Author: Maurice Savaryego, M.Sc.Eng. (Learn More)
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Compare Best Espresso Coffee Machines
Which to buy: DeLonghi La Specialista vs. Breville The Barista Express ?
If you have finally decided to upgrade your coffee preparation equipment at home or the office, and you are looking for the best available espresso machine, you might want to consider DeLonghi's La Specialista or Breville's the Barita Express!
Not only will these two espresso machines make you professional grade delicious espressos, but being equipped with all you'll ever need to prepare also other types of coffees, they will make out of you a true barista who can also prepare perfectly made milk-based coffees such as cappuccinos, macchiatos, lattes and Americanos.
Though the two espresso machines have a number of similar features, they do present some differences that will be detailed below and that you should consider before deciding which to get.
Comparing the DeLonghi La Specialista and Breville the Barista Express Espresso Machines
- Both espresso machines come with built-in adjustable grind size settings from fine to coarse for optimal extraction.
Note that the grind size will affect the rate of water flow through the coffee in the filter basket and the resulting flavor of the espresso. For best results, the grind size should be fine, but not too fine and powdery.
- Both espresso machines come with a ground coffee quantity dial that allows to adjust the amount of fresh ground coffee dosed into the filter basket to suit the fineness or coarseness of the grind.
Both espresso machines come with 2 types of coffe filters baskets: one type for a 1-cup coffee preparation, and the other for 2-cup coffee preparation. The grinders on both machines can be requested to grind the coffee beans either into the 1-cup or the 2-cup filter basket, so that the required amount of ground coffee for a single or double cup dose can be properly dispensed.
Note that for the situation where pre-ground coffee is used, the Breville machine comes also with slightly different 1-cup and 2-cup filter baskets.
The Breville pre-ground coffee filter baskets are double-wall baskets, while the Breville filter baskets used with fresh coffee beans are single wall baskets.
The De'LOnghi machine does not come with additional filter baskets for pre-ground coffee.
Both machines have the ability to automatically extract the infused coffee from the ground beans. With automatic extraction of the coffee, the extracted liquid coffee quantity will be fixed and equal to either to 1-cup or 2-cup coffee, depending on your selection.
However, with both machines, the automatic extraction of the coffee can be easily interrupted for manual extraction, to adjust the amount of coffee produced to what you desire:
- With the Breville machine, the coffee extraction can simply be interrupted or reactivated by pressing again the 1-cup or 2-cup coffee selection buttons, until the amount you want is reached.
- With the De'Longhi machine, you just need to press the OK button to interrupt or reactivate the coffee extraction process, until the amount you want is reached.
Both espresso machines allow programming customized settings for the amount of coffee to be produced:
- With the De'Longhi machine, this is achieved by first setting up the machine for 1-cup or 2-cup coffee preparation, followed by pressing first the "my" button and the "OK" button, and then proceeding with the coffee extraction until the amount of coffee volume you want is produced, and then pressing the "OK" and "my" buttons again to stop and save the settings.
- With the Breville machine, this is achieved by pressing first the "PROGRAM" button followed by the 1-cup or 2-cup button and then proceeding with the coffee extraction, until the amount of coffee volume you want is extracted, and then pressing the 1-cup or 2-cup button to stop the extraction and save the settings.
The De'Longhi machine has three coffee type selections:
- Espresso: Beverage of Italian origin, a short coffee with an intense aroma.
- Coffee: Beverage of European origin, a long coffee with a delicate aroma.
- Long Black: A long coffee, a favorite in Australia and New Zeland (only one cup can be made at a time).
----> Note that with both machines, you have the freedom to adjust grind quantities, extracted coffee volumes, and to use the hot water and steam spouts to prepare the type of coffee you like. After some experience, you will be surprised to see what you can achieve with these machines.
- The De'Longhi machine has two independent heating systems: one thermoblock for extracting coffee, and an independent heating system for steaming milk or frothing. This ensures immediate milk-based beverage preparation.
- The Breville machine has a single heater used for both extracting coffee and steaming your milk.
Different beans may require a different water temperature to extract their optimum flavor.
Both machines allow adjustment of the water temperature used to prepare the coffee:
- The De'Longhi machine allows to change the water temperature to either "Alta" (High) or "Normale" (Normal).
- The Breville machine allows you to adjust the water temperature ±4°F in 2°F increments from the default temperature.
Both machines are equipped wit a steam spout that is used to steam and forth the milk to be used in preparation of milk-based beverages such as latte, cappuccino, machiato, etc.
- With the Breville machine, steaming/frothing of the milk is controlled by the same dial that is used for the hot water spout. The dial has two positions, one for the hot water, the other for the steamer.
- With the De'Longhi machine, the steaming/frothing system is more advanced as it gives you a choice of two levels of frothing:
- FLAT: Used for latte, macchiato and for preparing flat hot milk.
- FOAM: Used for cappuccino, espresso macchiato, and for preparing frothed hot milk.
- With the De'Longhi machine tamping (pressing) of the ground coffee in the filter basket is automatic. Once the coffee has been ground into the filter basket, all you have to do is press the lever on the side of the machine, and the pressing of the coffee in the filter basket will be achieved perfectly well.
- With the Breville machine, the tamping is manual:
- Once grinding is complete, carefully withdraw the portafilter from the grinding cradle.
- Tap the portafilter several times to collapse and distribute the coffee evenly in the filter basket.
- Tamp down firmly with the removable tamper using about 30–40lbs (15–20kgs) of pressure.
As a guide to dose, the top edge of the metal cap on the tamper should be level with the top of the filter basket after the coffee has been tamped
Both espresso machines are equipped with a hot water spout that can be used to prepare Americano coffee (you simply add hot water to the coffee that was brewed into your cup), or to dilute any other sort of coffee you have prepared.
The pressure gauge enables you to check that pressure is correct while the coffee is being delivered.
With both espresso machines, the gauge needle will be positioned in the pre-infusion zone at the start of the extraction indicating the machine is in low pressure pre-infusion mode. The low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases water pressure to gently expand grinds for an even extraction, before increasing to full pressure.
The water softener filter in these espresso machines helps prevent scale build-up on many of the inner functioning components. Replacing the water filter occasionally will reduce the need to descale the machine. If you live in a hard water area, we recommend you change the water filter more frequently as described in the espresso machine's user manual.
Both espresso machines allow descaling of the various parts of the machines which is required after a certain amount of use. These machines are equipped with a light that indicates when descaling is required. The descaling of these espresso machines should be done exclusively using the descaling procedures described in the user manuals that come with these machines.
Espresso machines programmed for water hardness require descaling less frequently.
The De'Longhi machine can be programmed according to the actual hardness of the local water supply so that descaling may be required less frequently. To do this you first do a water "Total Hardness" test using the special water hardness test paper provided and following the instructions given in the user manual.
Depending on the result of the test, you can program the machine for three levels of water hardness:
- Soft water
- Medium water
- Hard or very hard water
The De'Longhi espresso machine has a special function that, when activated, saves energy. When enabled, the function reduces energy consumption. Note however that, if energy saving is active, you may have to wait a few seconds more before coffee delivery.
Please Note: Pictorial descriptions of the various parts of the above compared espresso machines can be found in the APPENDIX section below.
So which of these two espresso machines to buy?
- They both have integrated coffee bean grinders and a pressure gauge.
- They both allow the adjustment of grind size, grind quantity and the volume of produced coffee.
- They both give you the choice of preparing a single cup or two cups of coffee.
- They both allow programming customized settings for the amount of coffee to be produced.
- They are both equipped with a steam spout that can be used to froth milk for the preparation of cappuccino, macchiato, latte, etc.
- They are both equipped with a hot water spout that can be used to prepare Americano.
- They both allow adjustment of the water temperature used to extract the coffee.
- They are both equipped with a water filter that softens the water so that descaling is not required too often.
- They both have a built-in descaling process for cleaning the machines.
However, De'Longhi La Specialista presents a number of features not found on the Breville the Barista Express:
- It has two independent heating systems: one thermoblock for extracting coffee, and an independent heating system for steaming milk or frothing. This ensures that once the coffee is ready, no additional heat-up time necessary to steam your milk for milk-based beverages, like latte and macchiato.
- Tamping is automatic. All you need to do is press a lever on the unit and the ground coffee gets properly tamped into the filter-basket. This process is manual with the Breville machine.
- It has a more advanced steaming system that gives you the option of two types of steaming, either FLAT or FOAM.
- It gives you the choice of preparing three types of basic coffees: Espresso, Coffee, and Long Black.
- It allows programming the unit according to the actual hardness of the local water supply so that descaling may be required less frequently.
- It has an energy saving mode.
- Finally, it comes with a longer warranty (2 years as opposed to 1 year for the Breville).
Note however that, while the Breville espresso maker does not give you any specific coffee preparation choices, by adjusting all the parameters you can play with (such as water temperature, frothing, grind amount & size, extracted coffee volume, etc.), you can also prepare with the Breville machine all types of special coffees. All you need is some time to get used to your machine and learn how to play with the various parameters to make the special coffees you like.
Also, if you intend using often pre-ground coffee, the Breville may be a better choice, as it comes also with special 1-cup and 2-cup filter baskets to be used with pre-ground coffee, something not offered by the De'Longhi machine.
APPENDIX: Pictorial Parts Descriptions of DeLonghi La Specialista and Breville The Barista Express
Compared DeLonghi and Breville Espresso Machines on Amazon
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DeLonghi La Specialista
Breville the Barista Express
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