My Espresso Experience
When I say that I’m a bit jumpy at the moment, I’m not just making the stereotypical joke about having had one too many. I truly have consumed too much coffee for my own good. “Testing” the DeLonghi EC155 Espresso maker I received as a Christmas gift turned out to be a bit of a chore, to be honest, and since tasting must be a major part of the process, I did. Here are my thoughts on exactly what I got.
Having been raised in Naples, Italy, I’ve certainly had my share of great coffee. Living at various times in multiple regions of the country, I have had occasion to drink the preferred varieties of espresso in cities as far North as Torino, and as far South as Catania, and many, many places in between. Each bar in each town has it’s own favorite, and from Illy to Kimbo, each has their own unique flavor.
My goal was to find an espresso machine that would make me something close to the quality above while reducing the cost of going to Starbucks or our local pizzeria, but didn’t cost a fortune up front to purchase the machine.
I had owned a couple of similar machines in the past, including a Krups model that was too big and cumbersome (though it made a decent shot), and another DeLonghi that in my opinion made a watery cup no matter what I tried to make it stronger. I wont list the model numbers for either of those machines, simply because for the reasons listed above, I don’t believe either is worth your money.
This model is quite popular, and though I can see why, it isn’t as user friendly as I had hoped. DeLonghi has been making it for a few years now, and there are thousands of reviews around the web if you want to learn more.
First off, unboxing and setting the machine up is quite simple. There is very little to do aside from positioning one filter in the handle, and the other in the storage space at the top/back of the machine. To be honest, that was the easiest part of the process.
Filling the water reservoir in the EC155 is easy as can be. I pulled it out of the machine and it came out with no problem. I walked it over to the sink, filled it to just below the line marked on the container with cold tap water, then popped it into the appropriate place at the back of the machine. Of course, if you prefer you can leave the reservoir in the machine, and simply bring water to the machine and pour it in.
Though there is a way to speed up the process, I plugged the machine into an outlet off my kitchen counter, adjusted the dial to the “warming” setting, and waited about 30 minutes as recommended by the manufacturer for it to heat up. I always have some ground Lavazza coffee available, and love an Espresso made with their smooth, “Crema e Gusto” blend. It’s sharp enough to give you the punch of espresso, but with very little aftertaste or excessive bitterness. I highly recommend this blend for any machine that uses finely ground coffee, and especially if you’re using a standard Italian coffee pot.
The filter holder is advertised as being capable of a “dual function.” Simply put, that means it can hold espresso grounds, or pods that are ready made to place in it the holder. The filter is your standard, espresso machine type. It’s the pods that are actually made to fit. Regardless, my plan was to start with, and most often use, my favorite ground coffees, either already ground in or in whole beans that I would grind on my own.
And so I filled the filter with some Kimbo Macinato Fresco (that just means fresh ground) coffee. In the box, a scoop that doubles as a tamper was included. I filled it, poured the grounds into the filter, then patted it down and added more. Of course, to make espresso you’ll want to fill it to the edges of the filter as much as possible, and I did.
On the right side of machine is an attached tamper. Using it requires pushing up on the coffee in the filter and turning, all the while trying to push hard enough to really pack it in, but not so hard that you get grounds all over your counter. For me, this method got messy in a hurry, with the ground coffee spilling over the sides. The tamping process is difficult to get just right, requiring some practice apparently. Not in the mood to “work out,” I used the scoop to tamp, and it worked much better for me. It doesn’t cover the entire filter, so you’ll have to move the scoop from side to side as you push down. I got the grounds well packed and smooth at the top much easier this way, and I recommend trying it if the built- in tamper doesn’t suit your tastes.
With the coffee grounds ready to transform into a power-packed espresso, it was time to get it in position inside the EC155. This turned out to be a chore, and brought to light what I thought was a pretty significant flaw in the design. You’re required to push the handle with the filter full of coffee ground up into the section that holds the filter. With the handle toward the left of the machine, you’ll immediately notice that the steam wand is in your way. To move it, I used my left hand to push it further away, and lifted the filter up into the slots in the machine. “Inconvenient” is the word that comes to mind.
Once the filter was adjusted into the correct slots above, it was time to “lock” the filter in to place. This meant pushing up and to to the right. The instructions tell you to push the handle in that direction “as far as it will go.” This turned out to be the most cumbersome part of the process. Pushing hard to the right is impossible (or was for me) without tipping and moving the entire machine. I ended up using my left arm to hold the machine down at the top to keep it from moving, then turning the filter holder hand to the right quite hard until it was as far as I could get it. Of course, it’s a good idea to do this BEFORE the EC155 has warmed up, or you’ll be at risk of scalding yourself on the hot surface of the top of the espresso maker itself. I almost learned this the hard way, but happily I was wearing a long sleeved sweatshirt at the time.
Finally, it was time for the good part. Turning the dial to the right started the brewing process, and dark, rich coffee dripped slowly into the standard sized espresso cup (purchased in Italy) I had placed on the warmer. Within a few seconds the crema had started to appear and sat gently on the top. Unfortunately, the coffee continued to come next, covering the crema. The cup was full and with the liquid still coming out (this team obviously weaker) I moved the cup away and replaced it with a fresh one, spilling a bit in the process. Consequently, I ended up with one fairly strong cup, and one very weak one. I tested the strong one and found that it was almost acceptable as an espresso, but not quite punchy enough.
I experimented with the machine, testing and tasting three batches of single cup espressos over about 45 minutes. Tamping harder, and most importantly stopping the brewing process by moving the dial from brew to warm once the crema looked right, produced a surprisingly good espresso.
The EC155 also uses ESE type pods. These are available for purchase at many retailers, and I figured I would test the waters and purchase a package. I went with a blend I knew, and picked up the 18 pack of Caffe’ Borbone (Rosso) for about $15. For less than $1 per espresso, I saw no reason not to try them. Of course, they are already in a filter, so you just pop one in the holder and brew. Though I appreciated the convenience, I found that even this exceptionally hearty blend of coffee came out a bit watery. Of course, you can’t tamp it more to make it stronger.
As for cappuccino, I have never been a big fan to be honest. When my wife wants one I’ll make it, and update this review.
It took some time, experimentation, and effort, but when it was all said and done, the DeLonghi EC155 made a better cup of espresso than any I have tried which was produced by any home machine at or near it ‘s price range. It produces a more authentic cup of espresso than most in my opinion. Excluding commercial machines which can’t be rivaled by anything in this class, I have tried espresso from “home” machines costing as much as $400, and this one beats them for the quality of coffee it produces. With this one selling for less than $100 (we’ve seen it as low as $60 in various promotions) I can’t help but recommend it. The caveat: understand that you’re unlikely to get it just right the first time you use it. But with a bit of patience, you’ll love the espresso you get with this machine.