Living in lockdown has been a real caffeine test. Limited access to your local café means that, for many of us, the morning cappuccino we enjoy on the way to work is no longer a part of our day-to-day. And while there are loads of machines that make the experience of whipping up a solid coffee at home a relatively easy task, sometimes you just want a barista-made cup.
DeLonghi’s new La Specialista Arte coffee machine is their latest compact manual offering, boasting the “authentic cafe experience at home” – so when I was offered a chance to review it, I leapt at the chance.
I’m no barista, but I’m a committed lover of coffee and being locked in my apartment does offer a pretty incredible opportunity to learn.
But first, here are the specs you need to know about. DeLonghi’s La Specialista Arte coffee machine is fitted with:
- 8 grind settings
- Active temperature control
- MyLatte Art steam wand
- Three pre-set recipes: Espresso, Long Black, Hot Water
- Its dimensions are: 285 x 365 x 399 (with bean container)
- Its weight sits at 8.8kg
First thing’s first, for a manual machine, the size is pretty reasonable. DeLonghi wasn’t playing around when they called it compact. The machine isn’t tiny by any means, but it’ll slot neatly into most kitchens – including my teeny excuse for one.
The La Specialista Arte machine comes with a nicely stocked barista kit with a professional tamper, tamping mat, a dosing and tamping guide, milk jugs and two different sized single-wall filters.
My favourite element here is the tamping mat which makes the whole process much tidier. Resting the portafilter here (the piece that holds the ground coffee when you’re making a cup) not only gives it a place to live, but it helps control the whole tamping process nicely, too.
When it comes to using the machine, as a whole, I found the process fairly intuitive. While yes, this is a manual machine so there is some fiddling around for temperature control, dose and grind settings, the instruction manual very clearly outlines which settings will work best for the type of coffee you’re using (in terms of roast level).
Dose level and grind setting can be tweaked with a simple rotation of a dial, and the temperature control feature has three tiers you can move through with a single button. I’m working with medium beans at the moment so my dose level lives between 10 and 20, my grind is set to four and the temperature is on level two.
To start the grinding process, pop the tamping guide onto the portafilter and twist it until the two pieces lock together. I’m not sure I desperately need the tamping guide in my life, but it does keep the ground coffee from spilling outside the portafilter which is nice from a cleanliness perspective. (I have to say, the machine is largely mess-free if you keep on top of any excess liquid post pour.)
From here, all you need to do is slot the portafilter under the grinder and gently push it inwards. The process is super easy and will get you ground beans in a few seconds.
The first couple of times I went about brewing a coffee, I found it ran way too fast and there wasn’t much crema to be seen. After adjusting the grind setting (to four), however, that was no longer an issue. Since that point, I’ve been consistently happy with the length and flavour of the espresso shots DeLonghi’s La Specialista Arte has produced.
The last element I’ll point out here is the steam nozzle. These things can be kind of scary. If you approach them from the wrong angle, they’ll scream at you and create a mess. Over the years, I’ve learnt how to handle them ~somewhat~ and I have to say, frothing up milk on this machine has been fairly easy in my experience.
I do think a dial function can offer more control, but the steam button here is pretty responsive and there isn’t much of a delay once you press it.
Do I create perfect, creamy froth? Certainly not (the lead image in this article will attest to that). But I’m working on it.
What’s not so good?
This is a given when moving from a pod machine to a manual option, but the coffee-making process does take a lot longer. You won’t be there for 30 minutes working on your cappuccino, but the transition from press-and-go to filing through the steps of manually brewing your coffee does take some adjusting.
This will not be a negative for everyone, as the task can be kind of satisfying, but there’s a chance some people will find it frustrating. Whether you’re going to be happy to trade off on your time will come down to personal preference.
And as much as I do love my pod coffee, the final product just tastes better when it comes from a fresh grind. And while a manual machine requires a little more time and effort, if you’re entering into the process with the main goal being an incredible cup of coffee, you’ll likely find it’s worth it.
In my view, DeLonghi’s La Specialista Arte machine offers a nice intersection between the full barista experience and making simple, quality coffee at home. The machine asks that you work for your brew, but not so hard that it excludes everyone but extreme coffee enthusiasts.
If you’d like to learn more, you can check out the La Specialista Arte machine on the DeLonghi website here where it’s available for $749. Alternatively, you can also grab yourself one of these machines from Amazon, where it’s currently selling for a discounted price of $679.