The Delonghi Specialista is back in a Maestro version. Still as unique as ever, it is now more accessible to the average person thanks to a few screens that make it lose some of its cachet.
It's been two years since the first Delonghi Specialista came into our laboratory. Paradoxically, its demanding nature and the idea of having to invest in the preparation of the coffee instead of letting a machine do it had seduced us. And apparently, we were not the only ones to succumb to the charms of the Specialista, since the manufacturer has recently unveiled an improved version. The technical specifications remain the same and you can still count on a pressure of 19 bars to make an exapresso. The water tank capacity is still 2 liters and the bean container can hold 250 grams of coffee. The Smart Tamping technology is also present. But the Maestro is a little easier to use thanks to a range of six recipes (three on the classic Specialista). An electronic display also helps users to adjust their coffee maker to the smallest detail and to make the coffee of their dreams.
Ease of use
If you are already familiar with the Specialista, the Specialista Maestro will not surprise you. Aesthetically, Delonghi has not really revised its copy and keeps a rather attractive retro design, further emphasized by the inevitable needle gauge placed in the center of the control panel. This gleaming automatic coffee maker is all about quality materials, but it doesn't go all the way. Covered in brushed stainless steel - which quickly picks up fingerprints, however - it also has a few chrome parts... in plastic; on a machine sold at this price, this is a bit of a shame.
And to make matters worse, this less than noble material is found on the cover that hides the milk jug connection hole when it is not present. It is also used for parts that are more subject to wear, such as the rotary knobs on the control panel. In fact, the one on the right side of our test machine seemed to have a little play. In a nutshell, even if the Specialista Maestro is not lacking in style, we would have appreciated if Delonghi had raised the bar a little higher in terms of finish.
Like many coffee machines without a screen, setting options such as standby time or activating the beeps is no picnic. You have to juggle between long and short presses, button combinations, lit and unlit LEDs, while the basic recipe is this one or that one. A recourse to the paper instructions is mandatory. Only the temperature setting of the drink (5 levels) is directly accessible, which is the most important.
The grain tank has not been reworked and it still forms an incongruous protrusion on the top of the machine. Add to this a weight of 15 kg and a water tank placed at the back of the machine and it is easy to understand that the Specialista is intended to remain on a rather clear work surface, and without any kitchen furniture placed too low above it, otherwise the replenishment of coffee and water will be seriously complicated.
The main difference between the Specialista and the Specialista Maestro is of course the presence of two electronic displays, located on either side of the central pressure gauge. The one on the right is used to choose the main recipe among the six offered by Delonghi. In addition to the well-known espresso, long coffee and Americano, there are the milk specialties of flat white, latte macchiatto and cappuccino. The Specialista Maestro is equipped with automatic programs to make these drinks and a special carafe that frees the user from preparing hot milk and its froth.
However, future baristas can rest assured that it is possible to remove the automatic system from the carafe since it is contained in the lid, which is easily removable. Without the lid, you can use the good old steam nozzle to froth the milk and heat it manually, directly in the stainless steel pot, thanks to the large knob on the right side of the Specialista Maestro, which is also very pleasant to use.
The second screen, on the left and just in front of the bean container, is used to change the intensity of the drink. And the least we can say is that Delonghi allows great latitude in this choice, since no less than 30 levels of settings are possible; at the first notch, the Specialista Maestro grinds 4 grams of coffee, at the last 16 grams.
Once you have set these first two criteria, as well as the temperature of the beverage, the hardest part remains. As with the first Specialista, the first step is to grind the coffee by inserting the filter holder under the powder outlet and turning it slightly to the right in a gesture reminiscent of the baristas. The adjustment of the coffee quantity avoids a pitfall of the Specialista Maestro. In fact, even if the intensity is set to 30, the amount of powder delivered is adapted to the filter and does not block the positioning of the filter holder under the extraction unit, which could happen with the initial Specialista.
When the process is finished, the coffee can be compacted thanks to the Smart Tamping system. The arm is still satisfying to use, even if, like the recipe selection button, it seems to have a little play.
Finally, pressing the OK button starts the preparation of the beverage, during which we carefully monitor the progress of the pressure gauge needle, even if we rarely leave the "optimal zone", which is supposed to be the most important. The "optimal zone", which is supposed to symbolize the preparation of a perfect coffee.
As you can see, the Specialista Maestro requires a certain investment from the user, who has to grind the coffee himself, then compress it before moving the filter holder to the right place, not to mention the operations required to prepare a milk drink. This is not the type of machine that works by itself and delivers coffee at the touch of a button. But that's what makes it so appealing. And you'll be surprised how quickly you'll fall in love with it, especially when you have guests. On the other hand, repeating the process every morning to finally get the eagerly awaited breakfast coffee can be tiring in the long run. It's best to know that.
Easy to maintain
Because of its operating principle, the Specialista Maestro is very easy to maintain since there is no extraction unit to clean. And since the coffee cannot get stuck in the bowels of the machine, there is no risk of it becoming moldy, which is the case with some machines that do not give access to their bowels. However, a wipe with a sponge or a cloth under the various coffee powder or drink dispensing holes seems inevitable.
Everything would be fine if Delonghi had not changed the filter blocking system in the filter holder. Indeed, the metal piece that is supposed to hold the elements together still inspires us with little confidence and seems likely to loosen up as the filter is used. This is what happened to us and we had to retrieve the filter from the bottom of the garbage can more than once after hitting the filter holder on the edge of the garbage can to get rid of the coffee.
The milk jug is very easy to clean. Nevertheless, you will have to trust the automatic cleaning system to wash the Latte Crema system contained in the lid. In fact, only the flexible tube can be removed, but it is not possible to access the other circuits, as Philips allows with the Latte Go technology.
Delonghi has still not seen fit to equip the Specialista with an automatic dispensing nozzle cleaning system, when the machine is switched on, for example. Even though it tells the user that it is time to do this, it is best to remember to rinse the dispensing nozzles very regularly, at least every time the machine is turned on by pressing the dedicated button. However, even though the Specialista control panel has a button to initiate descaling at any time, it indicates that it is time to do so.
The drip tray of the Specialista Maestro is as compact as the Specialista's and is also easy to empty and clean.
Finally, Delonghi allows the user to clean the metal grinder. This is rare enough to be noted. You can remove the removable part easily enough, but it will take several attempts before you fully master putting it back in.
The speed of the Specialista Maestro depends on the dexterity of its owner.
Without rushing through the various steps of making an espresso, we obtained our first cup in 57 seconds. This time includes heating the machine, grinding the beans, tamping and extraction. If we time the cleaning of the filter holder (evacuation of the coffee from the filter and cleaning under water), we were able to enjoy a second cup after 2 minutes. For your information, without the cleaning, the second espresso is ready in 1 min 28 s.
To make 3 espressos and 3 long coffees (which corresponds to our power consumption test), the Specialista Maestro requires 0.037 kWh; at the end of a month, the electricity bill increases by 7.9 euro cents. It is even less energy-consuming than the already very economical Specialista (9.2 euro cents per month).
On standby, our wattmeter indicates 0.7 watts and 4.6 watts when the machine is on standby, ready to be used.
The Specialista Maestro is a fairly quiet machine. It is obviously the loudest during the grinding of the beans (70 dB(A)), but the process lasts for a short time. The noise level reaches 50 dB(A) during nozzle cleaning and 51 dB(A) during extraction. Many automatic coffee machines with a grinder have proven to be much less tolerable.
Clearly, the Delonghi Specialista Maestro is not perfect. Some aspects of a machine that was sold for €1299 at the time of its launch make us worry, such as the plastic parts or the quality of the finish, which is sometimes a little too tight and which results in play on the knobs on the front or on the Smart Tamping arm. But above all, the filter locking system on its support has not evolved, which was already one of the major weak points of the first Specialista. Nevertheless, it is just as nice as its predecessor and it keeps its main qualities, such as the ease of maintenance and the pleasure to play barista without effort. The few extra milk recipes make it even easier to use, without purists feeling cheated, since it is possible to disengage the machine for a manual experience from A to Z.