Making decent espresso-style drinks at home doesn't have to be exorbitantly expensive. For a modest $100 (£110 in the UK) the DeLongi EC155 Pump Espresso can whip up satisfying espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos, and without eating up too much countertop real estate.
Of course this small machine is no stand in for elite and more robust espresso makers. Saddled with a weak vibratory pump, a single boiler and erratic water temperature control, the EC155 is tricky to operate with consistent results. It also gets bogged down by ultrafine grinds and has difficulty extracting all the subtle flavors locked within medium and lightly roasted coffee beans. That said, if your espresso tastes lean towards the more traditional dark roasts and have a penchant for adding a dollop of steamed milk then the DeLonghi EC155 Pump Espresso is a very affordable and tasty option.
Closer in size to small pod-style coffee makers, the DeLonghi EC155 measures 10.5 inches tall by 7 inches wide by 8.25 inches deep. It also tips the scales at a mere 7 pounds, 2 ounces making it a cinch to transport around the house or even out the door. Another convenient aspect of the appliance is its removable water tank. Holding 34 ounces (1 L) of liquid, the square-shaped reservoir is easy to pull out or drop into the espresso machine thanks to its built-in handle. And since the tank has a flat bottom you can rest it worry-free on tables and counters for quick fills.
As you'd expect from an espresso machine, the EC155 uses a portafilter device to both load, contain and brew its coffee grounds. Essentially a metal handle (with rubbery grip) on one end with a circular basket and filter attached to the other, the portafilter is built to withstand the high pressures and temperatures of espresso brewing. When properly mounted, the portafilter screws tightly into place within the grouphead at the center of the machine.
DeLonghi thoughtfully includes two metal filters with the EC155, one to handle single shots and another for creating double shot coffees. Both filters share the same circumference and drop neatly inside the portafilter basket. The major difference between the two are their depth and recommended ground coffee capacity. The shallow single shot filter accepts 7 grams (0.2 ounce) of coffee while the deeper dual shot filter tops out at 12 grams (0.4 ounces).
I found the EC155 Pump Espresso's few controls easy enough to use. On the front face of the machine is a big dial, what DeLonghi calls the "selector knob." The dial has four marked positions, and associated symbols, which kick the product into various operation modes. These include resting, heating, espresso brewing and steaming.
To the right of all these icons is a temperature indicator light which glows green when the EC155 thinks its water is hot enough for either brewing or creating steam, or red if not. You'll also find a thick steam controller knob on the machine's top side. Swiveling it clockwise or counterclockwise increases or decreases the flow of steam from the EC155's dedicated wand appendage.
If you're expecting the DeLonghi EC155 Pump Espresso to deliver the same quality of espresso as machines costing two, three or even five times as much, you're in for a dose of harsh reality.
Equipped with a small vibratory pump instead of the massive rotary pump mechanisms you'll find inside elite commercial and even domestic machines, the EC155 lacks the oomph to push hot water through very fine coffee grounds. In fact attempting to brew extra finely ground beans (processed by my Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder) caused the Pump Espresso to clog completely.
Likewise the Pump Espresso has just one boiler to supply both brewing water and steam production. By contrast, more expensive espresso makers boast dual boilers which work independently and are set to provide correct (and different) water temperatures for brewing and steaming duties.
Indeed the EC155 uses two thermostats to command its lone boiler instead of the more advanced thermoblock components or sophisticated PID controllers which premium machines rely upon for precise temperature control.
All these shortcuts result in inconsistent espresso quality. Shots I pulled using my test beans (Costco House Blend, medium fine grind) were just as likely to be bitterly over extracted, weakly under extracted or right on the money.
Refractometer readings reflected what my tastebuds detected. The 1.6 ounce (.5 L) double espressos I pulled varied wildly with TDS (total dissolved solids) percentages running as low as 5.5 to as high as 11.6 percent. This translates into extraction percentages spanning 15.2 to 29.1 percent, with the ideal being between 19 to 22 percent.
Thermocouple measurements I conducted also suggested large temperature swings within the brewing chamber. At times the maximum temp I recorded was 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 Celsius) while at others it skipped to 212 F (100 C) or even 215 F (102 C). To be fair the machine's manual suggests pushing a small amount of hot water through the grouphead (until the heat indicator drops to red) then commence brewing immediately when temp levels reach green.
Additionally the Pump Espresso had difficulty pulling all the complex flavors I expect from medium and lightly roasted coffee. The machine had a particularly tough go of extracting my sample of Quills Blacksmith Espresso roast. Extraction percentages were consistently below 18 percent and shots I pulled tasted weak, sour or both.
Still, the EC155 demonstrated a fair ability to steam milk into a froth. I was also impressed by how adding a bit of milk foam to my espresso shots, no matter their quality, quickly improved the taste.
The most demanding of coffee brewing methods, making quality espresso is a serious technical challenge and there's a good reason many espresso machines can cost as much as a compact car. Even so the performance bar isn't as high for building espresso-based drinks mellowed by the sweetness of steamed milk. That's why those searching for a reasonably priced appliance which does an adequate job of bringing the cafe to the kitchen will find much to like in the $100 DeLonghi EC155.
While this machine's ability to pull properly extracted espresso shots is hit or miss, the DeLonghi's tasty frothed milk and coffee-making repertoire is enticing especially considering its low cost of entry.