Some of the most popular products I review are coffee makers and espresso gadgets. It seems we love our coffee and our technology so whenever we can merge these two passions, we embrace it fully. I’ve been experimenting with automatic espresso machines recently, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on the Breville Barista Express. This espresso machine is quite pricey, but it gets amazing reviews so I wanted to see what the hype was about and if it’s actually worth it. In this review I’ll show you my hands-on experience, look at the features of this machine, talk about the quality of the espresso and how it’s made, as well as the milk frothing capabilities, and let you know if overall I can recommend it for you. Don’t forget to watch the video review to see it in action!
Breville Barista Express
If you’re looking for the customization of a manual espresso machine with some shortcuts that actually make sense, you’re going to love this machine.
- Easy to use
- Lots of extras included
- Heats up fast
- Makes espresso quickly
- Huge water tank
- Dry puck feature
- Commercial-style milk frother
- Adjustable temperature
- Clever design
- A bit on the larger side (maybe compared to a newspresso)
What is Breville Barista Express?
This machine is an all-in-one espresso machine: It stores and grinds the beans, extracts the espresso, and heats and foams the milk; all in one moderately sized unit that stands about 13-inches tall and fit easily under my cabinets. You can make single shots, doubles, or adjust these sizes to your own preference. It also dispenses hot water.
What’s in the box?
Let’s take a look at what you get in this generously kitted out package. Naturally the machine is the main component. There’s a large 2 L water tank with filter option. On top is the sealed coffee bin, and there’s an area to the right of it that also warms your cups. There’s adjustment knobs on the side for the grind, and all your key controls are on the front… and we’ll get to these in a bit more detail. The steamer wand and controls are off to the right hand side of the machine and of course there’s also a solid-feeling portafilter. On the bottom is a drip tray, and a neat hidden storage container for tools.
There’s lots of extras in here as well including:
- 4 filter baskets: single and double options for pre-ground coffee or ground-to-order
- A stainless steel milk jug
- Cleaning tools, disk and tablets
- Water filter
- Razor dose trimming tool
How it works
I’m going to tell you about how I pulled a shot for you just so you can understand a bit about the process, then we’ll look at the key features that get us to finished espresso.
- Turn the machine on and it takes just a moment to heat up. I’m using the automatic dosing here, and to start the grind I just push the portafilter in towards the back of the machine. I’m making a double shot.
- Tamp the coffee, then run some water through the group head by pressing the single shot button.
- Insert the portafilter and lock it into place, then press the size of shot you want.
- The machine will run the pre-infusion to wet the grounds, then increase the pressure to pull the shot.
- My double took about 20 seconds to be ready.
Let’s look at the key features of the Breville Barista Express
Conical Burr Grinder
The Breville Barista Express can grind your coffee to your preferred fineness. It uses the preferred conical burr grinder inside for a more even texture.
A dial on the side of the machine lets you adjust among 16 settings from fine to coarse. You can also allow the machine to automatically measure or ‘dose’ your portafilter (and that’s the basket where the coffee is extracted). The dosing is also manually adjustable so you can use as much or as little as you want.
Integrated tamper +
Coffee lovers no that once your coffee is dosed you need to tamp it just right. Inside the package is a handheld tamper but the genius of this bit is it’s also magnetic and clicks up beside the grinder for storage and becomes an integrated tamper that allows you to conveniently press your ground coffee. So smart!
Espresso pressure gauge
One of the challenges of making truly great espresso is getting the rate pressure, but you also have to combine that with just the right grind for your beans, as well as the correct amount. Anybody who’s made espresso manually knows this can be a tricky process and that things like humidity, temperature, and the particular roast of your particular beans this month can all affect your espresso shot.
Breville has made it easier to keep tabs on your extraction with its simple pressure gauge. The gauge shows when you are in pre-infusion mode, then once water pressure increases, you can look at the gauge to see if you were in the ideal espresso zone or if you were under or over extracting.
Generally speaking if you are under extracting water flows through the coffee too fast and results in a watery shot without much crema. If you over extract your espresso it is often very dark and bitter. To avoid over extracting don’t grind your coffee too fine, don’t use too much ground coffee in the filter basket, and do not overtamp.
Lots of coffee lovers want adjustable temperature options in their espresso machines. Particularly depending on the beans you like to buy, since different beans may require different water temperatures to extract their best flavor. The barista express allows you to adjust water temperature plus or minus 4°F in two degree Fahrenheit increments from the default temperature.
To adjust the water temperature press the power button to switch the machine off. Then press and hold the program button then press the power button. The machine will beep once and the illuminated button will indicate the current temperature selected. To adjust water temperature press one of the following buttons within five seconds of entering this advanced temperature mode. The machine will beep twice to confirm the change.
Milk heating & foaming
The Barista Express uses a steam wand to heat and foam milk in the included stainless steel cup.
Milk heating and steaming and creating just the right foam is an art form all unto itself. I’ve never been extremely good at it personally, and I guess I don’t have to be since I most often drink my espresso straight. I won’t go into too much detail here about technique and tips, since there are plenty of great videos you can watch about that.
The long and the short of using the steam wand is that you should be starting with fresh cold milk and filling the jug to just below the V at the bottom of the spout. To get things going position the steam wand tip over the drip tray and turn the steam/hot water dial to the steam position. The light will flash to indicate the machine is heating. When the light starts flashing the wand is ready for use. Before you insert the wand into the milk pause the steam by returning the dial back to the standby position. Then within eight seconds insert the steam wand tip just below the surface of the milk then turn the dial back to the steam position. Try to get the milk spinning in a clockwise direction while it’s heating. Once the milk starts to get hot you can bring the tip of the steam wand to just below the surface of the milk to start introducing air which will create foam.
Hands-on experience with Breville Barista Express
I had a really great experience with the barista espresso machine. Almost every aspect of it to use is customizable or adjustable to your preferences, while at the same time you have the option of the machine helping you through some of these steps and creating shortcuts and pre-sets.
I should let you know that your first few shots from this machine will probably not be great. That’s not unexpected or unusual, since you will have to play around with the grind, dosing amount, and getting to know the machine before you get something that’s great to drink.
My first few days with the machine I was able to get near perfect espresso shots. Then after a few days my shots started getting over extracted. With a manual machine like this there are a great many factors that can contribute to your shot changing unexpectedly, including things like weather, humidity, coffee freshness and more.
In my case though I had made no changes to my grind or dosing settings, my shots were no longer coming out perfect. That meant I needed to make some adjustments to grind and dose to return to proper shot extraction again. That’s the beauty of a machine like this; you get to play barista and it’s up to you to react to circumstances, and make adjustments. If this sounds like too much work, you’re right; it can be. In that case you’d probably be better off with something like a Nespresso machine. But if you like the dance of grind, dose, tamp and the hands-on coffee experience, this machine has a lot of fun toys.
There’s also a neat feature I quite liked called the dry puck feature where the machine will remove excess water from the ground coffee in the filter basket after extraction so that when you go to dump your used coffee puck it doesn’t drip everywhere. Smart feature!
I was generally very happy with the coffee I got from this machine, and had a lot of fun experimenting with the different settings and checking out the results.
How to reprogram shot volume
If you want to reprogram the amount of liquid used in either a single or double shot, you can simply reprogram each button. To begin programming, press the program button once. The machine will beep once and the program button will flash. This shows the machine is now in program mode. Press the one cup or two cup button to start your espresso extraction then press the one cup/two cup button again once you’ve reached your desired espresso volume. The machine will then beep twice to indicate the new one cup volume has now been set.
How to manually control shot volume or pre-extraction
If you want to precisely control your own shots, it’s possible to do this. You can manually control the low pressure pre-infusion time and shot volume without reprogramming your preset shot volume. To do this press and hold either the one cup or 2 cup button. The extraction will enter low pressure pre-infusion until the button is released. When one cup or 2 cup button is released the extraction will continue at full pressure. Then press the one cup or 2 cup button again once the desired volume of espresso has been extracted.
Overall review Breville Barista Express
Manual espresso machines can be expensive and you want to know you’re getting a good machine that can do everything you need and want. I think this machine is one of the best I’ve ever tested.
Overall this is a very impressive machine. It’s incredibly easy to use and understand, for starters. I think Breville has done great work adding a huge amount of customizable features and options into a machine that doesn’t have an excessively large footprint. The design is nice and blends old-school manual espresso machine looks with today’s newer technology.
The machine holds a lot of water; more than enough for a week of espressos at my house. It has all those little extras like cup warming, the dry puck feature and even hidden storage. And with its commercial style milk frother, you can make an entire cafe of drinks. You can adjust almost anything on the machine to your own preferences which is a huge deal.
When it comes to the downsides, I am actually having a difficult time finding much to crack on. Though I did struggle with always getting a perfect espresso shot, that’s no fault of the machine. As I noted earlier there are many factors that contribute to a good or bad espresso, and by making adjustments I was able to improve my shots easily enough.
I’ve reviewed plenty of machines including Philips super automatic espresso machines and I owned a Jura for a long time. I think if you’re looking for a manual espresso experience that you can also get some help with, this is absolutely the machine to pick. I can definitely recommend the Breville Barista Express to you, and I do prefer it over the Jura super automatic I had for many years.
The Breville Barista Express sells for about $1099CAD/$749USD and you can get I from many home and appliance stores or from Amazon.
**A note about Affiliate Links: TechGadgetsCanada is supported by our readers. Occasionally I will include affiliate links in my reviews. I do this partly for convenience of the reader (since I’ll almost always include a link to the company website or similar anyway) in case you want to read more or purchase, but I also may get a small commission from the click, which helps me keep the blog running. If you choose to use this link I thank you greatly for supporting the blog. There’s no obligation or cost to you for using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.