't see them unless you look inside or are standing in the corner of the room, where the machine lives.

    The 240v line powers Elektra #1, is wired through a timer, and currently the machine is automatically switched off at night and on at 4 am. During the day, it heats the house :-) The 120v line runs the grinder.

    The water supply line goes through a pressure regulator and a water filter, in the basement, before coming up into the cabinet. We have extremely soft water in Portland so no water softener is needed. The pressure regulator is meant to lower line pressure to 2-3 bar (30-45 psi). Future project: add a pressure gauge so I can set the regulator accurately.

    The drain line goes out the bottom of the bumpout where the cabinet lives, and waters a soon-to-be very energetic rosemary plant. Hopefully rosemary likes acidic soil. I had a problem with the drain line icing up, but a change to its routing has solved that.

    The Elektra itself is slated for some future projects: PID temperature control, grouphead temperature gauges, LED "barista lights", replace the missing hot water valve, preinfusion switch. There is some polishing to be done, and we still have not decided whether to install the side panels.

    A new coffeegeek friend will help me replace and align the Elektra grinder burrs. Future project: add a darkroom timer so I can push a button to automatically grind the desired amount of coffee.

    All the "stuff", like knockbox, tamping pad, scale, bar towels, etc are hidden away in the sideboard's cabinets and drawer. When I use the machine, a bar towel is placed over the sideboard's front edge to protect the wood.

    For now, I'm talking a break on the Future Projects and trying to learn how to use all this hardware. There is a steep learning curve. I can't properly steam milk yet. My bottomless portafilter pours look horrid a third of the time. I'm sticking to darker roasts for now; light roasts proved beyond me. But I can usually produce a drinkable cappucino, and SWMBO has become accustomed to, and indeed insistent upon, a daily morning cappa - which she takes in bed - as well as on-call cappas upon demand.

    All in all, she has generally acceded to the large metal thing in her dining room and is planning to make us sets of espresso, cappucino, and latte cups. When she does that, I'll know La Macchina is really part of the family.

  • plllog
    3 years ago

    Well, you had to know that your project won houseroom on the promise of perfect and perfectly delightful coffee drinks forever after. :)

    Your engineering looks awesome, especially with your plans for reinforcing and decorating. Your plans for functional improvements sound good too.

    Maybe your next project could be growing a mint plant or something equally relaxing. :)

    Congratulations on the beautiful progress.

  • jad2design
    3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Everyone who followed this thread is going to say “wow” ! La Macchina is gorgeous - an amazing job and how great that you found a coffee station the perfect style and size. It looks really impressive.. Congratulations.

    Re actually producing drinkable espresso there is indeed a steep learning curve, with seemingly glacially slow improvement. I’d forgotten until reading this post that I had problems with steaming the milk for at least a couple of months - and I had previously owned a far cheaper machine where it had been dead easy. Then one day, it was 20 percent better and of course I couldn’t figure out why :) Now producing a very decent- to -perfect micro foam is the norm.

    In retrospect I might have improved my game faster if I’d watched the how-to videos (available from the bigger online espresso equipment sellers) and really focused on what they were saying and doing. The whole business of dialing in the grinder to get the coffee ground size perfect, using super fresh beans, using the right pressure when tamping - all that makes a big difference. There is still the challenging (okay, frustrating) experimental phase of trying to get all those factors right and in alignment - tiny adjustment by tiny adjustment, _but_ eventually you‘ll be making lattes and espressos as good as any cafe in your very coffee-centric area. The joy of not having to stand in line (or even leave the house) for a really splendid latte - so worth it.

  • colleenoz
    3 years ago

    So cool! Lucky SWMBO, a cappa in bed every morning :-)

    I believe camellias like an acid soil...pretty sure I’ve seen recommendations to put coffee grounds around them. Also blue hydrangeas.

  • sheesh
    3 years ago

    I'm jealous. I'm speechless. I'm overwhelmed. I'm impressed. Amazed. Delighted. And I'm happy for you. It's fabulous.

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    There have also been cappas brought to SWMBO in her bubble bath. Someone is getting rather pampered. On the other hand, when not in bed or bath, she's very energetic :-)

    Here is Elektra #2. I found this on Craigslist in Seattle for the remarkable price of $200, got it working, and have been making espresso in the garage pending installation of Elektra #1. #2 is now retired (but still turned on 24/7 until the cold spell passes - to avoid frozen boiler). My coffee roaster friend wants to open a cafe and I've offered #2 to him for my cost ($350 including parts). My hope is to see it happily serving customers in a real cafe. My real hope is that he'll let me work there occasionally. My real, real hope is that he'll start optimizing his roasts to this machine, so I can start buying what will in effect be coffee custom-tuned for Elektras!

    I continue to look for espresso machines to restore and pass on. Here is a machine that was donated to the dance company where my son is dancing this year; I'll be going through it soon as they hope to start serving espresso drinks during performances.

    DD has expressed an interest in having her own espresso machine, that fits her tiny student kitchen and tiny student budget. So I picked a little machine up for $80 and will be taking it down to her soon, when its working.

    Another benefit of all this coffee is that I'm learning how to incorporate it in cooking. I made a beef stew tonight in which coffee was used. Next up, chili and then we'll do some coffee-rubbed ribs


  • lizbeth-gardener
    3 years ago

    Wow! I just read this whole thread from start to finish. I'm so impressed with your willingness to tackle this and your ability to figure it out. It is one beautiful machine and how lucky to find a sideboard that fits all your needs (and a Baker at that!) Did you have this functioning at your recent dinner?

  • John Liu
    Original Author
    3 years ago

    No but just wait for the next dinner!

  • 2ManyDiversions
    3 years ago

    John, I have to say, I had high hopes for this, and you still amazed me! Beautiful machine, beautiful location and sideboard! You better stock up on coffee!


    I did wonder if you’d try the naked portafilter! I couldn’t find one to fit my small machine. You’ll get the hang of it all eventually – sooner than later given how talented you are at everything else. Took me a very long time… actually I didn’t make good espresso’s until we started roasting our own beans, then I was shocked how easy and good. I guess other roasts just didn’t suit our taste buds. I can remember watching a million youtubes and DVR’ing every milk foaming show I could find! I foam 2%, whole milk, and half & half now with ease, but the decorative pours are on still beyond me. How wonderful SWMBO will be making your cups! But then again, so would I if I were brought cap’s in bed! What luxury! I’m so happy for you!