Review: DeLonghi PrimaDonna Elite coffee machine
DeLonghi’s latest machine may have a name deserving of people who fancy themselves over the top, but its quality speaks volumes enough that its actually deserved.
Features and performance
Coffee at home is one of those areas that generally straddles three categories: the “so easy that it can only be terrible”, the “easy enough to use and good enough for every day consumption”, and the “so complicated that you may need a degree to use it but the coffee is amazing”.
Instant and beverage machines like the Dolce Gusto generally fit in the first one, so let’s ignore that, while Nespresso — which we like — sits in the second. It’s not that Nespresso and the other coffee pods system is a form of instant, because it’s not, and far better than that. Rather, we call it “inspresso” because it’s as close to an instant good coffee as you get, even though it lacks personality.
The third category is where you find coffee with pizazz, with nice roasts, great beans, flexibility in grinds, and the ability to bring coffee with a bit of playfulness to the cup and table (and eventually to your lips).
Making it, however, is something that often requires an understanding of coffee, with education and patience part of the package, and if you love coffee and love making it this way — the art and craft of the cup, so to speak — we totally salute and respect you.
But that’s not what everyone wants. Some people go to a coffee shop for that, and allow the barista to take care of it for them.
Appliance maker DeLonghi has a different approach for this, taking the training a barista goes through and finding a way to inject it into one of its machines, building what it basically infers is the best of the best machines: the PrimaDonna Elite.
Two versions of the PrimaDonna Elite exist, and for the most part are identical with the exception of one model (ECAM65075MS) includes a 4.3 inch touchscreen and can produce chocolate milk, while the second model (ECAM65055MS) uses a 3.5 inch standard display with soft buttons and cannot handle chocolate milk.
Outside of the chocolate milk, though, it’s pretty much the same system, with around two litres of water being accepted in the removable tank, 400 grams of beans in the container up top, support for ground coffee, with a detachable milk frother found on the unit, allowing you to refrigerate the milk if need be, as well as a 15 bar pressure pump.
Bluetooth is also built into the models, and each is app supported, handy if you’re keen to embrace the future and see what software can do with a coffee machine.
Pricing between each model chimes in at $3599 for the 4.3 inch touchscreen-enabled ECAM65075MS, while the touch-less ECAM65055MS sits at $3199. The model in this review is the 4.3 inch touchscreen model.
Design is one area that DeLonghi has pretty much nailed with this machine, because while it’s quite obviously a big coffee machine — bigger than the single manual espresso makers we’re used to from the company — it is very easy to pull apart.
Everything feels beautifully modular, starting with the water tank on the right edge which slides out without any problems, making it super easy to keep the machine topped up, or the drip tray which offers easy access to the spent grounds container and yet also holds enough liquid to deal with the automatic water expulsion when the PrimaDonna inevitably runs a cleaning cycle every time you switch it on.
Sensors in each of these sections mean if water does run out, instead of a blinking light, you get a nice on-screen message informing you that it’s time to fill it up. Or if you’ve run out of beans, or if you need to empty the drip tray, and so on and so on.
On screen messages like these are super handy, and a good guide to help you use the machine, which is all handled from that screen, too, since touch is the way of the future, and the main way you can use the DeLonghi Prima Donna.
Good thing that touchscreen is super simple, with several options for coffee and drink preparation waiting for you when you switch it on, and numerous profiles.
Let’s talk about those profiles quickly, because while they won’t be used by all, they’re important.
Specifically, you get six profiles to choose from, and while you can’t name them, each profile is supposed to represent a person either in your home or office.
Each profile also receives the same default settings, but you can customise these, meaning if you don’t like the style of latte on offer, you can change it with a custom drink and varying milk settings, doing it with one beverage and then saving the template.
Changing profiles is very easy — simply click on the profile and choose one of the six — though people will need to remember to do that.
Alternatively, you can add coffee options of your own recipes, though we’ll get to that shortly, because you need the app for that.
For now, we’ll make a cup of coffee using the pre-installed recipes, and this is about as easy as it gets: simply fill the beans container, add water in the right section, fill the milk jug if you need textured milk in the drink, and place your glass or mug under the spout.
And then press the button. It’s really that simple.
DeLonghi’s PrimaDonna Elite whirrs into action, sucking the beans into the grinder and pulverising them into the right density before it packs and tamps them into its system, and then running hot water through this turning the grounds into a majestic syrupy amber liquid that makes its way into the cup below the two spouts it slips through.
If milk is a part of the equation, the Elite will handle this first, taking milk in from the plug-in canister and steaming up the milk with very, very small bubbles before pouring it out through the movable spout.
The coffee from the DeLonghi PrimaDonna Elite’s preinstalled recipes is typically very good, too, and if perhaps they’re too short or not strong enough, you can quickly change that by increasing aroma or quantity using the touchscreen before selecting the beverage, settings which will temporarily overwrite the options in the recipes for your personal preference, meaning an espresso you find too weak using those recipes can be easily amped up.
Crema was noticeable on every drop we made, particularly with espressos, and that made it a little better than some of the machines we’ve seen in the past, with a guarantee that you will be getting coffee with personality without any physical exertion or knowledge on your part.
We tested a variety of choices using the machine, from a long coffee that comes out in short bursts with two shots of coffee to a latte to a macchiato to a double shot cappuccino, and all worked seamlessly without any real need for intervention from the user, making it fantastic for someone who doesn’t want to do any fiddling.
Even water is a possibility, so you can throw out that jug and just put on the water spout instead of the milk jug, allowing you to get hot water out that either goes until you press stop or fills a programmed size, such as for a cup of tea.
For this model of PrimaDonna Elite, even hot chocolate is a possibility, with a specialised jug shipping with the unit that uses the pressure normally used for the steam wand to kick into action a stirring and heating mechanism that increases the temperature of the milk while stirring powdered chocolate into it.
What you get is a milk chocolate that can be thin like you make it or syrupy if you like it thick, though it doesn’t come out of the machine and will be poured out of that jug by your hand.
We also found the chocolate jug didn’t always stir as well as we thought, leaving clumps of chocolate behind.
While it’s a nice addition, it’s one we probably wouldn’t use, and if we really wanted to make a hot chocolate using the PrimaDonna Elite, we’d stick to heating up the milk using the machine’s “hot milk” setting before mixing in the powder ourselves. It’s just going to be easier that way.
Rather, we’ll stick to using the PrimaDonna Elite for coffee, and that makes sense since it’s a coffee machine, and a fairly advanced one, at that.
In fact, this is one of the first technologically innovative coffee machines we’ve seen because it has an app.
“An app,” you say to yourself. “That’s not so special. A Nespresso machine has an app. What’s so special about this one?”
At the time of publishing this review, we had that Nespresso app-connected machine in the GadgetGuy kitchen, and we can tell you that as good as that machine is, it basically just either tells the machine to run provided you have a pod sitting inside, or to do it at a certain time. That’s fine, sure, but it’s not the sort of level that DeLonghi has built the PrimaDonna Elite for.
Instead of just telling the machine to make a coffee, the Elite’s app pairs quickly and painlessly with practically no effort needed outside of turning the machine on.
From here, it’s a pretty simple path to making a coffee with a selection of the drink sending the machine into action, complete with a warning informing you that you’ll need a glass under the spout otherwise this is a bad idea.
Unfortunately, the Elite isn’t so elite to give you a cup immediately, otherwise it may as well be a miracle maker. Still, warning you ahead of time is handy.
Better, though, the Elite app allows you to truly customise a beverage, allowing you to define the glass size you’ll be filling, the amount and strength of coffee, and then the milk amount as defined by a length of time.
Milk texture amount is already predefined by a knob on top of the milk jug, so the app can’t handle it, but we suspect if it could, it definitely would.
Even the order of how ingredients are poured is customisable, so if you like a more milky coffee, you can get the coffee to be poured first with the milk afterwards.
DeLonghi’s app is even programmed intelligently enough to determine if the liquid will go over the glass size, so provided your cup capacity matches what the app says it is, you’ll be able to make a custom drink without fear that it will spill over the sides.
The drink will even save the recipe to the machine, with a little Bluetooth icon appearing on the saved recipe, allowing you to select it.
You can’t name the recipe, and it will always just pop up as “Recipe 1” (or whatever number it saved as) with “My Aroma & My Quantity” to indicate how strong and how long the coffee was, but at least it fills in the gap of wanting to designate your own style of beverage for the machine, making it perfect for someone who knows how their coffee should be made every day.
One thing you will want to do, however, is keep a cup or jug under the spouts at all times, because the Elite likes to clean itself often.
That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it can mean that if you don’t have a cup under the spouts, you’ll be emptying the drip tray very, very often.
We used a glass for that reason, because when the machine goes on, it needs a clean, and when the machine is done with the milk canister, it wants a clean — even between milk-based coffees, which you can ignore, though it still obviously wants a clean — and even at the end when you switch the PrimaDonna Elite off, it wants a clean one more time.
If you go by the name alone and call the machine a “prima donna”, you could at least apply it to the hygiene of the thing, because it is frequently rinsing itself, and temperamental only because it demands cleanliness.
There are a few quirks, however, such as the bean compartment not always being checked if there are enough before a cycle begins. You find this issue when you’re making a textured milk drink because after the milk is finished steaming and pouring into a mug, the bean grinder whirrs a high pitched sound as if to say “you’re out of beans, quick, do something!”
By then, however, it’s too late, and the cycle will eventually cancel itself out, you left with a cup of steamed milk.
It’s bizarre that DeLonghi’s PrimaDonna Elite misses out on this warning, because there are warnings for pretty much everything else and notifications as you use it appearing on that 4.3 inch touchscreen, just not for a less than useful supply of beans.
Perfectly frothed milk is also something that really only applies to standard milk or lactose-free milk — essentially, anything that came from a cow should be fine — with different types of milk burning easily.
We didn’t try it with soy milk — allergies on that one — but almond milk was textured and left with a bitter taste, suggesting that it had been burnt. Different milks tend to have different steaming temperatures, and so we’re surprised the Elite lacks a mode to select the milk you’re making it with, as it could make all the difference, at least between nice froth and bitter froth.
It’s hard to deny DeLonghi’s PrimaDonna Elite as one of the better coffee machines out there, and good luck finding serious faults, unless you stay away from dairy milk specifically.
Essentially, this machine does what coffee fanatics want most, delivering excellent coffee with little to no effort, and there’s even an app. A freakin’ app.
And it’s not just “an app”, but rather a well developed and easy to use coffee crafting app, allowing you to go beyond the basic recipes and make your own cup the way you like it. Sort of like at a coffee shop, which we suspect is the point.
If that’s how you roll and you want the equivalent of a small cafe in your kitchen, DeLonghi’s PrimaDonna Elite is the closest you can get without going all out and becoming a barista.
We’d buy one, it’s just that good. Highly recommended.