The Breville Barista Express has been one of Breville’s top selling espresso machines and a favorite among beginning baristas. The Barista Express bes870xl is an all-in-one espresso machine with an integrated conical burr grinder and steaming wand. With an affordable price tag and compact footprint it’s easy to see why this machine has been so popular.
We are going to take a look at some of the features on offer in the Breville Barista Express espresso machine to help you decide if it is right for you.
Is A Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Right For You?
If you are looking at investing in an espresso machine, the first step is to decide which type of machine to opt for. The Breville Barista Express is a semi-automatic espresso machine, which means there is a learning curve required to brew espresso. The user will need to grind, dose, tamp and froth the milk. These espresso machines are an excellent way to learn espresso, but not for everyone.
If this sounds like too much work and you are looking for a quick and convenient pick me up in the morning, you might be better to check out the super-automatic or pod machines, which will produce a drink with the push of a button.
Breville Barista Express Review
The Breville Barista Express has a modern and polished design. The machine comes in two color options; Brushed Stainless Steel or Black Sesame, which will fit with most kitchen aesthetics. The Barista Express has a compact footprint, considering it is an espresso machine and grinder in one. It should fit under most kitchen cabinets, but it is best to check before buying. The machine has a half pound bean hopper capacity and 67 ounce water tank.
In terms of build quality, Breville machines have a reputation for lasting well. While the Barista Express does have a stainless steel casing, most of the internals are plastic.
Perhaps one of the best features of the Barista Express espresso machine, and one that endears the machine to beginners, is that it comes equipped with a huge array of accessories. Included with the machine is a 17 oz brushed stainless steel milk jug, 54mm magnetic tamper, single and double wall filter baskets, charcoal water filter, a razor dose trimming tool, coffee scoop and cleaning disc and tablets. It is helpful knowing the machine comes with everything required to use and there are no hidden costs involved.
The Barista Express comes with two types of filter baskets; single walled and dual walled. The dual wall filter baskets have two walls to generate false pressure. Basically they are more forgiving to use, and will produce a shot with decent crema even if the grind size isn’t quite on point. These are better to use for pre-ground coffee.
Single wall filter baskets are preferred by espresso enthusiasts as they allow more control over extraction and produce a nicer crema. To use them you need to ensure your grinder is dialed in accurately. These are better to use with freshly ground coffee.
Ease of Use
The Barista Express espresso machine is simple to use once you get the hang of it. On the front of the machine is an illuminated control panel, with buttons to control the grinder on the left and the espresso on the right.
The first, and most trickiest step, with using the machine is to dial in the coffee beans. On the side of the machine is a grind size dial with 18 settings to adjust the grind size from fine to coarse. Breville recommends starting around setting 5 and adjusting from there.
Next you need to set the grind amount. On the front of the machine is a Filter Size button with the option of single or double. Selecting this button will automatically grind and dose coffee for either a single or double shot. The grind amount can be altered with the LESS/MORE dial next to the Filter Size button. There is also the option of grinding manually, by pushing the portafilter into the grinding cradle and holding it there, then releasing it when you have enough.
Once the coffee has been ground into the portafilter, you tamp then insert the portafilter into the group head and you are ready to brew espresso. On the right side of the control panel is a single or double shot button. Pressing either of these will brew a preset volume- a single shot with 30mls or a double shot with 60mls. There is the option to program these buttons to different volumes as well or brew manually by holding either button down. The Barista Express also has a helpful pressure gauge on the front of the machine to indicate when the espresso is being extracted at the right pressure. The pressure gauge is a good guideline to indicate if your grind size and dose is correct.
While these steps can seem overwhelming at first, the hardest step is setting the machine up. Once you have dialed in the grind size and dose it is very simple to grind, tamp and extract espresso quickly. And the Barista Express does produce a decent shot of espresso. The customization of the machine also means that it can grow with you. In addition to altering grind size, dose and shot volume you can also adjust the water temperature up or down 2 C. Initially it might be best to use the preset volumes, but as you grow in knowledge and skill there is room to play around.
The Breville Barista Express espresso machine has a few extra features that contribute to the delicious espresso produced.
PID Temperature Control
The first, and most impressive, is PID temperature control. This is not commonly found on entry level machines. PID temperature control is a system that continuously monitors the temperature of water at the brew head to ensure it is at the ideal temperature for optimal espresso extraction.
The second helpful feature is a low pressure pre infusion function. This is where water is introduced at a lower pressure to wet the grounds for a few seconds before ramping up to high pressure to pull the shot. A pre-infusion helps to ensure you get an even extraction.
The weakest point of the Barista Express espresso machine is the grinder. It has a built-in stainless steel, conical burr grinder. And while the grinder is sufficient for most beginners, it only has 18 grind settings, which isn’t ideal. Ideally you would want at least 40 grind settings to be able to dial in the coffee beans accurately. In comparison, the Breville Smart Grinder has 60 grind settings.
The in-built grinder is another downside of all-in-one machines. Any issues with the grinder or machine renders both worthless. In addition, if you did want to upgrade in the future you would have to upgrade both the grinder and espresso machine. If you are considering changing in a few years it might be a better option to go for the Breville Infuser (which is the same machine minus the grinder) and a stand alone grinder. The Baratza Vario is an excellent espresso grinder for beginners.
The Barista Express espresso machine comes with a professional style steam wand, enabling you to create microfoam milk. While it will take a bit of practice to learn to steam milk, once you have mastered it you can create some cafe quality espresso based drinks. The steam wand swivels at 360 degrees enabling you to find the right angle for steaming. It also has a rubber grip on it to stop you from burning yourself.
The wand itself generates enough pressure to do a good job of steaming, however it isn’t as strong as what you would find on more expensive machines.
The Barista Express also has a separate hot water outlet which is helpful for making Americanos or tea.
And now we come to everyone’s least favorite part of owning an espresso machine- the clean up. Unfortunately, it has to be done to ensure your machine is running at top notch. The Breville Barista Express espresso machine is pretty straightforward to clean and maintain.
After each use the puck needs to be knocked out of the portafilter and you need to rinse the portafilter and basket with hot soapy water. Flush hot water through the brew head and steam through the steam wand and give both a wipe down. These tasks should be done after each use, but they only take a minute.
The Barista Express has a handy drip tray ‘Empty Me’ sign that pops up when the tray is full. The drip tray is removable which makes it easy to empty and clean. The drip tray does tend to get messier than your standard espresso machine due to ground coffee spilling into it as well.
The Barista Express espresso machine also comes with built in cleaning and descaling cycles that should be run periodically. The machine will notify you when these are due and running through them is fairly straightforward. See our guide to cleaning a breville espresso machine for some extra tips.
The final step in maintaining your machine is to clean out the grinder to remove any built up oils and prevent blockages. The hopper has a shut off shoot allowing you to remove it even if it is full. Then you can unlock the top burr and remove it and clean out the burrs and grinding chute with the cleaning brush or a vacuum.
Is The Breville Barista Express Worth It?
The Breville Barista Express espresso machine is a good deal considering you get an espresso machine, grinder, and all the accessories required. It is an excellent beginners machine that will offer a gentle entry into brewing espresso. However it is a machine that you will outgrow, particularly with the grinder offering so few settings. So if you are really wanting to get into espresso and third wave specialty coffee there may be some better alternatives.
Alternatives to the Barista Express
Gaggia Classic Pro
If you are a hobbyist barista looking for an affordable, entry level espresso machine, the Gaggia Classic Pro might be a better option. This machine has been around for years and is known to be an absolute workhorse. It doesn’t have all the features, like pre-infusion or PID temperature control that the Barista Express espresso machine has. But it is built to last and produces a decent shot of espresso. The Gaggia is a well loved and timeless machine that holds its value well.
As mentioned above, if you think you might outgrow the Barista Express it might be better to opt for the Breville Infuser instead. This is the same espresso machine as the Express without the built-in grinder. The benefits of doing this is that you can invest in a better coffee grinder and if you do want to update your espresso machine in the future you won’t need to purchase both a grinder and espresso machine.
Breville Barista Express- The Verdict
Overall, the Breville Barista Express espresso machine is an excellent machine for a beginner at an affordable price. While it takes time and effort to master, once you have, it will prove invaluable, allowing you to create specialty coffee at home. The Barista Express produces delicious espresso, is simple to use and has a compact footprint. All in all a strong candidate for the best entry-level espresso machine.