The release of the Lelit Mara X in 2020 has been an exciting development for fans of the Lelit espresso machines.
While Lelit is less well known than some other Italian coffee companies, it has garnered a faithful following in the specialty coffee community particularly due to the success of the Lelit Bianca.
The Lelit Mara x is a fascinating E61 heat exchange espresso machine. It is remarkably small, considerably cheaper than its older brother the Bianca, and utilizes some truly unique features and additions. In this article, we will dig down deep into the Lelit Mara x to help you see if it might be the prosumer espresso machine for you.
Lelit Mara X Overview
The Lelit Mara X in a nutshell is a heat exchange espresso machine with a small footprint, affordable price, and PID-controlled water temperature. It is a heat exchanger with a difference that manages to sidestep many of the common pitfalls that come with this model of machine. While its ability to change brewing parameters is fairly minimal, this is an espresso machine that nails the basics for excellent coffee.
Lelit Mara X Review
The Lelit Mara X is an E61 heat exchanger. This is reflected in both its look and basic functionality. Also in line with the previous Lelit Mara models this continues to be an intentionally compact espresso machine. These are about the smallest E61s on the market and so are of particular interest to those with limited space.
Before we get into the review proper it is worth saying up front that this is an espresso machine with an excellent price-to-quality ratio, and that simply put, it can make superb espresso. There is a reason E61s have been loved and trusted for so long.
The overall impression made by the Lelit Mara X is of quality, as you would expect of any the Lelit espresso machines. While small in size, this is a heavy espresso machine that feels solid and well-made. A quick peep inside the machine itself will confirm that this is not appliance quality, but instead the excellence we expect of a prosumer espresso machine.
This is also reinforced by the excellent accessories that come with this machine. Usually, accessories are much of a muchness. However, the accessories with the Lelit Mara X are at least worthy of mention. In particular, the stainless steel and redwood tamper is simply superb and seems comparable in size and feel to a Big Step Tamper. Basically, it is just a far better quality tamper than you expect as an accessory. The espresso machine comes in three different colors; stainless steel, black or white. The black and white machines look stunning, but do cost an extra $200.
Heat Exchange System
As mentioned the Lelit Mara X is a heat exchanger with a difference. Now for those who may be a bit rusty on it, a heat exchanger is the common and usually cheaper alternative to the dual boiler. A heat exchange espresso machine uses a single boiler with a metal tube running through the boiler. Heat exchangers are not actually restricted to espresso machines but have numerous applications in home and commercial settings.
Basically, the idea is that the single boiler is for the higher heat required for steaming. Through that boiler, however, there is a copper tube that heats the brew water to the ideal brewing temperature. This means that in differentiation from a single boiler, you don’t have to wait between brewing and steaming.
The general advantages of heat exchangers are a cheaper price because only a single boiler is used. The downsides are that heat exchangers usually experience some form of temperature instability or inconsistency, similarly, a cooling flush is often required.
In the Lelit Mara X however, the temperature is controlled via a PID controller and is regulated by a patent-pending double probe system. Basically, it measures the heat exchanger temperature twice per second and tweaks the temperature accordingly for a more consistent brew water temperature. Practically, this means that the Lelit Mara x can produce temperatures as accurate as the far more expensive E6s that are dual boilers.
If you remove the drip tray from this Lelit coffee machine you will find a three-position switch; allowing you to select from 3 different boiler temperature ranges. 0 is 89C to 91C, 1 is 91C to 93C, and 2 is 93C to 95C. While limited, this allows the user to optimize brewing temperature for light, medium, or dark roasted coffee beans.
Even more exciting to the side of the machine (also under the drip tray) there is a two-position switch. This allows you to opt for either Brew Temperature Priority (on), or Steam Temperature Priority (off). The Brew Temperature Priority boils the water slightly cooler for the ideal brewing temperature. Steam Priority Mode heats the water slightly hotter for better steam pressure.
For what it is worth, I would always leave this on the Brew Priority Mode as brewing temperature will always trump steam pressure for me. While this lowers the steam pressure somewhat, it is still very usable for steaming and ensures a consistent perfect temperature for extraction (a common problem on heat exchangers).
So the long and the short of this is that due to its innovative approach the Lelit Mara x is able to provide the temperature accuracy expected of Dual Boiler E61s but with a significantly smaller footprint and cheaper price. Not bad, Lelit, not bad.
Like other E61s the Lelit Mara x does have an inbuilt pre-infusion to help minimize channeling. The pre-infusion on the Mara X however is also unique in that it is far more linear and consistent than many other machines. It uses a small jet and stiff preinfusion spring to have a more consistent pressure ramping process that starts almost immediately and peaks after around 15 seconds. This in turn means that you are able to use finer grind settings which is always desirable, particularly for light roasts.
So as explained above the experience of steaming milk on the Mara X will depend in part on which priority mode you set the espresso machine in. With Brew Priority Mode, steaming will be slightly slower than normal with a lesser pressure but still very usable. It just won’t be as quick as some other machines.
On the Steam Temperature Priority Mode, the pressure will be higher but you will have to do a cooling flush as with any other heat exchange machine. The Steam Priority will lead to higher temperatures for longer times and so can be advantageous if you are intending on making multiple milk-based espresso drinks back on back. Similarly, as with any heat exchanger, the brew temperature setting (0,1, or 2) will in turn shape the brewing pressure.
The steam wand itself is more than fine and easy to use. It is a cool touch wand which is always nice to save those burnt fingers.
Also while a cooling flush is not strictly needed for the Brew Priority mode, it is still worth doing especially if steam pressure is faltering. It is simple to do; simply pull up the group lever for a few seconds which will flush out the overheated water.
So the steaming is adequate to good on Brew Priority mode and very good on Stream Priority mode. Certainly, if you know what you are doing you can get velvety well textured microfoam in either mode.
Overall the Lelit Mara x is a pleasure to use particularly if you have endured some of the struggles of heat exchangers before. Like the Bianca, the Mara x uses a Vibration Pump. Now, these beasts can be loud. However, a selling point of Lelit machines in general is that they have some of the quietest vibration pumps around. So, in terms of day-to-day use, this is a huge advantage and just increases the general pleasure of using it (much like the Niche Zero Grinder).
This Lelit comes with a cup warming rack with a small ledge. It is not a huge heating rack but it is fine for the home setting. The drip tray has a similar wire grate and slides out easily for emptying and cleaning. There is a pressure gauge on the front of the machine, which initially looks like a single gauge, but upon closer inspection can be seen to have two gauges. The top part is a boiler pressure gauge, while the lower one shows the pump pressure.
The power button is located at the front of the espresso machine and is a push button with a ring around it that lights up when the machine is turned on. This is a nice wee addition.
The Lelit Mara X heats up very quickly at about 15 minutes. It also has both an on mode and an economy mode. In the on mode the machine stays on indefinitely, in the economy mode the machine automatically switches into an economy or sleeping mode after 30 minutes. This can be changed easily depending on your preference.
Broadly speaking the Mara X looks fairly similar to any Italian-made E61, it has the standard brew and steam knobs and water wand.
However, what will quickly strike most people is that the proportions of the Mara x are somewhat unique. It is narrow, deep, and quite tall. On the one hand, this makes it extremely compact and a superb option for those with space issues. On the other hand, some have found that it can look somewhat disproportionate in shape, just a bit tall and lanky.
The other commonly noted aspect of the machine is the seeming lack of legs. It does in fact have legs but these are so small that they are easily missed. This seems a surprising design decision in my mind because practically it means that the machine is very hard to move. You can’t easily get your fingers under the machine, and if you drag it, the small rubber protectors will come off and the legs will scratch your benchtop (which a number of users have discovered to their chagrin).
Also while I have no particular concerns with the appearance of the Mara X, it does feel less premium than its older brother the Lelit Bianca.
Who Should Buy the Lelit Mara X?
So who should buy the Mara X? Well in my approximation, this is a superb machine for the espresso enthusiast with a limited budget. If you are into espresso enough to want optimal extraction then an appliance espresso machine probably won’t do it for you. However, the premium espresso machines will equally be out of your price range.
The Lelit Mara X is an excellent middle ground. This espresso machine can pull a superb shot that will challenge an E61 Dual Boiler for taste and texture. However, it is smaller, considerably cheaper, and in many ways a heat exchanger that feels like a dual boiler.
So if that sounds like you then this is a superb option. It doesn’t have the customization or flexibility of a shot profiling espresso machine, but it excels at the basics. It simply does what it sets out to do with excellence. It pulls a mean shot and enables the espresso enthusiast to make superb coffee at a price that is actually doable.
The Best Alternative To The Mara X
The Rocket Appartamento
Probably the closest alternative is the highly popular Rocket Appartamento. The Appartamento is also a heat exchanger with a vibration pump and a relatively compact size. It has the same basic aesthetic but probably does look more elegant than the Mara X, to be honest.
It can also make great espresso but does have a steeper learning curve than the Lelit Mara X. Also it doesn’t have some of the features of the Mara such as PID and the option to toggle between Brew and Steam priority. It is also more expensive than the Mara x.
Lelit Mara X – In Summary
In summary, the Lelit Mara X has impressed me more than I expected. This is a heat exchanger with a difference at a great price and with a remarkably small footprint. The tweaks on the traditional heat exchange system are particularly what draws me to this espresso machine. You get the strengths of an E61 heat exchanger without the accompanying weaknesses such as temperature fluctuations.
Overall, the Lelit Mara X is a strong contender for the best affordable prosumer espresso machine.