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
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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