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Breville Barista Express Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $600 List | $574.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Great tasting espresso, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos
Cons:  Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve
Bottom line:  A perfect choice for those that don’t mind putting in a little work to get the best tasting espresso
Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 
Manufacturer:   Breville

Our Verdict

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 machines 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 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 sacrifice in taste in order to get a super-automatic machine that makes espresso at the press of a button.

Already have a grinder?
The Breville Infuser Espresso Machine is the same machine but lacks the built-in burr grinder, which knocks $100 off of the list price.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Espresso Machines of 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

Last Updated:
Thursday
January 19, 2017

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Performance Comparison




Taste




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 6 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 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.

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.

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' 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.

Velvety milk and fine microfoam  about as close to perfection as you're going to get.
Velvety milk and fine microfoam, about as close to perfection as you're going to get.

Value


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.


Conclusion


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, levelling and tamping the grins to create a flawlessly smooth extraction surface, and smirking as the pressure gauge acknowledges the quality of your handywork 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.


Other Versions


Breville Infuser Espresso Machine
  • Cost: $500
  • The same machine but without the built-in grinder

Breville Oracle
  • 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

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