Today I have two very popular home espresso machines at similar price points. Unfortunately, their spec sheets look very similar on paper, so my job today is to help you determine which one will be best for your situation.
Before we get going, I want to clarify that I purchased both these machines with my own money, and this article is not associated with Breville or De’Longhi.
I think these are both very good-looking machines. However, with the De’Longhi, you get a more classic-looking design out of Italy.
The Breville, on the other hand, has a more rounded-off and modern appearance utilizing a digital display instead of the primarily button-driven interface Prestigio.
One thing I didn’t love was the amount of fake chrome used on the De’Longhi. If you’re going to use plastic, just let us know it’s plastic.
However, based on the looks, which one you prefer will be subjective, so let’s move on to some more quantifiable differences.
Both machines have about the same depth, but the Delonghi is 3.1 centimeters wider and 3.4 centimeters taller.
Both have 2-liter removable water reservoirs and around gram capacity hoppers. The drip trays both have a good capacity with indicators to tell you when to empty them, but the Breville also has a handy storage compartment hidden behind.
Both machines have a grinding cradle, single group heads, hot water spout, and steam arm.
But the De’Longhi also has a foldable tray for shorter shot glasses and a built-in tamping station that we’ll get into a little later on.
One final difference I’d like to point out is that the De’Longhi has a removable power cable, while the Breville’s can retract into the body, which is a nice touch.
There are once again some similarities, but also some differences. For example, both of these machines have primarily metal bodies, while the knobs, switches, and adjustments are mostly made of plastic.
However, I am going to give the edge to Breville in this department.
A good example of this is in the portafilters themselves. The De’Longhi feels quite hollow, has a fake chrome end cap, and is still doing some odd manipulation of how the flow exits through these stubby spouts.
Whereas the Breville’s feels more substantial in your hand, has typical real portafilter spouts, and has a stainless steel end cap.
The same can be seen in the filter baskets themselves. The Breville feels like a standard filter basket you’d find on any other espresso machine, whereas the De’Longhi has a very thin kind of unusual-looking top rim.
One thing that is in De’Longhi’s favor in terms of build quality is that they’re currently offering a three-year warranty on these machines, whereas Breville is only offering two.
Both of these machines warm up extremely quickly, instantly thanks to the type of heating system they both use.
Speaking of grinding, at least from a workflow perspective, the De’Longhi takes a pretty clear win in this area.
I have always been a fan of this self-contained grinding cradle and tamper because it almost eliminates the mess without additional accessories.
With Breville, I consider buying either a dosing cup or a dosing funnel to be non-negotiable. However, trying to grind straight into the portafilter is just unacceptably messy.
The Prestigio also features what De’Longhi calls sensor grinding technology, which lets YOU KNOW when the hopper is getting empty and is also supposed to help with dosing accuracy.
And while I didn’t think too much of this when I read it on the box, in practice, I was getting consistent doses with the Prestigio, like really consistent.
One odd thing I noticed about the De’Longhi hopper is that if you want to change out the beans, say from regular to decaf; there is no good way.
Removing the hopper will cause the beans to come pouring out of the bottom, filling up the mechanism, so you’ll then have to scoop and vacuum out the beans to be able to reattach the hopper.
On the Breville, and most other grinders for that matter, the opening gets blocked when you unlock the hopper, so you twist, lift and swap out the beans.
I was quite disappointed to see that La Specialista hasn’t made any changes from the previous La Specialista generations.
The buttons and vague icons are not intuitive, and you’ll be referring back to the user’s manual regularly for anything other than the most basic functions.
In comparison, the Breville has limited buttons for the main brewing functions that you’ll use every day. The rest of the functionalities are accessed through one dial that controls the display.
It will also clearly alert and coach you through any regular maintenance such as cleaning and descaling cycles instead of leaving you guessing what this means on the De’Longhi.
One final advantage that favors the De’Longhi is the ability to make drinks with added water with only one button push.
Selecting an americano will pull a shot of espresso and then dispense the desired amount of water automatically.
On the Breville, no such option exists. Instead, you’ll need to pull a shot of espresso and then manually add the water using the hot water knob.
I know it sounds like a super small inconvenience, but if you make a drink regularly, this is a nice feature to have.
So as you might be able to tell from a user experience standpoint, this one ends in a bit of a draw; you’ll have to decide which of the items mentioned are most important to you.
With the Prestigio, De’Longhi has transitioned the Specialista range to non-pressurized or single wall traditional espresso filter baskets.
This is a move that I am 100% in favor of and is something that is honestly a necessity if you’re going to be charging as much as they are for this machine.
The first thing that concerned me about this change is that they didn’t update the grinder to go along with it. So it still only has eight stepped grind settings.
Espresso takes very fine adjustments to dial in properly, and compare that to the 57 different grind settings that you can achieve between the internal and external settings on the Breville; you can start to see my reason for concern.
The second thing that starts to come into effect with non-pressurized baskets is having good puck prep, and that grinding and tamping shoot that I like so much is not exactly conducive to that.
After the grinder has stopped, you have no opportunity to redistribute the grinds before tamping, which can lead to a hugely uneven puck and, therefore, uneven flow.
When tamping right away, the shots came out tasting similar to pressurized portafilter shots. Not bad tasting, but slightly watery with extraction sitting around the 16% mark.
The workaround for this is to grind, remove the portafilter, redistribute, turn off the machine so that it doesn’t try to grind another dose when you put the portafilter back in, and then tamp. Or you could buy an aftermarket tamper.
Either way, when using one of these workarounds to achieve better puck prep, I increased the extraction by another percent up to around 17%, which is starting to enter into a respectable range.
However, this is still significantly lower than the 18.5 percent I was able to achieve on the barista pro, and I think there are a few reasons for this.
1. The barista pro uses a slightly larger 54-millimeter filter basket
2. I was able to dial in the grind more accurately
3. the barista pro runs at a traditional 9 bar pressure at the group head
All of these things lend to getting a more even flow and higher extractions. But what does all this mean in terms of actual taste?
It means that the barista pro could produce balanced, full-bodied shots of espresso with a variety of different roasts.
The Prestigio trailed slightly behind in terms of shock quality and is best suited for medium to dark roasts due to the limited grinding range.
Both of these machines are impressive in that they have virtually no wait time between brewing and steaming, as you would get on most traditional single boilers.
After brewing, both machines switch in a matter of seconds to produce steam. Both steam arms are on ball joints, but the Specialista is still quite restricted in its movement compared to the Breville.
I couldn’t achieve the nice 45-degree angle you often hear recommended for milk texturing.
The Breville was significantly quicker in terms of speed, taking only 35 seconds to steam up to 60 degrees Celsius versus the 55 seconds it took to accomplish the same task on the De’Longhi.
So after all that, where does this leave us and which machine should you buy?
I think that the De’Longhi La Specialista Prestigio has some extremely clever features, such as the sensor grinding technology, the dynamic pre-infusion, and the integrated tamping station. However, I think some basic oversights stop it from being a great machine.
Not being able to remove the hopper without spilling beans everywhere and a somewhat confusing user interface. Not able to redistribute the grinds before tamping, and only eight grind steps with non-pressurized baskets.
These things combine to create a user experience that leaves something to be desired, and more importantly, coffee quality trails noticeably behind the Breville.
I do wish that Breville had some of these features from the Prestigio. However, in terms of what matters most, espresso quality, fine-tuning capability, steaming power intuitiveness, and quality feel, the Breville barista pro is still the all-in-one machine to beat in this price range.