The DeLonghi La Specialista is one of the most popular semi automatic espresso machines in the market. If you are looking to learn more about this machine and decide if it is right for you, keep reading.
We have owned and used this machine a few years ago. But, we have also done some user experience research to get some different perspectives and bring you this DeLonghi La Specialista review.
Overall, we found the Delonghi La Specialista to be a good option for a mid-range budget but not the best. It is not the right machine for everyone. La Specialista is more suited for beginners as it includes many features that make it easy to use. However, more advanced home espresso brewers complain about the grinder and machine’s capacity to make “true espresso” due to the pressurized portafilters.
In this review, we will cover all the details to help you decide if this would be the right machine for you. We will talk about pros and cons, features, espresso quality, durability and alternatives to consider.
If you are in a hurry, we will first share an overview. Keep reading for more.
DeLonghi La Specialista Overview
Reasons to get it
- Beginner friendly. Pressurized portafilters will guarantee a decent espresso with crema regardless of skill level.
- Built-in grinder with dose control will get you the right amount of grounds for your shot.
- Easy smart tamping system.
- The water temperature remains stable for even brewing
- Independent boilers speed up the process as there is no wait time between brewing and steaming.
- The Advanced latte system can make great foam for both lattes and cappuccinos.
Reasons not to get it
- It only comes with pressurized portafilter which you will not be able to make “true espresso”.
- Grinder has only 6 settings so it is not the best for fine tuning your espresso
- You cannot use it with ESE pods
Detailed DeLonghi La Specialista Review
Quality of espresso 7/10
The La Specialista is capable of producing a decent shot of espresso but it is not top quality compared to what high end machines can offer. This is mainly because the machine uses pressurized portafilters. Pressurized portafilters are great for beginners. They can produce a decent shot of espresso with beautiful crema even if you do not get all the brewing variables quite right. But, the resulting shot will have a thinner body and a less rich flavor compared to what a non-pressurized portafilter can produce.
Now, can you just buy a non pressurized portafilter for your machine? Yes, but that would not solve the problem. The root cause of the problem here is the grinder. With only 6 settings it is not possible to properly fine tune and dial a shot of espresso. The extraction will not be ideal with a pressurized portafilter. We believe that Delonghi sells this machine with the pressurized portafilter to compensate for the grind quality.
However, not all is bad news when it comes to brewing capabilities. The Delonghi La Specialista uses pre-infusion technology to wet the grounds before brewing and improve espresso quality. Also, the internal temperature regulation system is capable of maintaining a stable brewing temperature to improve espresso flavor and texture.
If the pressurized portafilters are a deal breaker for you. You can skip to our list of alternative espresso machines.
Ease of use 10/10
The Delonghi La Specialista is very easy to use and beginner friendly.
First, the machine has a built-in grinder with dose control that will grind just the right amount of coffee grounds you need for a shot. The grinder also has a sensor that will start the grinding process as soon as you insert the portafilter.
The smart tamping feature helps beginners apply the right tamping pressure. You can simply pull a lever and the machine will properly tamp the grounds into the portafilter making the process a lot more consistent and less messy.
There is a dial that lets you easily choose a drink recipe between espresso, americano, and coffee. You can also adjust the three recipes’ volume settings with the programmable feature.
Finally, the pressurized portafilters will help produce a nice shot of espresso even if the grind size or beans’ quality was not ideal.
Overall, La Specialista has many features that helps guide beginners through the process and avoid mistakes such as dosing and tamping.
Build quality 7/10
The DeLonghi La Specialista is a resistant stainless-steel machine with a retro and elegant look. However, once you start to use it you will notice that many of the components such as the portafilter handle and tamper have a cheap plastic build. This is unexpected given the high price point of the machine.
The DeLonghi La Specialista is not cheap. It is a mid-range semi automatic machine and the value is not great when it comes to espresso quality. For instance, this machine is usually compared to the Breville Barista Express which sells at a similar price but offers higher quality espresso.
However, this machine may still offer the best value for you. The top value proposition of the Delonghi La Specialista is the ease of use which makes it perfect for beginners. The other high end feature that justifies the high price point is the dual heating system. It is not that common to see machines with a dual boiler in this price range. Having separate boilers for brewing and steaming eliminates the wait time to brew again after steaming and it helps keep the right temperature during both processes.
The quantity and quality of features is definitely the strength of La Specialista. However, we are giving it 8 points because the grinder could be better.
Built-in grinder with dose control
This machine has a built-in burr grinder which is a great feature to have if you do not already own a burr grinder. The hopper of the grinder is fairly big and it can store an entire standard 250g bag of coffee
The best part about the grinder are the automated functions. First, the dose control function lets you choose the amount of coffee grounds you want to use. You can adjust this dose and the grinder will make sure to grind just the right amount of beans to get the desired dose.
The other cool automatic feature is the grinding sensor thanks to which the machine will begin to grind as soon as you put the portafilter in place. No need to initiate the process manually.
The downside is that the built-in grinder has only 6 grind settings which is not enough for fine tuning an espresso. When dialing an espresso shot you need to make slight adjustments to the grind size and having only 6 options with only 2 or 3 being fine enough for espresso does not give you enough flexibility. In comparison, other machines in the same price range offer 16 settings and stand alone grinders can have up to 60. Of course, if you do not plan to use the machine to try to dial the settings for each espresso shot and want a more hand-off experience and some decent espresso, this should not be a problem for you.
One of our favorite features of the Delonghi La Specialista is the Smart Tamper. The tamper is built into the machine and tamping is as simple as pulling a lever.
In most semi automatic machines, the tamping process is manual which means you need to have at least some tamping technique. Also the process can be messy with loose coffee grounds on your countertop. The smart tamper makes this process a lot simpler and cleaner.
Internal temperature regulation
Thanks to the internal temperature control technology, the Delonghi La Specialista can keep the coffee at optimal temperature during the duration of the brewing process. The optimal brewing temperature is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
A common problem in many semi automatic espresso machines is that the temperature does not remain stable during the brewing process. This can impact the flavor and texture of the resulting espresso shot.
La Specialista machine will not only keep the temperature stable but also display the current temperature on the dial for your peace of mind.
One very important thing to mention is that the Delonghi La Specialista only comes with 51mm pressurized filter baskets. This can be a positive or negative depending on what you want your espresso brewing experience to be. Pressurized baskets are a good option for beginners because they are very forgiving. They will produce a nice espresso with crema regardless of whether you get the right brewing settings such as dose or grind size.
However, if you are a more advanced home espresso maker you probably have a more developed palate for espressos. You could find that the espresso shots made with pressurized baskets lack some of the body and complexity you would otherwise get.
In other words, pressurized baskets will always produce a decent shot of espresso but they will lack the full body and complex flavors . Non pressurized baskets have the potential to make barista quality espresso if you have the skills needed to dial the espresso shot.
Despite using pressurized baskets, the Delonghi La Specialista can still create a good shot of espresso thanks to the pre-infusion technology.
If you want an indicator that a machine is capable of producing high quality espresso, you should be looking for pre-infusion technology. Pre-infusion means that the coffee grounds come into contact with some water before the brewing even begins. This helps avoid channeling and uneven extraction resulting in a better shot of espresso. The pre-infusion technology can execute this process automatically.
Dedicated hot water spout
Having a dedicated hot spout is great for when you want to make an americano or simply get some water to make tea. A lot of espresso machines use the steam wand as the hot water spout or simply do not include one.
Smart dial to choose the type of drink
The Delonghi La Specialista has a dial on the control panel that you can rotate to choose between three settings: americano, espresso and coffee.
This single dial makes the machine easy to use. However, there is no digital display which is a feature many appreciate in a semi automatic machine.
The group head cleans itself
Cleaning the group head after making some coffee is important to keep your machine clean and coffee tasting good. We know cleaning is the least exciting plan about using your espresso machine which is why many people forget to clean the group head.
You do not have to worry about that with La Specialista. The machine will clean itself after brewing so you can just focus on the fun part of coffee brewing.
Advanced Latte System
The “Advanced Latte System” is an upgrade compared to what most machines offer when it comes to automatic milk frothing.
You have probably heard that automatic milk frothing systems usually employ a panarello wand which can produce nice thick foam for cappuccino but is not very good at making microfoam for latte art. However, the Delonghi La Specialista uses an upgraded panarello wand that is capable of creating barista quality microfoam.
You will not need any barista skills to be able to create beautiful foam. The Latte System is very easy to use. You just need to place the steaming wand into the milk pitcher, turn a knob to start the process and the machine will do the rest. There is the option to choose from two frothing modes: flat for lattes or foam for cappuccinos.
We know the DeLonghi La Specialista is not the best option for everyone. If you think La Specialista is not going to work for you but are looking for something similar, here are a few alternatives.
Breville Barista Express
La Specialista is often compared to the Breville Barista Express which is another semi automatic machine in the same price range that offers similar features. However, there are a few differences that make the Barista Express different and better for the right target market. Personally, we recommend the Barista Express over the DeLonghi La Specialista.
The main difference is that the Barista Express uses non pressurized portafilters so you will be able to make a more full bodied and rich espresso shot if you master the espresso tuning. Also, the grinder in the Barista Express offers more grind settings which again gives you more flexibility when dialing your shot.
In summary, we believe these machines target different users. If you want to get a machine that offers more control and the potential for better espresso but also has a steeper learning curve, go for the Breville. If you want something easy to use that requires minimum skills and still make decent espresso, go for the Delonghi La Specialista.
Read our full review of the Breville Barista Express
Gaggia Classic Pro + Grinder
Another option is to get a cheaper espresso machine without a grinder that can focus on producing great espresso. Then get a stand alone high-end grinder that will give you the flexibility you need to dial your espresso shot.
We recommend the Gaggia Classic Pro, a machine that retails for about half the price of La Specialista. The Gaggia Classic Pro is a semi automatic machine with a full sized non pressurized 58mm portafilter which is the kind of portafilter that professional baristas use. This machine has less automated features compared to La Specialista. Milk steaming is manual and you have to stop the espresso brewing process manually. However, paired with a good grinder and with some practice dialing shots, you will be making top quality espresso.
The grinder that we recommend to go with it is the Breville Smart Grinder. This is our favorite burr grinder. It has 60 grind settings so it is perfect if you want to practice your espresso brewing skills by dialing your shots. It is on the expensive side for grinders but the added price of the Classic Pro and the Breville grinder is still cheaper than La Specialista.
Read our full review of the Gaggia Classic Pro
Read our full list of the best burr grinder
Delonghi La Specialista Prestigio EC9355
You may have seen that there is a new version of the original La Specialista called La Specialista Prestigio. Delonghi has added a few upgrades to this new version but overall our take away would be similar. If you want to learn more about this new version of La Specialista, go check our full review.
The Delonghi La Specialista is for those who want the convenience of a hands-off brewing and drink making experience and do not mind sacrificing the espresso quality. Do not get us wrong, this machine can still make good espresso shots but you will not be unlocking the full potential of the coffee beans.
If you want to learn some real barista skills and start experimenting dialing your espresso shots, you should look for a machine that uses a non pressurized portafilter and that has a better grinder. The Breville Barista Express is a good option at a similar price point.