Breville the Dual Boiler Review
Pros: Excellent espresso and milk steaming, can pull and steam simultaneously, multiple programmable features, relatively user friendly
Cons: Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Breville Dual Boiler is one of the best overall machines we've tested, making exceptional espresso and steaming milk with a deftness not seen in many consumer machines. If you're willing to make a bit of an investment in your at-home espresso rig, look no further.
No matter how fussy you are about the taste of your espresso, we don't think this machine will disappoint. When used properly, it truly provides a cafe-quality shot.
This machine uses pressure profiling, which starts with a low-pressure pre-infusion, then ramps up to 9 bars of pressure to get a full espresso extraction, before tapering off a bit at the end of the shot. This results in both a more even (and thus better) extraction of the coffee grounds, and one that is a bit more forgiving to slight inconsistencies in grind size and tamping technique. While many of the higher-end machines utilize this technique as well, we found the Dual Boiler generally did it with more aplomb. Its shots felt just a bit creamier, sweeter, and well balanced than the shots we tasted from other top-tier consumer machines.
Apart from offering a steam wand that is both more powerful and more capable than most of the competition, the eponymous double boilers allow you to both pull a shot and steam milk simultaneously. This means your fresh shot can be stabilized by combining it with freshly steamed milk mere seconds after it has been pulled. In contrast, most other consumer machines require that you do one first, and then either let your espresso slowly oxidize and lose much of its boldness and richness, or let your milk fester to lose much of its aeration and creaminess, while you wait for the single boiler to heat up again and prep the other ingredient to your drink. This may seem like a minor thing, but it can result in significantly more enjoyable cappuccinos and lattes. This is also a capability seen in very few consumer espresso machines.
Ease of Use
Using any semi-automatic espresso machine can be a bit intimidating, but that's especially true for a behemoth like the Dual Boiler. Despite that somewhat daunting exterior, this machine makes manually pulling a shot and steaming milk as easy as it can be, and adds some thoughtful touches that solve many of the problems of its large stature.
We found the Dual Boiler's setup to be quite straightforward. We had it out of the box, full of water, and heating up within ten minutes. Just make sure to have a friend to help you lift the machine onto the counter, it's heavy!
Easy Tank Refills
The biggest concern with a large machine is that it's going to be difficult to access the water tank. The Dual Boiler solves that in two ways. You can top off the water tank from the top of machine, which is great if you just want to toss in a few cups to make sure you have enough water for one last latte. If you want to totally fill up the 84 ounce tank, it's much easier to remove it from the back of the machine and take it over to the sink. In that case, you can remove the drip tray to reveal a large knob. Turning that knob actually lifts the machine and engages a set of wheels that then allow you to spin all of the machine's bulk around with ease.
Any semi-automatic machine that asks one to manually brew espresso and steam milk is going to require at least a bit of effort, but the Dual Boiler manages to keep that effort to a minimum. First off, it's one of the few consumer machines that can both pull an espresso shot and steam milk simultaneously, which means less time sitting around while you make your cappuccino. For reference, we were able to make a cappuccino in 2 minutes and 8 seconds with this machine, which was at least a full minute faster than all of the other semi-automatic machines we tested (and we all know an extra minute in the morning can be precious). The preinfusion brew method is also forgiving towards things like a less than ideal tamp, meaning your technique doesn't need to be perfect every time to get a good shot.
The steam wand is quite powerful, but we also found it relatively easy to control. The head of the wand tends to create a nice, circulating motion in the milk, even if held at a less-than-perfect angle. This leads to better aeration and heat distribution with less fuss than some of the less lenient wands that scream and scorch the milk if you don't hold the pitcher just right.
Perhaps the best thing about the Dual Boiler's interface is the LCD screen, which tells you the water temperature, the time, and how long your shot has been pulling for. That screen, along with a menu and arrow buttons, also allows you to easily access and adjust the machine's many settings. There is also a pressure gauge that displays exactly what pressure profile your shot it getting, dedicated buttons for starting and stopping brewing, and large knobs on the side for turning the steam wand on and off and dispensing hot water (which is great for americano lovers).
Possibly the most useful thing you can program the Dual Boiler to do is turn on at a set time, meaning you can wake up to a machine with a fully-heated water tank that is ready to spring into action straight away.
For those that like to delve into the intricacies of how their espresso is being brewed, the Dual Boiler offers a number of more specific adjustments. For example, you can preprogram shot temperature, shot volume, and even pre-infusion duration and pressure. If you want to get even more control, you can manually control the time for each shot as well.
The Dual Boiler is largely built like a commercial machine, with a heavy-duty, 58mm portafilter, and a burly tamper that conveniently stores away with a magnet.
Ease of Cleaning
In day to day use the Dual Boiler is about as easy to clean as a semi-automatic machine can be. Longer term cleaning is a bit more involved, but by no means arduous.
Short Term Cleaning
The tip of the Dual Boiler's steam wand is rounded and smooth, which makes it quite easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth. Like any steam wand, it can build up some gunk if you forget to wipe it off and purge it right after use, but even then the grime tends to shed fairly easily. The larger portafilter is also quite easy to rinse or wipe clean with a cloth. The drip tray is larger than most, requiring less frequent emptying. We found the drip tray to be quite easy to remove and maneuver to the sink, as long as you don't let it get over filled (there's a helpful floating "Empty Me!" sign that pops up to prevent this from happening).
This machine also makes backflushing (a general cleaning to clear out any build-up in the machine, most home users will want to do this about once a week, depending on use volume) incredibly easy. Just insert a backflush tablet and the special backflush portafilter head, press a button, and it does everything for you.
Long Term Cleaning (Descaling)
We found running through the descaling process for the Dual Boiler to be straightforward, but a bit involved and long winded. All in all, it took us about 90 minutes to complete, and required our attention for most of that time. This is less than ideal, but seeing as this is a task that will likely be completed once every few months, it's certainly not a deal breaker.
The Dual Boiler is one of the few consumer machines we've found that can create a truly cafe-quality pitcher of steamed milk. In our testing we found it relatively easy to get the fine microfoam production that results in that ideal wet paint look and texture of steamed milk. This, along with the fact that the Dual Boiler can steam milk while simultaneously pulling a shot, meant this machine created some of our favorite and freshest lattes, cappuccinos, and cortados.
In the world of home espresso machines, the Breville Dual Boileris certainly towards the luxury end of the scale, and asks a corresponding price. It also does not have a built-in grinder, necessitating that you make an additional purchase on top of the machine itself. Does it provide the best value per dollar? No, but it does provide some of the best performance you can get from a consumer espresso machine. If you're willing to pay a premium to get the best possible machine for your kitchen, the Dual Boiler is a worthwhile purchase, but budget shoppers need not apply.
The Breville Dual boiler is a premium consumer espresso machine that delivers a cafe quality experience at home. If you're willing to pay its price premium, there's a good chance it will be your favorite appliance.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell