De’Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Almost as delicious as it is expensive
Quick verdict: Very, very good coffee with minimum effort and maximum cost.
- Makes incredible coffee
- Touchscreen is easy to use and read
- Easy to create custom coffee orders
- It’s $2,000 on sale
- Milk in the milk jug goes off well before the use by date despite being stored in the fridge.
The De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul has been my best friend in the mornings for most of the past year. It's now hard to imagine making coffee any other way. It's about as close as you can get to barista-quality black coffee with minimal effort: Pour whole beans into the container, press the desired coffee variety on the touchscreen and let it grind and extract the coffee for you.
The PrimaDonna Soul is the latest automatic coffee machine from De'Longhi, released earlier in 2021 as an update to the PrimaDonna range. The biggest change from previous models is the evolved milk jug for improved milk froth and "easier cleaning". Previously, the automatic coffee machine market was owned by Swiss company Jura, but De'Longhi is making a serious dent on the lower end of that market.
De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Design
The De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul is a beast of a machine and is not for the faint of heart or short of bench space. At 26.2cm wide x 48.5cm deep and 39cm tall, it's a lot in every dimension and will be an imposing addition to any small or medium kitchen. The upside of its generous stature is that it holds a lot of beans (about 500g) and water (2.2L), so it doesn't require much refilling and would handle a large family or small office with ease.
With all the boxy stainless steel and black plastic, it kind of looks like K9 from Doctor Who and has a slightly dated aesthetic, despite being so new. I don't hate the look, but it was a bold choice from the designers. They've clearly gone more for function over form, which is the right way to go if you have to pick one – though I do very much wish they'd picked both.
The 4.3" touchscreen is the star of the show. It's bright, easy to read and very responsive to touch. It's so easy to use that one might want to make sure it's out of reach of children, lest they discover the joy of hot caffeine earlier than you'd hoped.
Even the set-up is really easy. Get it out of the box, remove the plastic, plug it in and then follow the simple instructions on the screen. There is also the option to sync it to a mobile app where you can personalise drinks and specify how dark the roast is for the bean-grinding process.
Where the easy-to-use design falls over is the milk jug. It's easy to fill, refill and rinse; however, it's not sealed enough to stop the milk from going off quickly in the fridge. It can only stay in there for a day, maybe 2, and when I first had the machine, I suffered through more cups of coffee with off milk than I care to remember.
That would be fine if it was quick and easy to just put enough milk in there for a single cup and then clean, but there are so many nooks and crannies for milk to get into, and the straw is so fiddly, that it's just not worth the effort. Besides, unlike a pouring jug, the straw means there's always a little milk wasted at the bottom anyway, which adds up to a lot of food waste over time. It gets worse if you and your partner each drink a different kind of milk, and suddenly all the time savings are gone.
After a month or 2 of wrestling with the milk jug, my solution was to just use the steam wand arm on the Nespresso Creatista Plus for milk and coffee from the PrimaDonna Soul. Obviously, this is not a viable solution for most people.
De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Performance
Overall, the PrimaDonna Soul performs very well. The process of using it (without milk) is this: Turn on, have cup under spout because it automatically rinses before use, press picture of desired drink, listen to the machine scream while it grinds the beans and makes the coffee, drink the coffee and then put a cup under the spout because it auto rinses as it turns off.
When you turn on the machine, it checks whether it has enough water or if the grounds container needs to be emptied. Sometimes, it'll remind you to do a basic clean of some component. It's exactly as simple as you need it to be when you first wake up.
Things get a little more complicated if you have milk, but not too much more. You just plug the milk jug into the dedicated nozzle and then use the rinse cup when you turn the milk jug to the "clean" setting after making your drink.
While the Europeans are famous for popularising coffee, they do things a bit differently to how we do in Australia. Like the Jura machines, the PrimaDonna Soul puts in the milk before the coffee, which is probably fine but feels illegal. It makes almost no material difference, but it is unsettling the first few times you encounter it.
There is also an app – because it's 2021 and everything needs an app. It's relatively simple to use and allows you to personalise coffee orders to add more/less milk, water and bean strength. It's the kind of thing you use a couple of times a week. You set up the machine and then completely forget the app exists until you need to adjust your coffee balance preferences.
The most important thing, though, is that the coffee tastes fantastic. It's on par with that of a decent barista, a tiny fairy step behind a more expensive Jura machine on aroma and a larger fairy step behind a really good barista. Because the grind and temperature settings are both done so perfectly, it all comes down to which beans you put in. Better quality beans will give you a better coffee.
A nice touch is that as well as having the big bean container, you can also put in spoonfuls of pre-ground coffee. That means you can have caffeinated coffee in the morning and decaf at night, or a bitter coffee for you and a smooth one for your partner.
As for the milk quality, it's surprisingly silky smooth, despite not being able to achieve the microbubbles of a proper steam wand. I found it to be silkier than even the milk from Jura machines, which prioritise heat and foam over bubble quality. If I were to put the milk foam on a scale, where 10 was a talented barista, I'd place the Nespresso Creatista Pro automated steam wand at 8, PrimaDonna Soul at 7.5, Jura at 6 and Nespresso Aerocino at 4.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want the best black coffee at home with the least effort and/or drink a lot of milky coffee, and money isn't much of an object.
- Don't buy it if you don't have too much milk in your coffee and would take more than a day or 2 to go through 300ml of milk.
The De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul is a fantastic coffee machine and worth considering for any coffee lover who doesn't balk at the price tag (or is able to find it on sale). It's at the top end of the price range for automated coffee machines found in standard retail stores, though significantly cheaper than premium machines from brands like Jura.
Were the milk jug more straightforward to clean, or better sealed so you could cycle through a full 2L bottle of milk before needing to deal with cleaning the straw, it would be easy to recommend. But it wastes a little too much milk for it to be a straightforward recommendation.
That said, out of all the coffee machines that I have (and I have a few), this is the one that I prefer to use every day and will continue to use until I get a machine that handles milk better. The quality of the coffee and ease of use is just too good to pass up.
If you only drink black coffee and care deeply about quality, yet want to put in the least effort possible, this is an incredible machine. Same goes if you have a lot of milk with your coffee or make multiple milk coffees every day. However, if you live in a family that uses different types of milk or don't use too much milk, you might be better off with a different machine or getting a separate frother.
De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
I used the De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul to make my coffee almost every day for 7 months, using a variety of coffee beans and milk (soy, lactose free, low fat and full cream). I also did blind comparison tests with the Nespresso Creatista Plus, Nespresso Creatista Pro and a professional barista-made coffee
I was sent this machine by De'Longhi's PR company for the purpose of this review.
Images: Alice Clarke