If you’re on the lookout for a coffee machine, two models that might have caught your eye are Sage’s The Barista Pro and DeLonghi’s new flagship model – La Specialista.
Both are semi-automatic bean-to-cup machines, an emerging type of espresso machine that lets you tamp and extract the coffee yourself, while giving you the satisfaction of a freshly ground brew.
Most manual coffee machines – those where you measure and prepare the coffee yourself before using the machine – don’t have built-in grinders.
To get that fresh-ground feeling, you’d need to splash out on a pricey bean-to-cup model, but in doing so you sacrifice some control, as the process is usually fully automated.
So what’s a coffee fanatic to do? This new breed of hybrid machines, which are much more like the type of thing you’ve lusted after in your local coffee shop, could be the answer.
Sage has been making this type of machine for a few years, but the arrival of DeLonghi’s La Specialista adds a bit of healthy competition to the mix. Read on to see how the two latest models compare, and watch our head-to-head video.
Video: DeLonghi La Specialista vs Sage Barista Pro
Find out whether these models make it into our top coffee machine picks for 2019
How they compare – in detail
Both these coffee machines work in a similar way. Once you press go, they grind your coffee beans and dispense them directly into the portafilter (the filter basket and handle that holds the coffee grounds).
You then tamp (pat down) the grounds and attach the portafilter to extract your coffee, after selecting your desired length and strength. Both machines have a steam wand that you can use to froth milk for drinks such as lattes.
DeLonghi La Specialista EC9335.M, £720 – what you get
The La Specialista’s pressure gauge, along with the manual rotary dials and levers, give it a traditional look and feel.
Once it has ground your coffee, you use a lever to tamp the grounds, which compacts them for even extraction. Tamping is usually done manually, so the lever is designed to make this process a little easier.
There are three pre-programmed drink sizes : espresso, medium coffee and long coffee, or you can choose and save your preferred length of coffee. You can also customise the temperature of the coffee to suit you.
The milk frothing wand has a sliding control that lets you easily switch between foam and hot milk depending on the drink you’re making.
Does it make great coffee? Find out in our full DeLonghi La Specialista EC9335.M review.
Sage The Barista Pro SES878BSS, £599 – what you get
The Barista Pro has a more modern look than the La Specialista, with an LCD screen displaying the settings you select and a couple of simple manual controls. It’s a fair bit cheaper, too.
Tamping is a little more hands-on, as you’ll need to use a tamper to compact the grounds manually, rather than just pull a lever.
Unlike the La Specialista, which offers several preset drink options, The Barista Pro only has the option of a single or double shot, and the steam wand only has one froth setting.
There’s more opportunity to personalise drinks, though. As well as customisable size and temperature settings, you can also tailor the strength of each drink to suit individual taste.
It’s cheaper, but how does the coffee compare, and is it easier to use? Find out in the full Sage The Barista Pro SES878BSS review.
Compare hundreds of popular models and find the best for your budget with our independent coffee machine reviews.
Choosing the best bean-to-cup machine for you
Bean-to-cup machines are a great choice if you want the freshest coffee possible. Prices range from around £200 to more than £2,000, with more expensive models offering fancier features such as colour touchscreens and automatic milk frothing.
Paying more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better coffee though. Our cheapest Best Buy bean-to-cup machine costs less than £300, and we’ve found that some pricey models are a real letdown. Check our bean-to-cup coffee machine reviews to find out which models we recommend.
Features to look for on a bean-to-cup machine
- Customisable settings – many bean-to-cup machines let you adjust factors like the strength, size and temperature of drinks to suit personal preference.
- Milk frothing – a steam wand lets you froth milk manually, or you can look for a machine that offers automatic milk frothing if you want your coffee to be made at the press of a button. These tend to be more expensive.
- Touchscreen menu – high-end models often include a touchscreen display that let you easily select your preferred drink options without the need to fuss around with dials and buttons.
If you like the idea of a hands-on coffee-making experience, you might also want to consider a ground coffee machine. These tend to be cheaper, and you can still get fresh ground coffee by buying a separate coffee grinder.
See our coffee machine buying guide for more advice to help you decide which type of machine suits you best, including a quick choosing quiz.