On De Longhi Superautomatic Espresso Machines

… or many things that you may want to know about ECAM, ESAM, and EDAM.

I have been drinking espressos and cappuccinos for a long time. I have been doing that directly from the horse's mouth so to speak (in many Italian coffee shops), and have been brewing my own espresso at home for 20+ years. I used a semi-automated espresso machine for some years and then I switched to a superautomatic.

This page summarizes my experience with bean-to-cup superautomatic espresso machines. They make coffee and espresso (and some even specialty espresso-based drinks such as cappuccino) starting from water and coffee beans at the touch of a button. A good barista will probably make a better espresso using a semi-automated machines, but the superautomatic already makes a very good espresso and the convenience cannot be beat.

I have been a happy user of DeLonghi superautomatics for some 11 years. I started by chance when deciding to spend my Air Miles on a superautomatic, which narrowed my choice to one DeLonghi model and one Saeco model. Choosing the DeLonghi was at the time mostly a matter of chance, though retrospectively I could not have made a better choice.

High end vs. low end

The DeLonghi basic (entry level) machines are marketed under the Magnifica name. The Dinamica series also appears to be entry level (or close to that), but they appear to be less configurable and I have never seen any in the wild so I am unable to comment.

I had some exposure to the high-end machines (from DeLonghi and also Jura). They are prettier, many have touch-screen controls, some even include intelligent controllers (Jura in particular touts their “AI-powered machine”), yet I could not see any difference between the top basic machine and these high-end models in terms of the produced coffee and espresso shots. Zero. Zilch. Therefore I was never tempted to spend $3,000+ for such a machine. It is quite possible that the high-end machines are more heavy-duty and durable, but my first basic superautomatic is still working (see below) and so I am arguing that the durability is a moot point.

There are two possible exceptions to the above discussion: the coffee mill and the milk frothing system. According to my taste none of these constitute an advantage of the high-end superautomatics, but they may be important for some and so they are worth mentioning.

Coffee grinding

The grinders in the basic machines (at least DeLonghi's) have stainless steel burrs, while higher end models almost invariably grind coffee using ceramic burrs. The argument for ceramic is two-fold. For once, they are supposed to be more durable. This is a valid argument but I am unable to confirm it since none of my stainless steel burr grinders have reached their end of life. Secondly, the steel grinders will heat the beans while grinding them, possibly affecting the oils in the coffee beans. Some people will say that the coffee ground using a ceramic grinder has a bit more body than the one ground with hard, cold steel. Some other people (myself included) do not notice any difference.

It is definitely true that ceramic does not conduct heat, but I question the benefit of not conducting heat in a burr grinder. Indeed, when grinding something the main heat producer is the grinding process itself. If the surrounding surface (the burrs) do not conduct heat, then the resulting heat stays there, thus heating the product being ground itself. If on the other hand the burrs conduct heat, then the heat generated by the grinding process will dissipate in the burrs and so the product being ground is kept at a lower temperature. That's how heat transfer works. That is, according to physics, a steel grinder will control the temperature of the coffee being ground better. Physics aside, I have never noticed any difference between coffee ground using steel and ceramic. If a difference exists, then it much be very subtle. Note too that the time it takes for a grinder to grind the beans for a shot is very small, so I honestly doubt that the coffee will be heated enough to matter during those very few seconds.

In all, I have never felt the need of using a ceramic grinder so for me this argument for the high-end machines is moot.

Milk frothing

All the high-end superautomatics I have ever seen feature an automatic milk frothing system. A cappuccino can be had by simply pressing a button. Beside brewing the espresso base, the milk is frothed just right and poured in the cup on top of said espresso. No additional action is necessary. The current systems are very good. They can froth the milk almost on par with a barista. The downside is that milk is a highly perishable foodstuff and so unsurprisingly enough the milk frothing system must be cleaned frequently.

Most basic superautomatics come with a steam wand that lest the owner froth the milk by hand. This process requires a bit of experience and certainly some time. However, the milk for a cappuccino can be frothed in less than a minute so time time spent is not horrible.

Some basic machines come with automated milk frothers, but the high-end machines feature better such systems. Most notably, the heat insulation of the milk tank tends to be better; I have even seen a machine with refrigerated milk tank. Some machines have indicators on the useful life of the milk in the tank. None of these features are present in the basic machines as far as I know.

In my book an automatic milk frother is a burden rather than an advantage. I have enough experience to froth milk just as well as an automatic frothing system. This is not difficult to learn, and once learned becomes a second nature. Sure it is nice to have the milk frothed for you, but that comes at the expense of having to clean the milk frothing system and I would rather frith my own milk. I therefore tend to shy away from automated milk frothing systems.


DeLonghi superautomatics are build around three families. The ESAM family is their regular basic machine. ECAM is the compact basic platform (with a considerably smaller footprint). The ETAM platform is used in their high-end machines. This discussion is focused on the basic model, and so I will not touch the ETAM platform any further.

On paper the ESAM platform should be the reference platform, since the larger enclosure allows for oversized components and perhaps some sound proofing. Accordingly the ECAM machines should be noisier and overall a poorer performers. Strangely enough my experience contradicts this intuition. The big advantage of the ESAM platform is that it is very easy to maintain. A front opening gives access to all the things that need periodic attention namely, the ground tray but also the infuser and most of the interior of the machine. The ECAM machines are unsurprisingly more crowded. In particular the infuser is accessible from the side and access requires the removal of the water tank. This is not horribly difficult, but it is worth a mention.


The best rated model in the ESAM series is the ESAM 3300. This is a ten-year old design of something, and continues to be highly rated by many people. It features a double boiler (one for making coffee and another for milk frothing). This is generally the golden standard of superautomatics, though in practice it does not matter that much (see below). The almost unanimous criticism of this machine is that it is very noisy. I have not had a chance to try the ESAM 3300 model first hand. Instead I briefly used what it is supposed to be the mode modern version namely, ESAM 04110. This turned out to be a reasonable machine, but substantially weaker than the highly rated 3300. The dual boiler is replaced with a single boiler system. The coffee quality is very good with the right settings, but the right settings are somehow difficult to accomplish. Just like the 3300, the controls (water and coffee quantities) are analog and require very precise settings for the perfect cup of espresso; once the settings are off from their ideal position by the slightest margin the espresso quality suffers. The positioning for the controls for coffee are a bit more forgiving but still finicky. The main problem is that the controls cannot be left alone in the ideal position, since that position will have to be changed from coffee to espresso and back.

The machine is incredibly loud, apparently just like the 3300. The pump is the main culprit, producing a loud, pulsating buzz that is impossible to ignore. In our household people brew espressos before other people wake up, so the noise was a deal breaker and so we gave up on the ESAM platform.


My first DeLonghi was an ECAM 23210. This is a fantastic machine, able to brew consistently good espresso every time. The controls are all digital, which simplifies the setup before each cup and avoids the problem mentioned above with the ESAM machines requiring very precise positioning of the controls. This is a single boiler machine. In fact as far as I know there is no ECAM model with a double boiler; the size constraints must preclude this possibility.

The steam wand is very strong. In fact it is much stronger than any other semiautomatic with manual milk frothing that I have ever seen. Having access to string steam makes the process of frothing milk much easier. This can be most easily seen in an actual coffee shop where the industrial steam wand producing incredibly strong steam makes the milk frothing a fire-and-forget process. All the barista has to do is place the milk jug under the wand and take it off after a certain amount of time. The result is almost invariably perfectly frothed milk. The 23210 is almost, though not exactly like that. The steam wand of all the other DeLonghi machines I have used is considerably weaker, requiring extra care in positioning the wand in the milk during frothing. The proper procedure is easily learned and not terribly inconvenient, but this is all still a downside.

The 23210 is a discontinued machine. Sometimes I miss it, especially for its strong steam wand.

My next superautomatic was the newer ECAM 22110. Despite the lower model number this is a newer machine, the latest in the Magnifica series at the time of writing. This is an outstanding superautomatic, the best of the crop as far as I am concerned. I cannot recommend it enough.

The innards appear to be very similar to the older model. The controls have been changed. In particular the five cup sized on the 23210 have been replaced by two: espresso and coffee. The water quantity can be customized for both espresso and coffee through a very empirical process: one starts a brewing cycle in a particular way (long instead of short press on the respective button), and then the machine will keep pouring water until the button is pressed again. From then on the same quantity of water for the respective drink will be dispensed every time (until the next calibration). The calibration is independent for espresso and coffee. The factory defaults (40 ml for espresso and 120 ml for coffee if memory serves) are reasonable. The coffee quantity control is now analog which is a bit of an overkill in my opinion.

Coffee grinder

The ESAM and ECAM platforms both feature what appears to be the same stainless steel burr grinder. The old model (ECAM 23210) had 7 settings for how fine the coffee is to be ground, while the newer models have 13 such setting steps. I found that the 13 steps are a bit misleading, since the bottom two do not appear to be usable (the machine will not be able to push the water through the coffee puck and will complain). The third setting seems to be my sweet spot, though it cannot be used to pull a double espresso at the maximum strength. It is worth trying a higher setting (at step 4 or even 5), though this is thoroughly a matter of personal preference.

Single vs. double boiler

Having a dual boiler is a nice thing. In principle, such a setup allows the coffee to be brewed and the milk to be frothed at the same time. This is however not the main advantage of a dual boiler; in fact, not even the ESAM 3300 (the only Delonghi entry-level machine with a dual boiler) can do that. The main advantage of a dual boiler stems from the fact that the optimal water temperature for brewing is different from the water temperature for frothing. Having a dual boiler means that the two temperatures can be maintained at all times. A single boiler system will have to switch between the two temperatures all the time, and thus making a mismatch between the ideal and the actual water temperature more likely.

The advantage of a dual boiler looks quite impressive, but this is only because I used the term “boiler” incorrectly. The DeLonghi machines use a thermoblock instead. The difference between a thermoblock and a boiler is pretty similar with the difference between a tank and a tankless house water heater. The thermoblock contains very little water at any given time, so it has a low thermal inertia. It can therefore switch temperature quickly, thus largely negating the need for two such thermoblocks. In a machine that uses actual boilers the difference between single and double boiler systems would be tremendous.

In practice the single thermoblock systems I have been using worked very well. One remarkable effects is that the transition between coffee and steam takes some time (a few tens of seconds). Another possible effect is that at the end of a steam cycle some steam will remain pressurized in the thermoblock and lines. This steam will have to be purged before brewing coffee, or else the brewing temperature will be incorrect. Purging the leftover steam is a very simple process: one only needs to open the steam wand and let it open until there is no more steam coming out. This is something actual enforced by the control of the ESAM 04110 (which will refuse to make coffee unless the lines are purged), and is also manifest in the ECAM 23210 (whose logic however will not prevent the user to attempt to brew coffee). Strangely enough, there is no such a leftover steam issue in the ECAM 22110; I am guessing that some automatic depressurization has been implemented.

Believe it or not, the need to purge steam after frothing is incredibly useful. This maneuver will readily clean up the tip of the steam wand, which will otherwise become rapidly clogged with leftover milk. In other words, the steam wand must be purged after frothing anyway so it may as well be done with a mixture of steam and hot water. Such a combination is much more effective than hot water alone (which must be used on the 22110 since the steam is “helpfully” purged automatically).

Overall, a dual boiler systems is nice to have, but in a pinch (and in my experience) a single thermoblock system will work almost as well.


My first DeLonghi (the ECAM 23210) is still going strong. It actually started to fail on the 10-year mark (give or take), but I managed to restore it to working order by replacing the infuser valve and the pump. It cost me about $120 in parts and the fix required about two hours, which is not bad at all. To my pleasant surprise I found that the service manual is available and that the machine is reasonably easy to work with. About the only issue I encountered was the security screws of the case (with a triangular head), which I removed destructively and then replaced with normal screws.

Overall I found the repairability of the ECAM 23210 to be very good. The repaired machine is now doing main duty in my office so I would also rate the durability as very good. I have no reasons to believe that things will be different with the other machines in the Magnifica series, but obviously time will tell.

In passing, while dismantling the machine I discovered why the cup warming tray at the top of the machine is useless. It never warmed to any significant degree, and I discovered that it cannot possibly get any warmer than it already is. Indeed, the “warming” tray is just a metal plate stuck on top of the machine. It is not connected to anything warm inside and so stands no chance of ever warming any cup. I expect this to be the case for all the ESAM and ECAM machines.

Conclusions and the EDAM

As you can see, I am quite in love with the DeLongi Magnifica line. In particular, I strongly recommend the ECAM 22110 model. I have never used a superautomatic (including the fancier, high-end ones) that brews better coffee. I would stay away from the automatic milk frotheing systems on these machines though,

So what about the EDAM you ask? It is a nice cheese and all, but not necessarily my cup of tea (or coffee)… I have no strong opinion on this cheese either way.