Is The Breville Barista Express Actually Worth The Money In 2023?
If you’re on the hunt for a powerful espresso machine at an affordable price, the Barista Express might be the one for you. It has a built-in grinder, milk frother and cup warmer, and it pulls exceptionally flavorful shots.
FYI, prices and ratings are accurate as of time of writing.
The Barista Express by Breville
Top-rated: 17,302 ratings
Highlight: Grinds on demand to deliver the right amount of freshly ground coffee directly into the portafilter.
Helpful review: Despite some of the negative criticism sprinkled throughout this review, keep in mind that I am giving this machine 5 stars, and now that I have spent a few weeks getting to know it (intimately)... I love it so much, that if a burglar broke into my house and stole it, I would order another one the same day! I have not been back to Starbucks since. All that being said, you NEED to read this review so that your machine does not frustrate you and so that you get the most out of it. Read on my coffee-loving friend.
I am a guy, who knew nothing about espresso machines before this. I am very mechanically inclined and don't usually read instructions. This was different - this machine is NOT self-explanatory and you NEED to read the instructions (which are well written, and even include a troubleshooting section). Don't get frustrated with this machine until/unless you have read (all) the instructions.
This machine (and all that you want to go with it) will take some counter space - allow AT LEAST 34-inches of counter width to accommodate - slightly more is even better. Anyway, after you read the instructions, here are some tips that they don't include to help avoid frustration.
When the beans are grinding, lightly knock on the top of the hopper lid (just like knocking on a door) so that the beans keep feeding down to the grinder (sometimes they get hung up - a light knock each time keeps this from happening). Do NOT overfill the portafilter (after tamping) or it will jam coffee grounds into the water outlet and could possibly damage the portafilter or locking guide. After the grounds are tamped down in the filter cup, the silver part of the tamper should be just hidden beneath the rim of the portafilter (the machine includes a tool you can use if you accidentally overfill the filter cup, but after a short while, you'll figure out how much to grind each time and the tool will not be necessary).
You ALWAYS want to watch the pressure gauge when making espresso. It NEEDS to be in the dark grey area of the pressure gauge (and ideally in/near the middle of the grey area) during the brew cycle, otherwise you are not making good espresso - rather, you are making either watered down espresso (not enough pressure) or not enough espresso which is too rich (too much pressure). There are two key things that affect pressure: the fineness at which the coffee is ground (which is adjustable) and the volume of grounds in the portafilter (also adjustable). Although there is a one or two shot size setting, I have found it best to do two, 1-shot grinds, tamping down the grounds in-between each single-shot grind. I have the grind (volume) setting on the 4th click setting, and I have the grind (fineness) setting on either 2 or 3 (play around and see what gives you the best results). IF the pressure is too low, then either your coffee is ground too coarsely, or your have not tamped it down tight enough, or the filter is not filled with enough coffee grounds, or a combination of any/all of these things. IF the pressure is too high, then either your coffee is ground too finely, or you have tamped down the grounds too hard (tightly), or a combination of the two.
If using two, single-shot espresso glasses to collect a double-shot brew, keep an eye on them during the brew cycle and make sure they are centered under the espresso being dispensed (this can be avoided by using a double-shot size collection cup). If making a mocha or other syrup/sauce drink, pre-mix the espresso and syrup in the glass and stir thoroughly before adding the steamed milk.
Steaming milk is 1/2-art, and 1/2-science (seriously), and it does not come naturally. If you've never worked at a coffee shop and been trained to steam milk, do yourself a favor and watch a few good (short) YouTube videos on the proper way to steam milk. You will THANK yourself for taking 5-10 minutes on You Tube and learning the proper way to steam milk (and things to avoid). Understanding the steaming process will allow you to control the amount of foam on top and not make big mess. Before you steam your milk, VENT the steam wand to remove the residual water from the boiler line (you don't want a few teaspoons of water in your milk). Vent the line, then turn the steam off ... wait 5 full seconds ... then insert the steam wand into the milk, then turn the steam back on. Hold the handle with your left hand, and place your right hand underneath the stainless steel milk steaming cup, when the cup is too hot for your right hand to touch (I mean really to hot to hold), keep the steam wand in and start counting along with the pump (which sounds like a metronome in the background ... dit ... dit ... dit ... dit ...). For a semi-hot latte/mocha keep the steam wand in the milk for 30 double-dits (don't start counting until after you can non longer touch the bottom with your right hand ... "and-one, and two, and three" and so on until you get to 30 (the equivalent of 60 single dits). For hot (but still drinkable) count to 40 double-dits, and for very-hot, 50 double-dits. Anything above 60 and you risk burning the milk (which will ruin the flavor and you will need to toss it out and start over). When finished, turn the steam off, and remove the steam wand from the milk about 3-5 seconds before it finishes blowing steam (to avoid having milk sucked back up into the steam line).
After you steam your milk, VENT the steam wand again to remove any milk that inadvertently got sucked up into the steam wand line and prevent any from making its way into the boiler. IF milk makes its way back into the boiler unit (because you failed to vent the line after use) you will DESTROY the boiler (permanently), in that, the milk cannot be cleaned out, will burn during the next use, and every cup of milk you steam in the future will have a burnt-milk smell/flavor - yuck! DO yourself a favor and vent the steam line religiously after each use - and make sure others who use your machine know that they can ruin it if they don't do so also! (there goes $700!)
The bottom tray is easy to remove, empty and clean (comes apart in 3 pieces). You should empty this every 2-4 days of use because it fills up despite you not pouring liquid into it - reason is, each time you finish using the steam wand or hot water dispenser, the machine auto-vents out the line from the boiler into the bottom tray (sneaky little devil) ... so even though you don't realize it, it's filling up a little with each use. (Fun fact - the hot water dispenser can be used for instant hot water to make tea!).
Now you have to clean this machine. I unfold a clean washcloth each time I make espresso. When you tamp down the grounds, it will help avoid damaging/scratching your counter, and will catch the spill-over grounds (there will always be some spill-over). When finished, use hot water (from your kitchen sink) to rinse the espresso cup(s), milk steaming cup, portafilter and filter insert (remove the filter cup from the portafilter each time you clean them), then use another clean washcloth to set them out to dry upon. The washcloth used to make espresso: fold it in half, twice (into a square), and use the hot water dispenser (on the machine) to get one corner of the square wet with hot (boiling hot) water, then fold the square into a triangle so that the boiling water corner is exposed, then fold that triangle into another triangle around the steam wand and thoroughly clean the steam wand. It will take a little time and firm pressure - make sure the wand is clean so that you don't get nasty milk residue build up on your steam wand.
Pro Tip: Use top quality beans. I recommend buying 1 lb. bags of Starbucks Espresso Roast beans - whole, NEVER pre-ground. WHY would you spend $700 on a coffee bar setup and then use crap beans or pre-ground (aka: not fresh) coffee? Use top quality beans (I have no financial interest in Starbucks by the by - so if you prefer something else like Pete's or Dutch Bros., fine - but make sure you're buying whole bean bags of their Espresso Roast). 2-4 double-shot lattes/mochas per day will go through a 1 lb. bag of beans every 1-2 weeks.
Transitioning to decaf beans...? Nope, not easy, nor was the machine set up for an easy transition. To transition from regular espresso beans to decaf beans you must unlock the bean hopper and remove it - then pour the regular beans into a ziplock bag, then take your vacuum cleaner (I'm not joking) and vacuum out the remaining regular beans from the grinding gear mechanism, then replace the (empty) hopper - lock it in place, then fill it with decaf beans. We did this once at my house... and will never do it again. I hope you enjoyed my review and it helps you make awesome lattes and mochas!"
Keep in mind that this is not a 'stand-alone' purchase... this machine costs around $700 (give or take), you need to invest another $100 right from the start (preferably at the same time) to get the most out of it, enjoy it to the fullest, and not get unreasonably frustrated by making your own lattes and mochas. The other things you REALLY should order at the same time (and all are available on Amazon) are:
1. ($29) 100-pack disposable 20oz. cups with lids and sleeves (sold by Yes!fresh). Trust me, you want to get these. It's only $0.29 per cup and are far more convenient that trying to clean out a million dirty coffee cups from your car/office each week. These are worth twice what they cost in the long run. And when your friends are over, you need not 'loan' them a nice coffee cup to go (which you may never see again) - just give them a paper cup to take with them.
2. ($5-15 for 25 oz. / $20-30 for 64 oz.) Torani syrups and sauces, AND the pump tops that go with them (always sold separately). IF you drink the same thing on a regular basis (like I do) such as a white chocolate peppermint mocha, buy the 64 oz. white chocolate sauce and not the smaller 25 oz. bottle.
3. ($14) Amazon Basics Cotton Washcloth - 24 pack - grey (the grey matches the espresso machine, but the color doesn't matter). Again, trust me, you want a nicely folded stack of these sitting next to the machine - you will use 1 each time you make espresso, and then it will be dirty and needs to be washed. At my house (3 people using the machine) we bought two 24-packs because we make so much coffee - two 24-packs is not too many for our house (I'm thinking about buying a third pack).
4. ($10 for pair of single shot size, $15 for pair of double shot size) Set of double-walled espresso shot glasses. Do NOT buy the rounded ones (ie: Cutehom espresso coffee cups) because they will not pour very well and drip all over the place (down the side) each time - very frustrating. Buy the JoyJolt Javaah Double Walled Espresso Glasses instead - you'll be glad you did in the long run. And, if you're planning to make mostly double-shot lattes/mochas, buy a set of Dragon Glassware 6 oz Espresso Cups (also double-walled) so that you don't have to keep fidgeting with the single shot cups to keep them in the right spot under the coffee dispenser. It's important to buy double-walled glasses for two reasons. First, it keeps the espresso hot while you're steaming your milk, second, it keeps you from burning your fingers when pouring the espresso into your coffee cup.
5. ($15) Breville BCB100 Barista-Style Coffee Knock Box. Again, TRUST me, you want this right next to your machine - the coffee grounds will start piling up quickly and you don't want your portafilter anywhere near a garbage can. This thing is a must." - VR
Get it from Amazon now: $729.95 & FREE Returns