A well-priced espresso machine with all the bells and whistles you need, but prepare yourself for a learning curve and leave plenty of time to experiment.
Makes excellent espresso
Built-in conical burr grinder
Hidden compartment to hold cleaning materials and extra portafilters
Involved cleaning routine
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The Breville Barista Express espresso machine sets the standard when it comes to manual espresso prep. It's situated in the middle of Breville's espresso machine lineup, but is the brand's most affordable option that offers a built-in grinder, creating the complete package. This sophisticated machine can do it all in one relatively compact footprint: grind, tamp, and steam.
There is an art to manual espresso that you simply don't get with super-automatic espresso machines counterparts, where you press a button and watch the espresso brew straight into your cup... my go-to until it came time for me to test the highly-rated espresso Breville Barista Express. Here, is where any coffee enthusiast can tamper with the settings to pull that perfect shot of espresso, that has you hoping to be able to replicate again and again.
We've taken a few weeks with the Breville Barista Express, turning ordinary weekend mornings into gourmet coffee experiences. Jaclyn tried making regular cups of coffee as well as the latest coffee trends on the machine and reveals her full thoughts on the machine's overall ease of use, capabilities, and strengths below, as well as where you may find a learning curve, especially if you're a beginner.
For those unaccustomed to the inner workings of pro-level espresso machines, the $699/£629 price tag could seem like something to balk at. However, behind the price tag, you'll find sophisticated technology including dose control grinding with adjustable grind size, digital precision temperature control that delivers water at precisely the right temperature, and a steam wand that can make the frothiest microfoam. In addition there's all the aspects of the best coffee machines - beautiful, sturdy stainless steel parts that make the kit look great in your kitchen and power - with a 15 pump bar pressure.
What is the design of the Breville Barista Express like?
● RRP: $699.99/ £629.95
● Water tank capacity: 2L/ 67oz.
● Bean hopper: 250g/ 1/2 lb.
● Pressure: 15 bar
● Dimensions: 12" x 11" x 13.5" inches
● Guarantee: 1 Year
The Breville Barista Express was built according to the Breville 4 Keys Formula, for replicating third wave coffee at home:
- Rich full flavor is achieved using the right dose of 18-22g of freshly ground beans.
- The right pressure for sweet, creamy espresso starts with low-pressure pre-infusion that soaks the grinds, allowing water to pass evenly through the coffee during the high pressure (9 bar) extraction process, delivered via the 15 bar pressure system.
- Digital temperature control (PID) technology precisely controls water temperature for a perfectly balanced coffee extraction for control and consistency.
- Microfoam enhances mouthfeel and texture
The sophisticated machine has a stainless steel body, with the 2L water tank discreetly tucked into the back. The controls are pretty simple, a power button, grind amount dial, filter size selector, program, and single and double cup buttons, each backlit. The center gauge addresses the pressure that the machine is going through.
The tamp magnetically clicks into place. Directly to the right is the dose-controlled grinding cradle that dispenses the correct amount of ground coffee for your needs.
The 1/2 lb. bean hopper at the top of the machine has a locking system for easy removal, storage, and transfer. A dial on the left side of the machine controls grind size as it moves through the onboard conical burr grinder. Using the grind amount dial, the hands-free grinding cradle delivers a pre-determined amount each time. Once you've tinkered with your ideal grind size and grind amount, you'll want to leave these settings as they are for consistent results.
Moving to the group head, the stainless steel portafilter has commercial-style stainless steel spouts.
On the right of the machine, is the dial to alternate between steam to operate the swiveling steam wand and hot water to monitor espresso extraction pressure.
Other noteworthy design features include a cup warming tray at the top, a hidden storage tray that houses extra accessories, and a tray full indicator.
The Barista Express includes a number of accessories including single and double cup single wall filter baskets, dual-wall filter baskets for pre-ground coffee, stainless steel milk mug, water filter holder, coffee scoop, cleaning brush, and a Razor precision dose trimmer.
What functionalities does the Breville Barista Express have?
The Breville Barista Express is the complete package: it can grind your fresh beans, pull a shot of espresso, and it has a great milk frother to froth milk.
Of course, to accomplish this tall order, the Breville Barista Express has special technology that makes the Barista Express cutting edge:
- Dose-controlled grinding - The onboard conical burr grinder uses dose-control grinding to deliver freshly ground coffee directly into the portafilter. The grinder itself has 16-grind settings, and you can adjust the dosing according to your own needs.
- Precise temperatures - Digital temperature control (PID) delivers water at precisely the right temperature every time, setting you up for optimal espresso extraction.
- Microfoam and steam wand - You can use the steam wand to hand texture micro-foam milk that enhances flavor and also provides the opportunity to try your hand at latte art like the pros at your favourite coffee shop.
How did the Breville Barista Express perform?
Like any manual machine, there is a learning curve when first using the Breville Barista Express machine, from figuring out the best grind settings for a perfect extraction to mastering the steam wand.
Upon first use, due to the many parts, I poured through the manual and walked myself through the many parts. After I spent the five minutes installing the water filter, and adding beans to the hopper, I followed the instructions to flush the group head and let the steam run for 10 seconds.
As a regular routine, when you start to make espresso you'll run hot water to pre-heat the filter basket, portafilter, and cup, and flush the group head before and after extraction. I found myself going through the water and filling the drip tray pretty frequently.
For operating the milk frother, you insert the steam wand, turn the steam on, and spin the milk in a whirlpool motion until the stainless jug is hot. Then run the steam wand to clear and wipe after use.
It took tinkering to find the right combination, but luckily the manual offers a thorough explanation and details on what could be going astray with your espresso pour and how to remedy the situation.
The correct extraction occurs when a flow starts after 4-7 seconds, with a total extraction time of 25-35 seconds, and flows like honey. Espresso that is under-extracted starts flowing too fast and ends too early, leading to bitter or weak and watery-tasting espresso. On the opposite end of the spectrum is over-extracting, when the flow starts after seven seconds and barely drips at all... essentially, it leaves too little espresso and comes out tasting bitter and burnt.
I first dealt with over-extraction my first few attempts, but the solution was to turn my grind size coarser and decrease the grind amount for better extraction.
The other part that required a learning curve was the steam wand. While I am no milk artist just yet, there is also an art to frothing the milk, which takes time. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be ready to consecutively make lattes for your family and friends as you show off your new machine.
How easy was it to clean the Breville Barista Express?
Pardon the mess. The Barista Express requires extra attention to clean up than some other machines, but remember it's a sophisticated machine with many moving parts.
When I first tried to clean the coffee maker, I dealt with a few flying grounds and some hot water splash - so have a towel nearby to wipe surfaces clean.
After each use, you'll want a dumping bowl nearby to stash used pucks of espresso, especially if you're making several servings at a time. Once you're finished making espresso, the filter baskets and portafilters should be rinsed immediately, as should the steam wand, which should be cleaned immediately after texturizing milk to keep milk from burning onto the wand. The drip tray and coffee grind separator should be disposed of, and washed with warm soapy water, while the outer parts of the machine can be wiped with a damp cloth.
For routine maintenance, it is recommended to replace the water filter every two months, which reduces the frequency of how often you will need to descale.
When the Clean/Descale light is illuminated, it's time to descale using the Breville Descaling powder sachet. To enter Descale mode you'll press the 2-cup button and power simultaneously. The machine will begin heating up and is ready once the power, 1 cup button, clean/descale indicator, and hot water/steam indicator is on. Descaling the coffee component takes approximately 25 seconds, while the steam and water take 13 and eight seconds, respectively.
When a cleaning cycle is required, The Clean/Descale light will flash. This is different from descaling and serves more or less as a machine flush. The Barista Express comes with two cleaning tablets to get you started. To initiate a cleaning cycle, you will hold the one and two cup buttons simultaneously, then the power button, holding all three for 10 seconds. The cleaning cycle lasts about five minutes during which water will intermittently flow from the portafilter, before signaling its completion with two beeps.
The conical burr grinder also needs to be cleaned from time to time in order to prevent and remove oil build-up on the burrs, which can hurt grind performance. Once you remove the bean hopper, you can use the cleaning brush to clean the top and lower burrs, and chute. If there is a blockage, additional steps are required too.
What is the warranty?
This Breville Barista Express comes with a one-year warranty. This is pretty average for a coffee machine, but does protect you against any manufacturing faults.
Our overall verdict on the Breville Barista Express
If you're looking to go into the business of being serious about your espresso, we definitely recommend the Breville Barista Express. Even if you're new to making espresso at home, the directions adequately prepare you to use the machine and help troubleshoot any issues... and then from there, it's smooth espresso.
This machine is for someone who enjoys going through the steps of making coffee and having greater control over espresso prep. However, if you seek a quick-fix, low-maintenance way to enjoy your daily cup of coffee, then you might want to explore other options such as the best French press coffee makers or the best drip coffee makers instead.
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