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Delonghi La Specalista vs Breville Barista Express

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Last updated: December 20, 2023

Quick Answer: I’d recommend the Breville Barista Express over the Delonghi La Specialista. The Breville Barista Express makes better-tasting espresso and is typically cheaper than the Delonghi La Specialista.

This is my comparison of the Delonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express.

There are several Delonghi La Specialista models. I am going to be specifically comparing the Delonghi EC9355M La Specialista Prestigio to the Breville Barista Express as this seems to be the most popular La Specialista model online.

Both of these machines are portafilter-driven, and have built-in grinders and pinhole steam wands. They even look similar, with pressure gauges on the center of their control panels.

Let’s find out which one is best for you.

Should I Get the Delonghi La Specialista or Breville Barista Express?

I’d always recommend the Breville Barista Express over the Delonghi La Specialista.

Better than the Delonghi La Specialista
Breville Barista Express
The Breville Barista Express is cheaper and makes better-tasting espresso than the Delonghi La Specialista.
Get it on Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

The Breville Barista Express is superior to the Delonghi La Specialista in the following ways:

  • The Barista Express can make a better-tasting espresso than the La Specialista largely due to its higher quality grinder.
  • The Barista Express has a more intuitive user interface than the La Specialista.
  • The Barista Express is less prone to technical problems than the Delonghi La Specialista.
  • The Barista Express is cheaper than the La Specialista.

While one could argue that Delonghi La Specialista’s assisted tamping makes it a better espresso machine for beginners than the Barista Express, I think that it’s a machine that everyone should avoid.

The La Specialista’s built-in grinder (which you of course have to pay a premium for compared to grinderless espresso machines) cannot grind finely enough for you to brew without pressurized portafilters.

I’ll explain more about what this means later, but the long and short of it is that La Specialista’s ceiling for espresso quality ceiling is low – too low for a machine with its price tag.

If you want an espresso machine with an automatic tamper then you are better off with the Breville Barista Express Impress than the Delonghi La Specialista.

The Breville Barista Express Impress combines automatic tamping with a grinder that can allow you to brew with a non-pressurized portafilter. It, therefore, does not have the low espresso-quality ceiling that plagues the Delonghi La Specialista. 

Delonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express: Overview of Machines

The Delonghi La Specialista and Breville Barista Express are both espresso machines with built-in grinders and with pinhole steam wands.

Below is a table of specifications for these two machines:

Delonghi La Specialista Breville Barista Express
Description
Espresso machine with built in grinder and pin hole steam wand
Espresso machine with built in grinder and pin hole steam wand
User interface
Button only operation
Button only operation
Available coffee types
Single espresso, double espresso, Americano, Filter coffee
Single espresso, double espresso
Grinder type
Conical burr grinder
Conical burr grinder
Number of grind settings
Six
Sixteen
Heating system
Dual boiler thermoblock (one second heat up time)
Single boiler thermocoil (40 second heat up time)
Pumping system
15 Bar pump with over pressure valve
19 Bar pump with over pressure valve
Visible pressure gauge
Yes
Yes
PID
Yes
Yes
Tamp assistance
Yes
No
Available portafilter baskets
Single and double, pressurized (2 baskets in total
Single and double, pressurized and non-pressurized (4 baskets in total)
Warranty
2 years
1 year
Dimensions (width x depth x height)
15.0” W x 14.5” D x 17.5” H
12.5″ W x 13.8″ D x 15.9″ H
Available colors
Silver
Silver, Black

What are the Differences Between the Delonghi La Specialista and the Breville Barista Express?

Here are the differences between these two espresso machines, in order of significance, as well as my take on how they affect each machine’s performance and usability.

Grinder: Delonghi La Specialista has 6 Settings, Breville Barista Express has 16 Settings

The Breville Barista Express’s more grind settings than the Delonghi La Specialista means that you have more control over how your espresso extracts and therefore taste.

However, a more important distinction here is that the Delonghi La Specialista’s grinder cannot grind finely enough to achieve a true espresso grind size, whereas the Breville Barista Express’s grinder can.

What do I mean by “true espresso grind size”?

Well, in espresso making your coffee needs to be ground finely enough so that it can extract into your brewing water when you pull a shot.

A finer grind will extract faster into the water for two reasons:

  • The finer you grind, the more of a coffee bean’s surface area will be exposed to your brewing water. Extraction can only occur when there is direct contact between coffee and hot water. Therefore, the more accessible your coffee’s surface area is for your water, the faster extraction will occur.
  • A puck of finely ground coffee will have fewer spaces between each grind than a puck of coarser ground coffee. This will slow down the flow of your water through your coffee, resulting in a longer contact time between coffee and the water. Longer contact time means more extraction.

The Delonghi La Specialista simply cannot grind finely enough for sufficient extraction to occur when brewing with only an ounce or two of water (as you do when making espresso). 

The La Specialista is therefore reliant on a pressurized portafilter basket to aid with extraction – I’ll explain in the next section how this affects the machine’s espresso quality.

While the Barista Express’s grinder is far from brilliant, it can at least grind finely enough to allow you to brew with non-pressurized portafilter baskets. 

The long and short of this is that the Breville Barista Express has a much higher ceiling for espresso quality than the Delonghi La Specialista thanks to its superior grinder. 

Grinder Winner: Breville Barista Express

Portafilter Baskets: Delonghi La Specialista has Pressurized Portafilter Baskets Only, Breville Barista Express has Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Portafilter Baskets

Pressurized portafilter baskets have one hole in their bottom that all your liquid espresso is forced through during brewing. Non-pressurized portafilter baskets have dozens, if not hundreds of such holes, so offer far less resistance to your water during brewing.

The red circle shows the singular hole on the pressurized portafilter basket

A pressurized portafilter basket’s single hole creates a bottleneck that’s required when brewing espresso with too coarsely ground coffee.

As I said earlier, water will flow faster through coarsely ground coffee than with finer ground coffee, and this leads to lower extraction when brewing with coarser grounds. 

The bottleneck created by a pressurized portafilter basket’s single hole will slow down this flow rate, therefore increasing extraction when brewing with coarser grounds.

Brewing with a pressurized portafilter basket does create a different tasting and (in particular) textured espresso than brewing with a non-pressurized portafilter basket. 

This difference in taste and texture goes beyond the effects of brewing with different grind sizes.

People online are really snobby about the espresso created when brewing with pressurized portafilter baskets. A lot of people compare it to Nespresso “espresso” or say that you might as well brew with pre-ground coffee as you lose the benefits of brewing with freshly ground coffee when using a pressurized basket.

I disagree with this.

I find that espresso brewed with a pressurized portafilter basket is pretty good. 

Its main downside compared to that brewed with a non-pressurized portafilter basket is that it has a lot of crema on top of it which muddies its flavor a bit (especially when it’s made into an Americano).

The downside of the Delonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express here is that the La Specialista only lets you brew with pressurized portafilter baskets, whereas the Barista Express gives you the option to brew with these baskets if you want, but also lets you brew with non-pressurized portafilter baskets if you prefer.

The Breville Barista Express, therefore, has far more brewing functionality than the La Specialista, being both a beginner-friendly machine when you need it to be, and one that allows you to really fine-tune your shots if you want to go down that route.

The La Specialista on the other hand is beginner-friendly but has no higher ceiling if you want to brew more precisely.

Portafilter Basket Winner: Breville Barista Express

Tamping System: Delonghi La Specialista has Assisted Tamping, Breville Barista Express Does Not

The Delonghi La Specialista has a built-in lever-operated tamp. 

The machine’s portafilter attaches to its grinder’s output chute. Once your coffee has been ground into your portafilter, you just need to pull down the lever on the top right of the machine and it will tamp your ground coffee level for you.

You can see a video of someone grinding and tamping their beans the La Specialista below (watch from 1:26 – 1:55)

The Breville Barista Express has a similar automatic grinder that will grind your beans according to a predetermined time and grind size.

You need to tamp the beans yourself when using the Barista Express.

My Breville Barista Pro uses the same manual tamping system as the Barista Express. 

Not only do I struggle to get a level to tamp (even after a year of using it regularly), but I also find that I almost always spill some coffee grounds on my counter when trying to level out my puck prior to tamping.

An assisted tamper would therefore be a nice addition to the Barista Express and is definitely one advantage that the La Specialista has over the Barista Express.

Tamping System Winner: Delonghi La Specialista

Heating System: Delonghi La Specialista has Dual Boiler Thermoblock System, and Breville Barista Express has Single Boiler Thermocoil System

The table below shows how long the two machine’s espresso brewing system and steam wand take to turn on:

Time to be able to brew an espresso Time to be able to steam milk
Delonghi La Specialista
1 second
15 seconds
Breville Barista Express
40 seconds
32 seconds

Although the La Specialista’s one-second heat-up time sounds very impressive, I actually prefer a thermocoil heating system over a thermoblock heating system for espresso brewing.

A thermoblock heating system will heat your water in a larger chamber a significant distance away from the brew group (the part of the unit where the portafilter attaches).

A thermocoil system will heat up your water in the brew group itself, which in turn heats up the brew group.

Since the Barista Express’s thermocoil heating system heats up the brew group itself, there will be less temperature loss during brewing compared to the La Specialista with its thermoblock system.

You can see a video of someone comparing the temperatures of the two machine’s brew groups when each machine is turned on and heated up below (watch from 3:45 – 5:00):

The less heat that is lost during brewing, the greater your extraction will be. Extraction is simply the dissolving of soluble compounds in your ground coffee into your brewing water.

Solids dissolve faster in hotter liquids than in cooler ones – you can see this if you stir sugar into cold and boiling water.

So, while the Breville Barista Express is slower to get to temperature than the Delonghi La Specialista, it will reward this patience with greater extraction when it finally does get to temperature.

When you consider that it takes around 20 seconds to grind your beans anyway, I’d take the Barista Express’s greater temperature stability over the La Specialista’s faster heat-up.

Heating System Winner: Breville Barista Express (although it depends on what you care about)

User Interface: Delonghi La Specialista’s Buttons are Labelled with Symbols. Breville Barista Express’ Buttons are Labelled with Words

Take a look at the images of the two machine’s control panels below:

Delonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express control panel: Breville is above, and Delonghi is below.

Now tell me:

  • How do you put each machine in program mode?
  • How do you make a double espresso with each machine?
  • How do you adjust the grind amount with each machine?

I’m guessing that most of you find this easier to work out on the Breville Barista Express, as it has the vast majority of its button functionalities labeled in plain English rather than in cryptic symbols.

I also like how the Barista Express’s button labels are printed on rather than backlit. It’s nice to see what everything does, even when it’s not eligible, as it helps you learn how to navigate its control panel faster.

User Interface Winner: Breville Barista Express

Size: Delonghi La Specialista is 2.5” Wider, 0.7” Deeper, and 2.6” Taller than the Breville Barista Express

The Delonghi La Specialista is significantly wider and taller than the Breville Barista Express.

The two machine’s differences in height can be particularly crucial if you have low cabinets.

Appliances under 17” in height tend to be considered “low cabinet friendly” (“low cabinets” tend to have 19” – 22” of counter-to-cabinet clearance and remember that you have to get over your machine to fill it with beans).

This would make the Breville Barista Express low cabinet friendly, but the Delonghi La Specialista is not.

Size Winner: Breville Barista Express

What do the Delonghi La Specialista and Breville Barista Express Have in Common?

The two espresso machines have the following in common:

  • Workflow: Both machines require you to grind your own beans (with a grinder provided), and move its portafilter from the bottom of its grinder to its brew head. They both require you to steam their milk manually.
  • Milk steaming performance: Both machines have the same style of pinhole steam wand. Although the La Specialista’s steam wand turns on faster than the Barista Express’s, their steaming performances are very similar.
  • Cleaning Process: Both machines need to have their portafilter and steam wand wiped down after each use. They also require having their drip tray emptied and cleaned regularly as well as having to run occasional rinse and descale cycles.

Now that we’ve gone through the two coffee machine’s features, I’m going to assess them across the following criteria:

  • Espresso quality
  • Steamed milk quality
  • Functionalities
  • Ease of use and cleaning
  • Design and build quality
  • Value for money

Espresso Quality

The Breville Barista Express’s superior grinder means that it can make a better-tasting espresso than the Delonghi La Specialista.

As I said earlier, the Delonghi La Specialista’s lack of grind size settings and reliance on pressurized portafilters puts a lower ceiling on your espresso quality compared to the Breville Barista Express.

The Breville Barista Express can brew with pressurized portafilters if you cannot be bothered with proper dosing and tamping your shots, however, its grinder can grind finely enough to brew with non-pressurized portafilters.

This allows you to taste the benefit of being more precise with your espresso brewing and is something that the Delonghi La Specialista does not offer.

Espresso Quality Winner: Breville Barista Express

Steamed Milk Quality

Both machines have a similar quality steam wand that allows you to make both thicker milk foam and microfoam for latte art.

Both the Breville Barista Express and the Delonghi La Specialista have pinhole steam wands. This allows you to make both thick milk foam and finer microfoam, however, your ability to do this will depend on your proficiency with a steam wand.

Neither machine puts a ceiling on the milk textures that you can make, however.

Machines with panarello steam wands, that is wands that have a sleeve around them to help you pump more air into the milk, can only make a thicker foam but have less of a learning curve.

Steamed Milk Quality Winner: Draw

Functionalities

The Breville Barista Express offers you more as an espresso machine than the Delonghi La Specialista due to its ability to brew with both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets.

Like I’ve said a few times, the key difference between these two machines is that the Barista Express can brew a good shot with little effort required on your part if you use pressurized portafilter baskets, and can also make a great shot with non-pressurized portafilter baskets if you get your grinding, tamping and dosing down.

The Delonghi La Specialista, on the other hand, can only make a good shot with pressurized portafilter baskets, it cannot make this step up to a great shot because it cannot grind your coffee finely enough to do this.

The Barista Express, therefore, offers you more brewing options than the La Specialista, even if it has fewer official drink-type settings.

Functionalities Winner: Breville Barista Express

Ease of Use and Cleaning

The Delonghi La Specialista is easier to use and keep clean than the Breville Barista Express because of its assisted tamping. 

The Delonghi La Specialista’s assisted tamping automates one of the most difficult parts of the espresso brewing process – namely getting an even and level tamp.

This makes the La Specialista easier to pull a good shot with than the Barista Express. 

Even if you know how to tamp properly, it’s still tricky to execute it well each time so automatic tamping is something that you’d want on a machine even if you have experience pulling espresso shots.

Although the two machines have the same cleaning procedures, the Delonghi La Specialista’s automatic tamping makes it a less messy machine than the Breville Barista Pro.

It’s very difficult to tamp coffee manually without spilling some grounds, so La Specialista’s automated tamping reduces the amount of mess you make with each espresso shot you pull.

Ease of Use and Cleaning Winner: Delonghi La Specialista

Design and Build Quality

The Breville Barista Express has a significantly better internal and external build quality than the Delonghi La Specialista.

The Breville Barista Express is much better built than the Delonghi La Specialista. Here are the most obvious examples of this step up in build quality:

  • Grinder: The Breville Barista Express’s grinder has ten more grind size settings and can grind much more finely than the Delonghi La Specialista. Its hopper is also better designed and can be removed so you can unclog its grinder without having to pick all the beans out of its hopper.
  • Portafilter: The Barista Express’s portafilter handle is made out of stainless steel and is much more weighty than the Delonghi La Specialista’s portafilter. The La Specialista’s portafilter’s handle feels like it could break off at any minute, especially when you lock its portafilter into its group head.
  • Water tank: I could find several reports online of the Delonghi La Specialista’s water tank leaking because the seal that covers the connection between the water tank and the machine’s body would deteriorate quickly. I could find no such complaints about the Barista Plus’s water tank.

Granted, the Delonghi La Specialista has a two-year warranty compared to the Barista Express’s one-year, however, I’d rather take a machine that’s far less likely to break down in the first place than one with a longer warranty.

Design and Build Quality Winner: Breville Barista Express

Value for Money

The Breville Barista Express offers much better value for money than the Delonghi La Specialista.

The Breville Barista Express is a cheaper and superior espresso machine than the Delonghi La Specialista.

It, therefore, follows that the Barista Express offers better value for money than the La Specialista (a lot better, for that matter).

Although the Delonghi La Specialista is a good espresso machine for beginner espresso makers who just want to make a decent shot with as little effort as possible, I don’t recommend the machine to anyone specifically because of its hugely inflated price tag.

Value for Money Winner: Breville Barista Express

Delonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express: Final Verdict

The Breville Barista Express is a better espresso machine for a lower price than the Delonghi La Specialista.

I’d therefore always recommend the Breville Barista Express over the Delonghi La Specialista.

Better than the Delonghi La Specialista
Breville Barista Express
The Breville Barista Express is cheaper and makes better-tasting espresso than the Delonghi La Specialista.
Get it on Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

While the Delonghi La Specialista is more beginner-friendly than the Barista Express due to its assisted tamping, it’s just too expensive for a machine that cannot brew without pressurized portafilters.

If you are intimidated by manual tamping, then you are best off with the Barista Express Impress as this combines automatic tamping with a higher-quality grinder.

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