Upgrading the De’Longhi EC-155 steam wand

Note: This article describes how to upgrade the steam wand on the DeLonghi EC-155. This mod may work on other DeLonghi single-boiler espresso machines (EC-xxx model numbers plus the BAR32), but steps and requirements will vary. If you find an article for this mod with a specific model of DeLonghi, please leave a comment below with the link.

For the DeLonghi EC-702, Francisco over at his blog on WordPress provides the details.

For the DeLonghi EC-270/EC-271, see Ethan’s tutorial on Reddit.

If you follow this guide and make the upgrade to your machine, please consider sending a small tip as a show of appreciation. And also leave a comment below about your experience.

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Recall from previous articles (here and here)that I changed out the portafilter basket on my De’Longhi EC-155 espresso maker from the stock pressurized basket to an unpressurized basket. Well I decided to see how much further I could upgrade it.

Along with the portafilter basket, the only thing that could really also be upgraded on the EC-155 is the steam wand. The EC-155 comes stock with a frothing aid on a short steam pipe (see below). The frothing aid works quite well once you become adept with it, but it does limit how well you could steam or froth milk with the espresso machine.

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To get around this, some people have just modified the frothing aid by cutting the skirt off it, leaving just the plastic tip. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this option, too – good thing replacing the frothing aid doesn’t cost much as it’s just a molded piece of plastic, so if you’re going to do this, I definitely recommend buying a spare.

Another option that I did try that didn’t work well is replacing the frothing aid with a different tip. Namely I used a single-hole tip sold by Orphan Espresso. As this tip is shorter than the frothing aid, it actually takes ½” off the length of the steam pipe. On a 20oz pitcher this just won’t do. And on a 12oz pitcher you still might have issues getting the tip deep enough into the milk to get a good swirl going. I do not recommend trying this as I don’t see being able to use it effectively, plus you need to use plumber’s tape to get an effective seal, which I don’t want plumber’s tape anywhere near the milk I’m going to steam.

So it seems that if you want to effectively steam milk with the EC-155, rather than settling for the frothing aid, you’re going to need to replace the entire steam pipe with something better, such as the steam wand for another espresso machine, namely the Rancilio Silvia. But there’s a caveat. Isn’t there always? The part to obtain is a steam wand assembly for what is known as the v1 or v2 model of the Rancilio Silvia (you can obtain it through Amazon or EspressoParts.com – the o-rings the parts page mentions will not be used, so there is no need to buy them). This is the easy part.

You will also need hose clamps that can go down to 5/8″ (I found some at Home Depot for about 90¢ US each), or zip ties that can withstand temperatures approaching, to be safe, 250°F (122°C).

Warning: Performing this upgrade will void the warranty on your EC-155. Do not perform this upgrade unless you are comfortable with this. I cannot be held responsible for you voiding your warranty, nor for any incidental or consequential damages or injuries that may result from your attempt to perform this upgrade.

Disassembling the machine

First, you will need to, obviously, remove the tank and run out the last of the water in the machine before unplugging it. The frothing aid on the steam pipe also needs to come off. And this should also go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: ensure the machine has cooled off and is unplugged before attempting to work on it.

Next you’ll want to pop off the knob on the steam valve. It’s a friction fit, so just open it all the way and get a butter knife under it, or something like that, to pry it off. The two screws under this knob are of no concern and you can leave them in place. I think they’re for holding the “cup warmer” in place.

Next there are four long screws you’ll need to remove: two long screws on the top of the machine and two more on the front near the brew head. There’s also a small catch on the back you need to push in and release before the top will come off. Once you have all of these out and you start popping the top off, the lid that covers the water tank should come off relatively easily with it.

On the underside you have four Torx® Security T20 screws. If the post in the screw is low enough to get a standard Torx bit into the head, then go for it, but it’s best to use the proper bit, which you can acquire online or at a local retailer (such as this Craftsman set available at Sears). I also found that a 1/8″ flat-head screw driver works as well as it can wedge nicely into the screw head to allow you to turn it – I didn’t have any Torx® Security bits available at the time I did this upgrade. Once you have the bottom off, the two hoses that connect under where the water tank goes will need to be pulled off.

With all of this loose, it’ll make it easier to pull the body of the machine out of the shell. Some will say this isn’t necessary, but trust me, it makes things a lot easier, as you’ll have the innards of the machine out in the open instead of trying to mess around in the tight spaces around the boiler.

Around the boiler there are four silver Phillips head screws and four black hex key screws (Note: hex key screws, also called Allen screws or Allen key screws, are not the same as Torx screws). Do not remove the black screws as these screws are used to keep the boiler together. Only the Phillips screws need to come out. On the front of the machine, you need to pop the knob off the dial (it’s a lot easier to get off than the steam knob) and remove the two screws under it, then maneuver the dial assembly out of the way along with the two indicator lights. With this and the four Phillips screws mentioned also removed, the innards of the espresso machine should lift out of the plastic enclosing with ease. The steam pipe is going to give you a little bit of a hitch, but it should be easily overcome, and watch for the guide on the power cable as well as it might catch on the underside.

With the innards of the machine out of the way, it should become fairly obvious what you need to do next: pry the hose clamp off the hose at the steam arm and pull the steam arm out of the end of the tubing. Some force will be needed, but it shouldn’t be too much.

Installing the new pipe

Preparing the new pipe is straightforward. If you ordered the assembly I linked above from EspressoParts.com, you will need to unscrew the tip off the steam pipe and slide the burn protector off to get the giant nut off the pipe. There’s also a small washer between the nut and a small lip on the machine-end of the pipe. That nut and washer will not be used for this.

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Next, you will need to slide the steam pipe into the end of the steam/water hose. Make sure to slide it far enough that the end of the hose goes over the lip near the end of the pipe. This will ensure you’ve got a tight fit that should not leak. And to ensure it won’t leak, use the hose clamp or zip tie to keep it snug.

Piecing the machine back together basically requires reversing the steps that took it apart. Now getting the new steam pipe through that small hole in the machine will require some work. When you attempt to do this, you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t completely reassemble the machine back to the point where you’ve got everything covered up. Leave the top lid off the machine’s enclosure. The reason should be quite obvious: testing for leaks. Doing this requires pulling water through the new steam pipe, and you can’t easily see if there are leaks if you completely reassemble the machine. If you’ve ever built a computer by hand, assembling from separate parts instead of buying a pre-built machine, you should be familiar with the cardinal rule that you don’t close up the case until you confirm everything is working properly. Similar concept here.

Along with pulling water to check for leaks, I recommend pulling steam through it as well. Now you might say that if water comes through okay then steam will, too, but this isn’t necessarily going to be true, and it’s always good to be thorough. Note: the post for the steam knob will get very hot when you turn the machine up for steaming, so be sure to account for this.

So only after you’re reasonably certain that everything is working fine, both for pulling steam and water through the new pipe, let the machine cool off (might take at least an hour), then reassemble the last of the case.

In the end…

Now that you have everything reassembled, I guess it’s time to try steaming milk. Bear in mind that using a traditional steam wand, similar to what you’ve now installed in your EC-155, requires a quite different technique for steaming milk than the frothing aid. But after you’ve practiced enough, you should be able to steam milk and get better results than you could with the frothing aid. Interestingly, you can practice steaming milk with water and dishwashing liquid.

Will you be able to do latte art with this? I don’t know, but given some of the results I’ve gotten doing this, it appears to be possible if you get everything right for it. The results really are quite phenomenal. I’ve been quite pleased, and it can handle a 20oz pitcher without any problem (just make sure you’ve got enough milk in it), but a 16oz or smaller would likely be better.

Additional resources

Note: all images used in accordance with “fair use” as provided by 17 USC §107 in the United States and applicable international treaties.

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