Contents of review
- Prototype to production machine
- How it arrives
- On the counter & making coffee
- Temperature Management
- This temperature stuff is all marketing isn’t it?
- How to hit specific temperatures
- How does MaraX work with no “cooling flushes”
- Internal Tour
- Lelit MaraX Features
- Enable or disable standby mode
Lelit’s new machine is a consolidation of the Mara range that I became aware of in May 2019, when I got the first prototype. I’ve a soft spot for Lelit and their designers because they like to innovate and come up with new ideas. Some of these ideas are great, others can even seem a bit crazy like a active vacuum breaker using a solenoid in the prototype. Their ideas are always interesting though, and that’s why I love looking at new machines from Lelit.
Lelit take the domestic consumer and prosumer market very seriously, it’s not just an afterthought. They actively seek feedback on new ideas and machines before launching products on the open market, a sign of excellence for me. They use a great authorized reseller in the UK, click the logo below to check them out.
Click the logo below for the Lelit MaraX website page, have a read, they do all the marketing and glossy stuff far better than I ever could.
Then come back and read the rest of the review, where I can really dig into it with thoughts, comments and video of what it’s like to live with in the home. If you’re considering buying one, this is what you need to know.
MaraX – Overview
A better Heat Exchanger Machine (HX), using modern technology and good ideas, Lelit made a traditional HX but “done right”. HX machines (particularly vibration pump machines) have 4 main issues and is why I started collecting only dual boiler machines (until now).
- They need a cooling flush and it’s very difficult to control temperature
- Always a compromise between steaming, temperature stability and cooling flush
- They run hotter internally (affects component lifetime) and consume more power
- The vibration pump is noisy, the machine sounds unrefined and may rattle
If you can solve the issues above you can then enjoy the benefits of a vibration pump HX and there are some benefits:
- Simple design with only 1 boiler (and a HX tube internally)
- simple construction and less parts, it costs less to buy and maintain
- Ready to steam all the time with only one boiler for all functions
- Small HX tube always has fresher water compared to dual boiler machine with a large brew boiler
- Easy to use and live with.
- Vibration pumps are very cheap and easy to replace, lifetime is similar in domestic applications to a rotary pump.
- Descaling is easier (Vertical boiler HX machines), the HX side being much easier to clear of descaler. Although I recommend you should not use water requiring you to descale and use the in tank filters or other methods..
I believe Lelit have managed to solve the key problems of standard HX machines. They really “knocked it out of the park” with the MaraX
Prototype to production machine
I got the prototype in May 2019, it was clearly going in the right direction and needed some refinement especially on the temperature management software. I fed back the results of testing and a few other issues back to Lelit. It’s taken nearly 10 months for the production machine to be ready and I think it’s worth understanding it takes manufacturers a long time to get a new machine to market. The testing, redesign, software and retesting is a work heavy cycle. Although the two machines look similar, they are very different internally and externally.
Developing new and improved machines is a significant investment and takes a lot longer than people realise. I think it’s great that Lelit are willing to take that risk, make the investment and try to bring us better and better prosumer machines.
Some of the changes
|Fit and finish good||Fit and finish excellent, some changes to materials|
|Slightly noisier than production machine and a little vibration||Much quieter and less vibration|
|Brew Pressure gauge only||Nicely finished larger dual gauge showing brew and steam pressure (same as Bianca?)|
|Port on front panel behind group vent for active solenoid vacuum breaker||No port, no active solenoid operated vacuum breaker. Conventional vacuum breaker used|
|Vibration dampening needed for some machine elements||Top/bottom drip tray rack, drip tray and water tank lid all have extra vibration dampening and are a better fit.|
|Concealed switch for Low, Medium and Hot brew temperatures||Concealed switch for Low, Medium and Hot brew temperatures + additional override switch to give 3 selectable standard HX operation steam temperatures|
|Water tank has top feed/return tubes||No ugly tubes, tank is slot in and has water treatment cartridge facility|
|Management of brew temperature not so effective||Very effective brew temperature management, improved programming|
|Pump was quiet||Pump even quieter|
There are many other small changes and this creates a significant design and testing effort before the revised machine can be released. After which, comes all the hard work of creating a production line, Q&A procedures, engineering handbook and a user guide.
All about the Lelit MaraX
How it arrives
My first impressions were good because of how well the MaraX was packed. Mine came all the way from Italy and yet arrived undamaged. I assume the inner box with the blue corner buffers is standard.
It’s really important how machines are packed as the “crushing” disappointment of receiving a damaged machine and the hassle of sorting it out can’t be overstated. Courier companies don’t have a reputation for being gentle, so an espresso machine in transit needs to be better protected than an American footballer.
Packing must protect and be good enough that it doesn’t fall apart once unpacked. Should you ever need to reship MaraX for any reason (servicing), you can do so with no worries of transit damage. The unboxing is a painless process, there are instructions on the inner box and special inserts with handles to extract the machine easily from the box. I’m not big on actual “unboxing videos”, so you will have to just take my word for it that it’s a lot less painful to unbox than many espresso machines.
The accessories are nicely presented in a separate box that sits on a secondary crush pad, so top impacts doesn’t ram heavy accessories into the top of the machine. The accessories are fairly comprehensive, a good selection that’s enough to get you started.
- Tamper (quite a nice one)
- Rack to raise small espresso cups
- Internal Tank Filter
- Nice heavy portafilter with Lelits unique coffee slide, works for doubles or split singles. Contains a 14-18g double basket
- Coffee scoop
- Single Basket 9-11g
- Larger double basket 18-21g
- Metal Blind filter (for backflushing)
- Group Cleaning brush
- Various cleaning powders (just to get you started)
There are a few essentials I think you should add to your purchase if you don’t already have them
- Milk Jug
- Small counter top knock box (as per my videos)
- Bottomless Portafilter (shame to not see those shots in all their glory)
- Thin scales (0.1g resolution or better)
- Alternate Steam Tip, for the speed freaks (optional but be careful with hole sizes)
- Tub of Puly Cafe
- Pallo group head brush
On the counter and making coffee
It’s heavy enough to be reassuring and feel like a quality item but fortunately not too heavy, one of the benefits of one boiler and a small footprint. Once on the counter I stood back and thought that’s nice, really nice. They have done a wonderful job on the design, I especially like wire racks because they don’t look tired and scratch as the machine ages, things stay cleaner too because splashes are reduced. A cup warming rack I’m happy to use without a scratch protector.
I cleaned out the tank and another welcome change from the prototype, a bottom fill tank just like the more expensive Bianca, no tubes to remove and drip everywhere, just slot out, wash and slot back in. As the machine filled the boiler, the quietness of the pump was apparent. It’s clear there is some cleverness at work to reduce noise as the large 1.8 litre boiler took longer than normal to fill. This is because the flow rate is about 50% that of a normal pump. After about 90s, I switched off to allow the pump to rest for 45s…then switched on again and let the initial boiler fill finish. It’s just one of my habits to give the pump as easy a time as possible….I like to look after things.
The boiler is large about 1.8l and with an approx 70% fill level, pump max no pressure flow rate of 260 ml per min, an empty boiler takes approximately 3.5 min to fill. So don’t worry if it takes a while. Just check the water level in the tank is going down.
Once it was properly warmed up (more programming cleverness) by raising the temperature to around 140C in the boiler temporarily. This allows the group to warm up very quickly, then it drops the temperature so it coasts down to the right brew temperatures in a claimed 24 minutes total (at least that’s what I was told and it does seem to work). Now I’m never in a rush and as this machine works fine with a smart plug, due to a proper mechanical ON/Off switch. I can have as complicated an on/off schedule as I want.
It is important to mention that because of the technology of this machine limiting the temperature, running costs are perhaps only slightly more than a dual boiler without the steam function switched on. If you left this on all day from 7 am to 10 pm, it would cost less than 1.5kW, or 20 pence in UK money. For me the convenience is well worth 20p and mine is of course on for 15 hours every day. I mention this because of the ECO (or power saving) function, the first thing I disabled.
My first coffee
I personally gave it 30 minutes, usually I like to give my machines 45 minutes, but this seemed ready to play. Loaded up the coffee lifted the lever and was rewarded with a great first shot. You can even see the packing pieces for the steam/water wands in the background, so eager was I to make a coffee!
Is it Silent?
No of course not, this is the marketing department at work, I don’t want to set an expectation that it’s silent, it isn’t, it can’t be really, it is a vibration pump after all. But it’s very, very quiet and the sound is “refined”, rather than “harsh” as vibration pumps usually are. The prototype was quiet, noticeably so, this is even quieter with less vibration. Compared to a standard vibration pump machine the MaraX is very hushed. It’s not going to embarrass you or wake the household in the morning….I promise!
So it must need flushing?
I’ve had comments, that like all HX machines it must need flushing down to temperature? Well no, it doesn’t and it’s better than that, you can actually set the machine to 3 different temperature ranges, more about that later.
The MaraX is walk up and shoot…literally and that’s the way it responds best. There are a few little tricks you can do to try and boost steaming and I am sure people will try these things, but you are actually working against the programmers cleverness. You will win eventually but wish you hadn’t.
Go with the flow walk up and produce a shot, if you want another shot, brush portafilter out with a paintbrush, refill with coffee and produce another shot (don’t rinse before you do, don’t flush water through the group). Just keep doing this and steaming, it will all be good.
Steaming will be poor won’t it?
If they hadn’t programmed the system to boost up after a shot, perhaps but a careful selection of steam tips and some good programming means steam performance is fine. It’s not blast the milk out of the jug onto the ceiling powerful but it’s quick enough for most users. In fact, many will find texturing milk easier at a slightly slower pace. More importantly it can maintain the steam pressure well above 1 bar with the supplied tip. This is great because maintaining good pressure is important in producing good micro-foam, far more so than quick heating with the pressure dropping to 0.6 bar!
Note: (added 5/1/21) When it brew temperature priority mode, you should steam after the espresso shot, giving time for the steam pressure to boost fully.
Of course the MaraX system has another little trick up it’s sleeve, it can actually function as a standard HX (steam temp priority mode) with selectable steam boiler pressure of med, good and wow! each requiring an increasing cooling flush size.
If you are using it in Steam priority mode, you would find the standard tip restrictive. You would find it’s useful to have an alternative with slightly larger holes, or perhaps a slot (pro knife) etc..
The May 2019 prototype actually had a tip with larger holes, this wasn’t optimal running in brew priority mode but is perfect when running in steam priority mode. I have actually tried the steam tip from the prototype on the production machine in brew temp priority mode and I think I prefer the tip with smaller holes in that specific mode.
The Water tank
Lelit added in tank filter capability to the MaraX to soften the water for the machine, with a slot in bottom fed tank (no ugly tubes). It’s optional whether you use the filter (you get one supplied), I don’t have mine installed because I use treated reverse osmosis water suitable for espresso machines.
Expansion valve run-off is routed into the drip tray to avoid back pressure on the in-tank filter. The special modifications to the MaraX pump flow rate make it quiet and refined with a beautiful gradual preinfusion. A flow rate substantially less than a standard pump under pressure means only 35 to 50ml of extra water enters the drip tray during a double shot as a result of this decision (depending on shot time). A very worthwhile trade-off to have a neat tank solution with integral filter.
With this in mind, they gave MaraX a large drip tray that holds more than 500ml before it can be easily emptied without spillage. If you see this water during a shot it is not a fault, MaraX is working as intended..
The Lelit MaraX can run in 2 modes. Brew temperature Priority (BTP), or Steam Temperature Priority (STP). This gives you the best of both worlds. If you want a standard HX use STP. If you want a no flush, brew temperature ready machine use BTP. I’m going to go into a little more detail (simplified) on the 2 modes, as although slightly technical it’s very useful to understand what’s happening under the hood.
Steam temperature priority (STP)
This is the simplest mode to describe. It works like any other standard HX, except that you have 3 selectable steam temperatures (pressures) to run at using the 3 position switch behind the drip tray..
- 120C (about 1.0 bar)
- 123C (about 1.2 bar)
- 126C (almost 1.5 bar)
The steam temperatures are electronically controlled for increased accuracy and reliability, no old-fashioned pressurestat. The higher the temperature the larger the “cooling flush” required.
Brew temperature priority (BTP)
This mode takes a little more explanation. In BTP the 3 position switch now controls brew temperature.
|Left Switch Position |
behind drip tray
|Effect on Brew Temperature|
1st double vs 2nd double
Temperature variance assumes approx 60 seconds in between shots, longer times would mean the second shot temperature being closer or identical to the first.
The steam temperature (pressure) starts to increase as soon as you lift the lever, as you keep using the machine this pressure will climb and end up at 1.5 bar or higher. This boost is what allows good steaming and no flush brew temperatures. It also counteracts the cool water entering the HX and gives faster recovery. There is some complex programming going on and should you start flushing lots of water through the E61 group between shots you will disturb this balance.
It’s not programmed to give higher steam temperatures for increasing brew temperature settings. However, you might see higher temperatures because the system is trying to heat the water in the heat exchanger to a higher temperature and thus heats the steam side more to achieve that.
Does brew temperature priority work in the real world?
Yes, it works really well, as long as you don’t do things that work against the programming (commonly known as user error). If you are used to other machines you may have developed some habits out of necessity, these you may have to break.
- Walk up and pull the shot (don’t flush, you don’t need to)
- Carry on steaming and pulling shots (try and leave 90s to 2 min between shots), usually it takes this long to empty the portafilter, refill, tamp, place cup etc..
- Don’t flush clean the group in between a series of shots, only after you make the last shot in a group of shots
- If you do leave more than 5 minutes between shots…let the system cool down and stabilise again e.g. come back after 15 minutes.
If you are looking for a machine that’s going to work to provide shots for a small cafe, the MaraX is not for you, if you’re happy producing shots at a sensible home users pace, it will work fantastically well.
This temperature stuff is all marketing isn’t it?
I was sceptical when I got the prototype in May last year. During testing it was good but it wasn’t right. When left on for a long time it eventually overheated, thermal management wasn’t perfect, steaming needed attention. It worked but it wasn’t what it could, or should be, and the prototype sometimes needed flushing after long periods standing. I reported this all back to Lelit with some suggestions for the programming.
Now it’s been reprogrammed it works really well, and is as good as I think a Heat Exchanger machine can get. I’m sure many retailers won’t thank me for this but it’s way ahead of any other HX machine I have ever used in all aspects of it’s operation.
I have conducted temperature testing on the Production MaraX in real world use scenarios, it’s laborious boring and takes many hours over a few days. The machine has to be left for hours sometimes in between each run of tests. Tests have to be done in slightly different ways and is takes a long time. The results were excellent and used properly it performs well, and as designed.
I have decided to give a small insight into thermal management but it’s only a tiny view of much more detailed testing over the last few days. There is thermal lag because my sensor sits 6mm into a simulated coffee bed to give flow resistance and liquid transmission through the bed in all directions.
How to hit specific temperatures between the 3 preset ranges
After much testing on my machine I was able to come up with a fairly simple guide on how to manage shot temperature and even get close to temperatures around the preset ones. The table below is a guide to help you achieve this if you wish to experiment.
|96||Setting II – walk up and pull shot|
For subsequent shots wait 90s – 2m each time
|95||Setting II – If first shot only, flush 90 ml wait 20s then pull shot.|
If after a first shot at 96C, pull the next shot (and subsequent shots) after only a 60s wait
|94||Setting I – walk up and pull shot|
For subsequent shots wait 90s – 2m each time
|93||Setting I – If first shot only, flush 90 ml wait 20s then pull shot.|
If after a first shot at 94C, pull the next shot (and subsequent shots) after only a 60s wait
|92||Setting 0 – walk up and pull shot|
For subsequent shots wait 90s – 2m each time
|91||Setting 0 – If first shot only, flush 90 ml wait 20s then pull shot. |
If after a first shot at 92C, pull the next shot (and subsequent shots) after only a 60s wait For temps 90C and less add a 30ml flush
|*||When changing settings, after series of shots or where more than 4-5 minutes between shots has elapsed, wait 15 minutes for the brew temperature to stabilise again.|
How does MaraX work with no “cooling flushes”
I know you were waiting for this. 😉 If not, it’s OK to skip it, although I think it’s good to see how beautiful and well-made inside MaraX is. I know, it’s 15 minutes of your life, grab coffee and biscuits because it’s worth it! Even if only to know how to remove the case for those annual inspections..
Lelit Mara X features
The Lelit Mara has every nice feature you could wish for
|Standard E61 lever group (uses 8.5mm thick group gasket)||Widely used, good thermal stability, easy to maintain.|
|Last Shot Protection||Low water cut-off doesn’t ruin your espresso shot|
|Electronic low water detection and tank presence sensor||Accurate system|
|Slot in tank, no tubes||Neat tidy and less splashing when removing tank|
|Ball Joint cool touch steam and water wands (no compression type valves)||Easy to move to required position and much easier to clean.|
|Large drip tray||Less emptying and splashes|
|All Stainless Construction||No rust interior|
|Large premium stainless steel boiler 1.8l||Strong, descale safe and good quality and a very good size for stability and steam power|
|Proper mechanical on off switch||Unlike many machines with a soft power switch, MaraX can be used with a smart plug for extensive scheduling and remote control|
|Dual brew/steam pressure gauge||Large, nice quality and allows you to monitor both variables for diagnostics, pressure setting and performance|
|3 Switchable brew temperatures/or Standard HX operation||You have the choice of how MaraX operates and performs|
|Quiet refined pump with reduced flow rate||Much more gradual infusion to full pressure, greatly benefits espresso shot.|
|Wire cup warming and drip tray racks||No scratches or splashes from the more usual punched steel racks. Easy to clean|
|Auto Standby function that can actually be disabled, unlike some machines||It’s an EU directive and on some other machines cannot be disabled! It’s the first thing I disabled on MaraX , see here for procedure|
|Electronic temperature sensors and not mechanical stats, internal PID controller||Much more accurate, less prone to problems|
|Nice accessory set and great heavy portafilter with unique coffee slide spout||A good range of quality accessories supplied with the machine|
|All safety and functional vent systems routed out of case interior||It’s better to have anything that vents moisture, venting it outside the case.|
|Fast warm up||Due to the programming automatically boosting system temperatures to just over 140C for a calculated period during warm up|
I have a soft spot for Lelit because they are not afraid to innovate. It’s easy to sit back and let the sales roll in but they don’t, they continuously improve their machines. I like risk takers and clever people that deal with the little details we would never know were there. There are a few things on the MaraX that I have not mentioned because I don’t see why the competition should get the advantage of Lelits investment.
What do I think of the MaraX? This is a vibration pump HX system taken to the pinnacle of performance before you might consider a dual boiler machine. They have shrunk the gap separating the two types of machine, it works and does what they say it does. It’s a machine I would be proud to have in my collection. You may not actually “need” that dual boiler machine and now have a far more cost effective alternative.
Eliminating all the negative points of the HX, leaves the positives of simplicity, reliability, clever programming, 3 good brew temperature ranges without flushing and the ability to get close to the in-between temperatures if you want to. You can also run as a standard HX, if you want to fit a faster steam tip.
I love this little machine, it’s attractive, compact, simple quiet, easy to use, smart plug capable and effective. If you want value for money and great shots….this is a “no brainer”. It makes other prosumer HX machines look out of date.
Are there any negative points….. yes but mainly for the competition and retailers whose standard HX machines in terms of function, just became “also-rans” overnight. I suspect it’s going to be so popular, you might have to wait a bit to get your hands on a MaraX…for the customer, perhaps insignificant but I’d like to see Lelit:
- Provide an extra alternate steam tip with larger holes, for those that want faster steaming when in HX only mode
- Eliminate that drip of water that so often comes out when you move the drip tray to change brew temperature. I’ve spoken to them about that, not a real problem but clean freak irritating.
- Use a right angled mains connector into the back of the machine…I could then get it even closer to the wall (I must remember to purchase a 10A x 1 metre one I saw on Amazon for £3)
I used an expression earlier that comes from baseball. Knocking it out of the park means the batter hits the ball so hard that it leaves the park. A home run is where a player runs through all four bases and scores for their team. To hit a home run or knock it out of the park means to do a fantastic job on something and Lelit have done a fantastic job with the MaraX
It’s one of those rare combinations, value for money and very good. It should be on your shortlist, or even better, in your kitchen. A very strong buy recommendation from me!
Standby mode – Enabling/disabling
- MaraX must be switched off
- Lift the coffee lever
- Power the machine through the on/off button
- The standby status is toggled.
- If the standby is on after 5 seconds the on/off light starts flashing slowly and the status changes to standby off.
- If the standby is off after 5 seconds, all lights flash to confirm the switch to active standby
- Power cycle (switch off and on) the machine to save the settings