So, you’re debating between DeLonghi La Specialista vs. Breville Barista Express? Both are popular semi-automatic espresso machines with subtle, but important, differences. I’ve spent time comparing these espresso machines in-depth, even their pressure gauges.
My choice is Breville Barista Express. The Barista Express has a better grinder with 16 settings that allows you to brew better espresso. It also has a better build and design with a powerful steam wand. That being said, the DeLonghi La Specialista is a fine espresso machine. Go for La Specialista if you want an entry-level espresso machine that’s easier to use.
Today I’ll explain all the similarities and differences between these espresso machines. I’ll talk about their design, grinder, milk frothing, and especially espresso quality. I’ll also give a more thorough recommendation on which machine is the winner and who it is best for.
This article covers the old versions of the Barista Express and La Specialista. Here is an article covering the NEW Breville Barista Express Impress and DeLonghi La Specialista Prestigio.
Here’s the complete breakdown of each feature these two espresso machines have. I’ll also pronounce the winner in each category. Let’s start the espresso machine showdown!
Design and Build
The design of Breville Barista Express and DeLonghi La Specialista is very similar. Both machines have these features:
- Removable, rear-mounted 67 oz water reservoir
- Integrated grinder with 500-gram bean hopper
- Cup warmer located on top
- Dedicated hot water outlet
- Digital temperature control (PID)
- Pressure gauge
- Steam wand
One difference is the Breville Barista espresso machine has a tool storage compartment behind the drip tray. This conveniently holds extra portafilters and comes on most Breville machines. The DeLonghi La Specialista doesn’t have this feature.
The DeLonghi La Specialista espresso machine is larger, although not by much. La Specialista’s dimensions are 14.48 x 15 x 17.5 in, and it weighs 29.7 pounds. Barista Express dimensions are 12.5 x 12.6 x 13.1 in, and it’s lighter at 23 pounds. Both will fit under your kitchen cabinets, although you’ll have to slide them both out to reach the water tank, which isn’t ideal.
The Breville Express has a better build quality. It’s made of stainless steel, has fewer plastic parts, and feels more durable, which means it’ll last for years to come. Plus, it’s lighter thanks to the Barista Express’s single heating element, which makes it easier to move around than the La Specialista.
La Specialista also has a stainless steel body, but it feels cheaper compared to Breville Barista Express. My main issue with La Specialista’s design is that it has a lot of “plasticky” parts, such as the portafilter handle and the bean hopper.
The DeLonghi La Specialista’s portafilter is an issue. The plastic handle feels too flimsy for this. I would much prefer it if the La Specialista portafilter was made of stainless steel as well. You’ll use the portafilter daily and apply real force to attach it to the brew head, so a good build is important.
The La Specialista seems to have durability issues. The water sensor and rubber seal receive consistent negative reviews. Both parts detach and cause water leaks and prevent the machine from functioning. I haven’t used it long enough to find out, but buyer beware. Meanwhile, we’ve used plenty of Brevilles and never had an issue with build quality.
Finally, you’ll use dial knobs and buttons to operate these two machines. I preferred the Barista Express user interface. It’s intuitive and has very clearly labeled buttons, such as “grind amount,” “filter size,” “single, double” shot options, and more.
La Specialista’s interface, on the other hand, was a little more. It has more dials and buttons than the Express, and they only have vague symbols…which button produces hot water: the water drops or the cup of tea?? That said, I do like the drink options on the right, as it has a preset for Americanos.
The Winner: Barista Breville Express
It has fewer plastic parts, a build that will last longer, and a simple display.
How an espresso machine brews espresso is the most important thing. One area where DeLonghi La Specialista and Breville Barista Express differ is the heating system.
La Specialista uses a dual heating system for brewing and steaming. You won’t have to wait between these two activities.
La Specialista has an extremely fast heat-up time — one second. This means you’ll have your coffee ready in a matter of seconds from the time you power on the machine, grind and tamp the coffee beans.
On the other hand, Barista Express doesn’t have a dual heating system, but it uses a thermocoil system, which heats in 30 seconds. While this is longer than La Specialista, we are still talking about seconds, so 30 seconds is good.
For the latest Breville technology, look at the Breville Barista Pro or Breville Barista Touch, which has a Thermojet with a 3-second heat-up time. We have found these heating systems are superior in temperature stability, which creates better espresso. I recommend checking out those models in our round-up.
Also, both machines heat the top of the machine with their internals. So, if you leave your mug on top, you’ll get a warmer espresso.
Both of these espresso machines have pre-infusion to start the espresso. During pre-infusion, water goes through the coffee grounds at low pressure first, which acts as a coffee bloom for espresso. Then, the machine forces water through the coffee at high pressure. This results in the best extraction and rich espresso flavor.
Another thing that’s in both espresso machines is a PID. The PID sensor controls the water temperature at a stable level, which ensures optimum espresso extraction. You’ll get a flavorful espresso every time you pull a shot.
The Winner: Tie
DeLonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express espresso performance winner is a tie. Both have good heating systems, PID, and pre-infusion for good espresso. While the Breville Barista Express takes longer to heat, it comes with more filter baskets that you’ll actually be able to use.
La Specialista and Breville Barista Express also differ in terms of the filter baskets they come with. La Specialista only includes a 51mm pressurized filter basket, while the Barista Express includes both pressurized (dual-wall) and non-pressurized (single-wall) baskets. Breville also uses a 54mm basket
Many espresso aficionados claim pressurized filters don’t produce the same quality espresso as non-pressurized. That’s true, but it’s more nuanced than that.
A pressurized filter basket has a dual wall, which means it has a second bottom. There’s a standard mesh of the filter basket, and then another wall with only one hole on the bottom. Espresso is forced through this second, lone hole in the bottom, which creates higher pressure in the basket.
Essentially, a pressurized filter basket is essentially a “cheat code” to make espresso at the proper nine bars of pressure when the machine can’t do it itself. This is why a pressurized filter is included with many entry-level espresso machines. It helps beginners, and that is why we don’t shun it entirely at Craft Coffee Spot.
A non-pressurized filter basket is single-wall with only the standard mesh bottom. As these filter baskets don’t have a second wall, there’s nothing else to create pressure when you brew your coffee. Only the grind and how hard you tamp the puck influence the pressure in the basket. This is why it’s more important to dial in the grind correctly.
You can grind finer with a non-pressurized basket, creating a richer and flavorful espresso shot, which is why most everyone prefers these single wall baskets over time.
We have a video comparing pressurized and non-pressurized baskets:
Overall, non-pressurized baskets need more precision but can create a much more refined espresso than pressurized baskets. The single wall on the non-pressurized filter is more responsive to different grind settings, so you get a better extraction and rich-tasting espresso.
The Winner: Breville Barista Express
The Barista Express has more options, both easier to use (non-pressurized) and more advanced (pressurized) filter baskets.
Although you could buy non-pressurized filters for the La Specialista, the grinder influences which type of basket you can use. More on that below.
The biggest difference between the DeLonghi Specialista vs. Breville Barista Express is the number of settings on the grinder. The Breville Barista Express has 16 settings compared to DeLonghi La Specialista at six. The number of grind settings makes a big difference in how well you can control the espresso on each machine.
Both of these espresso machines have an integrated, conical burr grinder, so you can have the freshest ground coffee before brewing. The grinders come with a dial, so you can adjust the amount of ground coffee and choose how coarse or fine you want the grounds to be.
However, La Specialista has only six grinding options, while Barista Express has 16. This means you’ll have much better control over the grind size with the Express.
The grind size is important for espresso. Different beans need different grind sizes and you’ll need to find the precise size to get the taste just right. Breville makes it easier to get the best-tasting espresso with more grind settings. Also, you’ll be able to experiment more and change the espresso taste to your preferences.
Ultimately, I wish there were more grind settings on the La Specialista. I set the grinder a notch above the finest grind setting, and I still didn’t get the same intensity of flavor from fine grinds in a Barista Express single-wall basket.
This is also why many users complain that La Specialista only comes with a pressurized filter. It’s not the pressurized filter because you buy a non-pressurized filter basket. The problem is the DeLonghi La Specialista grinder can’t produce fine enough grounds for a non-pressurized filter. Even if DeLonghi provided a non-pressurized filter, you wouldn’t be able to dial it in.
The Barista Express has more than double the number of settings, which allows you to get a better grind size for each bag of coffee beans. You can get the right level of extraction with the Express grinder.
Winner: Barista Express
the Barista Express has 16 grind settings and grinds much finer coffee than the La Specialista.
Steam Wand and Milk Frothing
Both machines come with a steam wand for frothing milk. Neither of these machines allow you to brew and steam simultaneously. But, the La Specialista has a much faster transition time, thanks to the dual heating system.
I also noticed the La Specialista steams quicker compared to the Barista Express — it took about 50 seconds to reach the temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Barista Express needs about 75 seconds to start steaming.
These two espresso machines also have different steam wands. La Specialista has a Panarello wand, which allows you to choose how much air goes into a valve. Once you have enough air, close off the valve, and continue heating until you get your desired temperature.
Also, La Specialista has an advanced latte system, so the four-hole wand lets you choose the kind of froth you want: move the ring up for “flat,” which is warming the milk only, with no bubbles, or move down for “foam” that’s ideal for a cappuccino.
Breville Barista Express has a single-hole wand, which doesn’t push out enough steam to quickly forth milk. The Barista Express wand can make microfoam for a good latte, but it takes longer than La Specialista’s Panarello.
Overall, the Barista Express wand is more manual with a higher learning curve.
The Winner: DeLonghi La Specialista
It steams faster and can create different foams from a cappuccino to a flat white or microfoam for latte art.
Ease of Use
There are a variety of ease of use features that generally favor La Specialista. Let’s go through them.
La Specialista has an integrated tamping system with a pressure limiter that beginner baristas will love. This means you don’t have to tamp the coffee manually. Instead, use the handle on the left side of the espresso machine while the portafilter is placed under the grinder. This will automatically put the right amount of pressure onto the coffee puck, and you’ll have a nice, even tamp.
The DeLonghi integrated tamper is important because a poor tamp will cause channeling, where the water will flow in irregular patterns inside the puck, which causes some coffee to get over-extracted and other parts to get under-extracted. This causes an unbalanced shot that’s a mix of sour and bitter.
The DeLonghi tamper will put the ideal amount of force needed for pulling an espresso shot. Also, because the holder is fixed, you’ll get an ideal level tamp. The automatic tamper will help you avoid beginner mistakes, such as inconsistent tamping pressure and a coffee puck that’s not perfectly flat.
Update: since this article was published, Breville released an upgrade Breville Barista Express Impress that adds a slick self-tamping system. It’s really nice although the machine is more costly. You can find our review here.
Remember, you can find better tampers that will make puck prep a lot easier. I upgraded to the Ikape self-leveling tamper, which has an outer ring that makes every tamp flat.
There are a lot of upgrades for Breville machines, which review here:
Another feature that makes La Specialista easy to use is that you can choose between three coffee types: espresso, coffee, and long black. Also, La Specialista automatically dispenses hot water after pulling the shot, which makes Americanos easy.
The Barista Express has a water spout, but you have to make these drinks manually. The water spout is off to the side, so I had to move the cup and start the water myself.
Miscellaneous Ease of Use Features
Finally, DeLonghi La Specialista has water hardness adjustment features. You can program the water hardness into the machine, which means less descaling. There’s also an energy-saving mode for power conservation. Barista Express doesn’t have any of these features.
One part about DeLonghi La Specialista I didn’t like is that I couldn’t take off the bean hopper when it contained beans. I like to experiment, and when I get new beans, I want to try them immediately. This wasn’t possible with La Specialista. Essentially, you’re stuck with whatever beans you put in the hopper, and there’s no way to change them.
DeLonghi included a flip-down shelf for shot glasses, which is supposed to make the use easier, but I didn’t particularly like it. It’s supposed to make pouring an espresso shot more convenient. Really, it made the front of the machine clunky and limited space for cups and a scale.
The Breville Barista Express doesn’t have many extra bells and whistles. It makes up for this with a simple and elegant display. I already mentioned the straightforward buttons. You can program the shot volume and water temperature.
Home baristas will find it easier to reach a higher espresso quality using the Breville Barista Express display.
One good feature on both machines is the dose-controlled grind. The grinder will deliver the correct amount of freshly ground coffee directly into the portafilter, which makes it easy to get the espresso according to your taste. La Specialista goes one step further with its self-tamping system. Meanwhile, you can get a mound of coffee on the Barista Express which can spill once you take it out.
The Winner: DeLonghi La Specialista
It’s more beginner-friendly and has a wide range of options that make the use easier than the Breville Barista Express.
Price and Value
The Breville Barista Express delivers both in terms of price and value. Barista Express has a sturdier build and more robust features, such as the grinder with 16 settings, steam wand that allows more flexibility, user-friendly front panel, and more.
That being said, DeLonghi La Specialista also has some features that make it worth your consideration, such as the automatic tamper system and advanced latte system. Plus, this machine is more beginner-friendly and easier to use.
In terms of warranty, La Specialista has the upper hand — it has a two-year warranty, while Express is one year.
The Winner: Breville Barista Express
The Barista Express offers higher quality features for a similar price, which makes it the winner. La Specialista does have the self-tamping system though.
Our Recommendation: Which Machine is the Winner?
The Breville Barista Express espresso machine is the winner at Craft Coffee Spot. You get more at a lower price point. Most importantly, Breville Express has a grinder with 16 settings, which allows you to dial in the espresso for better flavor.
Also, the Breville Barista Express has better build and internal components. It will last longer and operate more consistently. Overall, this is an excellent espresso machine to start and grow your barista skills.
The Breville Barista Express is one of our go-to semi-automatic espresso machines. The thermocoil produces consistent espresso, and you can dial in espresso with 16 settings on an integrated burr grinder. The display is easy to use and set brew controls.
The DeLonghi La Specialista has its place for certain users. This espresso machine is a good choice if ease of use is your main requirement. The integrated tamping system makes pulling a shot easier. Also, DeLonghi La Specialista has better milk steaming options.
DeLonghi La Specialista is a semi-automatic espresso machine favoring ease of use. The integrated tamping system makes it easy to prepare a shot. There’s a dual heating system (1-second heat) and Panarello milk frother that makes a dense cappuccino foam. Our problem is the build: more plastic and routine complaints about water leakage and a broken sensor.
That said, the grinder will hold it back and the build won’t last as long as Breville.
DeLonghi La Specialista vs Breville Barista Express: Final Thoughts
Both DeLonghi La Specialista and Breville Barista Express are good semi-automatic espresso machines. My vote goes to the Express due to the better grinder and a milk frother that creates better latte art.
If you’re considering the Express, check out how Barista Express compares to the upgraded Breville Barista Pro.