Is the Breville BES870XL Barista Express worth the money?
The king of under $600 home espresso machines - Breville Barista Express
Every morning you wake up to the typical early-morning hustle and bustle. The promise of a freshly brewed latte—or maybe an espresso—tantalizes you more than staying under the covers. After years of spending nearly $25 a week and countless hours sandwiched between Starbucks lovers who don’t care how long they have to wait for coffee, you begin to dream about the convenience of a home coffee system and in comes the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine.
- 15 bar pump
- Attached Conical Grinder
- PID Temperature Control
In your search for the perfect machine, you’ve come across ones that cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 and up, and often this doesn’t even include a grinder. We know, we know: that’s a lot of money. And all these options lead you to wonder: Do you really get better espresso the more you spend? How do these machines differ? How much should you pay to delight in delicious lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and cream coffees while still wearing your pajamas?
Don’t be discouraged. While those high-priced machines make coffee aficionados ooh and ahh, we know of a phenomenal machine that doesn’t break the bank.
Worth The Money?
Breville has three different models in its under $600 line-up—the Barista Express, the Infuser and the Duo-Temp Pro. For the most part, these machines make pulling consistently great tasting espresso shots easier and more approachable that other comparably priced machines we’ve tested. However, there are factors that differentiate them, chiefly in terms of grinding the beans. Simply put, only the top-selling Barista Express grinds fresh beans right before brewing. But do you really need a built-in grinder? Is the Infuser or Duo-Temp Pro without a grinder more than sufficient? Or is a true bean-to-cup experience worth shelling out $600. We think we have the answer right here, so read on.
Breville BES870XL Barista Express - The good
A Game Changer
As technology continues to advance, every so often a product comes along that’s truly game-changing. And the Breville Barista Express is already redefining things and promises to do so for a long time. In all our years, we have never seen an espresso machine under $600 as polarizing as this. The affordable Express has better overall quality than anything else at its price, and in many ways outperforms more expensive espresso machines.
Attached Stainless Steel Conical Burr Grinder - A MASSIVE Upgrade
The Express is basically an upgraded Infuser. But the ample act of including an integrated stainless steel conical burr grinder as standard changes everything. Not many semi automatic espresso machines theses days allow you to adjust grind size on the fly. Because of this addition, the Express has received more five-star ratings than we can shake a stick at, including on Amazon. So let’s talk about it.
Become An At-Home Barista In No Time
For starters, the word “Barista” in the name refers to the machine’s ability to pull shots like a barista. As all baristas know, if you want great tasting espresso, you need a great grinder—either with your machine or as a standalone. That’s because coffee beans only stay fresh for about four weeks after roasting. Which means pre-ground coffee is already bad by the time you get it home. As we mentioned, the Infuser and the Duo-Temp Pro do not include a grinder.
Grinder Included – Breville BES870XL Barista Express
By now you are probably wondering what a conical burr grinder is. As espresso geeks, we’ve been educated to answer this question. So at the risk of sounding a bit technical, grinders feature either conical or flat burrs. Both grind coffee the same way: one serrated ring moves against another with jagged edges. The difference between the two types of burrs is the shape of their rings. Conical burrs use a cone-shaped ring that sits inside another cone-shaped ring. In contrast, flat burrs have two rings of burrs that site horizontal to the ground. Both perform a consistently fine grind. Okay, maybe that’s a bit technical. But hopefully you get the point.
Something less technical we can tell you is that it is our experience that conical burrs retain fewer grounds than flat burrs. Because the Express has steel conical burrs, you will go through less coffee. And that’s a good thing. It’s no coincidence that the highest-rated home grinders use conical burrs. The downside? You won’t be able to use other brewing methods like a French press, which require a consistently course ground. The burrs are easily adjustable for multiple grind settings with the simple turn of a wheel dial located on the side of the machine.
Bean Hopper Included
The Breville Barista Express stands out in the world of espresso machines, in part because of its impressive bean hopper design. With a clear focus on maintaining the freshness and integrity of the coffee beans, the hopper has been designed to ensure an airtight seal, protecting the beans from moisture and outside contaminants. Its generous size ensures that you don't have to refill too often, making it ideal for regular coffee drinkers.
Why Having a Conical Burr Grinder Matters
Conical burr coffee grinders have several advantages over blade grinders. Here are the primary benefits:
1. Consistent Grind Size: One of the most significant advantages of conical burr grinders is their ability to produce uniform grind particles. A consistent grind size is vital for making good coffee because it ensures even extraction. Blade grinders, in contrast, produce a mixture of both fine and coarse particles, which can lead to uneven extraction, resulting in off-flavors.
2. Adjustable Grind Settings: Conical burr grinders typically come with multiple grind settings, ranging from fine to coarse. This versatility allows you to tailor the grind size to match your brewing method, whether it's espresso, drip coffee, French press, or others. Blade grinders lack this level of precision.
3. Reduced Heat Production: Burr grinders generate less heat compared to blade grinders. This is crucial because excess heat can alter and degrade the flavor of the coffee beans. Blade grinders can cause friction-generated heat, potentially affecting the coffee's taste.
4. Durable and Long-lasting: Conical burrs tend to wear down less quickly than blades. This means that over time, a conical burr grinder can remain sharp and effective longer than a blade grinder.
5. Better Flavor Extraction: Because of the consistency in grind size from a conical burr grinder, you're more likely to achieve a balanced and full-bodied flavor in your brewed coffee. Uneven grinds from blade grinders can lead to both over-extraction (bitterness) from the fine particles and under-extraction (sourness) from the coarse particles.
6. Less Noise: Conical burr grinders generally produce less noise compared to blade grinders, making for a quieter coffee grinding experience, especially in the morning.
While conical burr grinders tend to be more expensive than blade grinders, the difference in performance, consistency, and coffee quality can make the investment worthwhile for coffee enthusiasts.
The Water Tank: Capacity and Convenience
The Breville Barista Express takes the guesswork out of brewing with its intuitively designed water tank. Not only does it boast a substantial capacity, accommodating multiple servings, but its placement is also convenient for easy refills and maintenance. Given the importance of water quality in brewing, users should be mindful of the type of water they fill the tank with. For insights into the best water quality for espresso machines, consider reading this comprehensive guide on water selection, which, although centered around Lelit machines, provides valuable information applicable to all espresso enthusiasts.
Everything Else, I mean Everything, Is Included
Now, what can you expect? The Breville Barista Express is a machine that produces a great tasting espresso without the bells and whistles that more expensive machines feature. You’re not paying extra for a fancy LCD display here. That’s doesn’t mean that the Express doesn’t come with everything you need, because it does. Unlike most espresso machines, there are no accessories to buy. Well, you have to buy the espresso beans.
The Express has a ½ pound sealed bean hopper, a 54mm tamper, a steaming wand for frothing your milk, and a frothing pitcher. Throw in the stainless steel grinder, a thermocoil heating system, and a 67-ounce removable water tank and the result is one of the most popular espresso machines on the market today.
While the Express will grind your beans and dose directly into the heavy duty portafilter in less than one minute, it does have a shortcoming you should be aware of: the built-in grinder means surplus espresso grinds collect and mix in the drip tray.
User Friendly – Breville BES870XL Barista Express
As far as operating the Express is concerned, we found the process to be as simple as simple gets. There is a dial on the front of the machine to vary dose and adjust grind size for maximum flavor. The Express can handle single or double shots. It’s amazingly good at automatically adjusting water temperature thanks to recent improvements over its preceding version, the 860XL. The thing is, we actually found the old heating system acceptable. It was 1450W, but it wasn’t bad. But this new 1600W heating system is really terrific! The Express is ready to go in minutes.
We mentioned that the hopper holds ½ pounds of beans, so it has some weight to it, tipping the scale at 23 pounds. While this might be a bit heavy for some people, the Express can easily be moved from counter to counter. But if you’re like us, you’ll find the perfect spot in your kitchen and park it there.
Steam Wand: Mastering The Art of Microfoam
The Breville Barista Express distinguishes itself with a steam wand that brings professional-grade frothing to your countertop. Crafted to produce consistent steam pressure, this wand is adept at creating microfoam – the silky, smooth froth that’s a hallmark of artisanal lattes and cappuccinos.
1. Ease of Use: For beginners, there might be a slight learning curve as mastering the art of frothing takes practice. However, the design of the Barista Express's steam wand is intuitive. The dial to activate the steam is straightforward, and the wand's range of motion allows for easy angling and submersion into milk pitchers of various sizes.
2. Consistent Pressure: The steam wand delivers consistent pressure, ensuring that you get even frothing and heating. This consistency is vital for achieving the perfect texture in your milk, whether you're aiming for a creamy latte or a frothy cappuccino.
3. Cleaning: Maintenance of the steam wand is crucial to ensure its longevity and performance. Thankfully, the Barista Express makes this task relatively painless. After each use, a simple purge (releasing steam for a few seconds) can help clear out any milk residue from the wand. Additionally, its exterior can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth.
The Verdict – Breville BES870XL Barista Express
The verdict, you might ask? We think you are going like the Barista Express. There’s nothing complicated about operating this amazing device. If a beginner, you’ll love its dual-wall, pressurized filters that eliminate the guesswork. But if you’re an experienced espresso lover, however, one cool thing you can do with the Express is experiment using its single-wall filters. In our opinion, that’s one of the top reasons for getting this machine. Flexibility. Either way, you’ll be right at home…and that’s exactly how Breville wants it. Another nice feature is the integrated water filter for the water tank - something the more expensive machines don't have.
So why wouldn’t you want an Express? The biggest reason is probably brand reputation—some people would rather pay extra for a Rocket or Jura of similar performance. That would be a mistake. The Express is our go-to recommendation for savvy buyers who want excellent espresso for an affordable price.
Breville BES870XL Barista Express - The not so good
With a built-in grinder, the Express is designed for pulling espresso shots. Which means you won’t be able to use the grinder for other brewing methods.
The Bottom Line
We’ll keep this short and sweet: In the end, if you are looking for an all-around machine with a built-in grinder that will make great tasting espresso every time without breaking the bank, the affordable Breville Barista Express should be first on your list. There is nothing on the market better in its price range. As good as it is beautiful, the Express’ high quality die-cast casing and streamlined design, swivel mounted steam wand, 15 bar pump, integrated stainless steel conical burr grinder, and ease of use bolster its claim to being the king of the under $600 espresso machines. Simple and easy to use, the Express does not do all the work for you like a super-automatic machine. But that’s a good thing for home baristas serious about the espresso they make. So avoid the lines and enjoy your favorite coffee beverage in the privacy for your home.
If you don’t want a built-in grinder for some reason, maybe you already have a high-end grinder, then the Breville Infuser is the machine to get (we haven’t tested the Breville Duo-Temp Pro). In our side-by-side comparisons, both machines are cut from the same cloth. Since the Infuser costs less than the Express, you might automatically assume it’s not as good. You would be wrong, and we feel just as comfortable recommending the Infusion as we do the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine. Neither is a bare-bones machine. Both come with everything you need to get going.
FAQ - Breville The Barista Express bes870xl
How long will it last?
If taken care of properly there's no reason the Barista Express can't last you north of 5-10 years. Although not as well-built as a prosumer espresso machine, Breville is as reliable as they are reputable.
I've heard the grinder can be inconsistent - is this true?
We too have found this to be true however not the actual grind but rather the dosage seems to fluctuate. You can control the dosage easily with a turn dial on the side of the machine however it doesn't seem to grind the same amount every single time. This is even typical on $1k grinders so nothing to really worry about. The machine comes with a wonderful dosing tool to help even out your doses quickly.
The reviews on Amazon say Breville USA is horrible - is this true?
We have no experience with them however Amazon has an incredibly easy/lenient return policy.
How does taste compare to a super automatic?
Super-automatic espresso machines taste incredibly commercialized. This machine will create a much more full-bodied shot of espresso that tastes just like your local café. It's hard to even compare.
Can this make Americanos?
Yes - of course!
What drinks can it make other than straight espresso?
Any café drink with milk (you'll be steaming your own milk!). Cappuccino, latte, flat white, americano, etc.
How easy is it to clean?
Cleaning the grinder is highly recommended every now and then to remove residue from beans. The machine comes with a handy brush for easy cleaning. You may find yourself using a vacuum to get rid of any excess beans that may be lodged in the grinder after many uses.
Can it be plumbed to my water line?
Unfortunately, no. It does, however, contain a large water reservoir that is easily removed for filling.
How tall is the machine?
15.5". Please measure before purchasing!