The first time I made a proper cup of coffee with the DeLonghi La Specialista Arte, I actually squealed with delight. It had been ages since I had tried this, and it was pure delight to find me working a manual machine and have it work. Has DeLonghi made the art of making coffee easy for everyone?
It’s been weeks since I went to a coffee shop, and the WFH-era we’re living in isn’t the reason why. There’s a machine that is helping keep me from spending money at my local barista.
Don’t get me wrong, my local barista is great. Two of them, even. I love walking up, ordering, and seeing their expert skills in action. They are fantastic. But even though they’re skilled at the bean, sometimes you just want that at home.
Encapsulated coffee machines such as a Nespresso can get you decent coffee in a convenient style, but if you yearn for something with a little more personality and your own choice of bean, there may be another way, and it doesn’t require you to learn the skills and become an accredited barista. Rather, you may just need to follow a few steps with a machine made for ease of use.
What is it?
There are lots of types of coffee machines out in the world, from those that operate for sheer convenience and automate every aspect so you don’t have to do a thing, to those that make everything entirely manual and feel like they’re either for the artistry or inside of a coffee shop (and possibly even both).
DeLonghi’s La Specialista Arte isn’t either of those. It’s a bit of a middle ground for people who love coffee and who want to try more coffee, but who want to do a bit of themselves but don’t want the problem that a stupidly expensive machine will cost them in the end.
Good coffee is an art, and while the encapsulated ease that is the Nespresso system and others like it can give us a daily fill that’s nice, it doesn’t always feature the art. It sure doesn’t feature the personality of many of Australia’s excellent coffee houses. Head to your local favourite cafe, and you’ll know precisely what we mean.
Beans of all types from lots of places around the world. Blends, roasts, and styles, allowing you to take one shot or two, and to try coffees that the folks operating that fine establishment recommend, not to mention a few more you might want to try from about the place. Killer Bee from Single O, Lamington from Toby’s, and so on and so on. Varieties of coffee exist in Australia and the world that you can’t find in pod form, and may need a skilled barista and a decent machine.
Or maybe just that last one, as DeLonghi has been working on a rather curious middle ground. In the La Specialista Arte, DeLonghi seems to have built a machine that allows you to throw in whatever bean you want, grind it, tamp it, and then turn it into coffee, and it won’t take too long, either.
You can also bring your own ground coffee and tamp it in, or place an ESE coffee pod, giving you that hint of extra convenience, which is basically just coffee in a filter pack, but the built-in burr grinder is the reason to come to the Arte and do your thing.
What does it do?
Wait about 30 seconds for the La Specialista Arte to turn on, and it’ll be ready to make you a quality cup, provided you’ve brought some beans for it to grind.
At the top of the machine is a little compartment for your coffee in bean form, and you just merely need to pour those beans in.
No extra conical burr grinder needed here, because this machine has it built in, complete with support for eight levels of grind, not to mention 40 levels of dosage control, two cup sizes, three temperature levels, and two coffee recipes plus hot water. Think of this as the beginner’s guide to manual espresso art. It even has a steam wand on the side.
Making the whole thing easy doesn’t come from the options or knobs on the front, though. Rather, it has a guiding system, with a little dosing and tamping guide accessory that screws into place on the portafilter, and when pushed into place under the grinder, automatically kicks the grinder into action, delivering ground beans to the portafilter for you to tamp.
Take it out and tamp those beans down, and you can remove both, giving you a perfectly flat and compacted head of coffee, ready to be screwed in place for the grouphead.
Once that’s done, you merely need to pick the coffee style, place a cup under the spout, and press “OK”, which will let the La Specialista Arte do its thing.
Obviously, “its thing” is making coffee, and it does that job quite well.
Does it do the job?
It’s been some time since I made a cup of coffee that wasn’t through a pod system, and truth be told, those things make it easy.
Every Nespresso machine is more or less the same thing prettied up to be slightly different, and the whole adventure of making coffee is taken away from you, doing it all for the sake of convenience. Load the pod, pour the milk, press a button or two, and then you’re good to go. We’re not complaining, but it’s a system built to be quick and easy, and it is.
Delonghi’s La Specialista Arte isn’t that. It’s more like a real coffee machine that requires skill, and yet also doesn’t. If you’re not a barista, you can use the Arte, and after a couple of tries, it’ll feel just like anything else you’ve learned: totally doable with minimal effort.
Pour your beans, pick the grind, choose the dosage, and then let the system do the rest, pouring the ground beans into the portafilter and waiting for you to tamp it down.
Do that, remove the guide, and set the portafilter to the grouphead of the machine, twisting it into place, and then press the “Ok” button when you’ve selected a recipe, and the whole thing whirs into action.
Water heats up at the Thermoblock, pressure builds, and the La Specialista Arte should see your ground bean turned into beautiful crema with a complex aroma and caramel colour. It’s like a symphony for the senses, and it’s happening near your fingertips.
You can then choose to froth some milk using the steam wand, which itself makes you feel more like a barista, or you can have the coffee straight or even layer it in with ice and a form of milk, handy for making iced coffee in the warmer months we reviewed the machine in. The choice is yours with a machine that really delivers.
And it’s one that delivers regardless of the coffee you throw into it. This reviewer’s wife was pregnant during the review, so we opted to try a variety of decaf beans from across the country, surprising ourselves with lots options (White Horse’s decaf stood out for this writer).
Eventually, when we realised that you could drink five shots of decaf and still feel nothing — an obvious downside of removing the caffeine from coffee — the reviewer switched back to caffeinated, and enjoyed beans with personality. Everything in bean form seems to have personality, and this machine can work with that.
What does it need?
But there are some things that you might yearn for, like the ability to run a longer breed of coffee.
By default, DeLonghi only includes three recipes on the machine, accessible by one of the knobs at the front: espresso, the long black, and then hot water. Truth be told, that’s technically two recipes plus hot water.
Heaven forbid you want a little more coffee pumped out of the ground and tamped grounds you feed for an espresso, because to do that, you’ll need to turn up the dosage from “one” to “two”. Doing so before you grind will up the dosage of the bean, so if you want 60mls worth of a standard 30ml espresso, but you only have one cup of coffee in the portafilter, you need to either hit that “Ok” button twice on the espresso setting to pump water through it or dial in the setting to two cups after you’ve ground the machine. That’s a lungo, the longer espresso.
It’s a similar situation with a cappuccino, flat white, latte, or macchiato, but you’re going to pick whether you want the one cup’s worth of ground coffee, or if you want two before you start. If you want two shots, you’ll need to dial in two before the beans are run through the grinder.
That extra layer of complexity can mean you’ll definitely want to keep the manual handy, and truth be told, you’ll probably want to, anyway.
A combination of factors between the grind of the coffee and how it differs for various roasts, the dosage size, and the temperature of the machine all add up to factors in getting the perfect crema out of each cup. Once you get it right, it’s largely consistent and just needs to stay that way, but you may want to expect a few failed cups until you find that balance in your first few attempts.
To DeLonghi’s credit, the La Specialista Arte is about as easy as manual comes, with no fear in using the machine. The steam wand can take a couple of tries to feel comfortable in using, and you clearly need to remember to wipe it down and clean it up, but once you reach a balance of using both it and the machine, it’s actually fairly simple. In no time, you’ll be grinding, tamping, and making coffee with ease.
Is it worth your money?
For us, that ease of use for something otherwise complex helps to make the $749 price tag of the DeLonghi La Specialista Arte feels like solid value overall. Manual machines are never, ever this easy. The La Specialista Arte is manual made easy.
While the machine may take a little longer to get out a cup compared to the ease of use with something like a Nespresso — one of the encapsulated varieties of coffee machine — it’s only a little longer, and the result is clearly better.
This is cafe quality coffee at home with just a little more skill than your regular machine. What’s more, it’s incredibly fun to use.
Yay or nay?
Between the simplicity DeLonghi has in its La Specialista Arte and the solid results, it’s an easy machine to fall in love with. This is a machine that can help you feel like a pro. It’s a machine deserving of any coffee-loving home and kitchen.
If anything, it may put you on a quest to try every bean and to eventually evolve to an even more complex machine, letting you improve your skill at the art of making coffee in the best possible way, enjoying and savouring every sip henceforth.
It’s been weeks since we went back to coffee shop to experience drops made by the experts at our locals. With how often we’re using the La Specialista Arte, it may be a long time until we return. Highly recommended.