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De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: A luxuriously refined bean-to-cup coffee machine

Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,199
inc VAT

It’s not cheap, but the PrimaDonna Soul delivers a huge selection of coffee drinks (and even tea) via a stylish touchscreen interface

Pros 
Stylish, sensible design
Touchscreen works well
Makes really good coffee
Cons 
Expensive
Manual machines make better coffee
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When referring to someone as a prima donna, odds dictate that you’re probably not describing their position as the chief female singer in an opera company. In any case, De'Longhi clearly didn’t have the negative connotations in mind when they named the PrimaDonna Soul. If we had to hazard a guess, the name was intended to evoke a machine that could stir the soul with its barista skills and use its considerable range of talents to create a remarkable selection of coffee-based drinks. Or maybe they just liked the sound of it, who’s to know.

De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: What you need to know

The PrimaDonna Soul is a fully automatic bean-to-cup machine; a boxy barista for your kitchen. Thanks to the insulated milk carafe that clips to the machine’s left-hand side, it can whip up everything from a straightforward espresso to a dizzying array of milk-based coffee drinks. That said, there are a total of 21 different drink types to choose from, so sufferers of choice paralysis may want to stick to their trusty cafetiere.

There’s nothing else particularly striking about the PrimaDonna Soul’s design – apart, that is, from the colour 4.3in LCD touchscreen that takes centre stage. It might seem gimmicky, but it’s the perfect fit for a machine with such a vast array of drinks-making talents: all it takes is a quick flick and a few taps of a finger to skim through the lengthy list of drink types and customise each of them to your taste buds’ content.

Naturally, there’s also Bluetooth control via De'Longhi’s Coffee Link app. This isn’t actually hugely helpful – you can forget about ordering coffees from your bed, for reasons that will become clear later – but the app is an essential part of the machine’s Bean Adapt mode. Input some key details about the type and roast of the beans you’re using, and the machine automatically chooses a suitable infusion temperature, grind and dosage to get the most from them. And no, this isn’t a gimmick: it worked really well in our testing.

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De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Price and competition

If you can afford to spend £1,199 on a coffee machine and your heart is set on an automatic model, then just go ahead and buy the PrimaDonna Soul. It’s smart in every way it needs to be and makes a fine cup of pretty much any type of coffee you can think of. It’s especially well suited to households with multiple coffee drinkers all with different tastes and preferences – the touchscreen interface automatically learns each user’s preferred drink types to save the hassle of scrolling back and forth.

If, on the other hand, you want a great bean-to-cup machine but just can’t countenance spending this kind of money, then downgrade to the Melitta Barista TS Smart. For around £750, it produces a good selection of milk-based coffee drinks – and it has some handy smart features, too.

The final option is more dramatic: spend the cash on a manual machine instead. With a little effort, a cheaper manual machine such as the Gaggia Classic (£425) partnered with a good-quality grinder will produce vastly better coffee than even the most expensive automatic machine – the PrimaDonna Soul included.

And if the manual process sounds daunting or just too much of a hassle, then it’s well worth considering something like the Sage Bambino Plus (£399) or the Sage Barista Touch (£995) before discounting the idea completely. Both the Bambino Plus and Barista Touch are manual espresso machines with a semi-automatic twist, and while the Plus has a handy automatic milk-frothing feature, the Touch adds a large, friendly touchscreen to aid beginners in navigating the ritual of manual espresso. Trust us, in either case it’s wholly worth the effort.

READ NEXT: The best filter coffee machines you can buy

De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Features and design

There’s a limit to how attractive a bean-to-cup coffee machine can be, but the PrimaDonna Soul is one of the finer-looking examples on the market. The curved profile and silver trim look classy, and the build quality, attachments and accessories all add to the premium feel. The water tank, grounds bin and milk carafe all slot in and out with a reassuringly positive clunk – think BMW car door rather than a Skoda – and it’s easy to access the internal parts to clean the brew group when you need to.

On the top of the machine, a sizeable bean hopper swallows 500g of coffee beans, and the silver lid has a nice airtight fit. If you do manage to run out of beans, then a small hatch just in front of the bean hopper allows you to add a single scoop of ground coffee – this can’t be filled in advance, however, and you have to manually add a dose with the supplied coffee scoop for each drink.

A large 2.2-litre water tank slots home on the machine’s right-hand edge and, as you’d expect for the money, a water filter is included in the box.

The drip tray and grounds bin slide out neatly as one single unit, but separate into individual parts to make for easy cleaning, and while you don’t need to remove the water tank to get at them, you will need to remove the milk carafe when they need emptying.

That milk carafe sits on the drip tray’s left-hand edge, and clips neatly into the machine’s docking connector. The carafe itself isn’t refrigerated, but its double-walled plastic design provides just enough insulation to allow you to leave milk in it at room temperature for a few hours. Don’t be tempted to leave it overnight, though, as it’s likely to curdle unless your home is particularly cool.

You also get a filter coffee jug in the box: the PrimaDonna Soul is also capable of turning its hand to filter coffee when the need arises.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best coffee machine accessories

De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Ease of use

Switch on the PrimeDonna Soul and, after a quick warm-up and self-cleaning process, it’s ready to brew. The interface is gloriously accessible – if you’ve used any touchscreen device before, you’ll be instantly at home scrolling through and selecting drinks with the clear, bright icons. It couldn’t be simpler: tap the desired drink icon to start the brewing process, or tap the + button below each drink icon to access the customisation options.

The display also provides useful prompts when it’s time to empty the grounds bin or refill the water tank. After each milk-based drink it reminds you to manually turn the dial on top of the carafe to its cleaning position, which uses a jet of steam to remove milk residue, although you can cancel this if you’d prefer to carry on with making a second drink. Similarly, the display also tells you where to set the carafe dial to obtain the optimum amount of milk froth to suit the drink you’ve selected. Suffice to say, you really don’t need to read the manual to use the PrimaDonna – unless you really want to, that is.

The user profiles are a boon, too. Each person in the home can have their own profile, and this automatically sorts the home menu over time to prioritise their favourite drink types: if you always drink lattes, espressos and black coffees, for instance, then those will be the first drinks shown on your user profile’s homescreen. These profiles also allow for per-drink customisation: depending on the drink type, it’s possible to adjust various settings such as strength, temperature and the amount of coffee and/or milk you want in your cup.

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De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Coffee Link app

De'Longhi’s Coffee Link app is something of a mixed bag. Setup was something of a faff: we first had to sign up online to create an account, and then the app decided it couldn’t detect our machine. When it finally did locate it, the connection process failed several times in a row. It was necessary to engage all of our IT skills to fix the issue: we turned the machine off and on again a few times, and after several aborted attempts it inexplicably connected and functioned correctly.

Niggles aside, once you’ve got it set up, the app is actually quite helpful. You can use it to adjust the machine’s settings, peruse the manual and how-to guides, and you can customise your own drinks profiles, too.

The key feature, however, is De’Longhi’s Bean Adapt. This allows you to input various details about the coffee beans you’re using, and that information allows the machine to automatically decide upon a suitable grind size, brew temperature and dosage to get the best results. Or at least it does enough to provide a good starting point – in our tests, it actually made a very palpable difference, and we only had to make minor grind adjustments to get things just as we like them.

It’s also possible to control the machine remotely, but if you’re hoping you can leave your coffee cup on the tray overnight and then remotely pour a cappuccino from your bed in the morning, then prepare to be disappointed. You can do that, but there are several reasons why we wouldn’t recommend it. First, as the machine flushes water through its spouts during every startup and also on a regular basis while it’s operational, your cup won’t just be full of coffee – it will also contain all the dirty water that’s been flushed through. As for the milk, while the insulated carafe kept it fresh for a good few hours in our testing, it won’t last the night. Take that risk (or leave some milk in the carafe by accident), and you’re likely to get an unpleasantly lumpy surprise.

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De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Performance

To kick off the testing, we filled the PrimaDonna’s hopper with Black Cat Coffee’s Signature blend coffee beans and selected the default Espresso option. The result was a reasonable but rather watery shot of espresso. We pulled through a few more shots just to give the machine and grinder time to settle down, and while the results improved slightly, the overall flavour and texture remained a tad bland and thin.

Our first port of call was to reduce the grind size – unlike many other bean-to-cup machines, this is adjusted via the settings menu or the app rather than a manual control. Very sensibly, though, the menu makes it clear that it’s best to adjust the grind size one step at a time, and prevents users from cranking it too far in either direction and creating more problems. After the grind size was adjusted one step finer, the espresso suddenly gained more flavour and a far richer texture. As ever, small adjustments can reap a big improvement.

The next step was to use the app’s Bean Adapt wizard to tailor the machine’s settings to our medium roast espresso beans. This has to be done in the app and can’t be done on the machine itself. The Bean Adapt wizard asks a few questions about the type of beans and the roast profile. That done, we tapped the Espresso Soul drinks option on the machine and waited.

The results were impressive: the espresso went from pretty good to very good. The texture and aroma of the espresso was transformed, and suddenly the nutty, chocolatey taste profiles of the beans began to come to the fore. It still wasn’t as refined a cup as our manual machine could muster, but it was about as good as we’ve had from any automatic machine in recent memory.

Great espresso is the bedrock of many coffee drinks, so it’s not surprising to find that the PrimaDonna puts in a rousing performance elsewhere. Cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos emerge with a lovely creamy texture and lashings of flavour, while the manual froth dial on the milk carafe makes it easy to tweak the amount of milk froth to your preferences.

And talking of froth, the PrimaDonna does a good job here, too: it’s not the perfectly silky microfoam you can whip up with a good manual steam wand, but for an automatic machine it’s really very respectable.

The real attraction here for most people is the PrimaDonna’s sheer range of drink options. We often found ourselves using the hot milk option to rapidly whip up a rich, creamy hot chocolate, and even the tea setting works well, providing different water temperature settings each with recommendations as to which type of tea is best suited to different brew temperatures.

The PrimaDonna can even replace your filter coffee machine: place the supplied jug on the drip tray and it will brew up filter coffee at the touch of a button.

De'Longhi PrimaDonna Soul review: Verdict

Regardless of how good it is, this is a lot of money to spend on a coffee machine. But the truth is that this is about as refined as bean-to-cup machines get – until, at least, you start looking at the likes of De’Longhi’s £2,799 Maestosa. And in any case, thanks to the Bean Adapt feature, the PrimaDonna Soul produces coffee that rivals any automatic machine, the outlandishly expensive Maestosa included.

Where the PrimaDonna Soul really shines is in how simple it makes the process of brewing good coffee. It does an admirable job of adapting to different coffee beans – something often sorely lacking from bean-to-cup machines – and the user profiles ensure every person in a home has their favourite drinks a mere fingertap away. If there’s a better marriage of convenience and quality to be found in a coffee machine, we haven’t found it yet.

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