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Breville Barista Express Review

A perfect choice for those that don't mind putting in a little work to get the best tasting shot
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:   $600 List | $580 at Amazon
Pros:  Great taste, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos
Cons:  Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve
Manufacturer:   Breville
By Max Mutter and Steven Tata  ⋅  Nov 4, 2019
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 16
  • Taste - 40% 9
  • Ease of Use - 30% 7
  • Ease of Cleaning - 15% 6
  • Milk Steaming - 15% 9

Our Verdict

Offering a great quality shot, a capable steam wand, and an espresso-worthy grinder built right in, the Breville Barista Pro is one of the best all-in-one espresso machines around. Dubbed the "mini cafe" by the folks in our office, this machine provides everything you need to make a latte and, when used properly, the results can rival what you'd get in a coffee shop. In our opinion, the price falls into a sweet spot for those that aren't willing to sacrifice quality when they don't want to go to the cafe. It has high enough quality components to pull a rich shot and properly steam milk, which is reflected in the price, but it is still much less expensive than the pro-sumer level machines that bring true cafe-level technology into the kitchen. This makes it the perfect machine for the espresso aficionado that is willing to make a bit of an investment in a ncie machine, but not a quadruple digit investment.


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Pros Great taste, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinosExcellent espresso and milk steaming, can pull and steam simultaneously, multiple programmable features, relatively user friendlyGreat taste, exceptional lattes and cappuccinos, mostly automated milk steamingGreat taste, great milk steamingIncredibly convenient and easy to use, good taste
Cons Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curveExpensive, requires some effort and a learning curveExpensive, no built-in grinderHas a learning curve, no pressure gauge to help beginners, no grinderExpensive list price
Bottom Line A perfect choice for those that don’t mind putting in a little work to get the best tasting shotA great choice for those that want the best possible at-home espresso quality, but comes at a hefty priceA top-notch machine that offers the best (mostly) automated milk steaming we've foundGood choice for experienced baristas that already have a good grinderA great choice for those looking for the easiest brew at home option, and that don't mind spending a little extra
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Rating Categories Breville Barista... Breville the Dual... Breville Bambino... Breville Duo Temp... Gaggia Anima...
Taste (40%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
Ease Of Use (30%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
9
Ease Of Cleaning (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
7
Milk Steaming (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Specs Breville Barista... Breville the Dual... Breville Bambino... Breville Duo Temp... Gaggia Anima...
Dimensions 13.2" x 12.5" x 16" 14.7" x 14.8" x 14.7" 7.7" x 12.6" x 12.2" 15.5" x 13.3" x 17.6" 16.9" x 8.7" x 13.4"
Warranty 1 Year Limited 1 Year Limited 1 Year Limited 1 Year Limited 1 Year Limited
Milk Frother Steam Wand Steam Wand Automatic Steam Wand Steam Wand Automatic
Cost per Shot $0.47 $0.45 $0.47 $0.47 $0.38
Lifetime Cost per Shot $0.72 $1.08 $0.72 $0.64 $0.84
Cost per Latte $0.75 $0.73 $0.75 $0.75 $0.66
Straight Shot - Percentage cost vs. Cafe 16% 15% 16% 16% 13%
Latte - Percentage Cost vs. Cafe 15% 15% 15% 15% 13%
Number of Cafe Replacement Shots to Make p list price 237 588 237 158 420
Number of Cafe replacement lattes to make up list price 141 351 141 94 253

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison




Taste


For all intents and purposes, we think a straight shot or a latte made well with the Barista Express is going to match the expectations one would have walking into a coffee shop. Yes, there are some much more expensive machines that can produce slightly better texture, but we think those sorts of differences would only be evident in a side-by-side taste test.


In our testing, we found the Barista Express' espresso to be rich, aromatic, bold, and even luxurious. In fact, some of our testers that swore drinking straight espresso just wasn't for them were pleasantly surprised by the nuanced flavors that arose from this machine's offerings. To literally top it off, the Express' steam wand made some of the best and luxurious microfoam in our testing, allowing for an easy and high quality transformation from straight espresso to cappuccinos and lattes.



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.


Involved Setup


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 in our ease of use testing is mostly due to the fact that it looks and acts like a professional machine, in that it asks the user to grind and tamp the coffee and steam the 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.

It takes a bit of practice to master the Breville's steam wand  but it rewards you with cafe quality milk.
It takes a bit of practice to master the Breville's steam wand, but it rewards you with cafe quality milk.

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.

Excellent Interface


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).

The Breville's pressure gauge clearly lets you know if you've ground and tamped properly  or if something has gone awry.
The Breville's pressure gauge clearly lets you know if you've ground and tamped properly, or if something has gone awry.

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.

Both the portafilter and the tamp that come with the Breville have a sturdiness and heft that feels very high quality.
Both the portafilter and the tamp that come with the Breville have a sturdiness and heft that feels very high quality.

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 drip tray has a nice indicator to let you know when it's full.
The drip tray has a nice indicator to let you know when it's full.

Descaling


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.

Milk Steaming/Frothing


The Barista Express has one of the best steam wands we've seen on a consumer espresso machine, allowing you to create cafe-quality lattes and cappuccinos right in your own kitchen.


If that rich and creamy cafe style latte is what you seek, look no farther than this machine. It's one of the few 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 machine that will give you all the tools (if not the skill) 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.


Value


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.


Conclusion


The Barista Express is a fantastic machine that offers everything you need to make a great latte at a price that is less exorbitant than many other machines of the same caliber.



Max Mutter and Steven Tata