Expert Review: Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine
This review is my honest opinion of the espresso machine, which I purchased with my own money in December of 2020.
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the espresso machine, which I purchased with my own money in December of 2020.
While the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine (BBE) may get poo-poo’d by espresso elitists, don’t sleep on it. With subtle adjustable PID temperature controls, volumetric dose controls, and a grinder, this machine is a tremendous value at its price point.
About the gear
- Model: 2019 Breville Barista Express
- Boiler Type: Single thermoblock
- Pump Type: Vibratory
- Experience: I’ve been making espresso for roughly five years. I started with a Rancillio Silvia, then with a Moka Pot, before using a Breville Barista Express, and finally a Rocket Appartamento.
- When I bought it: December of 2020
- Days used: Almost daily between December of 2020 and July of 2022
- Cups per day: 2 to 3 cups
- Grinder used: The built-in grinder
- Coffee beans used: A wide variety of light and medium roasts, but never super dark roasts
- Milk used: Full milk or almond milk
- Drinks made: Typically straight espressos, cappuccinos, or chai lattes for my wife
How it performs
What I was looking for
I was looking for a solid home barista setup. I was operating on a relatively tight budget, but I still wanted real espresso at home. And, because I was still fairly new to home espresso, I wanted something relatively simple.
Why I chose this gear
I purchased this machine because it was an incredibly straightforward solution to my needs. I needed a real espresso grinder, as I knew my Krups grinder wouldn’t cut it, and I wanted a machine that could produce real espresso. The Barista Express provided both those things, in a compact footprint, and within my budget.
What I love about it
- Time to heat up: In about 30 seconds from turn-on, this machine can pull a shot. On top of that, you only have to wait a handful of seconds to steam milk after pulling a shot. For comparison, other single boilers will take about a minute and a half. Though I didn’t have any idea what heating unit was inside at the time of purchase—or why it mattered—I’ve really grown to appreciate the thermoblock heating unit inside because it heats water on the fly.
- Shot temp control: The Breville Barista Express has adjustable PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) shot temperature controls and does a great job on this front. While the machine doesn’t give an exact temperature when pulling shots, the PID controls are nonetheless effective. When I use a darker roast, I now adjust my shot temps down to the lowest setting and the flavor is so much more enjoyable.
- Pre-infusion: The fact that the Barista Express comes stock with pre-infusion at this price point is a real value. Though it can’t be programmed—which can be frustrating at times, especially if you are using a smaller dose—it can be manually controlled by holding down the shot button. As long as you hold, pre-infusion will continue. Once you release, it will go full-pressure. This is another one of those secret menu-type of things with the BBE, but it’s a great one.
- Ease of use: While the Barista Express is packed with features, it's still incredibly simple to use. The term “volumetric controls” may sound intimidating, but it translates to “push a button and get the amount of espresso you want.” If you can’t tell, I’m impressed.
- Built-in water filter: Breville includes a built-in water filter, showing forethought into providing features I didn’t know I needed. I didn’t know how important using filtered water was when I purchased this machine, but it's really important. If you use water that is too harsh, you’re going to end up breaking your machine with scale. Thankfully Breville was thinking ahead.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Steam Power: The Barista Express’s biggest shortcoming is its steam power. It is no secret that it is not the strongest steamer in the world. It will produce nice, frothy milk, but it's not as easy as if the machine had more steam power.
- Built-in grinder: The built-in grinder is both a positive and a negative. The inclusion of the grinder at its price point truly is a value, however, it’s not the best grinder in the world. It’s capable, but espresso lovers may want an upgrade such as the Eureka Silenzio. And if you do eventually upgrade, you are still stuck with the one attached to the machine.
- Too much pressure at the pump: The BBE produces 15 bars of pressure, and espresso is best at 9. Though Breville says that the over pressure valve takes care of the extra pressure, I’m not so sure. My machine seemed to be pushing out more than 9 bars at the pump, and other reviewers online seem to say the same.
Favorite moment with this machine
At one point, I got a shot that was so miraculously good that I wanted to cheer. It was nuanced, complex, rich, and unique. It was mind-blowingly good, and I have no idea how it happened. Though the built-in grinder isn’t consistent enough to produce those kinds of shots every single time, it blew my mind enough that it has kept me chasing shots like that one ever since.
Value for the money vs. other options
For the features it possesses, the Breville Barista Express is swinging above its weight class. Though you may get a more industrial experience with something like the Gaggia Classic Pro paired with a Baratza Sette 30 grinder, you’re still not getting PID temperature controls or volumetric settings.
What you lose out on with the Barista Express compared to other options such as the Gaggia Classic Pro or the Rancillio Silvia is build quality and 58mm portafilters. Those two machines are built primarily with stainless steel, whereas the BBE is primarily plastic. Likewise, the BBE comes stock with 54mm portafilters versus the 58mm portafilters of the other two. While a smaller portafilter actually makes pulling shots easier, it may not be ideal for somebody looking for the true cafe experience.
Compared to other Breville options, the Barista Express isn’t necessarily a better value. For someone considering a Breville, it comes down to what features are preferred. The Breville Barista Pro will give you more grind settings (30 versus 16) and slightly more steam power, while the pricier Barista Touch comes with a touch screen. Closer to the price of the Barista Express is the Breville Infuser, which is essentially the BBE without the grinder.
The Barista Express is designed for the home barista looking for the simplest experience possible. Breville has been intentional with their design, creating a machine with far more features than implied by its reasonable price point. The machine is incredibly approachable, easy to use, and has me truly respect the Breville brand.