Most coffee machines have a hard-to-remember combination of letters and numbers to denote their name, so it’s nice to see something a bit easier to remember: the Lelit Kate. It’s a manual espresso machine and grinder in one, saving you both space and cash, and offers full control over the way you make your drinks.
The Lelit Kate is one solid lump of a coffee machine, as a result of its stainless steel case. It looks fantastic, and the metal finish gives it a slick, industrial look.
Although it’s neither too wide or deep, the Kate is rather tall (335 x 275 x 440mm) and failed to slide beneath my kitchen’s wall-mounted cupboards. You’ll need to account for its height when considering placement in your kitchen.
The quality of the build can be felt all over, however, with a solid metal lid covering the bean hopper – which can easily take a full bag of coffee beans.
The water tank is housed at the back of the machine, underneath another metal lid. Remove the lid and you’ll see a rather basic-looking plastic tank. Loose hoses drop into this, one of which is attached to the water filter. All this makes removal of the water tank a bit fiddly, and a neater design with a handle would have been welcome.
Over my time with the Kate, I’ve come to realise it’s easier to leave the water tank in place and fill it with a jug. Annoyingly, though, there’s no way to view the current water level from outside of the machine. Instead, the Kate will beep rather loudly when it’s time to refill while also displaying a warning message on the screen.
Quality buttons for dispensing espresso, hot water and steam adorn the front of the machine, alongside the temperature and pressure gauges. Lelit supplies the Kate with a group handle that has a professional 58mm filter basket; most home machines use a slightly smaller 57mm filter basket.
Lelit Kate – Features
Grinding coffee is as simple as placing the group handle under the dispensing spout. One click delivers a single dose; two clicks provides enough coffee for a double shot. You can adjust the timing of each grind to get the perfect amount of coffee each time. As you change beans, you may find that you need to adjust dosing times slightly, too.
The grind is controlled by the dial on the side, with Lelit stating that the machine ships with a mid-setting to suit most beans. You may need to adjust the grind, making it finer or coarser, depending on your choice of beans.
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Getting the adjustment right is fiddly, since the dial on the left of the machine has no markings to show you the current setting. On looking inside the grinder to see how the dial has adjusted the grinder’s burrs, it’s clear that you need many turns on the outside to move between the coarsest and finest grind settings. As such, be prepared to turn the dial more than you might expect.
Lelit says to only adjust the grinder when it’s running, or else you may clog the grinder by getting beans caught in the burrs. My advice is to put a few beans in, make a coffee and test the results. If you need to go finer, empty the grinder and make a bigger adjustment. When your grind is about right, you can make finer tweaks with the grinder running and a hopper full of beans.
You’ll only need to do this when you first set up the machine; future adjustments are likely to be small, and you can do this on the fly when you switch beans.
Lelit lets you adjust the temperature of the boiler, both for steam and hot water, so you can get coffee the way you want it. I recommend sticking with the defaults, but measuring the output to see if you want your coffee hotter or colder.
You can also set a pour timer, to help you get the perfect shot of espresso. It’s set to 20 seconds by default, but feel free to adjust if you prefer a slightly longer shot.
Lelit Kate – Espresso quality
Making espresso is as much an art as it is science, so be prepared to make a few bad cups with the Kate while you balance the grind, tamp pressure and pour time. I found that a reasonably fine grind combined with a light tamp worked best for me.
Producing a shot starts the timer, but the Kate will not turn off automatically when the time limit is reached. Instead, the timer is more of a visual aid to let you know when to stop. It would have been nice to have automatic dispensing controls for one or two shots. I recommend turning on the pre-infusion option, too. This dampens the coffee grounds first, before pulling the shot, giving you a cleaner extraction.
To get a quality shot of espresso, you need the correct pressure, so it’s good to see a pressure gauge on the front of the machine. Provided the pressure hits the green section (eight to 12-bar), you should be good. Too much pressure denotes that the coffee grounds are too fine, or you’ve tamped too much; too little pressure shows that the grind is too coarse, or you haven’t tamped enough.
It took me a few goes to get the balance right, which is normal for any new espresso machine. Once I had it all figured out, the espresso was spot on. A reddish-brown and slightly oily crema sat on top of the shot, which was delivered at a perfect 64ºC. The bold taste and pronounced acidity of my test beans came through perfectly, too.
Lelit Kate – Milk-based drink quality
As the Kate is a single-boiler machine, the temperature has to be raised before it can steam milk. Following the manual’s recommendation, you should turn on the steam and eject all water from the wand before steaming milk.
Once done, the dial on the side controls the flow of steam, and I soon had a jug full of silky-smooth frothed milk. The manual has a typo that says milk is ready at 37ºC; it should be between 60ºC and 70ºC. I recommend using a milk thermometer to get the ideal temperature.
Pouring a cappuccino, I got a cup with the just the right consistency and texture. Provided your steaming technique is right, then, the Kate is capable of making top milk drinks.
Once you’ve finished steaming and turn off the steam option, the Kate neatly vents itself, reducing temperature back to the right level for making espresso.
Lelit Kate – Maintenance
Maintenance is fairly straightforward with the Kate Lelit. The surface can be wiped clean with water and a microfibre cloth. A small amount of soapy water is ideal for cleaning out the removable drip-tray.
Lelit provides a blind filter basket holder that can be used with espresso machine cleaning powder to backflush the shower head and clean the system. It’s recommended that this job is done once a month.
Keeping the grinder clean requires the use of burr grinder pellets, which help remove residue to keep the machine in top operating condition. Ideally, a cleaning cycle should be run after every coffee change; certainly, after every three loads, and particularly if you’ve just used oily beans.
Finally, you’ll need to change the water filter at the set expiry date – but also descale the coffee machine using a regular descaler at least every six months.
Why buy the Lelit Kate?
An all-in-one manual machine is a great starting place for those who want to make espresso the manual way, as you get a grinder perfectly matched to the machine.
The Lelit Kate sits in the middle of a couple of other machines. The Sage Barista Express is cheaper, but doesn’t offer as much control; nor does it deliver quite the same experience. The Sage Oracle is far more expensive, but you’re paying for a dual-boiler machine that can make milk and dispense espresso at the same time. It’s a lot more to pay for the privilege, though.
Quality coffee and its superb build make the Kate a great choice, but ironing out the few rough edges would make for a better machine.