Breville BES870XL Barista Espresso Machine – Full Review
A step up from the basic, bare-bones espresso maker, the Breville BES870XL Barista Express lets you make freshly brewed espresso at home. While its price might seem prohibitive to some, I’ve done the math concerning my intake of coffeehouse drinks and it’s pretty clear that this machine pays for itself fairly quickly it it’s used to replace five-dollar lattes.
While espresso making is often referred to as both an art and a science, the Barista Express takes the majority of the guesswork out of the process. There’s no need to adjust grind size or grind amount to pull a nearly perfect shot. An integrated burr grinder and removable water reservoir help to streamline the process and save time, and the machine’s 15-bar pump and thermocoil heating system regulate water temperature for full-flavored espresso.
I would love to see this espresso machine (or any other one, for that matter) dispense the exact amount of ground coffee needed for the ideal shot of espresso, but there’s a way around it. I’ve started using the Breville Razor precision dose trimming tool to get perfect espresso pucks; not really a necessity at all, but a nice gadget to have on hand.
Looks aren’t everything, but it must be said that the Breville Barista Express is a fantastic-looking espresso machine. The stainless steel body is attractive and easy to keep clean, and the overall presentation is sleek and modern. The lights that come on when the machine is activated make it even more attractive.
These are just the basics. Read on for greater insight into the pros and cons that come with owning the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine.
Convenient Built-In Burr Grinder
If you’re at all familiar with the process of making espresso, you know how important it is to grind fresh beans just before beginning the extraction process. Just like many espresso machines designed for professional use, the Barista Express has a top-mounted burr grinder built in. It holds ½ pound of espresso beans, and is equipped with a sealed top to prevent the beans from taking on a stale flavor. It also has an adjustable grind feature that lets you decide how coarse to make your espresso. The finest grind setting really is superfine, which I find a bit too strong for my taste but which others really seem to enjoy.
The hopper is removable to make refilling easy, something I really like as it prevents me from spilling beans all over the kitchen.
Low Pressure Pre-Infusion
The low-pressure pre-infusion feature and the showerhead-style water delivery system ensure that the espresso puck becomes saturated before pressure builds and the shot is pulled. This helps to deliver maximum flavor, and it ensures that you’re getting the most out of your espresso beans.
Programmable One- and Two-Cup Functions
One of the nicest things about the Barista Express is that it can be programmed to make either one or two cups of espresso per use. Each of the preset ‘cups’ is 30 milliliters, however there’s a third feature that allows you to customize the amount of liquid that goes into each shot so that you can get the exact flavor you prefer. It took me some practice to get used to this feature, and unless you are a trained barista, it’s likely that you’ll find you have to fiddle with it a bit too.
While the pressure gauge on this espresso machine isn’t quite as fancy as the ones on pricier models, it is much more robust than the gauges you’ll find on lower end espresso makers. The pressure gauge is essentially your key to consistency. Watch the pressure and determine where you like the flavor, the amount of crema on you shot, etc. the best. If you consistently hit that mark when pulling shots, your espresso should remain consistent too, as long as you stick with the same type of beans.
Roomy, Removable Water Tank with Filter
Just like fancy commercial espresso machines, this one has a roomy reservoir for water so you don’t have to add water each and every time you go to make espresso. I would like it if the tank were side mounted rather than rear mounted, as it’s necessary to pull the machine away from the wall a bit before refilling, however this would detract from the machine’s looks and might make it more difficult to use. As the reservoir holds 67 ounces of water (a little over a gallon) this is a task that doesn’t have to be done too frequently. The integrated filter removes impurities from water so your espresso comes out tasting marvelous.
Two Sets of Filters
The Barista Express comes with two sets of filters: A set of dual-wall filters for those who are new to making espresso, plus a set of single-wall filters for those who have already mastered the technique. The dual-wall filters are pressurized to optimize extraction, while the single-wall filters are non-pressurized and allow for experimentation with different grind amounts and sizes as well as varying tamping pressure.
Stainless Steel Steam Wand
No espresso machine is complete without a steam wand. This one has a robust, 360-degree wand that allows you to heat and texture fresh milk. Once you get the hang of using this wand, you can even create microfoam bubbles that will allow you to exercise your creative side with a bit of latte art.
Easy to Clean
As long as you clean up immediately, you’ll find the steam wand on the Barista Express is very easy to wipe clean with a wet cloth. The knob that controls the steam is conveniently located on the right side of the machine, making it very easy to purge steam to clean the tip of the nozzle completely after heating milk. Be sure to point the nozzle back down toward the base of the machine while purging to prevent messes and burns.
As for the occasional drip and spilled coffee grounds, they’re easy to wipe up. A removable drip tray in the base of the machine features a “clean me” message, although I find it’s much easier to just cleanup after each use instead of waiting for a mess to accumulate.
Descaling is simple, and the filter in the water reservoir ensures that scale buildup doesn’t happen quickly. Special cleaning tools are included with the machine. I’d like it if the Breville Barista Express came with some extra water filters, but this is a complaint I make about almost all coffee and espresso makers as very few machines do.
“Can you make a regular cup of coffee with this machine?”
This espresso maker isn’t designed to make regular drip coffee, but you can get a wonderful Americano from it by making a shot or two of espresso and then adding water from the dispenser. This is basically the equivalent of a good, strong cup of coffee.
“How hot is the warming plate on top of the espresso maker?”
The warming plate is not terribly hot at all. It’s quite warm to the touch, so you can keep a few cups on top and allow them to warm before filling them with the drinks you make. If you like your cups hot rather than warm, fill them with hot water and empty them just before filling with drinks.
“Does the tamper have to be removed from the machine for use?”
Yes, although it looks like you could potentially use it while attached, you won’t get good results unless you remove it from its storage spot, where a magnet holds it in place. I have read reviews where others have used it while in place, but I personally prefer to take it off and really make a nice espresso puck.
“Does the espresso come out with lots of crema?”
That really depends on the quality of the beans you are using as well as on the way you’ve got the settings adjusted. It took me a few cycles to get my espresso just how I like it, which is pretty much par for the course when trying out a new espresso maker.
“Can the Breville Barista Express brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously?”
No. It has a single boiler and can only do one function at a time. Luckily, the entire process is pretty quick – it takes just about 60 seconds to go from beans to finished espresso, then another 15 to 30 seconds to steam milk, depending on the quantity and how good a container you’re using for the steam process.
“Does this espresso maker come with a warranty?”
Yes, Breville offers a one-year warranty.
“Does the Barista Express make frothed milk for cappuccinos, or does it just heat the milk for lattes?”
You can make very frothy milk with this espresso maker, but you’ve got to learn the technique first. Start by tilting the pitcher slightly to the side so the milk swirls from the force of the steam. Once the milk has doubled in size, it should also be very hot. There are special frothing tools you can buy to make the process easier, and there are quite a few YouTube videos that show the proper technique for making cappuccinos. Be patient with yourself! Practice is definitely the key to getting it right.
“Does the water reservoir contain BPA?”
According to the manufacturer, the water reservoir is made with BPA-free plastic.
“Is it possible to connect the tank to existing water lines to avoid having to refill it?”
No, this machine is not designed to be connected to a permanent water line. The big, built-in café-style espresso machines with water connections cost upward of $3,000 and are primarily designed for commercial use.
What People are Saying
The Breville BES870XL Barista Express is a high-quality home espresso machine that delivers excellent espresso quickly. It performs well, and once you have mastered the technique of making espresso, you’ll find that you can grind espresso beans and pull a shot in about 60 seconds. The attached tamper, high-volume water reservoir, built-in bean grinder, and 360-degree rotating steam wand let you create marvelous beverages at a lower cost than what you’d pay at most cafés. While there are better machines available, this one is likely to satisfy all but the most finicky connoisseurs. Great looks and easy cleanup are additional advantages.
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