With only minimal effort, coffee beans and water, automatic espresso machines can pour you all shades of espresso and steamed milk. DeLonghi is a seasoned player in espresso. Their latest automatic machine is called the Eletta Explore, and it wants you to try something new.
It wants to make cold brew – not to be confused with iced coffee. Cold brew is coffee brewed with cold water. A process that usually takes many hours, but results in sweet, intense coffee with no bitterness.
DeLonghi promises the same experience in just five minutes. Sounds like a recipe for very sour coffee. DeLonghi could have easily sold the machine on having a built-in grinder, Wi-Fi and app control for under €1000, but they’re mostly talking about cold brew. They’re not lacking in confidence.
L&B Home has looked at whether this machine can impress both summer and winter.
The difference between cold brew and iced coffee
Cold brew is usually made in a patent glass with coarsely ground coffee, which over many hours adds flavour to the cold water. In Eletta, the coffee beans are ground fine enough for espresso, giving plenty of surface area for the water to extract flavour. The machine uses a very low pressure to trickle out the coffee, which gives a longer contact time between coffee and water and therefore more flavour in a shorter time.
The patent glass has more flexibility in terms of how much coffee is used and how long the coffee is in the water. With Eletta, on the other hand, you get the cold brew experience in a very short time. If the result is not good, you don’t have to wait many hours for the results of a second attempt, as with the patent glass.
It’s a great solution for those who genuinely love the unique flavour of cold brew but want a quick, easy cup of coffee on a summer morning. The Eletta Explore can also easily make regular iced coffee. The iced coffee recipes are clearly labelled on the screen and the machine still produces cool milk foam.
The milkjug travesty
The good folks at DeLonghi have clearly had a challenge making cool, creamy and long-lasting milk foam for their cold brew and iced coffees. So they came up with a crazy solution that is, in every way, the absolute worst part of the machine. In addition to the normal LatteCrema Hot milk jug, they have developed the LatteCrema Cool system, which is a milk jug used only for cold drinks. It works really well and delivers seriously durable and delicious foam for your iced latte.
The problem is that it ONLY works with cold drinks. So you need to have both of the included milk jugs with slowly spoiling milk in your fridge if you drink both hot and cold coffee. You also can’t just swap the top of the jug, where all the technology is located. For some reason, the two jugs are not the same size. Both can use plant milk with good results, but besides that, the LatteCrema Cool only uses skimmed milk. Healthy, but a very strange limitation.
If you try to use the wrong jug for your drinks, the machine will refuse to make your coffee. Last but not least, the lids of both jugs do not stick to the rest of the container. It is therefore only a matter of time before you try to lift a milk jug by grabbing the top and spilling milk all over the place.
The most important part of your coffee – the beans
During the test period, two different beans were used. Many automatic machines have major problems with modern, lighter roasted speciality coffees, often resulting in a sour, unappealing taste.
To find out if I can enjoy modern coffee with my new DeLonghi, I tested it with coffee from a roastery called Impact Roasters. They exclusively roast Ethiopian beans, which are usually very acidic. To give the machine a bit of a headwind, I’m testing their mostly dark-roasted beans.
Because an automatic espresso machine is all about making life easier, I also buy beans at the supermarket. In this case, a bag of Löfbergs medium roast Brazilian coffee. Incidentally, the medium roast is darker than the dark roast from Impact Roasters.
How does the coffee taste?
The espresso from Eletta Explore is generally tasty, aromatic and has a balanced sweetness and acidity. You can change the amount of water and brewing temperature, giving the coffee a little extra flavour. The beans from Impact Roasters required the highest of the 4 temperature settings and a little more water to get a perfectly balanced flavour.
When it was time to try the beans from the supermarket, I had forgotten all about the settings. The beans initially tasted a bit underwhelming. When I later tried a slightly lower temperature, I was rewarded with a softer coffee that was also much more interesting. Suddenly there were flavours of nuts and slightly acidic cocoa. It pays to experiment!
Espresso from an automatic machine is never as intense as from a semi-automatic or manual machine, so by comparison it will be a weaker shot than from the coffee shop. It only makes a slight difference if you mix it with milk. Pure espresso from the machine is delicious and certainly not lacking in flavour. The hot milk froth is easy to adjust with the dial on the LatteCrema Hot, but mostly affects how fluffy the froth is on top, and not so much the texture of the rest of the milk.
The Eletta Explore is a machine that really wants to make cold brew. With cold water and everything. This is quite a challenge considering the contact time is managed in just 5 minutes. Fortunately, it delivers on its promise. The bitterness is low and the coffee flavour is penetrating. I feared that the coffee would be very acidic due to the low temperature, but I was pleasantly surprised. It delivers a well-balanced cold brew. If you’re used to making your own cold brew in a patent glass in the fridge, this is a fresher and less intense experience.
LatteCrema Cool delivers very durable foam that is mostly on top and doesn’t give the creamy latte sensation we know from the hot version. It’s a shame that you can only use skimmed milk, otherwise it would be perfect for a quick dessert coffee.
Only one bean container
The Eletta Explore has one bean container with room for 300 grams, and it is not possible to change the beans once they are in the container. So try a few spoonfuls of your new fermented, extra acidic coffee from Ethiopia before you force your girlfriend to start her day with them for the next two weeks.
You can also use ground coffee in the machine. While the ground coffee can’t be stored in the machine, you can put a spoonful in a dedicated chute and then select ground in your favourite coffee recipe. Measuring spoon is included. It works well as an emergency solution. I can inform you that you can easily cut open a coffee capsule and use the contents if you forgot to buy beans. The Eletta Explore gets even more sweetness and complexity out of the coffee than when the capsules are brewed by my DeLonghi Nespresso machine.
Grinder, doses and recipes
The grinder needs to be set while the machine is on and it recommends brewing three coffees before testing the flavour. A bit of a waste of beans. The lowest I tried was setting 4. Under that setting, the coffee starts to drip instead of run, which gives a bitter aftertaste due to the longer contact time (unless you’re doing cold brew, then it should drip!). If your coffee runs through too quickly and tastes sour, you should probably choose a finer grind setting.
There are 51 different recipes in total, some of which are repeats in hot, cold and to-go versions. You can make hot and cold versions of all the classics like latte, cappuccino, flat white, americano and espresso, but also have the option to make a full pot of coffee. The to-go function lets you set a fixed size for your travel mug, which the machine faithfully fills with your favourite coffee, hot or cold. Of course, you can create your own recipes if you like, but DeLonghi’s recipe catalogue includes most milk and espresso combinations. The Eletta Explore instructs you how to adjust the dial on top of the milk jug to get more or less foam in your latte or cappuccino. Not an elegant solution, but it works.
Under each coffee recipe you can set the size. This is done either by selecting S, M, L, XL or by pressing STOP when you think enough water has run through. The machine will then ask if you want to save the changes.
You can also set the intensity, which must be related to how much coffee is used. I tested intensity settings between 1-5 by switching off before brewing and weighing the ground dry beans. At level 4, it uses between 9.4 and 11.3 grams. Sometimes the same setting gave 1.2 grams difference and the highest intensity did not always give the most coffee. Therefore, choose an intensity in the centre of the range and experiment with more water until the coffee tastes perfect.
An app that makes coffee better
The Eletta Explore has inbuilt Wi-Fi and can be used with DeLonghi’s Coffee Link app. The most impressive part of the app is the Bean Adapt Technology, which both challenges your taste buds and makes life easier if you love trying new beans.
In short, you provide the app with information about the type, colour and roast of the coffee beans and the setting of your grinder. The machine then brews an espresso and asks you a few questions after you’ve tasted it. Depending on your feedback, the machine will change various settings. Once the espresso is perfect, you can automatically save all the settings the machine has used.
Different beans need different temperatures and coffee/water ratios, and it’s much easier to change one setting in the app. It’s also exciting to be challenged to flavour an espresso.
The app works with several DeLonghi machines and is not unique to Eletta Explore. It requires email sign-up and tends to log you out, so choose a password you can remember!
Coffee Link needs to be (slowly) paired with the machine each time it is used, and can then also help you operate the machine from your phone. The latter doesn’t quite make sense though, as the Eletta Explore runs a jet of hot water through the machine when you switch it on. This means you can’t have a cup ready, which kind of undermines the whole point of making espresso from your mobile phone.
Build quality and design
The DeLonghi Eletta Explore is not an elegant machine and it is very plasticky. Apart from the touchscreen, all touch points on the machine are either plastic or thin metal. It doesn’t give a premium feel and machines like the Jura 8, for example, look far more decorative in the kitchen.
There’s not much attention to detail, but the functions are good and the machine seems sturdy. The pipes where the coffee comes out can be raised and lowered and you can pull out the water tank from the front of the machine, making it easy to refill if the machine is placed in a corner. It takes about 50 seconds to heat up before it’s ready. A lot of water runs through during heating, so keep a cup underneath so you don’t have to empty the drip tray all the time.
Both milk jugs are made from sturdy pieces of plastic that can be easily separated and put in the dishwasher. Most parts of the Eletta Explore can, but the bottom part, where the drip tray and coffee grounds live, is more difficult to clean, simply because of its size.
The brewing mechanism itself can be removed from behind the water tank and cleaned. An underrated and important feature. Automatic machines have to deal with moving both dry and wet coffee around a complicated machinery, so cleaning is essential if the machine is to last for many years.
Procedures such as descaling and installing the water filter are done via the touchscreen, which guides you through the process in an educational way.
Equipment and variants
The machine is available in 3 equipment variations, reflected by the colour on the front. Titanium, silver and dark grey. The former costs about €100 more and comes with a travel mug. The last two models are priced the same, but the dark grey model comes with a large coffee pot, which is handy as most pots don’t fit under the machine. With all models you also get the two milk jugs, a brittle filter for use with hard water, a test strip to test the hardness of your water and a coffee spoon. If you buy directly from the manufacturer, you also get their ‘Explorer Kit’ which includes different beans, 3 types of plant milk, a recipe book and 4 glasses.
The DeLonghi Eletta Explore is a low-mid range espresso machine with an ice-cold ace up its sleeve. It does everything you’d expect and, most importantly, makes tasty and well-extracted coffee. This is also true if you prefer cold brew or iced coffee. The compromises are limited to appearance, build quality and the fact that you need to keep two milk jugs in the fridge if you drink both hot and cold coffee regularly. You can have fun with Bean Adapt Technology and learn a lot about flavouring espresso. If you love cool coffee, the Eletta Explore is an easy recommendation.