Need to know
- Breville and DeLonghi are two well-known brands that make manual and semiautomatic coffee machines at a range of prices
- These types of coffee machine can be expensive, but they give you much greater control over your coffee-making so you can replicate the 'cafe experience' at home
- CHOICE experts regularly test dozens of semiautomatic and manual home espresso machines. Our detailed reviews can help you decide which one is right for you
Coffee is serious business. And investing in a new manual coffee espresso machine is equally serious business. When it comes to selecting the machine that's going to meet all your caffeinating needs on a daily basis, you want to be sure you're making the right choice – especially if you're looking to spend hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of dollars.
Manual and semiautomatic coffee machines are for those who want the hands-on experience of making their coffee exactly the way they like it. Semiautomatic machines will automatically cut off the flow of coffee once a pre-set amount has been poured into the cup, while a manual machine gives you total control, requiring you to stop the flow of coffee yourself.
Manual and semiautomatic coffee machines are for people who want the hands-on experience of making their coffee exactly the way they like it
Two of the most popular brands you've probably come across while researching manual or semiautomatic espresso machines are Breville and DeLonghi. Both these brands have several models available with various specifications and different price points. Breville is well known for its high-end Breville Barista manual and semiautomatic espresso machines, and DeLonghi's premium La Specialista range is also popular.
Breville vs DeLonghi: Which brand is best?
The best coffee machine for you depends on many factors, such as your skill level, budget and preferences for certain features.
As well as the specific features of the coffee machine itself, you should also consider the brand in terms of factors such as how reliable their machines tend to be overall, their track record in customer service and customer satisfaction, and typical extras their machines generally include (such as cleaning kits, stainless-steel milk jugs, etc).
If you look at the data that CHOICE has gathered on brand reliability for automatic or manual espresso machines over the past 10 years (taking into account things such as the number of breakdowns, the types of problems owners experience, and owner satisfaction with their appliance brand), Breville consistently comes out on top among the brands we have data on, with Breville customers reporting they are very satisfied with their machines. Coffee temperature was generally good for these machines, and they had fewer problems with milk frothing and controls/buttons not working.
But DeLonghi wasn't far behind, receiving a very good brand reliability score that was slightly higher than Sunbeam's.
Overall brand vs individual model
It's important to bear in mind that in CHOICE testing, performance of specific product models may vary quite significantly, so don't assume that one brand's products are the best across the board. The best thing to do is focus on individual models by checking CHOICE's detailed espresso machine reviews before you buy.
Range and price
Generally speaking, Breville has a wider range of manual and semiautomatic espresso machines to choose from, with 14 machines ranging from more affordable options like the Breville Compact Cafe ($269) and the Breville Bambino ($449), up to the $3799 Breville Oracle Touch (for serious home baristas!).
DeLonghi's La Specialista range includes four machines (the Arte, the Arte Evo with Cold Brew, the Maestro with Cold Brew and the Prestigio), ranging in price from $599 to $1499. There is also the newer, more compact semi-automatic machines, the DeLonghi Dedica Arte ($249), the Dedica Maestro ($449) and the Dedica Maestro Plus ($549).
Breville vs DeLonghi: Comparing the machines
When comparing machines and brands, consider the features that are most important to you.
For instance, would you like pre-programmed coffee recipes you can select at a touch of a button, with automatic milk frothing? Or would you like complete control of the process, including frothing your own milk, just like the barista at your local cafe? Would you like to tamp your coffee with a hand tamper or a built-in tamper? Do you fancy making cold-brew coffee? Read more about the features to look out for in our coffee machine buying guide.
Fancy gimmicks and features really can't mask a poor functioning machine. To get a good espresso, you need accurate and consistent pressure and water temperatureAdrian Lini, CHOICE expert tester
But CHOICE tester expert Adrian Lini says you shouldn't base your decision solely on features.
"With coffee machines, the fancy gimmicks and features really can't mask a poor functioning machine. To get a good espresso, you need accurate and consistent pressure and water temperature. If you don't have those then you won't get a good coffee, no matter what."
Adrian has put dozens of manual and espresso machines through their paces in the CHOICE labs.
"My experience with both Breville and DeLonghi is that the Breville machines are often easier to use – their controls are more intuitive and it takes less time to make a good espresso.
"I certainly think you can get a good coffee with a DeLonghi machine, but it may take a little more time to learn how to get the best out of the machine."
How we test coffee machines
When testing manual and semiautomatic coffee machines, we give scores for each machine based on the taste of the coffee, how easy they are to use, how well they froth milk and the consistency of the coffee temperature.
Our expert taste-test panel gives each espresso shot a score in a 'blind' tasting (meaning they don't know which machine made it), checking the colour and thickness of the crema (the tan-coloured foam on the top of an espresso shot), aroma, flavour, mouthfeel (for example, creaminess or wateriness) and aftertaste.
We've created two comparisons of similar machines from both Breville and DeLonghi at different price points to help you choose. For full detailed reviews and findings from our experts, view our espresso coffee machines reviews. You can also compare all our test results and more models side by side, using our compare all products table.
Breville Barista Pro and Breville Barista Touch vs DeLonghi La Specialista Maestro
If you have a budget of about $1000–$1700, you're probably considering one of these three machines. The Breville Barista Pro and Barista Touch are similar machines – the main difference is that the Barista Touch has more automatic functions, including a touch-screen display with pre-programmed coffee menu and automatic milk frothing.
The DeLonghi La Specialista Maestro is a manual machine that also gives you the option of pre-programmed coffee recipes and either automatic or manual milk frothing. All three have been tested in our CHOICE labs with full reviews available exclusively to CHOICE members.
DeLonghi La Specialista Arte vs Breville Barista Express
If you have a budget of under $1000 but you still want to flex your barista muscles with a customised coffee experience, you may be looking at these two machines.
Both have been tested by CHOICE experts, who say they rank similarly when it comes to how easy they are to use, but the Breville Barista Express comes out on top in other respects (read detailed reviews here).
There are a few differences between the machines. The La Specialista comes with one 51mm pressurised filter basket, whereas the Barista Express comes with both one-cup and two-cup (single-wall) filter baskets. You can compare other features below.
Is the Breville Oracle Touch coffee machine worth it?
The Breville Oracle Touch is the brand's most expensive coffee machine, retailing at $3799. It's significantly more expensive than the Barista Touch ($1649) as it has a dual boiler design that means you can extract coffee and steam milk at the same time. (On the Breville Barista Touch you can only perform these functions separately – see below for the benefits of a dual boiler). It also has 45 grind settings (15 more than the Barista Touch), a hands-free auto grind and tamp feature, and a commercial-grade 58mm portafilter.
CHOICE experts have tested and reviewed both the Oracle Touch and the Barista Touch Impress in our labs and noted that they both perform similarly when it comes to the taste of the espresso shots they produce and the milk frothing. Head to our expert coffee machine reviews to find out more.
Other important factors to consider
Before you rush out to buy a manual espresso machine, it's a good idea to look at the dimensions of the machine you're interested in and measure the space you have available on your benchtop to make sure it will fit comfortably.
Remember, if your machine doesn't have an inbuilt grinder, you will have to make space for that, too. Plus, it's good to have a little bit of extra space near the milk frothing wand so you've got some elbow room while you're frothing your milk.
Double boilers or dual boilers
One of the factors that makes the top-tier Breville machines significantly more expensive is that they have double or dual boilers (the Breville Oracle, Oracle Touch, Dual Boiler and Dynamic Duo all have this feature). Double boiler espresso machines have two separate heating units: one for steam and one for coffee. This means that you can make coffee and froth milk at the same time, which is handy if you're churning out multiple coffees at once (or if you're just impatient and want your coffee fix quicker).
Fancy a cold brew?
One feature that the DeLonghi La Specialista range has that the Breville range lacks is a machine that can make cold-brew coffee. The La Specialista Maestro with Cold Brew includes cold extraction technology that allows you to enjoy cold-brew coffee within five minutes. CHOICE experts have not yet tested this machine.
Parts, cleaning and accessories
When choosing between brands, you should also look at the ongoing costs and availability of brand-specific accessories, such as cleaning tablets and descaling liquid, as well as the cost and availability of replacement parts.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.