Lelit Mara Review: How cool is it?
The Lelit Mara has long been famous as THE SMALLEST E61-group machine on the market. Recently, Lelit has expanded the line-up.
They added new technology to two models to tackle some of the common disadvantages of heat exchangers.
In this review, we’ll see if they succeeded and discuss the pros and cons of each model. Keep reading to find out whether a Mara is the right choice for your home.
SUMMARY: The Lelit Mara X
- Both models use a heat exchange boiler but are designed to avoid common pitfalls of the style.
- The most compact machine with an E61 group on the market.
- PID temperature control for better stability and longer lifespan
Everyday perfect coffee. I thought about taking it on holiday as it’s lighter than most and makes better coffee than most shops.– Customer review
The Lelit Mara Review
Lelit makes five models of the Mara:
- PL62-T (aka Mara T)
- PL62-X (aka Mara X)
But the last two have garnered the most excitement from consumers. However, Lelit has discontinued the T model. So, let’s focus on the Mara X.
Brewing Capacity – 4/5
All Mara models have the same basic framework. They’re all heat exchange machines with E61 group heads and vibration pumps (1). Beyond that, however, it’s in the details of how these systems work in each machine. That yields the biggest differences between them.
I’ll mention here at the start that the now discontinued Mara T is marginally more expensive than the X. This difference is a little surprising as the latter is newer and arguably more advanced.
If you want to make a shot of espresso and steam milk simultaneously, you can opt for a machine with a heat exchange boiler or a dual boiler machine with separate boilers for brewing and streaming (2). Heat exchange boilers are popular because they are more compact and less expensive than dual boilers. But the main downside is that they are notoriously more problematic when it comes to achieving temperature stability.
Both the MaraT and the MaraX were engineered to tackle this problem, and both do it in different ways. With the PL62T, a PID is used to control the traditional pressure stat’s temperature.
You’ll be able to set the temperature of the steam boiler digitally, which also allows you to modulate steam pressure.
While there is some debate about how much value a PID adds to an HX machine, it seems clear that temperature stability is somewhat improved (3). Indeed, this is a common tactic you’ll see used by many top manufacturers. Profitec, ECM, and Rocket all have a heat exchanger machine with PID. And as a bonus, solid-state PIDs last longer than the mechanical pressure stats.
Lelit just released Mara X in 2020. They tackled the problem in a new way with the espresso world buzzing — not only from caffeine.
You can operate the machine in brew priority mode or steam priority mode in this pending patent system. In either case, you can choose one of three temperature settings, which are PID controlled.
The details are complicated, but the upshot is that you get improved temperature stability as long as you’re in brew priority mode. And even more exciting, you don’t need to perform a cooling flush the way you do on a typical HX machine. You can just walk up and pull a shot as you would with a double boiler.
This heating strategy, coupled with its small stature, means that the MaraX is also much quicker to heat up than a typical prosumer machine. It’ll be ready to go in about 20 minutes, compared with 45 for a larger machine with two boilers.
The Mara has a mechanical pre-infusion (4) and a dual pressure gauge that measures pump pressure and steam boiler pressure. The T has a 1.5 L copper boiler while the X is equipped with a 1.8 L stainless steel boiler, but this is a difference few users will notice when it comes to performance. Both machines have an OPV for adjusting pump pressure that’s easily accessible beneath the cup warming tray.
A final improvement to the MaraX is designed to eliminate another common complaint about HX machines: noise. Vibratory pumps can be very loud. The X pump has been enhanced with “silent technology,” virtually some innovative engineering and well-positioned dampening material. It is notably quiet when compared with the T, approaching the near-silent operation of a rotary pump.
Steven from Home Grounds does a detailed rundown of everything you can expect from the Mara X in this video review:
User-friendliness – 4.5/5
User-friendliness is THE BIGGEST SELLING POINT of the Mara. The MaraX, in particular, was designed to eliminate the learning curve that accompanies a heat exchanger. But both models have an enjoyable user experience.
Objectively, the MaraX is the easier machine of the two to use because you don’t need to worry about cooling flushes. Indeed, it was built to take user skill out of the equation as much as possible. It’s supposed to bring prosumer-grade espresso to the masses. And if user reviews so far are any indication that has been successful.
If you’re used to an HX espresso machine, you’ll need to unlearn some old habits when operating the MaraX.
In contrast, the MaraT operates like a standard HX machine. Except that you’ll use the digital PID display to set the boiler temperature. The display shows the current temperature, which you can switch between degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit.
Both machines use a simple system of two indicator lights to keep you aware of their status, one for power and another for heating element on.
The newer MaraX also comes with a standby mode, which it enters automatically after 30 idle minutes. This is actually mandated for this type of machine by the EU, and it’s a great feature from an energy conservation standpoint. However, unlike on some models, it can be disabled if you prefer to have your machine ready to go at all times. And given the number of YouTube tutorials showing you how to turn it off, this appears to be a common choice.
Milk Frothing – 3.5/5
Neither model has the super high-powered milk frothing you’ll find on some more expensive machines, like the ECM Technika for example, but both are more than sufficient for a great home latte. In fact, according to espresso machine expert Dave Corbey, most home users will appreciate slightly slower steaming as it leaves more room for error.
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.
With the T, you can always crank up the heat to increase the steam power if you want to try for that milk-on-the-ceiling blast. But even at its factory setting, it only takes about 20 to 25 seconds to steam 600 ml of milk to a perfect microfoam with this machine.
With the Mara X in brew priority mode, you’ll have slightly lower steam power than average, something on the order of 1 bar. But you always have the option of switching to steam priority mode. This mode operates just like a standard HX machine, so you will need to do a cooling flush. Here you can choose one of three boiler temperatures, which produce immense steaming pressures of about 1 bar, 1.2 bar, and 1.5 bar.
One thing to bear in mind is that the stock two-hole tip isn’t quite balanced with the higher pressure options, so you might want to consider a mod if making many lattes in a row is your thing.
Both models are equipped with a separate steam wand and hot water wand. The wands are multidirectional with an insulated no-burn design, and you control them with spring-loaded knobs.
Build Quality – 4/5
Mara’s big selling points are that it is the most compact machine on the market with an E61 group. It is even smaller than the 969 Coffee Elba. For condo or apartment dwellers, this alone is a great reason to consider this machine. It’s only 22 cm wide, and 41 cm deep, and the height of 36 cm leaves tons of clearance if it’s going to live under an upper cupboard. At around 18.8 kilos, it’s heavy enough to feel sturdy but not so heavy that it’s a hassle to move or clean.
Both models are the same size, but only the MaraX has adjustable-height feet. This is a small detail, but you might find it useful if your counter isn’t level. Anyone living in an older home knows what I’m talking about. You can also use it to tilt the machine in one direction if you want to set up DIY drainage from the drip tray.
Externally, the two models look very similar. Both have the same layout, with hard black plastic knobs and a large stainless steel drip tray. Interestingly, while both are stainless steel, the T has a polished mirror finish while the X is the only machine in line with a brushed stainless finish. This is an aesthetic choice that just comes down to personal taste. Dirt and fingerprints are more evident on the mirror finish, but the upside is that it’s easier to buff out scratches.
Both models come with a two-spout portafilter featuring Lelit’s unique Coffee Slide design, found on all the best Lelit espresso machines. The coffee slide design is said to enhance the flavour of your espresso and the richness of the crema. Plus, it certainly gives the portafilter a distinct and attractive look.
The T comes with a single shot and double shot basket and a blind basket for backflushing. Differently, the X includes the same but also adds a third larger basket for the real caffeine fiends. Still, both models come with a surprisingly lovely stainless-steel tamper with a redwood handle, easily a $100 add-on.
Cleaning and Maintenance – 3.5/5
Because the Mara uses a vibratory pump, you can’t plumb it into a water line, so it does require day-to-day water management. But this is such a rare task, that’s easy-peasy. Keep the 2.5-litre water tank topped up, and be sure to empty the drip tray regularly. That’s it!
The water tank is removable and easy to fill.
It has the tubing at the bottom, which is an excellent aesthetic choice and makes it easier to handle. When the water level gets low, you’ll see a warning light on the MaraX. When this happens, the machine will automatically power down the heating element before it lets you run the reservoir dry.
The water hose comes with a particle filter, but you should strongly consider using filtered water. And if you live in an area with hard water, ensure your filter softens the water as well. On machines like this, avoiding limescale altogether is a far better option than eventually having to descale.
The Mara uses heat-resistant polymer tubing for the steam and hot water plumbing, which has many advantages. It’s cheaper and easier to repair or replace when compared with metal piping, and it is resistant to scale.
Ahm, the maintenance?
The build quality of these machines is outstanding, so you should expect many years of loyal service before you need to worry about major maintenance. But you should keep in mind that, at present, Lelit is a brand that is relatively new to the North American market. So it may be more difficult to find spare parts or experienced technicians, though the E61 group is very tried and tested.
The MaraX, in particular, with its brand-new technology, may be harder to service. And given that it was only released last year, its longevity is untested.
In general, when compared with double boilers, heat exchange espresso machines have fewer parts. Thus, they’re less likely to break and easier to fix. One of the major fault points in older espresso machines is the pressure stat. An issue that they avoided in Mara models through a PID.
Don’t Buy the Lelit Mara If…
- You make many consecutive milk drinks: There comes the point if you’re making a lot of lattes and cappuccinos, where it just makes more sense to spend a little more money for a dual boiler. If you’re at that point, consider the Elizabeth model instead. Read our Lelit Elizabeth review for more information. Another option is to Or ride the upgrade train to the Bianca, a great value double boiler that also adds flow control capabilities.
- You rarely make milk drinks: Then there’s the opposite situation, where you just don’t make enough lattes or cappuccinos to justify paying for either a heat exchanger or two boilers. If you’re mostly a straight espresso or Americano fan, save your money and look at the Lelit Victoria instead. Or if you don’t already have a quality espresso grinder, check out the single boiler Kate, which includes an integrated conical burr grinder.
- You’d rather buy from a brand more established in North America: Lelit is still getting a foothold in the North American market, which may make it harder to find experienced technicians and dealers. If you’re pretty new to prosumer espresso machines and would feel more comfortable buying something with an established support system, there are similarly compact machines you might consider. Think about the Rocket Appartamento or the ECM Mechanika Slim.
If you’re looking for an espresso machine with an E61 group and a small footprint that can steam milk and pull a shot simultaneously, the Lelit Mara fits the bill. And as a bonus, it’s more affordable than most of the competition.
In general, I’d recommend the MaraX to anyone who has no experience with HX machines. It’s easy to use and avoids the pitfalls common to this style of an espresso machine.
- Prinsloo, M. (2018, November 9). How Do Espresso Machines Work? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/how-do-espresso-machines-work/
- Soque, N. (2021, March 1). Six years on: An updated guide to buying home espresso machines. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2021/03/six-years-on-an-updated-guide-to-buying-home-espresso-machines/
- Clive Coffee. (n.d.). Heat Exchangers with PIDs: Are They Worth It? Retrieved from https://clivecoffee.com/blogs/learn/heat-exchangers-with-pids-are-they-worth-it
- Aloe, R.M. (2020, May 7). Espresso Parameters: Pre-Infusion, Pressure, and Water Temperature. Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/espresso-parameters-pre-infusion-pressure-and-water-temperature-f543a3c4044e