Some time back my Gaggia Baby-D coffee machine died in a leaky can’t-maintain-pressure-and-piss-water-everywhere way. It was a sad loss mourned in our house given that Gaggia-the-company had also died and been taken over by Philips who weren’t honouring warranties, especially not on the ‘refurb’ unit I owned. I resorted to making espresso on the hob using my Italian espresso pot but I really missed the steamer and the convenience of it all.
Meantime, over on a UK techies maillist there was a discussion of bean-to-cup machines. Nicky and I had a few savings from birthdays and anniversaries and I talked her into letting me buy a DeLonghi-branded Magnifica ESAM4200. That was back in July; I figured I’d let the dust settle before I blogged any sort of review of it, but the short version is that I like it
It’s a nice unit, and tends to do everything for you including cleaning itself (an absolute boon as far as I’m concened – dismantling and cleaning the Gaggia was one of the onerous pains, especially since bits of it weren’t dishwasher-safe). Beans go in the hopper in the top, and it chucks out little coffee-poos into a box inside once finished.
It’s also fast – powerup to dispense is less than 30 seconds, and the steamer is ready within 15s from pressing ‘the button’. Thanks to this, if the daughter forgets to switch it on in a morning (the usual state of affairs) I can still grab a very quick coffee before work. In that regard, it’s quicker than the kettle if a little noisier with its ‘clunk’ and ‘whirr’ and ‘grrrtangfrrrrvvvv’.
As for coffee control itself, it’s pretty flexible – there’s the usual quantity and strength dials on the front, as well as a hidden knob to alter the grinder so the beans can be coarse or fine (I’ve left it on the default setting). It’s consistent and reliable, leaving a rather delicious-looking crema on the top every time. The coffee I’ve been using is the 1kg sacks of beans from CostCo (Starbucks brand) – although if you really want you can use pre-ground coffee just by moving the strength dial all the way back.
There’s a couple of things which are a bit tedious: the grinds disposal bin isn’t big enough so after six or seven shots it still needs emptying; similarly the water tank is a bit small (and it uses water on startup/shutdown to clean itself so doesn’t last very long). Keeping a jug or an old mug under the spout is mandatory as it dispenses a small amount of water whenever it cleans itself and the driptray could get full (and is more hassle to clean than a mug!). It’s a bit noisy, but the build quality is much better than the Gaggia though and seems to cope with the amount of coffee I require it to throw out on a daily basis.
It’s also important to set the water hardness correctly on installation – I waited (well, to be fair I didn’t read the instructions properly) and it nagged me for a descaler cycle after a month when it didn’t need it. Once that was triggered there was no way of telling it to stop nagging without doing a full descale which takes about an hour and requires the DeLonghi-specified descaler solution (or it invalidates your warranty).
If you want one of these units I’d recommend shopping around: for example, John Lewis list them at £399, but I managed to get it sub-£300 by going online to Amazon (though at time of writing they don’t seem to have any available direct). Still, recommended and seems to have been a good buy!