Inexpensive pump-driven espresso maker for the win
Positive Product Points
Inexpensive but has lasted two years for me so far Froths milk very well Portafilter is less finicky about grind and tamping Quick from cold start to green light - still two minutes
Negative Product Points
OK, that plastic tamper is useless - get "RSVP Terry's Tamper" from Amazon for under $10 (50mm side is just right)
I see so many negative comments about these inexpensive DeLonghi machines (this BAR32, the EC155, EC270, EC702 etc) that I just had to speak up in favor of a machine I've owned for two years now.
My drink of choice with my BAR32 machine is a double espresso. When I first got the machine I was measuring out about 16g of freshly-ground, and finely-ground, coffee, but after the early days it's just scoop, tamp, scoop, tamp. Each scoop seems to be about 7g or 8g consistently.
I have a Hario Skerton manual grinder but my Capresso burr grinder set on the lowest setting is what I normally use to feed the BAR32. With a portafilter I find this espresso maker is very forgiving of variation in grind and tamping, and even not-so-fresh beans will still produce a nice crema. I don't want to knock anyone who wants to tell me that this portafilter-forced crema not "real" crema, but it tastes just like the crema on espresso I've ordered at local (non-chain) coffee shops here in Austin, TX.
I do make cappuccino occasionally. The steam wand froths milk really well when I just barely dip the tip into the milk. Usually I start with about an inch depth of whole milk in a chilled frothing pitcher, and I fully immerse the wand to get the temperature up over 100degF before dropping the pitcher so the tip gurgles at the milk surface. If I start it gurgling/frothing right away the milk will rise over the top of the pitcher before I get the milk temperature up to my desired 160-170degF range, so I try to avoid that.
To keep the machine running as cleanly as possible, I buy either purified or distilled water at the local grocery store for my brewing. Every couple of months I follow DeLonghi's descaling instructions. Basically I fill up the tank with a mixture of water & citric acid, run a little thru, let the now-primed solution sit for 20 minutes or so, run the rest thru, then flush with at least one more tankful of plain distilled water. Good to go for another 100 or so espressos.
I'm not suggesting I'm a heavy user of this machine since I drink drip first thing in the morning and at work. But every single evening after dinner I have a double espresso, and multiple doppio on weekend days. My wife will have some on the weekend, but she's not a fan of evening coffee. So over two years I've certainly made 700+ espressos with this little machine & it's going strong. I've also brought it into work to make a dozen or so espressos or cappucinos for coworkers & it's always impressed - not the unassuming black plastic housing, but the quality of its output.
I would never argue that a steam-driven machine makes a real cup of espresso, and would never call the output of a Keurig machine espresso. But this pump-drive BAR32 makes a very nice cup of espresso which I enjoy every day. I certainly understand why machines in the over-$1000 range could produce a better or more consistent espresso, but if your budget is sub-$500 I can't see any reason to spend more than the $99 or so a machine like this will set you back.
- Jim in Austin, TX
Amazon Prime, so no complaints. btw my "price paid" is not a mistake - just checked the Dec 2010 invoice & it was just $81.75 back then!
Three Month Followup
(My initial review was written after 2 years of use. See next section for additional followups)
One Year Followup
3 YEAR Followup - 2013-12-26
Last year I added a note to my calendar reminding me to add a follow up to this review if my BAR 32 made it to the end of year three. Last night's post-dinner double shot was as tasty as ever, so this note is a testament to the reliability of the BAR 32.
As I mentioned in the initial review, I make at least one doppio each evening, day in and day out. Subtracting time when I'm away from home but adding back times when I've made coffee for the wife, other family members, and friends, I've easily made more than 300 espresso drinks this year. So my BAR 32 is pushing 1000+ double-shots now.
A double shot of espresso still takes between 18 and 22 seconds to brew, starting the clock when the first streams appear. There's maybe 5 second or so of pumping before the streams start. No change there.
As I mentioned previously, I use only bottled water. I buy cheap 1-gallon jugs at the local grocer for US$0.70 each, so nothing fancy there. I try to clean the unit with citric acid about twice a year
After three years use, I continue to enthusiastically recommend DeLonghi's BAR 32 espresso maker.
-------------- 3.5 YEAR Followup - 2014-07-11
For a few months (oops) I've been noticing a drop-off in espresso volume coming through the portafilter holder jets but I put off my standard citric-acid cleaning. Even though I reduced my tamping pressure, espresso double-shots had climbed from 20-22 seconds up to near 30 seconds. Yes, the double shot didn't taste as good. Yes, I was lazy.
Finally a few days ago nothing was coming through. Steam wand still worked fine. Compressor made the normal noise. I filled the water reservoir, added 2 tblspn citric acid, stirred, heated the boiler. Nothing was coming out. I unscrewed the round stainless-steel filter that sits between the boiler and the portafilter (single central screw) and it was filthy inside. Even without that filter, the compressor would only produce a drip. Tried some disassembly, but some of the torx-screws are so far recessed I couldn't reach them.
Diagnosis: laziness on my part, should have cleaned it out every 3 months or so. Instead of letting it go. R.I.P. my beloved Bringer of Joy and Wakefulness.
New one coming from Amazon today! $83.39 with free Prime shipping.