Though little known in North America, 969 Coffee’s prosumer espresso machines, handmade in Italy, are well worth a closer look. Their most popular home model is the Elba, a heat exchanger espresso machine with some formidable specs at a reasonable price.
In this review, we’ll look more closely at this under-the-radar machine to find out if it warrants more attention.
Summary: The 969 Coffee Elba 3 Espresso Machine
- Compact and affordable semi-automatic espresso machine
- Heat exchanger boiler and E61 group for reliable brew temperature stability
- Powerful heating element for impressive steam pressure
This is a beautiful, well-made machine, and it’s quite easy to get great espresso out of it!
– Christopher T
The Full 969 Coffee Elba 3 Review
In this section, we’ll dig into the specs of the 969 Coffee Elba 3 in more detail. Let’s find out how it feels to own and operate this prosumer-grade espresso machine.
Brewing Capacity – 3.5/5
The 969 Coffee Elba 3 is a heat exchanger espresso machine, so it has a single boiler with a distinct section for lower-temperature brew water. This allows you to pull a shot of espresso and steam milk simultaneously while keeping the machine more compact than a dual boiler.
The Elba 3’s boiler is copper, a premium boiler material not often seen at this price. Though copper is a bit less resistant to corrosion than stainless steel, the other popular choice, it has superior thermal properties (1).
The boiler measures 1.5 L, which is relatively small compared to the competition. For example, the Rocket Appartamento, one of the best Rocket espresso machines, has a 1.8 L boiler. However, the Elba 3 compensates with a far more powerful heating element than most in its class. It offers 1500 W compared with the Appartamento’s 1200 W. This brings the Elba to temperature very quickly and gives it tremendous steam pressure for its size, which we’ll discuss further in the Milk Frothing section below.
An update to the Elba 3 from previous models is that it is now easier to adjust the OPV, the overpressure valve. This allows you to change pump pressure, providing another pathway to optimize extraction for different coffees.
User Friendliness – 3.5/5
As a heat exchanger espresso machine, the 969 Coffee Elba 3 requires a bit of know-how because you need to use cooling flushes to manage the brew temperature. The longer the cooling flush, the lower the temperature will be. This takes a bit of trial and error, but it’s the most efficient way to adjust the brew temperature once mastered.
Other than that, which is standard practice for any heat exchanger espresso machine without a PID, the Elba 3 is very straightforward to use, which, according to coffee shop owner Pablo Caballero Agudo, is a key feature of any top espresso machine (2).
A quality machine will help you to produce better cups more consistently and with less effort.
It has a few key features that set it apart from the competition; the most innovative is the fully removable drip tray. Thanks to Elba’s six-legged design, the entire drip tray can be removed for easy cleaning or to stash away between uses to free up more counter space. This design also makes it easier to brew into tall travel mugs.
The 2.5-liter water reservoir is amply sized for a reasonably compact machine, and it’s easily accessed by sliding back the cup tray up top. This is a clever design versus the more common need to either flip up or entirely remove the top of the machine.
One complaint about this machine is that it lacks a dedicated hot water tap, though it keeps it smaller and more affordable. For most users, it’s a minor inconvenience, but if you enjoy tea or Americanos, you’ll need a separate kettle.
Milk Frothing – 3.5/5
As I already mentioned, the Elba 3 has a compelling heating element, which allows for intense steam pressure from a machine of this size, visible on the boiler pressure gauge. With the stainless steel steam wand, you’ll have no problem preparing the silky microfoam you need for latte art.
Because the steam boiler is relatively small, you won’t be able to prepare many drinks in a row before waiting for it to recover. Expect about two to four lattes. However, thanks to the powerful heater, recovery is speedy.
Build Quality – 4/5
The build quality of the Elba 3 is excellent. This is a prosumer-grade espresso machine with a steel frame, stainless steel exterior and accessories, chrome-plated brass group, and copper boiler. It comes with a single spout and double spout portafilter, accompanied by two shot filter baskets.
The Elba 3 has a minimal footprint, similar to other popular small-space models like the Lelit Mara or Rocket Appartamento.
It measures 9.2” wide by 16.9” deep by 15.7” tall. But it stands out from the crowd by offering a variety of designs.
You can paint the exterior white, black, or a more vibrant option like red or orange. Accents can be black plastic or light or dark wood. If you like to tailor your appliances to your home, the 969 Coffee Elba 3 is a great choice.
The Elba Mini
If even the Elba 3 still feels a bit overwhelming for your space, consider the Elba Mini, one of the smallest prosumer espresso machines on the market. It’s perfect for one or two people. This tiny heat exchanger model has a 0.85 L stainless steel boiler, 1200 W heating element, and 2 L water tank – all in a frame measuring 7.8” wide by 15.7” deep by 13” tall. Impressively, the Mini even offers PID temperature control.
Cleaning and Maintenance – 4/5
Most prosumer espresso machines, particularly those with an E61 group, have similar cleaning and maintenance needs. Along with emptying the drip tray and topping up the water reservoir, it’s important to regularly clean everywhere coffee oils can build up, like the shower screen and filter baskets. Use the included backflush disk to backflush regularly with filtered water and less frequently with cleaning solution.
As long as you follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning procedures, maintenance needs should be minimal.
Prosumer machines use heavy-duty components designed to endure. Additionally, the Elba 3 has a few failsafes to avoid catastrophic damage.
Anti-flood protection cuts the pump if you’ve been brewing for more than 90 seconds, and low-water detection ensures the machine will shut off before the boiler runs dry.
Don’t Buy the 969 Coffee Elba 3 If…
You don’t make milky drinks – If you’re not interested in lattes or cappuccinos, you can save money and get a very high-end machine by opting for a single boiler, dual use design. For example, the ECM Classika includes a PID and, like all ECM espresso machines, is known for its best-in-class build quality.
You want more accurate temperature control – If you like to experiment with single-origin specialty coffees, you might prefer the accuracy of PID temperature control (3). It will cost a bit more, but a dual boiler like the Lelit Elizabeth or M&V Vesuvius will be worth it in the long run.
For a compact and affordable heat exchanger espresso machine with fun style, the 969 Coffee Elba 3 – or the even tinier Elba Mini – is a great choice. Though this brand flies under the radar, it shouldn’t. The Elba 3 includes everything you expect from a prosumer model, including an E61 group, copper boiler, and professional steam wand.
- Morris, J. (2020, December 23). The Faema E61 Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2021/the-faema-e61-espresso-machine
- Prinsloo, M. (2018, November 9). How Do Espresso Machines Work? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/how-do-espresso-machines-work/
- Partida, V. (2017, December 5). PID vs. Pstat. Retrieved from https://coffeetechniciansguild.org/blog/2017/11/21/pid-vs-pstat