A little background to begin...
I have been a long time coffee lover, always buying fresh roasted beans. My coffee consumption was solely based around a French Press, and I was more then happy. Always enjoyed great coffee. As far as espresso goes, I was the type that never enjoyed a GOOD shot. Any espresso I ever had was super bitter, and never drank straight. If it wasn't hidden behind 12oz or more of milk, then it had a hefty amount of sugar in it. And so it went, only enjoying espresso in a very tall latte. Fast forward to the present. About 6-7 months ago from todays date, I was at the coffee house that I always got my coffee at if I was out. While ordering my usual, (full city roast/brewed coffee) the Barista asked me "have you ever tried our espresso?" I explained to him that while I loved their coffee, bitter small cups of sludge was not something I would like to pay almost two dollars for. Suffice to say, the look on his face rivaled that of many Monty Python skits. So, knowing that I was misinformed and missing out, he proceeded to pull a double shot of their current espresso blend, gave it to me straight, in a cup on a saucer. He said to me "Ill make a deal with you, drink that straight up, slowly. Don't just gulp it down, give yourself at least 5-6 sips. Don't sneak any sugar in there either. If you're not absolutley floored, then I'll let you have your daily cup for free for the rest of the week." To sum it all up, I payed for coffee the rest of the week. Tho my normal order changed from a large coffee, to a large coffee and a double espresso to stay. Fast forward to now...
I was floored. I could not believe that espresso was sweet! It had about 50 flavors all happening at once, in perfect harmony. I was in love. But, realizing that my pockets were already light because I enjoyed the coffee house so much, I decided I would need to be able to make this at home. On a hunch, I found an old benjamin&medwin Steam toy and began using that. The espresso wasnt the same, but since I found the thing in my basement, I decided to use it until I found a machine I liked.
I had decided on the gaggia line, and that I would wait until tax returns came to purchase my machine. Well, shortly after that, the 70's era steam toy broke. I was freaking out! So i checked my debit account, and had a little less then a hundred bucks. Figuring I would have to settle for something i didnt want, I started looking online. I came here first, of course, and saw a couple machines I could afford right then. Problem was, they were alll steam toys. I wasn't going to buy another steam toy, thats just silly. Eventually I happened upon the Delonghi ec-140b. It seems to be listed as the BAR-140, but I later found out, that was an earlier model, and the ec-140b had some minor improvements to it. So I went to amazon and found a deal on a New in box machine, for $67.00 after shipping. It was from a private vendor, but it was 40 dollars cheaper then the other amazon direct deals. So I bought it.
**This review will be a tutorial on getting the most out of the machine, as well as a review**
The machine arrives-
I am ecstatic! I am the new owner of a pump driven espresso machine, WITH A PORTAFILTER!! Look at me!! Haha. Anyway.. I read the manual, set her up, plug her in, let her heat for twenty minutes, and according the directions, pull a shot... BOAT LOADS of crema came pouring out. BOAT LOADS. I smelled it, and I couldnt smell much more then "coffee". So i took a sip... WOWZAS!!! Oh my lord was that a bitter shot!!! Oh wait, no worrries, this was my green mountain coffee that was approaching 3 weeks old plus bought at a supermarket. So I pulled a shot with some of the Coffee Klatch house espresso. EVEN MORE CREMA! This thing is a crema factory I thought! I took a sip. COMPLETLY different the the first shot. Still a little more bitter then I thought it should be, but lots of flavor, very chocolatey.
The workings of the Delonghi-
The 140-b has whats known as a Pressurized portafilter. That means that in the PF there is a device, that once the pump is engaged, the pf restricts the flow of coffee until the correct pressure is built up inside of the basket. I had heard that true espresso geeks shunned these things, but what did I know? So for about a week, maybe less, I left the PF alone. I went to my coffee house and ordered a straight double, to see how things compared. Compared to the coffee house, my coffee was a little thin, and a lot of "fake-looking" crema on top. After this, I decided to go home, read everything I could about espresso pulling, Portafilters etc.. I did lots of experimenting with the machine, and here is what I found...
First off, if you use this machine exactly how the instructions say, you will NEVER, repeat, never get a drinkable straight shot of espresso from it. If you do, you are a barista demi-god and should praise yourself. Twice. Tho if your willing, you can coax out a very nice shot, given the fact that you have a great grinder, great beans, and at least know what to do technique wise(tamp, dose level etc etc)
How to Tweak the Delonghi-
First things first. Get a good grinder. A whirly blade grinder just isn't going to cut it. Niether will a low end burr grinder found at sears or another department store. At the very least, I would suggest the Baratza Maestro plus, tho when you upgrade from this machine, you'll likely need a new grinder. But in any case, you need something that is capable of producing a VERY even, albeit not super espresso fine, grind. Second. You'll need a correct tamper. I THINK the right size for this machine is 51mm. I actually found a generic tamper at bed bath and beyond for 5 dollars, and it fits perfect. Beat that Reg Barber!! Now to the machine. First, get your portafilter out, and take off the pressurizing cap from under the filter basket. Now lift out the filter basket with the black gasket around it. Take the gasket off and remove the black piece from under the filter. Replace the rubber gasket around the filter. Place it back in the portafilter. Now you have de-pressurized. Keep in mind, when knocking out pucks, the filter will fall out too, as it isn't locked in by the filter cap. Ok, lock the PF in the group, turn on the machine(boiler primed and tank full of course) and walk away for at least twenty minutes. If I have the time, Ill give it a solid 45 minutes to warm up. Of course you can give it five minutes, run a couple blank shots of water though and be good to go, but I have the time, so I just turn it on and leave it for a while. Once you are warmed up, grind up some beans. If you have never used a pump espresso machine before, then grind the beans about half as fine as you would for auto drip coffee.(think if you took each piece of ground coffee for drip, and split it in half) The manual says that you need to use 12 grams of coffee for a double shot. I have found this will produce a water shot. I have found a sweet spot of 16-17 grams of coffee. Probably more towards 16 after leveling the coffee in the PF. That works out to be about 2 and a third scopps of grounds, using the included scoop. So, grind, dose, TAMP, lock and load. Tamp with at least 30lbs of pressure. Don't go crazy, as you can choke this machine easily, but dont be scared either. A nice hard tamp is great. Now, leave the portafilter to the side for a second. Run a blank shot until the ready light switches off. If the water steams and sizzles at the group, the water is super heated and will burn your coffee and likely frustrate you to no end. When the ready light turns back on, run another blank shot until the light goes off. As soon as the light goes off, lock in your PF, and place a WARMED cup under the spouts. Watch for the ready light. As soon as it goes on, hit the brew switch. Time your shot. 25-30 seconds max. you should have about 2 ounces in 26 seconds, but you can push it to thirty if you need. Shut off the brew switch. WAIT!!!! Do not remove the PF!!! Wait at least 60 seconds to remove the PF otherwise coffee will go EVERYWHERE, not to mention, up into the brew group. Take out the PF, clean the group, rinse the pf, pull a quick blank shot to rinse clean, lock the portafilter in and its ready for the next shot.
This may seem like a lot of work just to get a shot out of this machine. It is. If you have the money, and know for sure you want to make espresso at home, go for a better quality machine. But if you want something to learn how to make espresso on, and still be able to get pretty good shots out of it, this will fit the bill.
Here is some thoughts about what Ive learned...
-This machine likes a grind that is coarser then most entry level espresso machines at around 200-300 dollars. Still very fine, but not as fine as those other machines demand.
-Using the pressurized portafilter ruins the taste of what your shot could have been. But if you like, by all means, go ahead and use it.
-The water easily gets super-heated, so make sure to run water through the group until it doesn't boil at the shower head.
-The manual states 12 grams of ground coffee. I believe 16 works much better. Its possible if you dont take out the pressurizing stuff, 12 grams will be better. But your shots will thank you, take that stuff off.
-A good grinder is so crucial here. Dont think that since its a cheaper machine it should have a cheap grinder. This machine chokes is you have too many fines in the grind, and you'll end up with a bitter yet sour shot from the fines overextracting and grounds underextracting.
-I went one step further after taking out the Pressurized stuff and made the portafilter bottomless. This is simple. There are three screws on the underside on the PF. Take all three off and the whole bottom comes off. It might not look as pretty, but I didnt care.
-It took me a while to find out how to get a good shot out of this machine. My first shots were terrible compared to what Im getting out of it now.
-If you're going to be using the steam wand, the frother attachment isn't too bad on this machine. Im able to achieve beautiful microfoam, and every single one of my lattes has had latte art on it. Mainly hearts and flowers, as I havent learned a rosetta yet. Plus, if you take the frother off, you need something a little bigger then a shot glass to froth with. I already pull the machine so the wand is hanging off the counter to fit my 20oz pitcher under it.
-Keep the tank full. With the way I pull shots and clean then group, I need to fill the tank every three shots. Sometimes two if I'm excessive in my flushing.
-To get foam like you'll find at dunkin donuts and starbucks, you can do it with your eyes closed. Stick a pitcher under the wand and stop when its hot enough. If you want to get microfoam, you will need to temperature surf the steam. Easy enough. Switch to steam mode. When the light comes on, purge the wand fully open until the light goes off. Close the steam wand. Wait about 7-10 seconds, and open it 75% and steam your milk. The ready light will go back on if you dont open it at least 75%. When you're done stretching(about 80F-85F) stick the wand all the way into the milk, and open the steam all the way. stop the milk at 155. Enjoy.
All in all, for what this machine is, and what it costs, Im happy. Do I still plan to buy a new machine when my tax return comes? You bet your hat I do! This was a machine to get me through about 2 months until I can afford what I want. That being said, I think Im getting much better shots then most people though possible out of a machine like this. Granted you'll need good grinder/beans/technique as well, but luckily the grinder and beans can be purchased. Technique you must develop. Also. GET A REAL TAMPER. Especially with a machine like this, it is so important to do everything that you can perfect. If you're looking to only make lattes and cappucinos at the caliber of DD or *$, you probably wont need to do half of the stuff mentioned in this review, however if you want to drink straight shots and TRUE cappas(5-6oz) you'll likely need to do some of the things stated here. And, you'll likely think im pretentious for some of my opinions on this machine. But, being seen as pretentious is just part of being a coffeegeek, and I promise I wont be offened. The bottom line is all things is that YOU are happy. If you like the lattes you make at home with a french press a micrwave and a milkfrother, why should anyone tell you otherwise?
Recap of the review part
-Solid rocker swicthes
-Quick heat up time with flusing
-Aluminum portafilter baskets and ring
-Easy to use frothing attachment
-Quick to switch to steaming from brewing
-Not enough steam power to achieve microfoam without temp surfing
-would require lots of tinkering to be able to get shots that are good to drink straight
-water tank need refilling often
-Smallish drip tray/short steam wand
-mostly all plastic construction
-not a traditional filter basket. theres is a basket with a 1/4 inch hole, and then a drop in disk/filter screen. kinda silly, but if used with the PPF and you dont mod it like i did, it shouldnt even matter.
All things considered, for what this machine is and what I paid. Im happy. Make a few simple mods and pair it with good beans/grinder/tecnique and you be in good shape. Sure it has its flaws, but did you really expect it to be on par with machines costing 3-4x's as much? If you did, then you'll be dissappointed. Would I buy it again? I said no, but if I was in the same situation, then yes. If I had the time to look at all my options and buy the machine I really want, then no, I never would have considered this machine. I am still going to buy a much better machine in a few months. Gaggia classic comes to mind. Maybe the isomac venus. tho i'm trying to convince my credit card to take the hit for a HX, so hey, ya never know. In ANY case, whatever I get, this machine will not get sold on ebay. It will sit on a shelf and be used for a backup should anything happen to another machine. If I buy a HX, this will also become my travel machine to the lake house. It light enough, and can do the job well enough. **This machine, for the price tag it carries, its lightwieght and capablities, is a definate bargain. Are there better machines out there? Without a doubt. But rest assured, you could do a lot worse for 70 dollars. A LOT WORSE.
Thanks for reading, hope it helped you.
EDIT:This is about a month from the date I wrote this, I think. a new mod has been made to the frothing aid. I never realized this problem, until now, when I just gave it a through cleaning(as I dont drink as many milk drinks these days). The frother is a cone shape. On the top part, where it attaches to the actual steam arm, there are two small holes on either side. When these are open, making true microfoam, is close to impossible, because it sucks to much milk in too fast, making huge bubbles. Just take two toothpicks and plug up both holes, andbreak of the rest of the tooth pick. This will just give you steam flow from the actual wand, making microfoam achieveable. I have been making microfoam on this since I can remember, and always rinsed out the wand attchment, but I guess it stayed clogged up. After uncloging everything this morning, I foamed some milk, and ended up with some serious scoopable/shapeable froth. It was the last shot of a certain blend, and i decided on a latte. Suffice to say, I was mad.
Plug em up, and enjoy your microfoamed lattes and cappas. Shapeable foam tastes like butt.