Are you looking to enjoy gourmet coffee without hitting Starbucks every morning?
What We'll Cover
If so and you appreciate the benefits of grinding your coffee beans directly before brewing, you should consider the mid-priced Breville Barista Express.
What makes this espresso machine worth your time, then?
Well, with a conical burr grinder baked in, you can move seamlessly from blitzing your beans to brewing at the push of a few buttons. You get 15 bars of pressure which is more than enough for a rich and consistent espresso extraction.
The stainless steel build and die-cast chassis along with an efficient swiveling steam wand completes a powerful package.
If you fancy the challenge of a semi-automatic espresso machine and you don’t object to paying for the privilege, we’ll break down the Barista Express today so you can decide whether or not a semi-automatic machine makes sense for you.
I. Specs of Breville BES870XL
- Temperature Control
- Onboard Grinder
- Durable Steam Wand
- Hot Water on Demand
- Multiple Baskets
- Razor Dosing Tool
According to the National Coffee Association USA, water for brewing coffee should be heated to between 195F and 205F.
Thanks to PID temperature control built in, water will be kept at a consistent 200F throughout extraction.
As with all elements of this flexible machine, you can fine-tune things to suit. After all, that’s what making great espresso is all about: experimentation then replication. Dial the temperature up or down in 2F increments so you get your shot just the way you want it.
Auto-purge is a nice addition. This ensures your machine is ready to roll again once you’ve pulled your shot.
With more than 98% of the contents of your cup water and less than 2% coffee, getting the right type of water heated to between 195F and 205F is the first step to great espresso.
Next, you need to grind fresh whole beans, ideally directly before brewing. Why is this? Well, once coffee beans are ground and exposed to the elements, they start to lose flavor and aroma after as little as 30 minutes. Degradation continues from that point forth. Buy pre-ground coffee and it will already be well past its best before it reaches you.
If you’ve started getting more involved with making coffee at home, you might find the amount of equipment becomes overwhelming. If you have limited space in the kitchen, buying a machine with an integrated grinder is one solution.
The Barista Express has a conical burr grinder that delivers a consistent grind and the fine texture you need for great espresso. Since the water and coffee enjoy only brief contact time as the pressurized water is forced through the grounds at pace, you need it ground finely for the best extraction.
The 8oz bean hopper is styled after Breville’s Smart Grinder but how does it perform?
That hopper is not just easy on the eye but equally simple to clean. It removes to make this easier. It also simplifies filling it up.
You can get the fine grind you need for espresso but you get a full 16 settings to choose from. This makes the grinder much more versatile. If you fancy the coarse grind you need for your French press or the medium grind ideal for pour-over coffee, you’re in safe hands. When you want those short, sharp shots or a longer coffee, you’ll get a drink in your cup from whole beans in no more than a minute. The Barista Express delivers unbeatable convenience while still allowing you to exercise some control over the brewing process.
Durable Steam Wand
The stainless steel steam wand is easy to swivel around so you can position your pitcher just where you want it.
Build quality is such that you don’t need to treat the wand with kid gloves.
While an automatic wand might be easier to use, this moveable manual wand lets you create imaginative latte art and add the finishing touches to those longer drinks.
And thinking of longer drinks, your choice extends beyond espresso and espresso-based longer drinks thanks to the hot water spout…
Hot Water on Demand
Having the ability to make great espresso at home is all well and good but it’s not all-day drink.
With the steam wand in place, you can create latte and macchiato.
Throw in a separate hot water spout and you can build out your menu to include tea, hot chocolate, and your favorite infusions. You could even make soup with the Barista Express so you have all bases covered in a single capable unit.
The Barista Express ships with 4 filter baskets:
- Single pressurized
- Single non-pressurized
- Double pressurized
- Double non-pressurized
Single and double are self-explanatory, referring to the size of your shot.
The pressurized baskets are a done-for-you approach to espresso. With the non-pressurized baskets, you’ll be free to dial in your shot to your precise liking.
Razor Dosing Tool
Once you’ve tamped your shot, the dosing tool allows you to make that final pass and trim your puck so you get completely consistency every single time.
Many espresso makers are notoriously tough to clean. The Barista Express is not one of them.
To clean the burrs, remove the bean hopper to access them with ease.
The water tank and water filter both slide out for ease of cleaning and refilling.
A light illuminates when it’s time to clean your machine and you’ll also need to keep on top of keeping the drip tray spotless.
What else do you get in the box, then?
- Stainless steel milk jug
- Knock box
- Single pressurized filter basket
- Single non-pressurized filter basket
- Double pressurized filter basket
- Double non-pressurized filter basket
- Precision trimming tool
- Cleaning tablets
- Cleaning discs
- Allen key
While Barista Express might not be the cheapest machine at your disposal, this is a healthy accessory bundle to complement already excellent value.
Now we’ve glanced at the Breville Barista Express across the categories that count, we’ll tail off by examining overall performance and the quality of the espresso generated. And that, when all’s said and done, is the most important thing of all.
II. How about the Performance & Taste
The first thing we’ll point out is that you get speed and convenience with the Barista Express despite retaining the freedom to manipulate your shot and to manually pull it.
Imagine going from whole beans to coffee in your cup in 60 seconds. That’s the sort of speed you’d expect from a single-serve machine but with dramatically superior results.
Many espresso machines are marketed on the strength of having high pressure. The reality is, anywhere from 9 bars of pressure is sufficient. The Barista Express ships with 15 bars so you have that element taken care of without needing to lift a finger.
The Barista Express is one of those rare espresso machines that manages to come across as beginner-friendly without alienating more experienced hands.
If you’re just starting out, use the pressurized baskets. These allow you to see the pressure up on the dial and minimize the amount you’ll need to fine-tune your brew.
Once you’ve got your skills up, consider deploying the non-pressurized baskets. You can then tweak the grind size along with the dose control so you yield gourmet espresso with minimal effort and without needing to leave home.
Pop your filter basket into the bracket and select a single or shot according to the basket you’ve chosen.
As you press Brew, the pre-infusion stage soaks your grounds and ensures they have time to degas.
With your shot poured, either enjoy it just the way the Italians take it or build out some longer, creamier coffee instead. The milk frother is a cinch to use and you can rotate the wand through 360 degrees for complete control.
Beyond that, top up your espresso with hot water from the separate spout and get Americano on tap.
The espresso delivered by the Barista Express is rich and intense yet nicely balanced. You can use this as a base for other drinks, too.
Whether you want to embrace the push-button simplicity of the Barista Express in lazy mode or you’re ready for the challenge of dialing in your shots, this machine truly has something for everyone.
III. Tips for Use & Maintenance
Follow the simple guidance above and you’ll find the interface of this machine a pleasure to navigate.
Mercifully, you’ll need very little by the way of maintenance. The light comes on when you need to descale your machine. This will typically be after a couple of months of regular use. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for descaling with a solution or a mixture of white vinegar and water.
Some grinds will find their way into the drip tray so make sure you frequently remove the tray and blitz it clean.
1) What is a semi-automatic espresso machine?
In simple terms, a semi-automatic espresso maker is largely automated but requires you to manually pull your shot. This gives you a much greater level of control than you get with a fully-automatic machine. If you don’t mind a slight learning curve and you’re looking to stay in charge of your shots, a semi-automatic makes perfect sense.
2) What’s the pre-infusion stage?
The Barista Express saturates your coffee grounds then waits for 60 seconds before the shot is ready to pour. This allows any residual gas to escape from the coffee. Coffee that’s not sufficiently degassed can lead to a weak extraction.
3) Is it worth buying the Barista Express if I already have a great grinder?
Probably not. If you have a cheap or ineffective grinder, it’s well worth upgrading to the Barista Express since the integrated grinder is powerful and efficient. If, on the other hand, you’ve got a serviceable conical burr grinder already, you might as well look for a dedicated espresso machine so all your money is going there and not on the grinder.
4) Can I make regular coffee with a Barista Express?
If you use the hot water spout, you can serve yourself a longer espresso in the form of an Americano. You won’t be able to make pour-over coffee or drip coffee, though.
5) Can I only get espresso from the Barista Express?
No. Since you have a hot water spout, you’ll be able to make longer Americanos and even tea or hot chocolate making this a deceptively versatile unit.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are not for everyone. If you prefer the idea of punching a button and letting the machine do all the work for you, you’re better looking at fully-automatic and super-automatic machines.
If, on the other hand, you’re eager to embrace a new technique and you’re comfortable with a more hands-on approach to making espresso, the Barista Express comes with an inbuilt kicker…
That conical burr grinder baked right in allows you to get from bean to cup in sixty seconds flat. Despite this remarkable speed and convenience, you’ll also be free to manipulate your shot so you get it just the way you want it.
If you’re not prepared to drop four figures on a commercial-grade espresso machine, the Barista Express is a solid mid-range residential model capable of withstanding some serious use. If you prize the quality of the coffee in your cup over push-button simplicity, we can’t recommend the Breville strongly enough. Check one out today and start enjoying first-class espresso at home tomorrow.