Affordable for its caliber
Requires regular cleaning
Takes time to learn the machine and its parts
It used to be that getting your favorite drink from the local cafe couldn’t compare with anything you could make at home. However, thanks to modern technology, you can now make espresso beverages at home with the right equipment. One example is Breville’s the Barista Express, an espresso/cappuccino machine with an integrated conical burr grinder and steaming wand. To see how well it compares with the quality of coffee shop drinks, we put it to work making many, many drinks. We tested the quality of espresso, convenience, mechanics, setup, and cleanup. Read on to find out what we thought.
Design: Customizable settings
What’s especially great about the Barista Express is that all of the accessories are conveniently placed and don’t impede on other important areas of the unit. The steam wand, for instance, moves in all directions so it can be turned away from the machine to steam the milk and then pointed directly downward to make the machine more compact when not in use.
Additionally, the tamper is detachable, which means we had more control over the amount of pressure used for compressing the espresso grounds. The tamper can then be reattached to the machine for convenient storage.
Another nice aspect of the Barista Express is the customizable settings. This allowed us to adjust the grind size, grind amount, and tamp to get the perfect espresso shot. The manual explains how to properly adjust each of these settings for the correct extraction.
As for the overall design, the Barista Express has a very polished, upscale look. We especially appreciated the illuminated control panel when we turned it on for the first time. We have the brushed stainless steel finish, but it also comes in cranberry red and sesame black varieties, which look equally stunning.
Setup Process: Requires patience the first time around
Because there are so many pieces included with this machine, it’s worth taking the time to thoroughly read through the manual to get familiar with all of its moving parts. The first time using it, there are a few extra steps required, including cleaning and flushing the machine. Overall, this process was pretty painless. Waiting for the filter to soak required the most patience (5-minute soak). Once we finished the 15-minute cleansing process, we were ready to make espresso.
To begin, we removed the water tank from the back of the machine by lifting up on the handle. The tank holds up to 67 ounces, and we filled it up to the maximum line with cold, filtered water. To place the water tank back in the machine, we pushed it down firmly until it locked into place.
Beyond pulling amazing espresso shots, the Barista Express also has a steam wand for making coffee shop drinks.
Then, we turned the machine on and waited for the “Power” button to stop flashing. Next, we filled the hopper, located on top of the machine, with fresh, whole coffee beans (it can hold a half-pound at a time). We set the grind size (the manual recommends 5) and the grind amount (the manual recommends dialing to the 3 o’clock position). Then, we pressed the “Filter Size” button to choose between the 1-cup or 2-cup option. The single basket corresponds with the 1-cup option and the dual basket with the 2-cup.
We then placed the portafilter into the grinding cradle, where the coffee grounds came out, located underneath the hopper. It will stop automatically, but it can be stopped earlier by pushing and releasing the portafilter. We tamped, or packed, the grounds by tapping the portafilter several times and then pressing down with the tamper. Once we achieved a flat surface, we trimmed the coffee puck to the right level for the machine by rotating the “Razor” precision tool back and forth in the portafilter.
Pressing the “1 cup” button prompted water to flow through the machine and stabilize the temperature. Next, we placed the portafilter into the group head (next to the grinding cradle) and locked it into place by twisting from left to right. We positioned a cup under the portafilter to catch the shot and again pressed the “1 cup” button for a single shot of espresso (the “2 cups” button will pull two shots if using a dual filter basket). The machine will stop automatically, and the espresso is ready to enjoy.
Performance: High-quality drinks at a speedy pace
The Barista Express is fairly fast and easy to use once you get the hang of it. The tagline on the manufacturer site reads “From bean to espresso in under a minute.” While we didn’t find the process to be quite that quick, making one or two shots of espresso only takes about three minutes including grinding, tamping, and extracting time. Plus, it consistently delivered excellent espresso beverages. After we figured out our settings, each drink we made was effortlessly delicious and comparable to something made at our local coffee shop.
The quality of the espresso we extracted is partly due to the machine mechanics (the other part is thanks to the freshly roasted whole beans we selected). For every usage, we noticed that this machine evenly ground our coffee beans and pulled the shots consistently with the right amount of water volume each time. The portafilter also didn’t allow any grounds to seep into the final espresso shot.
After we figured out our settings, each drink we made was effortlessly delicious.
The espresso itself was not overly bitter and usually had a rich crema on top if we properly tamped it. Beyond pulling amazing espresso shots, the Barista Express also has a steam wand for making coffee shop drinks including macchiatos, cappuccinos, lattes, and beyond. We were able to create good volume, high temperatures, and a smooth microfoam with the steam wand, which translated to excellent espresso drinks.
Ease of Cleaning: Regular cleaning necessary
As for the care and cleaning of the Barista Express, we found that it was somewhat of a hassle because it needs to be done after every use. After making a shot, it’s important to clean up right away to prevent a more difficult cleanup later on.
Immediately after using, the portafilter and basket should be rinsed with hot water to remove the oils from the coffee grounds. We also found that the cleaning of the steam wand was easiest when done right after usage. Otherwise, the milk dries and gets caked onto the wand. Just be careful because the wand may still be hot.
As for the care and cleaning, we found that it was somewhat of a hassle because it needs to be done after every use.
The group head interior and the shower screen, the area where the portafilter is inserted, should also be wiped with a damp cloth to remove excess grounds. Occasionally, the machine should be purged by placing an empty filter basket and portafilter into the group head. Running it will rinse out residual coffee.
We appreciate the fact that several features will inform when it’s time to clean out certain parts of the machine. For instance, when the drip tray gets full, a small yellow sign pops up that says “Empty me.” We found this to be very useful because it’s easy to forget to dump out the drip tray after every use. There’s also a “Clean/Descale” light that will flash when it’s time for a cleaning cycle. When this same light is illuminated and stays lit, it signifies it’s time for descaling, which is a more involved cleaning process detailed in the manual.
Included Accessories: Tools for those deep cleanings
The Barista Express comes with several accessories including the stainless steel milk jug, dual and single wall filter baskets, coffee scoop, the Razor, and a water filter and holder. It also comes with a list of cleaning tools that are useful for deep cleanings.
The included cleaning tool is used to unblock any holes in the filter basket that may have leftover coffee grounds after a rinsing. When the machine needs a cleaning cycle, a cleaning disc and cleaning tablet will be required and are also included. There is an Allen key, too, which opens the showerhead when it’s time to replace the silicone seal surrounding the shower screen.
Swivel Wand: Moves in all directions
As previously mentioned, the Barista Express includes an attached 360-degree swivel wand, which steams milk for making cappuccinos, lattes, etc. As we noted, it conveniently moves in all directions, which allowed us to angle the wand off to the side to move our milk jug up and down to properly steam the milk.
To use the steam wand, we first filled the milk jug with cold milk just below the “V” at the bottom of the spout. Next, we turned the wand toward the machine’s drip tray as water may spurt out of the wand. We turned the “Steam/Hot Water” dial, located on the right side of the machine, to the “Steam” position. When the machine created some steam and the “Steam/Hot Water” lights stopped flashing, the wand was ready to use.
We turned the dial to the “Standby” position and inserted the wand about 1⁄4- to 3⁄4-inch into the milk and towards the 3 o’clock position of the jug. We quickly turned it back to the “Steam/Hot Water” position. We found that keeping the tip just under the surface of the milk created the right foam we wanted for our drinks. Once we had our desired volume, we lowered the wand deeper into the milk to warm the milk to our preferred temperature. We then turned the dial back to the off position. There are more tips in the manual for texturing milk.
The Barista Express retails for just under $600, which is actually fairly reasonable compared to some of the top competing brands that start at $1,000 and go up from there. For the quality of espresso produced with this machine, it’s an excellent option for those who have a keen interest in espresso but are unwilling to spend thousands of dollars.
Breville the Barista Express vs. Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista
The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is another espresso machine on the market that we tested. It is a low-cost option, retailing at around $250. This machine is semi-automatic and therefore makes the process of making espresso drinks very simple. At the touch of a button, we were able to watch our cappuccinos and lattes being made right before our eyes—a process that only takes one to two minutes.
The difference between this machine and Breville’s the Barista Express is in the quality and cost. The Barista Express has more customizable settings than the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista, which allows for more control over the final espresso shot. The Breville also comes with a coffee grinder to enjoy freshly ground beans. However, it comes at a cost—the Barista Express is significantly more expensive, retailing around $600.
In the end, it comes down to the user’s preference in espresso quality. For the coffee connoisseur, the Breville is hands down the best choice for high-quality espresso. But for the person who enjoys just a perk of caffeine in the morning and is less concerned about achieving the perfect crema, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is quick, convenient, and delivers decent drinks for a low price.
- Product Name The Barista Express
- Product Brand Breville
- MPN BES870XL
- Price $599.95
- Weight 23 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 15.8 x 12.6 x 13.2 in.
- Bean Hopper Capacity .5 lb.
- Water Tank Capacity 67 oz.
- Power (Watts) 1,500
- Voltage 110–120V
- Warranty 1 year, limited
- What’s Included Razor dose trimming tool, 54-mm stainless steel portafilter, single and dual wall filter baskets, coffee scoop, integrated tamper, stainless steel milk jug, cleaning disc and tablets, cleaning brush, tool, Allen key, water filter holder, and water filter