De’Longhi EC146.B Espresso Coffee Machine Reviewed

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of coffee. One of the perks of living with a lifestyle blogger who has “tea” in her blog name is an almost endless supply of the stuff (and tea too, as it happens). My go-to for many, many years has been the classic Nespresso machine for which there are dozens of off-brand capsules available..

The trouble with capsules is that they’re wasteful, expensive and don’t lend themselves well to a longer coffee so I tend to supplement my coffee habits occasionally with ground brewed in a cafetiere. I’ve never seemed to be able to get good results doing this, though, with the knack of good cafetiere coffee escaping my total lack of any habitual ritual around coffee making.

Enter a traditional coffee machine- AO supplied us with a De’Longhi EC146.B espresso coffee machine to review.

It seems funny to say it, but on the face of it a classic pump based coffee machine operates on the same principles as a Nespresso machine (or vice versa, I suppose… ignoring the Nespresso Vertuo range which spins the coffee instead). The key difference is that, instead of a disposable (albeit often recyclable) capsule, you have a replaceable metal filter filled with coffee ground. While this sounds messy and complicated it has the benefit of opening up a diverse range of more independent coffee brands. This means it lets you prepare a convincing brew with beans from your favourite local roaster (and I know you can buy and fill your own plastic capsules, but sheeeesh at that point you should probably face the music and get a more traditional machine!).

We actually had several bags of ground coffee, picked up from various places or gifted to us, that needed drinking, so opting to test this machine in particular was an easy choice. I’ve waffled enough, let’s see how it performs:

Operation

The machine isn’t much more complicated than a pod based one when you think about it. You have a water tank that needs filling up, and a filter that needs filling with coffee for every use. This process can be a little fiddly, as ground is easy to spill and make a mess with, but you gain a certain amount of flexibility to customise the strength of your brew as you learn how the machine works.

A typical morning’s coffee will involve just filling up the filter, which you cleaned the day before, slotting it into place, and letting both nozzles on the bottom drain into one mug for that sweet double espresso goodness.

While you can preheat the machine and run extra water through it for a hotter brew, and even run hot water into your mug to take the chill off it, neither of these things are essential if you’re in a rush and planning to quaff quickly before dashing out to work. The latter of these practises also applies to serving any hot drink- if you care, preheating your mug with water from the hot tap will keep your drink hotter for longer.

Operating a pump based coffee machine sits somewhere between using a cafetiere and a capsule based machine in terms of convenience. If you’re making coffee for just one or two people it offers the flexibility to go beyond compatible pods, combined with slightly more convenience and instant gratification than the cafetiere process. Since it’ll do two single shots simultaneously, it’s also a little better than a pod machine in terms of producing two hot coffees that can be enjoyed together.

Overall, it has its place and I’d recommend it for couples who enjoy sampling a variety of local independent beans or pre-ground coffees. I’d also recommend Coal Town Coffee’s Black Gold No. 3 if you haven’t tried it.

A key drawback of this particular pump coffee machine is that it’s quite short and doesn’t have any clearance for a larger mug. The wide, short Ikea Sommar mugs only just fit so I’ve been using those. If you’re in it for the Espresso, then you’ll be fine. I tried a couple of different Espresso mugs, including our cute little colourful Le Creuset ones, and a pair of them will fit under the machine with no trouble at all.

Cleaning

Most parts of the machine can be cleaned by running some extra water, or steam, through them. A paper towel can be used to wipe any excess ground or milk off after each use, and a more complete clean is only necessary perhaps once a week (I haven’t really done one yet).

The drip tray will need emptying periodically, but it’s generously deep and open enough that evaporation does most of the job for you. It will need cleaning, though, since it’s easy for ground to get stuck there.

The filter itself can be latched into the handle with a flip-up piece of plastic, letting you simply invert it and tap it out into a container producing a coherent little “puck” of coffee that’s easy to dispose of. Contrast this to the sludge left behind in a cafetiere that either needs straining or drying. In fact it’s all too tempting to simply wash it down the sink, which can lead to blockages.

The nozzle for the milk frother steam jet is removable, and possible to clean separately. Since I tend to use non-dairy milk alternatives, which don’t often froth well, I don’t use this often. In fact I’m still using the Nespresso Aeroccino for milk frothing, since it’s ridiculously convenient and requires no skill on the part of the user!

Results

If I’ve learned anything from coffee aficionados, it’s that they’re willing to jump through plenty of hoops to get a good brew. From hand-grinding beans, to setting up elaborate apparatus for preparing cold brew. Operation, cleaning and maintenance could be a total fiddle but if the result is great then they can be rather forgiving.

So how does the De’Longhi fare? Great, actually. I’ve been using it for a strong morning brew, using the larger coffee filter and running both nozzles into a short mug.

It’s easy to adjust the amount of water running through the ground, the amount of ground and how tightly it’s packed to vary the strength and character of a cup of coffee and while you probably wont be too experimental in the early morning, it’s entertaining when you have a little more time in the evenings. I finished off a bag of amaretto coffee, and we’ve made a start on some Godiva coffee, enjoying the opportunity to finally use up these bags of ground we’ve been amassing.

For best results I think I need to try freshly ground beans, and I’ve also had a few coffee brands recommended to me that I can’t wait to try.

Overall

By now, you should be sold on the concept of pump coffee as a happy medium between a cafetiere and a capsule-based coffee machine. But I can’t really tell you how this machine stacks up against the competition. What I do know is that the De’Longhi EC146.B espresso coffee machine is reasonably priced, does the job it’s supposed to, and certainly hasn’t frustrated me yet. While I can’t place it in the wider landscape of coffee machines, I can certainly recommend it if you’re looking for this kind of machine, and are interested in trying a more diverse range of artisan coffees.

Dang. I said artisan! *takes a bit of avocado toast and a sip of coffee*