The Barista Express is in a class of its own. It produced the best tasting espresso in our testing, and its steam wand was the only device we found that could replicate the velvety steamed milk with just a dab of foam on top that creates an extraordinary latte. While most of the other machines we tested made good drinks, the Barista Express was the only one that could fool us into thinking we were drinking something made by a professional barista in a cafe. This incredible quality is what earned it our Editors' Choice Award. The only downside is that this machine obtains this quality partially by mimicking the design of the machines found behind the counter at many cafes. Making a shot with the Barista Express is thus more hands-on than many other machines, and requires you to spend a little time learning its nuances. If you're after the best tasting at home espresso drink this should not be a deterrent at all, as within a couple of weeks you'll feel like a pro. However, if having to exert brainpower into making your morning joe sounds like torture, you may want to make some sacrifices in taste quality in order to get a super-automatic machine that makes espresso at the press of a button.
Breville Barista Express Review
Pros: Great taste, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos
Cons: Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Barista Express vs. the Duo Temp Pro
We are in love with two of Breville's espresso machines, the Barista Express and the Duo Temp Pro. OF the two, we think the Barista Express is more user and beginner friendly. First off, it has a built-in grinder, so you don't have to bother with finding a separate, espresso-worthy grinder. It also has a pressure gauge that indicates whether you're hitting the correct pressure range or not. This is super helpful for beginners, as it lets you know if you need to adjust your grind size or your tamping pressure.
The Du Temp Pro, on the other hand, does not have a built-in grinder or a pressure gauge. Otherwise it is nearly an identical machine, still capable of creating coffee shop quality drinks. If you have a practiced hand and don't mind shopping for a separate grinder, the Duo Temp Pro can save you a little bit of money overall. It usually sells for between $300 and $400, and a separate grinder will cost about $400, compared to the $600 for the all-in-one Barista Express.
Taste is where the Barista Express takes the cake. It received the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. For comparison, the closest runner up scored a 7, and the worst performer scored a 3.
In our opinion, there really aren't enough positive adjectives to describe the sinfully good nectar that comes from this machine, so we'll just give you a small sample: rich, aromatic, bold, luxurious. We even peddled this machine's offerings on some people who swore that drinking a straight shot of espresso just wasn't for them, and they were pleasantly surprised. To literally top it off, the Barista Express' steam wand made by far the best steamed and frothed milk in our testing. This machine flawlessly transformed top notch espresso into top notch lattes and cappuccinos.
Ease of Use
The Barista Express often asks the user to make some sacrifices in convenience in order to end up with a tastier drink. Accordingly, it earned a 7 out of 10 in our ease of use testing, a decidedly mediocre score in a metric that saw scores ranging from 4 to 9.
The Breville's initial setup was the most laborious of the bunch, taking us a full 35 minutes. It does include very detailed instructions that guide you through the process, so it's not confusing, just time consuming.
Slow But Great Tasting Espresso and Cappuccino
The Barista Express' relatively low score was mostly due to the fact that it looks and acts like a professional machine, in that it is a semi-automatic machine that asks the user to grind and tamp the coffee and steam milk manually. This can take some getting used to, and resulted in the Barista Express logging the slowest time of 5:36 in our cappuccino making time trial. It also takes a bit of time to get used to the machine and dial in exactly how to grind and tamp to get a great shot. We predict most users will feel confident and be pulling great shots after making 20-40 drinks on the machine. Once you get to this point grinding, tamping, and steaming start to feel like second nature and not so arduous. Seeing as this machine produced the best espresso we tested, some may not mind this additional labor and learning curve.
One thing to note about the Barista Express is its pre-infusion feature. This hits the coffee with some low pressure water before ramping up to full brewing pressure. This lets the coffee even out and settle, which both creates a more consistent shot, and can correct for some small errors in tamping technique.
The interface lives up to Breville's great reputation. All buttons are clearly marked and light up when pressed, and the pressure gauge lets you easily tell if you've messed something up in the prep process and aren't reaching a good brewing pressure (which is clearly marked on the gauge).
Well Designed Components
The water tank is the biggest of the models we tested at 67 oz, and thus requires less frequent refilling. The included tamper is of high quality and conveniently stores right on the machine in a magnetic port. The steam wand's position can be adjusted more than in any other model, adding a level of convenience to milk steaming.
Ease of Cleaning
Here again, the Barista Express' incredible taste quality requires some sacrifices in convenience. It scored a 6 out of 10 in our ease of cleaning testing. This put it around average in a metric where scores fell from 5 to 8.
Short Term Cleaning
The Steam wand is fairly easy to clean if you're diligent about purging and wiping it off right after each use. However, if you neglect it a thick and stubborn residue can quickly build up. The portafilter also requires cleaning after each use, an inconvenience not present with super-automatic machines. If you've dialed in your brewing process the spent grinds in the portafilter will be compacted, fairly dry, and easy to clean out. If you're still in beginner mode the grinds may be a bit muddier and create more of a mess. The drip tray has a nice full indicator and is fairly easy to remove, empty, and clean.
The Barista Express really lost points for its descaling process. Though this is only required a few times a year, we found it to be quite annoying. It requires mixing up a tincture of half water and half vinegar and manually flushing the machine with it. Then you need to flush out the vinegar with water. This process took us about 30 minutes. Other machines perform automated descaling that is much less hands on.
The Barista Express' steam wand was far and away our favorite milk prepping device. It scored a 9 out of 10 in our testing, while the other models that included some sort of milk prepping device only scored 6 or 7.
If that rich and creamy cafe style latte is what you seek, look no farther than this machine. It's the only one we tested that can create that elusive perfect steamed milk with a thin layer of foam that takes lattes to the next level. Same goes for latte art. If you're hoping to impress your friends with little foam leaves or hearts this is the only machine we tested that will give you all the tools you need to succeed in that quest.
The one small downside of the Barista Express' steam wand is the fact that the machine takes a minute to get the wand up to pressure after pulling a shot. That means your espresso shot sits out in the air for a bit while you're prepping the milk. This can lead to oxidation and the espresso getting bitter. The easy fix for this is throwing a small splash of milk into your espresso right after you pull the shot (or maybe some flavored syrup, if that's your thing). That will hold the espresso's flavor while you wait for the steam wand to warm up and the milk to be prepped.
Wit a list price of $600 the Barista Express certainly is not cheap. However, seeing as it produces the kind of quality drinks we'd expect from much more expensive professional level machines, this represents a great value to the espresso aficionado that wants a brew at home option. If you're less concerned about taste and more concerned about convenience the Barista express will probably sit unused in the corner due to its somewhat involved brewing routine. If this is the case you'll find a much better value in a super-automatic machine.
The Barista Express is for the connoisseur that wants an incredible tasting shot at home, and wants to be involved in the making of it. If smelling the beans as they grind, leveling and tamping the grins to create a flawlessly smooth extraction surface, and smirking as the pressure gauge acknowledges the quality of your handiwork sound like a fun morning routine, then this machine is for you. If you'd prefer something where you can push a button and then shovel down a quick breakfast while the machine autonomously crafts a cappuccino for you, look at one of the super-automatic machines we tested.
Breville Infuser Espresso Machine
- Cost: $500
- The same machine but without the built-in grinder
Breville Duo Temp Pro
- Cost: $400
- Similar machine
- Lacks a built-in grinder
- Lacks a pressure gauge
- Cost: $2000
- Similar machine
- Adds super automatic functionality: grinds, tamps, brews, and steams for you
- Adds a second boiler for faster milk steaming
Breville Dual Boiler
- Cost: $1300
- Similar machine
- Adds a second boiler so you can brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously
- Lacks a built-in grinder
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata