- Jeff Whitlow
- 27 February, 2021
Astra Mega II Espresso Machine Rebuild
You might be thinking, aren’t these machines inexpensive to buy? Why rebuild one? ASTRA may be one of or the only espresso machine manufactured in the United States, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not a quality machine. I’ve heard stories about the “workhorse” nature of these machines and how perfect they are for a mobile espresso cart business. I’ll give you my opinion at the end of this post.
This machine had been well maintained but was in need of a deep descale, the seals needed to be replaced, the frame was rusted so it had been leaking, the power contactor was “buzzing”, the rotary pump was leaking, the pressure gauge did not function, and the right brew group would not flow water. Most of this was due to the machine sitting idle for about three years, but prior to that, the owners replaced parts when the machine called for them. I also believe this machine had made a lot of drinks over its eleven years of use. A two-group compact machine in 110 volts isn’t easy to find used or refurbished but can be purchased new for $5,000+, but we are always up for a challenge and it’s just how we roll.
On inspection of the machine, we determined what was needed and once we tore it apart for a proper descaling, we began to seek replacement parts. Our typical supplier told us they don’t carry parts for ASTRA, as these machines are comprised of European parts from different manufacturers, as we would need to go direct to ASTRA. This was certainly an option, but with a little research, we were able to determine the parts we needed and were able to purchase them from our regular supplier. Plus, I was able to put away my metric wrenches and I got to use my SAE set for the first time in years!
The work we performed consisted of the following.
* Replace all seals
* Rebuilt hot water and steam valves
* Performed a deep cleaning on both brew groups
* We gound the rust from the frame, primer etched the frame, and painted
* Replaced the rotary pump, power contactor, pressure gauge, and heating element
I love this machine. We named it “Fergie” (thanks to Julie - our manager of naming equipment) and she performs perfectly. I’m impressed by how fast this 110-volt machine recovers when steaming a lot of milk. The volumetric programming is simple and straightforward, and it produces very consistently tasting shots of espresso. On our first outing, we averaged a drink every 1 minute and 15 seconds, with three people working the espresso cart. This machine performed just like a new machine.
So, here comes my final opinion on the ASTRA Mega II Compact. I love this machine for the purpose we are using it for. I would highly consider buying a new one for our second espresso cart planned for next year. It has lived up to the hype about its performance. I learned that it has “self-tamping” brew heads. What? It’s true the brew head does protrude lower in the group and they will compress the puck to produce a very nice shot of espresso. I’ve experimented with untamped and tamped shots. I have to say a consistent tamp will produce a better taste, but the untamped shot is respectable. We have chosen to level our basket with an OCD tool, apply our tamp, and brew. If one of our lesser experienced Baristas applies a “weak tamp”, I believe this machine will correct this and bring the shot in nearly perfect.
What is lacking? This machine lacks any control for pre-infusion, temperature control, or pressure ramping. In a café environment, where you may have a little more time to dial in your shots, and you certainly have the advantage of being in a single location without transporting your equipment from venue to venue, I would definitely select a much more expensive machine with some of these features. This conversation is for another post. In the meantime, enjoy the picture gallery of our work.