Product review – La Specialista De Longhi
Not a secret I love a good flat white. And for years I have used an ‘espresso machine’ at home. Despite being Neapolitan, I never really liked the classic, iconic moka, preferring (oh the shame!) an instant, often decaf, morning coffee followed by caffeinated cappuccino or flat whites at the local coffee shop.
In the last few years I have been through quite a few home machines, always spending around the £100 mark. I also (believed to have) moved to a grinder, thus I buy beans, which is of course, much better for flavour and freshness (and indeed, usually if not always from independent, artisan roasters).
After various brands (which eventually kept lasting no more than a couple of years), I had a number of years ago settled for a much loved De Longhi Scultura, which I still have today after many, many coffees. And of course when lockdown struck in 2020, the usage increased 10 times over! I was happy using it every day.
In 2021 I was invited to test out a competitor’s product, very much similarly priced Breville Bijou. I loved the event, and I loved the machine. I was in heaven, I had not one but two wonderful home machines (as well as an old and barely used Nespresso).
La Marzocco Micra launch
Fact forward to spring 2023, when my dear friend Richard passed on a ticket for a coffee masterclass held by La Marzocco at their Shoreditch showroom. I went along, not really knowing what to expect, and it turned out that the company was launching their home coffee machine range Micra with a really well organised coffee masterclass (I learnt a few things too on how coffee is harvested, and even brewed at home) followed by road testing the machine itself with some latte art training.
I immediately fell in love with their machine. It’s bigger than your average machine, and resembles the professional version (sort of angular / blocky shape). Quiet, with plenty of functions, available in many colours, it is La Marzocco after all. My love affair lasted until I asked the retail price (of over £3k).
I went home thinking “That’s ridiculous, I am more than happy with my 2 machines, there is absolutely no need to even consider changing, not worth it” and so on.
The next morning however, reality kicked in. I made my usual flat white, and it did not taste good. In fact, I realised that one too many times I had made myself a cup only to think “mmm today’s doesn’t taste as good as it should, that is odd”. Especially since I do buy beans from roasters I know and love (from Gentlemen Baristas to Coleman).
Why did my own brew never taste as good as it did in the local coffee shops?
La Marzocco had opened my eyes, and indeed my home machines didn’t feel up to the task anymore. Yet at 3k it was not something I could afford (and I suspect many of us couldn’t).
London Coffee Festival
Timely the London Coffee Festival happened, and this year I attended with a clear mission: to find a new machine which could achieve a good, worthy cup of coffee while not costing as much as two weeks’ diving in Asia.
At the festival I chatted to a few pros, considered a Sage Barista (as Breville is the cheaper product of the same producer), I marvelled at La Pavoni (which my friend roaster Simone uses); I looked at the Gaggia new range which has also a pretty hefty price tag of around 2k; I nearly bought the new SMEG home version for £600 (and stopped at the “you will be one of the first people in London to have it when it comes out in September!”) and finally chatted to a nice lady at the De Longhi stand who sold me (virtually, as they were not actually selling one site) one of their home machines, with a festival discount of £50.
I had intended to ‘stay italian’ overall, also spurred by the really good quality coffee that a pretty cheap (around 60euro) Gran Gaggia Style I had got in Italy to use when I am back home, despite its plastic case and small size, produces consistently excellent coffee even despite long hyatus in use. I was happy I had made my mind up with a De Longhi La Specialista which, on paper (as I did not actually see or try it at the festival!) ticked all the boxes.
La Specialista arrives
After 5 very long working days, La Specialista arrived. I couldn’t wait to get started!
I have now had it for a few months, and I thought I’d share a review, because I love it and I am very happy with my upgrade. Read on for specifics.
Some of the machine’s features are:
- 8 grind settings, specifically developed to fit all varieties of coffee beans
- 3 infusion temperature levels, able to adapt to the variety of the beans and their level of roasting
- a complete barista kit assists in eliminating mess whilst grinding and helps to guide for precise tamping
- MyLatte Art steam wand, perfect to texture silky smooth microfoam to practise Latte art creations
It does have a lot of settings, and it took me sometime to read through, and get used to. I was also coming from a way more basic machines, so it’s only fair.
The included grinder has made a huge difference too, and as Simone had explained, this is a key point. He uses a professional grinder even at home (he’s a roaster after all) and these retail around £400.
With the Specialista, it took also a few cups to get to the right adjustements, based on the coffee type and personal preference.
I really like the tamping base and guide, no spills of coffee grounds (which I had had a chance to try at the Marzocco event).
The machine has also a really nice and ‘hidden’ (I had not seen it initially!) storing draw in the ‘roof’ for the cleaning tools, which is very handy.
The steam wand does not detatch for cleaning (the Breville’s did and I really liked that option) but it comes with a needle to remove residue and plenty of instructions on how to best maintain the machine.
There are settings for a lot of manual adjustements, from the grinding to the cup size to the coffee type to the heating time.
The machine is bigger than the previous, cheap options and I could not keep it on my main kitchen counter, however this means I have now, much to my husband’s displeasure, a ‘dedicated’ coffee station downstairs.
Overall, the grinding and the brewing is not noisy BUT the Specialista makes a mechanical, regular noise on each function. As I had not tested it in person, I initially thought this was a fault, and contacted both email and Instagram customer service, who both told me ‘after investigation our engineers have reviwed your video and told us it is perfectly normal noise from the internal pump’.
My classic car expeert husband remains unconvinced, saying that any mechanical equipment that produces that noise, will not last very long! So let’s hope this is the case, but anyone here who has a similar problem, would love to hear your views.
I am so happy I happened to attend the La Marzocco event. Sadly for them, I did not purchase their product but surely they opened my eyes to how much difference there is between a lower range option versus mine, which is still not for everyone at around £500 but it is certainly more affordable. I drink two coffees a day at least when I am home, so I do put it to good use.
The quality of the coffee is excellent and I love using it. Finally, my home flat white is as good if not better (and, in the longer term cheaper) than the coffee shop!
Now, for that latte art…