The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is a semi-automatic machine with an enticingly low list price. However, it was at the bottom of the scoresheet in almost all of our tests and we found that it makes weak, burnt tasting espresso. Because of these issues we feel it will end up rusting in your closet rather than being a part of your morning routine. If you want a good semi-automatic machine you'll have to pony up for the Breville Barista Express. If you want something that won't break the bank in the long run the Gaggia Brera will serve you well.
Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Review
Cons: Poor taste, difficult to use
Manufacturer: Mr. Coffee
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mr. Coffee scored a 3 out of 10 in our taste testing. This was the lowest score and was far separated from the rest of the field, where scores ranged from 6 to 9. With no feedback as to whether we were hitting the right brewing pressure, we found it incredibly hard to dial in the right grind size. However, no matter what we did the Mr. Coffee offered up something tasting more like strong coffee rather than espresso. We even used a number of different grinders to see if we could get something that tasted good from this machine, but to no avail. Any of the other models we tested would be a taste upgrade over the Mr. Coffee, though the Gaggia Brera is the most comparable in terms of long term cost.
Ease of Use
The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista was again the worst scorer in our ease of use testing, earning a 4 out of 10. This was far off the top score of 9.
Initial setup is one of the few experiences we had with the Mr. Coffee that was simple and easy. It includes clear instructions that guide you through the initial setup, making it quick and efficient.
In terms of just making a shot of espresso and adding milk from the automatic milk frother the Mr. Coffee's interface is fairly intuitive and straightforward. However, it doesn't provide any feedback. When using a semi automatic machine it is imperative that you know whether you're hitting the right brewing pressure or not, so you can adjust your grind size accordingly. The Mr. Coffee has no pressure gauge, making it incredibly hard to figure out how your brew went wrong (in our testing the brew was bad far more often than not).
Lots of Waiting, Little reward
It took us a full five minutes to make a cappuccino with the Mr. Coffee. And it was a labor intensive five minutes with grinding the beans (using a third party grinder as the Mr. Coffee does not have one built in), tamping the grinds, connecting the portafilter, and adjusting settings on the milk frother. We didn't mind this kind of effort when using the Breville Barista Express because the results were delectable. It's a whole other story entirely to put in that effort and end up with something tasting burnt and weak.
Ease of Cleaning
The Mr. Coffee again earned the worst score in this metric, scoring a 5 out of 10. The top scoring machines earned 8's.
Short Term Cleaning
Being a semi-automatic machine the Mr. Coffee requires some additional cleaning. Namely, the grinds must be cleaned out of the portafilter. When brewed properly this isn't a huge deal because the grinds become one solid puck that is relatively dry and leaves little mess. Since it's so hard to dial in a good extraction with the Mr. Coffee the grinds are often muddy and messy, making this an annoying chore. The milk tank and frother must also be cleaned periodically, but all parts are dishwasher safe.
Descaling the Mr. Coffee involves using a vinegar and water solution. The process itself was simple and took about 25 minutes. However, the machine retained a vinegar smell and taste, so we ended up flushing it with water five times to try and get rid of it.
The Mr. Coffee's automatic milk frother was acceptable but not great. It scored a 6 out of 10 in this metric, where machines that included milk frothers scored between 6 and 9. It produced a lot of foam, but with large, airy bubbles that made it taste less rich. It also did ok when steaming milk, but never got that creamy texture we wanted.
The Mr. Coffee lists for $200, making it one of the cheapest models we tested. However, it requires buying a separate coffee grinder to use. In our experience it also produces bad espresso so we would call it a poor value.
The Mr. Coffee did not perform well in any of our tests. If you're looking for a good value we recommend you check out the Gaggia Brera. If you like the idea of a semi-automatic machine you should look at the Breville Barista Express. Though much more expensive it will reward you greatly for learning barista skills.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata