Breville Bambino Plus Review
Pros: Great taste, exceptional lattes and cappuccinos, mostly automated milk steaming
Cons: Expensive, no built-in grinder
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Besides invoking The Sandlot era nostalgia, the Breville Bambino Plus is one of the few machines we've tested that can truly recreate cafe-quality drinks at home, and it is the easiest to use of that bunch to boot.
The Bambino Plus vs. the Barista Express
For those wanting cafe-quality espresso at home without spending thousands of dollars Breville makes the two most compelling options: the Bambino Plus and the Barista Express. The difference between these two machines comes down to grinding and milk steaming. The Barista Express has a high-quality, built-in espresso grinder that essentially makes it an all-in-one machine. If you don't already have an espresso-worthy grinder, this makes the Barista Express much less expensive than buying the Bambino and a grinder. However, the Bambino does make milk steaming much easier, as its wand is mostly automated. The Barista Express has a classic steam wand that requires a bit of skill and practice to master. However, it requires that you buy an espresso-worthy grinder separately.
Bottom line, if you're shopping for a high-quality machine and are willing to spend extra for a bit more convenience, the Bambino Plus is the way to go. If you don't mind learning the ways of the manual steam wand, the Barista Express is a much more economical way to get top-notch cappuccinos at home.
Largely thanks to a great performance in our taste testing, the Breville Bambino Plus earned one of the highest overall scores in our testing.
The Bambino is one of the few machines we tested that could get close to the quality of both straight espresso and milk drinks made in a cafe on much more expensive machinery, earning it one of the highest scores in our taste testing.
Very few of the sub-$1000 machines that we've tested have been able to truly recreate a cafe-made espresso experience at home, and the Bambino Plus is one of them. Its espresso is rich and creamy with nice red hues during extraction. It offers a strong, bold flavor without over-extracting any bitterness. The steam wand is also quite capable, allowing for those luxurious espresso shots to be turned into great cappuccinos and lattes. The only other models we tested that could match this performance were the Editors' Choice winning Breville Barista Express and the non-beginner friendly Rancilio Silvia.
Ease of Use
The Bambino offers about as easy of a user experience as one could expect from a semi-automatic machine, but it can't compete with the super-automatic machines in terms of convenience.
When it comes to brewing espresso, the Bambino offers pretty much the same experience you'll get from any semi-automatic machine. You'll have to grind the beans (remember, the Bambino doesn't come with a grinder, so you'll need to buy an espresso-worthy grinder separately), tamp them into the portafilter, and make sure the extraction is going smoothly. This is one area where the Breville Barista Express has a slight advantage, as it has a pressure gauge that gives visual feedback as to whether you need to adjust your grind size and/or tamping pressure. However, the Bambino's manual suggests that you should see espresso pouring 7-10 seconds after pressing the brew button, and we found this guideline to be sufficient in getting all associated factors dialed in. Also, the Bambino's pre-infusion stage makes it fairly forgiving to inconsistencies in grinding and tamping technique.
Milk steaming is where the Bambino offers a huge convenience factor over other semi-automatic machines. Instead of requiring you to learn the ways of a manual steam wand, it simply asks you to fill its included pitcher with milk and place it under the steam wand. Then you can select your desired settings for milk temperature and form level, press a button, and the Bambino takes care of the rest. If you're very picky about your milk and want to learn how to steam on your own in order to get the exact texture you desire, this may be a slight limitation. However, for many people this feature makes the Bambino the easiest way to get a cafe-quality cappuccino at home.
To top it all off, the Bambino has a huge, 65oz water tank that is very easy to fill, and a fairly intuitive control panel. Our minor gripe is that the drip tray is a bit shallow, so you'll have to empty it fairly often (there is a full indicator that should prevent any overflowing messes). Our more major gripe is that the machine does not have a built-in grinder, the lack of which requires spending quite a bit extra on a high-quality espresso grinder, and which negates any gains from the machine's relatively compact form factor.
Bottom line, the only way to get a more convenient cappuccino is to get a super-automatic machine that does all of the grinding, tamping, brewing, and steaming for you. However, in our experience this inevitably comes with a significant tradeoff in terms of taste.
Ease of Cleaning
When it comes to cleaning, the Bambino is fairly average. Cleaning it falls short of feeling like a nonexistent chore (as it does with pod machines) but certainly doesn't feel like an onerous undertaking that will ruin the tasty drink you just made.
Like all semi-automatic machines, the Bambino requires that you clean the portafilter and drip tray, both of which are not time-consuming chores. The milk wand conveniently purges itself after every use, so it only really requires a quick wipe down to clean the milk from the outside. All said and done, you should expect a couple of minutes of cleaning required after each use.
Longer term cleaning, namely descaling, is a fairly straightforward process. It took us 30 minutes to complete, but it only required hands-on attention for about half of that time.
Here again, this is an area where the only way to get a more convenient experience, in general, would be to get a super-automatic machine that can't make quite as lovely as a cappuccino.
In terms of automatic milk frothing, the Bambino is far and away the best we've come across. With the touch of a few buttons it can create milk that will much more closely approximate a cafe latte or cappuccino than any other automatic frother.
The only way we've found to create higher quality milk (and by "higher quality" we mostly mean the kind of microfoam production that can make a truly luxurious latte) is to steam milk with a manual steam wand (like the ones on the Breville Barista Express or the Rancilio Silvia). This process takes a minute or 2 of hands-on attention, and probably a few weeks of trial and error before you get dialed in. If you're picky about your milk this extra effort is certainly worth it, but if you're not fussy the Bambino's steam wand gets you 80% of the way there with about 4% of the effort.
It's a bit tricky to pinpoint the Breville Bambino Plus' value, specifically because it does not include an espresso-ready grinder. If you already have a grinder that is capable of producing the super fine grinds required to make espresso (which is unlikely, even the nicest standard grinders can barely make it into the espresso range) then the Bambino offers a lot of taste for a high, but somewhat reasonable price. If you don't already have a grinder, the Breville Barista Express and its built-in grinder are a much more economical choice for those shopping in this high-end range, but you'll have to learn how to steam milk manually.
The Breville Bambino Plus is the most convenient way we've found to make a truly great cappuccino at home. However, its lack of a built-in grinder makes it an overall more costly package than some of its high-end competitors that ask you to overcome a slightly steeper learning curve.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata