DeLonghi La Specialista is relatively recent on the the market. The resemblance with the Breville Barista Express, stirred up some heated discussions. Some felt that the uncanny resemblance was blatant, some others thought that it's great thing to have some serious competition on that niche. I will discuss more about this in a moment.
I love La Specialista, and I personally don't care about the discussions, or the resemblance. Fact is that this is a great competition to the Breville Barista Express. A little competition is always good for us the consumers.
If we are to position La Specialista on the market, it is somewhere in between a semiautomatic machine and a fully automatic one. You have a great control over the brewing process, compared to a super automatic espresso machine, but you also have some of the things done for you, compared to a semiauto.
The advanced features on this machine, make the barista experience pleasant, and pulling shots is very easy.
You will not have all the operation automated, like in a super-auto, but the process of pulling an espresso shot is streamlined. I'll show you in a moment what I mean by that.
La Specialista EC9335.M is one of the best machines in De'Longhi's semiautomatic lineup. The lines are blurred a little, when classifying machines, but this one does qualify as an automatic. It doesn't really matter that much. Just stick with me and find out why is this machine so great!
De'Longhi La Specialista Review
Who Is It For?
The Delonghi EC9335.m is a great choice for baristas who want to make perfect espresso, and want to have a good time while doing it. If you have the budget, you should consider it, even if your espresso needs are simple, and you don't chase the God Shot. This unit will help you pull better shots even if you are a beginner. Don't get me wrong, with practice and a good understanding of the espresso extraction you can tweak your shots for perfection, on this machine. But you can pull decent shots even if you don't feel geeky about you coffee.
So this machine is for anybody that has the budget for it, regardless of their quality expectations, and their perfectionism level.
How Much Does It Cost?
La Specialista sells for around $900. Is it expensive? Maybe. But these units have a built in coffee grinder, so you don't have to buy one. You also have to consider the amount of technology and features in these units, and the price looks really great.
This unit is a bit larger than some of the machines you are used to; it weighs around 29 pounds, and the measurements are 12.4 by 14.5 by 17.5 inches. The reason for the extra size and weight is the built in coffee grinder and the two thermoblocks. You'll see next why this is a good thing.
Dual Thermoblock Boilers
One of the interesting features of the La Specialista is the dual heating system. The dual boiler technology allows you to brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. This is particularly important for the beverage temperature. Cheaper home espresso machines have one boiler only for both espresso brewing and steaming milk.
Espresso brewing requires a temperature under the boiling point, whereas milk texturing needs steam. To from on temperature to the other requires a bit of time. The need for the different temperatures. This waiting time is going to cause your drink to cool down.
If you brew your espresso first, by the time you steam your milk, your shot is going to be stone cold. If you steam your milk first, then your milk is going to get colder than optimal.
With a big removable 2.5 liter water tank, Delonghi La Specialista EC9335M is rather an exception. That's a lot of espressos and milk steaming before you need to refill! If you think the water reservoir is not important, think again. You would find it a chore, if you had to fill the tank too often. Trust me, I had a different machine with a small reservoir, and I hated to fill it up every two days.
I guess the size of the water tank makes up for the awkward positioning. The water reservoir is placed at the back of the machine, which is not as convenient. If you plan to put your machine under the kitchen cabinets, refilling the tank will be a chore.
I fixed this in my kitchen, with a glass microwave tray that slides nicely on the counter.
Espresso Tray and Water Wand
The espresso tray is similar to the ones you see on commercial espresso machines. The distance distance between the spout and the cup is minimal which works great for preserving the beverage temperature. But it will prevent you from pulling shots in big mugs.
A great feature is the pull down tray for demitasses. That minimizes the space from the spout to the cup even more, if you drink espresso.
La Specialista is equipped with an independent water dispenser, for those who like to make Americano. The extra dispenser adds water after the espresso is brewed to make it an americano. This hot water spot is smartly placed in such a way that there is no need to move the coffee cup.
Portafilter and Filter Baskets
DeLonghi sells this machine with two pressurized filter baskets, a single and a double. The pressurized baskets help the beginner barista to pull better shots, but I don't think they made the right decision to sell the machine without single wall basket filters. a proper extraction even when the barista makes mistakes.
Non-pressurized filter baskets help beginner baristas pull great shots, because they create the needed pressure in the coffee bed. Tamp, grind size, dose, are what create the flow resistance with non-pressurized baskets. For an experienced barista getting these variables correctly is just routine. But for a beginner, or for someone who doesn't want to play with these variable, pressurized baskets take away the pressure of getting these variables to perfection.
The portafilters are also marked so you have a visual indication if your espresso dose is correct or not.
De'Longhi have only included pressurized filters in the package, to make extracting espresso as simple as possible. This shows De'Longhi's intended target – the beginner barista. But with a mere investment in non-pressurized baskets and a naked portafilter, this unit can be a great acquisition for any advanced barista.
To be honest, I thing De'Longhi missed the marketing on this unit. Many home baristas who initially showed interest for it got disappointed by the pressurized baskets, because it gives the machine a cheap vibe.
The portafilter is probably one of the weaker parts of the machine. It is made of stainless steel and it has a plastic handle. It needs 51mm baskets, if you want to purchase an after market portafilter and non-pressurized baskets.
As I said, many home barista have purchased bottomless portafilters with non-pressurized baskets, so this is an option if you want to get really geeky.
Materials and Quality
This machine is mainly made of steel. The casing, the boiler and the brew head are made of stainless steel. The portafilter head is steel and the handle is plastic. This stops the handle from heating up and burning you.
There is some plastic here and there, but the brewed coffee doesn't come in contact with those, nor does the hot water. All metal you see on the machine is stainless steel. The black details on the machine are aesthetically pleasant and they compliment the stainless steel perfectly.
Delonghi La Specialista Features
Now to the good stuff. There are a lot of features crammed into this machine, it's almost incredible. Again, to ship this machine with pressurized baskets doesn't feel right.
Great Built-in Burr Grinder
There is no discussion about it, great espresso is made with freshly ground coffee, and when you buy an espresso machine you need to budget for a decent burr grinder as well.
- As direct competitor of the Breville Barista Express, the feature set is similar. Hence the built-in bur grinder. This reduces the overall footprint on your counter and keeps your space tidy.
- The grinder can be adjusted with six grind settings within the espresso range. In real life, the settings 1, 2 and 3 are the best for classic espresso, The coarser grind sizes can be used for Americanos, and caffe crema. You might find it necessary to adjust your grind size to compensate for various variables such as coffee beans origin, roast level, recipe, etc.
- The grinder is programmable to grind the desired dose, so you don't need to weigh the dose manually Watch the video below for a demonstration of on how to adjust the grind size and and the dose.
- A cool feature, maybe not as useful though, is that the grinder signals when it is empty.
- The “smart grind” technology, makes bean grinding easy and automatic. You program the grinder for the dose and grind size you need, and as soon as you lock the the portafilter into the grounds dispenser, it starts to grind, and it stops automatically. You just have to move the portafilter, and lock it into the brew head.
The bean hopper holds 250 grams, that's about half a pound of coffee. I recommend to keep the hopper empty from day to day, and only put what you grind. This will ensure maximum beans freshness.
You cannot remove the bean hopper while there are beans inside, and this is quite inconvenient if you ask me. So if you find out there are better beans for your espresso and want to change them you will only be able to do so once you grind them all… But hey, no machine is perfect…
Smart Built-In Tamper
La Specialista is an automatic espresso machine. One of the things that makes it automatic and separates it from the semi-automatics, is the built-in tamper.
The lever on the left side of the machine operates the built in tamper. After the grinder fills your portafilter with grounds, pull the lever to tamp directly into the dispenser. The tamp is perfect and avoids side tamping, or uneven tamps.
This enclosed operation also minimizes the mess with no loose grounds on the countertop.
Smart Grinder with Sensor Technology
The Delonghi EC9335.M has a sensor that detects the filter basket size in the portafilter and automatically select the dose accordingly.
The grinder also has a the ability to adjust the time it's grinding, so that you get the perfect dose when you switch from fine to coarse, or the other way around.
Pre -infusion helps with the initial uniform grounds wetting. If parts of the coffee bed absorb more water than others, the saturated grounds will swell firstly. This will cause the grounds to be extracted differently, with over-extracted portions and under-extracted ones. La Specialista is equipped with pre-infusion, a function that pushes water into the puck at lower pressure, so the coffee bed is uniformly saturated. The pre-infusion is automatic, and you don't need to worry about it.
The Delonghi EC9335.M does the pre-infusion automatically for you. It adds a bit of water to the coffee puck before the pressurized extraction begins. This gives the coffee grounds time to fully soak and saturate with water.
You will notice that the pressure gauge will show a low pressure during the pre infusion. After the pre-infusion is done the machine will add the 9 bars pressure, and this will be reflected on the pressure gauge as the extraction starts.
Internal Temperature Regulation
The one thing I wish La Specialista had, was a better temperature adjustment. You can change the brew temperature via the “x 2” and “My” coffee buttons. However, this is a two options setting: “standard” and “high” temperature. This translates into 194 °F and 198 °F, (90 °C and 92 °C).
I think that La Specialista is the best machine without a PID.
Milk Steaming and Frothing
Panarello Steam Wand
I have talked about the Panarello steam wand before. Delonghi has a patented pannarelo, and this makes milk steaming a breeze, even for those that don't have the confidence to use a regular steam wand. The wand on the Delonghi La Specialista is an upgraded one compared to their cheaper machines.
The milk frothing system allows you to select between flat or foam, depending on the espresso drink you prepare: latte, cappuccino, or flat white. The milk frothing system is almost automatic, and the barista doesn't need skills, or experience to steam milk for a latte. The steam wand was tested by various baristas, and there is a general consensus that EC9335.m delivers caffe quality micro foam.
De'Longhi calls this frothing wand “Advanced Latte System”, and it is indeed a great steaming and frothing system, unique on the market. Place the steam wand into the jug, start the steaming with the designated knob, and let the machine do its thing. No need to perfectly position the tip of the steam wand and create a vortex, or perfectly timing the frothing and steaming ratio.
The “Advanced Latte System” is controlled by a ring on the steam wand. Push the ring up, or down to control a valve in the steam wand. The up position is for flat steamed milk, for lattes, the down position is for cappuccinos, and produces more froth.
All “La Specialista” Compared
We talked about La Specialista EC9335M, but De'Longhi has made two other machines in the series, La Specialista Maestro and La Specialista Prestigio. Both of these machines are upgrades of the original model, but let's see what are the upgrades.
Prestigio has a professional steaming wand instead of the panarello. You need a bit more technique and practice to nail the perfect milk texture, but you have more control on the results.
Maestro also has a professional steam wand, but it also has a fully automatic milk frothing device. The milk frother can be optionally mounted on the machine, and it will dispense the frothed milk directly on top of your espresso shot, just like a super-automatic espresso machine would do.
Built In Grinder
The grinder is upgraded on both Maestro and Prestigio, compared to the original. They have 8 grind settings, compared to 6 setting on the lower model.
The Filter Basket
The filter basket is a non pressurized for both of the upgraded machines. Since they upgraded the grinder, there is no need of a pressurized basket anymore, since you can dial in your grind to achieve the needed puck resistance.
Brew Temperature Tweaking
The basic model of La Specialista, as I said has only 2 temperature settings, which is enough for most people. Prestigio and Maestro have three temperature settings, with a dedicated button.
Maestro – Extra Features
La Specialista Maestro is the most expensive out of the three, and it has some extra automatic features. The Maestro has 6 pre-set recipes, that can be prepared almost automatically. So you get the advantage of being able to prepare everything manually, for the best control of brewing variables, and you also get 6 presets, almost automatic for the espresso lover who wants convenience and a no hassle coffee.
The control panel is a combination of buttons and LED display. The displays output important information about the coffee that is brewing. You get temperature, pressure and other variables on the two displays.
The machine is not cheap, but the amount of features incorporated into the machine makes it one of the most advanced in its class.
If you don't like the dual wall filter baskets, the Prestigio and Maestro are great upgrades, which I strongly recommend. Maestro is an interesting hybrid between a fully automatic espresso machine and an automatic. If you aren't convinced these machines are what you want to invest on, make sure to take a look at our Espresso Machines Guide For New Buyers – it will help you have more of an idea of the best machines on the market and what to look for when purchasing an espresso machine.