This is a review of the Delonghi EC-140B (predecessor of almost identical current model, the EC-155). (The earlier Bar140 appears to have had some kind of rubber disc/mat instead of a decent shower screen, which this and subsequent Delonghi models have.)
I received mine as a gift, and did not touch it for maybe a month or more (due to my initial level of interest). However, on traveling to Kona, HI, I had a kind of semi-religious journey through time and space, including back to traveling though France and Italy by bicycle in the 80s (and numerous never-again-matched 'cappuccinos'). Looking and tasting red berries that are called 'coffee', and then the surprise of how mild and really different the beverage can be (and the general unappreciative reaction among those accustomed to drinking 'that') snapped my interest directly to the topic at hand. Initially I was delighted that the EC-140B was quite well reviewed overall on the Internet compared to other espresso making machines costing less than $100. In the end this is really perhaps just a reflection of just how bad those other machines are, kind of like the similar 'Americano' beverage most people instead drink.
Reading here and on Epinions suggested a variety of different approaches to extracting credible espresso from an EC140b. To begin with a rubber gasket can be easily pulled off from around the steel portafilter basket/screen, thereby eliminating the aeration and pressure regulation inherent to the intended "pressurized pottafilter". Using fresh roast beans and a marvelous Italian Trespade hand grinder, I am able to get great emulsion every time.
Although I can get a good espresso many mornings from my EC140b, my attempts to time the shot for better consistency using the rocker switch indicator lights ('surf') introduced just too much variability in the output for my taste (at least perceived, but probably real). Indeed when I purchased a Cox DE-305 thermocouple thermometer ($26 used) and wire and bead K-probe ($7 Ebay), and monitored the temperature of the water hitting the surface of the coffee ('over the lip' wire probe as described in the forums here), I found that it was shooting wildly around from 225F to 180F. (This thermometer allows you to standardize it on boiling water with an offset screw). Having read the reports on similar approaches with the R. Sylvia, I had focused on a procedure of drawing blanks until the boiler light went out, and then locking and beginning a 25s pour just as the boiler light came back on. Using this approach, and depending on the prior warm up time, the temperature at extraction on the EC140B always shoots well over target and into the 220F range. Given variables with beans, bean roasting, time since roasting, etc., this just won't do.
(For those who stay on this path longer, it may even be possible to get the same reliable temperature monitoring in place, and see that if you draw your blank until the boiler light is out, then quickly lock and start your pour so that it occurs entirely with the light out, you will likely find that you have most often achieved the desired 190F-205F though the relevant 20-30s. I do not have enough patience to work it out, and certainly the prior warm up time and usage will change your window of opportunity for a properly timed 'EC140B dark boiler indicator' pour. This approach probably will work, but will also probably put you at the lower end of the desired range with no chance to step it closer to 200F.)
Pending Plan B then is using the same temperature monitoring approach to a Gaggia Espresso arriving later this week ($80 used Ebay). My hope there is that Gaggia will have chosen a better thermostat, and that the use of a brass group and smaller (only 3.5 oz) and aluminum (not steel) boiler with larger external heating coils (1425 watts vs 1200 for the DeLonghi) will have proven to be a superior design for temperature control. My take so far would be that the otherwise desirable larger and high wattage steel boiler in the EC140b (thought to contribute 'stability') is too strong really given what boiler thermostats are used, causing a 40F temperature swing from boiler on to boiler off at the point of extraction. Perhaps a smaller aluminum boiler with different heating elements and controls paired with a brass group will be a better approach. The thermometer will certainly tell.
OK, my scores here are dropping pretty much down to 'naught' after 24h with an older Gaggia Espresso for direct comparison (used, $80 ebay). Couple big differences--overall there seems to be a bigger more powerful pump in a Giaggia, capable of moving a lot more hot water. The shower screen is very much larger as well (which is a surprise given that the DeLonghi had a 53mm portafilter).
For the litmus test, I connected the K-probe thermacouple 'over the lip' to monitor the surface of the grind at the point of extraction. Indeed, with the ready light constant, the Gaggia pull starts right at 205F, and then ends at around 180F (15-20s later). If you monkey around with surfing, you learn that compared to the Delonghi 140, the Giaggia Espresso doesn't suffer from temperature overshoot. (You can make it fairly cold (e.g. 160F) if you pull with the light off, or several shots in a row (artificial during testing, as I just left the same grounds in there.) Bottom line is you would want to let a Giaggia get as hot as it can, light on for 30s or better, and then just pull your shot. I see that I can completely avoid any messy pre-draw of a blank shot to equalize the group, zero splashing about and refilling the reservoir. That direct approach will put you right at 205->180 during the pour.
As far as a larger 58mm protafilter, it doesn't seem like it would make much difference compared to the Delonghi's respectable 53mm, but it does indeed when combined with what could well be a much better pump. The larger 58 is quite a bit shallower, and the shower screen wider diameter. I can therefore grind far finer now on the Tre Spade, and still pull a faster 15s 2oz, where the Gaggia takes more like 25-30s even on almost on a normal drip grind.
Overall, I'm no lonter sure the 'depresurized' Delonghi EC140B was really doing the job of 'espresso maker' in retrospect, given the weakness of the pump or the taller portafilter 'height'. The lack of ability to use a fine grind is as bad or worse than having to time a pull for 'lights out' to avoid overheating (i.e. 225F). The ergonomics are pretty awful now in retrospect as with the Gaggia. Now I just preheat for 20min, take the dry portafilter and pack it, snap it on and pull a shot. Shut it off, open the steam valve, unlock and rinse the portafilter filter, and go on my way. Much much easier to use than the Delonghi 140. without all that running water through the group, and slopping about the kitchen. Upgrade recommended (watch out for very recent Gaggia lower models, there's no longer a minimum standard design post-2007, it seems.)