DeLonghi La Specialista Arte – coffee that the pros like (review)
The Delonghi La Specialista Arte is its newest manual coffee maker. By manual, it allows your inner barista to produce coffee that a pro barista would be happy to drink.
In fact, for this review, we took the machine to our local barista, Sam at Booker Bay Café (best coffee on the Central Coast Peninsular), and spent a few hours prodding and poking to see if it really could make a coffee as good as he can.
Sam nailed the right coffee pretty well on the first serious attempt.
That is high praise because he uses a uber-expensive manual machine to get his results. The only real difference is the shop machine can make four coffees at once and has two steam wands.
DeLonghi La Specialista Arte Model EC9155.MB
|Website||Product Page and Range page|
|Price||$749 (shop around (some stores have it for about $600 for Xmas)|
|From||DeLonghi online, Harvey Norman, Myer, David Jones, JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, Bing Lee, Appliance Central|
|Warranty||2-year ACL, 30-day free return|
|Country of origin||Likely Italy|
|Company||DeLonghi is an Italian brand est. 1902 makes a huge range of coffee makers, kitchen appliances, air treatment, heaters and more. Its aim is that Every De’Longhi product comes with ‘something special.’|
|More||Cybershack Guide: How to make good coffee at home|
What is a coffee machine?
Before I get onto the DeLonghi (the Italian spelling is De’Longhi), you need to understand the basic coffee machine types. Our guide covers that but in essence:
- Pod machines – cheap and easy from $20-300, but the coffee pods are expensive
- Manual machines that take coffee grinds and apply pressure and heat to produce black coffee optionally added to steamed milk. Some have onboard grinders and milk attachments.
- Semi-automatic machines that largely do it all for you via programmed coffee types. Some have steam wands or milk attachments
- Fully-automatic ranges from about $1000 to several thousand dollars. The top of the range will have two bean hoppers, dual boilers for water and milk, fully automatic coffee programs, milk attachments etc.
This is a compact manual machine with a few interesting tech changes to make it easier to get that perfect cup. I will use the term portafilter to describe the rubber covered filter handle that the grounds go in before tamping and attaching to the brew head. These can have one or two outlets.
Neat, chrome finish! It is 285 (W) x 365 (D) x 399 (H), but you need to allow at least 500mm (H) to access the bean hopper. The water tank is at the back and needs space for removal and replacement.
There is a dual-head portafilter with either a single or dual does insert. It has an innovative, no mess, dosing and tamping collar that clips on the portafilter that directs the grinds to it. The tamper (presses the coffee grinds into a solid puck) fits into the collar. Wonderfully clean and ensures the right amount of grinds each time.
Before first use, there is a setup routine to clean the machine. It is quick and easy and requires placing a water jug under the brew head and steam wand. You can also set water hardness (Ph strip). There is no LCD screen = everything operates off the OK button and flashing light indicators. It is straightforward if you read the manual.
It has a Barista kit with a professional tamper, tamping mat, dose/tamping collar, milk jug and two different sized single-wall filters.
Coffee – beans and dose
The world’s best advice is to go to your barista and buy a small quantity (250g) of the beans they use. You use that as a benchmark and experiment with different beans later.
- Place these in the hopper. The grinder is on a 5 setting (medium grind), and it is best to leave it there.
- Select a one-does or two does filter insert for the portafilter and attach the collar.
- Select 1 or 2 cups (press button and light)
- If you wish, you can adjust the amount of grounds per shot (dose level) from 0 (no grounds) to 40 (20g). We settled for 20 as it provided a similar quantity as the barista’s professional machine.
- Please portafilter under the grinder mill outlet, gently press in, and it starts the grind.
- Tamp the coffee grinds to form a solid puck. The collar means you cannot over or under tamp.
Now you are ready to brew
Ideally, hot water for coffee should be between 90-96° (not boiling). Robusta beans require a lower temperature, and Arabica beans a higher temperature. You have three temperatures – one bar is for dark roasted, two for medium-dark and three for light-medium. Start at two bars for most blends.
Place the portafilter under the coffee spout and lock it in. Here you have three choices via a button – Espresso (35ml per shot), 2x cups Espresso (70ml), Americano (120ml with water) or 2x Americano (240ml with water). The last option is hot water (via a separate hot water spout). The water/dose sizes are all adjustable. Let the 15-bar, 1300W thermoblock boiler do its work.
Use a 200ml cup (maximum 120mm high).
Perhaps the most challenging thing initially is to steam milk without making it too watery or hot. A food thermometer is handy for beginners, and you should aim for 60-65°. Milk can double in volume, and then the froth can treble that. DeLonghi provides a suitable 400ml stainless steel milk jug – just right for up to two small coffees.
We tried with various kinds of milk – full cream, skinny, lactose-free, almond, oat, soy etc., and all work well. Make sure it is cold – 5° is ideal. And don’t reuse streamed milk – toss any leftover down the drain.
Pour the milk into your Espresso, and that is it – enjoy.
It has a hot water spout that is excellent for tea (adjustable temperature), and its steam wand makes killer hot chocolate. If you like Decaf, buy ground coffee and skip the coffee mill part.
It also has a sachet of Softballs that appear to be a water treatment system you leave in the water tank and replace every three months.
Cleaning and maintenance
Perhaps the only downside to a manual machine is the need to clean it after use
- Run a shot of steam through the wand, wipe the outside with a microfibre cloth, make sure the nozzle is clear.
- Brush out the coffee grinder with the supplied brush
- Run hot water through the brew head
- Empty the drip tray
- Descale when the indicator light comes on – use the DeLonghi descaler
The complete manual is here.
Cybershack take – DeLonghi La Specialista Arte coffee is as good as a bought one
This is a step up from Pod coffee and a step out into the real coffee world where you can have a skinny, lactose-free, half-caf, why bother to an excellent Espresso, Café au Lait etc. In other words, whatever you want.
Where a Pod machine makes an OK coffee – better than a $1 servo one this makes a coffee you would pay $3-5 for and go back for more.
And on money-saving. Good beans cost around $50 per kg should make 75-100 coffees, and milk is a dollar a litre. Do the math, and you will pay the machine off in about 200 coffees. Makes sense.
But a small caveat. This is an entry-level manual machine, and while it does a terrific job, you get what you pay for. For $200 more, you get the La Specialista Prestigio with dual thermoblocks, 19-bar, and integrated tamping. For $1000 more, you get the La Specialista Maestro that, apart from weighing twice as much, has dual thermoblocks, 19-bar, integrated tamping, and a Lattecrema system for Cappuccino.
DeLonghi La Specialista ARTE gets our barista’s tick of approval. Yes, he is worried we will buy less liquid gold from him.
This is rated as a manual coffee machine. It easily passes every test, has a two-year warranty and makes coffee as good as a barista can. On the downside, it requires a little more time and cleaning. If you can get it for around $600 it is the bargain of the year.
- Easy to grind, make and steam a great cup of coffee
- You will be an expert in 4-5 cups
- Compact, well-made, good warranty
- Very flexible – make any Espresso or milk variation
- Barista kit is all you need to get going
- Little more cleaning than a Pod machine
- Good coffee is something you learn to make