Having an addiction to lattes and other espresso drinks in this time of home isolation can be difficult if you don’t have the right equipment at home to make them yourself. And, not everyone is prepared to do a deep dive into the world of espresso-making and drop a thousand bucks on a good setup right off the bat. (Yes, that amount of money is considered “entry-level” for some.)
I have an alternative suggestion: the De’Longhi Dedica EC680, a modest espresso machine that runs for around $250 and is surprisingly capable — once you’ve made a few minor modifications.
Now, the Dedica is a machine that is often derided by hardcore espresso enthusiasts, primarily because it uses pressurized portafilter baskets, when the best espresso undoubtedly comes from non-pressurized ones.
This is the difference:
See that tiny center hole on the left? Pressurized baskets force espresso through that one hole while brewing, forcing a ‘false’ crema to appear in your shots, while the non-pressurized versions allow the espresso to flow freely, once the puck itself has provided the necessary pressure.
So what does all this mean for Dedica users? Well, it means you have to do a bit of tinkering to get there.
The first thing is to buy a third-party non-pressurized filter basket in the 51mm size, which is the portafilter size used by the Dedica. The industry standard is 58mm, so this is a somewhat small and unusual size, though certainly not an unmanageable one.
Swapping out portafilter baskets is typically easy enough, but for this one to fit properly, you’ll have to unscrew the Philips screw on the bottom of the Dedica’s portafilter and remove the inner plastic insert that channels espresso flow to the two nozzles underneath — otherwise, the new basket won’t fit down far enough. Looks like this:
Some people choose to simply trim off the top of that insert so it can stay in there, which does offer the benefit of keeping the aforementioned screw hole covered so espresso won’t drip out of it. However, that does immediately put us into “warranty ending” territory, so keep that in mind.
As soon as you switch to a non-pressurized basket, you must have an espresso-capable grinder to get good results. That’s just the way it is.
I recently wrote about the Baratza Sette 270, which is among the best “entry-level” grinders — which, again, is a somewhat loose term given that it costs $399 new. The very nature of espresso prevents you from spending pour-over coffee or press pot levels of money to get top-tier results.
If you’re okay with using a manual grinder, there are some models on the market designed to work for espresso, such as the Lideo E-T ($195), the Kinu M47 Phoenix ($199), or the Comandante C40 ($250). You’re still going to pay a pretty penny either way, but at least a manual grinder gives you something of a “budget” option.
One thing a lot of people do after switching to non-pressurized is actually cut off the bottom of their Dedica portafilter — with something like a Dremel or hacksaw, followed by sanding down the metal edges — to expose the bottom of the basket. This is called a “bottomless” or “naked” portafilter, and it’s the type of thing that lets you get espresso porn like this:
A bottomless portafilter also helps you visually diagnose any issues with your grind distribution or tamping. If your shot pulls are channeling or spurting, you’ll be able to see it with your own eyes without the portafilter disguising the fact.
The Dedica comes equipped with what’s called a panarello, a metal tube-like attachment for the steam wand that, again, attempts to remove technique from the equation so you can froth milk without having to think too hard about it.
If you’d rather have more control over your milk-steaming process, you have a couple options:
The easy option is to simply twist and remove the panarello — yes, it’s designed to do that, mainly for cleaning purposes — revealing a silicone spout inside:
You can simply use that spout to steam milk, like a shorter steam wand:
The harder option is to replace the steam arm altogether — for example, with the Rancilio Silvia wand. This requires taking the entire case apart to reach the mechanism, but it’s still doable in an afternoon (probably not even that long) if you’re moderately handy.
Either way, you’ll get better milk microfoam suitable for doing your own latte art.
Outside the machine itself, I can recommend some other paraphernalia to get the most out of your Dedica brewing experience:
- These 2.7-ounce double-walled espresso shot glasses are large enough to hold a double espresso shot each, and wide enough that you can use a single one to catch espresso from both spouts of the stock (uncut) portafilter.
- Using a trash can suuuuucks for disposing of espresso pucks after brewing. Half the time, if you’re not careful enough, the whole basket falls out into the garbage. You want a knock box nearby, which has a bar laying across a bin where you can tap the middle of the basket (rather than the edge) and thus keep it from falling out when the puck does.
Like any coffee brewing method — and actually even moreso — making espresso is all about accuracy. You can’t very well repeat good results if you’re not measuring the weight of both your beans before grinding and the output of each shot you pull. (You’re aiming for a 1:2 ratio where the shot weighs twice as much as the beans did. So, 18g of beans should result in a 32g double shot.)
The plastic tamper + scoop that comes with the Dedica…isn’t great. Since your tamping technique will matter a lot more with the non-pressurized switchover, you’ll want a nicer, heavier tamp like this one.
Several of the reviewers have already approved the 51mm-sized one specifically for their Dedica machines, and LuxHaus is a brand that gets a lot of props from espresso enthusiasts.
Even with all these upgrades and accessories, you’re still paying less for this espresso setup than some fancier machines cost alone. It may not be the dreamiest option around, but once you’ve got the goods and a bit of technique and practice, you’re going to be pulling tasty shots like you wouldn’t believe.
To keep things easy, here’s everything in our suggested setup rounded up into one convenient list:
- De’Longhi Dedica EC680 machine (currently $254 in red, $269 in black, and $294 in chrome)
- 51mm non-pressurized basket ($8)
- Manual grinder ($199) or electric grinder ($399)
- Rancilio Silvia steam wand ($27) — Probably the most optional item on this list.
- 2.7-ounce double-walled espresso shot glasses ($15 for two)
- Knock box ($22 for this red one to match the red Dedica)
- Digital pocket scale ($10)
- 51mm tamp ($25)
Total minimum cost: $560 — For comparison, the oft-recommended Rancilio Silvia starts at $735. Really not a bad deal at all, in espresso terms.