I have been using the Breville Bambino Plus every single day for the last couple of months.
I have been throwing everything at it in that period, from modern Nordic espresso roasts to oily Italian espresso blends.
Let me tell you one thing; don’t underestimate this machine. Despite its innocent looks, it can pull excellent shots.
In this review, I will go over all the details, compare it to some of the entry-level rivals, and tell you who I ultimately think this machine is for.
Breville is one of the biggest producers of home espresso machines.
The Australian kitchen appliance company has carved out a unique niche in the coffee industry.
Some coffee snobs tend to snicker at the brand’s machines, while others (even serious espresso geeks) are devoted supporters. For instance, the Breville Dual Boiler has a cult-following and is in some circles regarded as the best value non-commercial espresso machine.
We can all agree that the Old Italian Brands produce some hefty and stunning-looking machines.
However, Breville has chosen a different path. Some people say they make appliances whereas the Italian brands produce machines.
Instead of creating heavy-duty products with loads of steel, Breville favors a more modern design that includes some lightweight plastic parts.
Instead of heavy-duty rocker buttons and switches, you have small illuminated buttons that wouldn’t look out of place on a blender or microwave.
Another reason that Breville sometimes gets a bad rep is that the brand’s products are, for the most part, difficult to repair. Breville doesn’t do much to alleviate the problem. Replacement parts on the website are often sold out, and the repair fees are quite high. They usually don’t even attempt to repair the products but will instead just give you a new one.
If you take a superficial view of things, a logical conclusion would be that the old heritage brands produce better espresso machines overall. Not just in terms of build quality but also when it comes to performance.
This is simply not the case.
Because Breville doesn’t follow the same design principles, they can add advanced electronics to their machines. And it’s actually more than just gimmicks. For instance, Breville Bambino Plus has built-in PID and preinfusion, which is something you usually only see on much more expensive machines. In daily life, these are features that really make a difference.
The Bambino also uses a technology that Breville calls “thermo jet”. It might sound like a bit of a buzzword, but it’s actually a very cool invention where metal is coated with a glass-ceramic enamel that allows superfast heating. This means that the device doesn’t need more than 3 seconds to get to temperature. Contrast that with the 10 to 30 minutes that is often required by traditional espresso makers.
A lightning-fast warmup time is actually something that makes the user experience way, way better.
However, at the moment, it seems like the junior version is only available in a few select countries. It’s also quite common to see discounts for the Plus-version, so in the end, the savings on the basic model might be negligible.
When Breville first launched this espresso maker, I didn’t think much of it. But it has since grown on me. Maybe it’s because I got the truffle black version instead of the standard in chrome.
Compared to other entry-level machines, it has a very friendly and appealing look, and it doesn’t look out of place or take up much space in your kitchen. It’s a small and compact espresso machine, and it’s also very lightweight. Even compared to something like a Gaggia Classic Pro.
In daily use, I like most of the small touches:
- The water tank is very nice. It’s easy to remove and put back into place. The lid has a nice secure, and sturdy feel when you reattach it.
The buttons are pretty easy and intuitive to use, but of course, you can miss the tactile feedback from a big rocker style switch or steam knob.
- Since there is no display, the buttons will also try to communicate to you. For instance, when it’s time to run a cleaning cycle or descale, the buttons will flash in different ways. When there is not enough water in the tank, the buttons will go dim.
There are also some features and modes that can be accessed by holding various combinations of buttons. Overall, it’s more complicated than some of the other entry-level machines; however, if you can use a smartphone or PC, I can’t imagine that this would cause you any problems.
Other things to notice:
- For some reason, the portafilter is difficult to lock into place. Since the machine is so light, you have to keep it in place when you’re trying to insert the portafilter. This is also something I have seen several reviewers comment on. However, this is pretty befuddling since I used a 3rd party 54 mm bottomless portafilter without any problems.
- There’s a lot of space between the group head and drip tray, so you can use a big scale like the Timemore Black Mirror.
- The steam wand can not swivel to any sides, but that’s easy to get used to.
- The drip tray is small and will need to be emptied almost every day.
How does the espresso taste?
So how does this machine work in daily life? I have to say that it’s working extremely well for what it is.
The PID ensures that the brewing temperature is really stable. As such, you can expect a lot more consistency compared to machines like the Gaggia Classic or Rancilio Silvia.
There is also the preinfusion and the 54 mm portafilter, which both seem to help with the consistency.
It seems that these things work together and make it a lot easier to pull good shots.
I was using a bottomless portafilter for most of my testing, and I rarely had any problems with channeling or spraying.
Overall, I could pretty much get the results I would expect every time I brewed.
In my opinion, the dispersion screen and brew pressure are also really solid out of the box.
The droplets are spread across the screen in a very uniform way, and it seems like Breville has nailed it with the 9 bars. Contrary to what some people might think, more is not better when it comes to pressure.
I used a wide range of beans and could get good results across most of them. The two lightest were blends from The Coffee Collective and Gardelli, and both tasted sweet, crisp, and balanced – exactly like you’d want them to. These aren’t exactly light roasts, but still they are what I would consider “modern” medium roasts.
I experimented with the manual preinfusion, which seemed to mute the acidity and bring out more sweetness. The manual preinfusion is relatively easy to use: just hold the shot button in for the desired time, and the puck will only be lightly wetted.
However, as far as I can tell, the maximum time you can do it is 10 seconds before the pump kicks in at 9 bars. It would be fun to have the option to run preinfusion for even longer.
I also tried to brew darker espresso blends and different charred roasts from Starbucks, and as expected, the machine handled those without any problems at all.
If you dream about brewing really light omni-roasts from Scandinavia, then this is probably not the machine for you. You’d need a bit more temperature control and longer preinfusion for that. However, from medium to dark you will get good results.
The grinder grinder is the other part of the equation
It goes without saying that you need a good espresso grinder (not just coffee grinder) to get the best results. I know a lot of people will give up too early on this machine because they are pairing it with a low quality grinder. I used 1zpresso JE, Comandante C40, and Eureka Mignon Specialita and had excellent results. So you need something in that league to really see the machine shine.
Overall, I have to say that I was really impressed with this little fellow. Out of the box, it’s way better than the rivals. With something like the Gaggia Classic Pro, you might get a fantastic shot once in a while, but with the Bambino Plus, it’s the rule, not the exception.
One of the special functions of the Breville Bambino Plus is that it has automatic milk frothing. I can’t say that this is a feature that appeals to me since I’m more of a straight espresso shot guy myself, but for the sake of the readers, I had to test it out.
I was surprised, and it actually works pretty well. I found that the middle-temperature setting combined with the lowest foam setting produced something acceptable for a cappuccino or slightly unruly latte.
The milk doesn’t quite get the glossy wet-paint texture that true latte art milk would have, but with a little bit of grooming (knocking the pitcher against the counter and swirling), you can get rid of the biggest bubbles and get something decent enough for a heart or tulip.
You can, of course, also use the manual steaming mode. The steam is actually quite powerful for such a small machine, and you should pretty quickly be able to get the right texture. The steam wand can’t swivel, which might annoy some people. However, it protrudes out quite far, which gives you a good angle for creating a vortex.
The steam wand has an auto-purge function which again could be seen as a downside if you’re used to a more old-school machine, but I’m forgetful, so I don’t mind. In the long run it will help keeping the steam wand tip pristine.
Who is it for?
Now, I think it’s time to talk a little bit about the target audience of this machine. It’s pretty obvious that this machine is made with the total beginner in mind.
The automatic milk steaming and auto purging kind of takes out a lot of errors from the equation. The fact that it has built-in reminders for descaling and cleaning does the same. You also can’t run the machine without water in the tank.
It seems that Breville has seen enough negligent users and then decided that they would make a machine that would be foolproof. Both when it comes to coffee brewing and maintenance.
I haven’t mentioned yet that there is also the option to brew using the automatic volumetric function.
Since you have both a single shot and double shot button, you have a lot of flexibility. For example, you could program the single shot button to give you around 40 ml’s, and then have the other programmed to a lungo-sized coffee. That’s totally up to you.
This function works pretty well. Shots tend to vary around 2 grams +/-.
There will be a bit of fluctuation depending on grind size, bean density, and how hard you tamp the grounds.
When I testing the volumetric function, I was thinking how easy it would be to just ditch the scale, autofroth some milk, and drink a cortado without obsessing over miniscule details.
I’m not really that person, but if you are, the Bambino Plus is a fantastic machine. It’s not much much more difficult to use than a superautomatic, yet the flavors are much better.
That being said, I did enjoy my time with the machine. So I don’t think it’s only a machine for people with no interest in espresso. Just get a single-wall basket (if it’s not already included – it is when buying the machine in Europe), and you can pull great shots. I can’t see why people who are coffee snobs wouldn’t have fun with it.
- If you already have had a modded & pidd’ed Gaggia or Silvia, then you’d probably want to upgrade to something more potent and impressive.
- If you come from a lever-device like the Flair and want a semi-automatic to explore milk drinks and a more traditional workflow, then this would make sense to add to your brew bar.
- From a cheap entry-level Delonghi or a super-automatic, this device also be a worthwhile upgrade giving you much better coffee.
So now I have said a lot of nice things about the Breville Bambino Plus, but surely there must be some downsides? Yes, of course.
- Filter Baskets: It’s disappointing that it doesn’t come with a single wall basket by default in the US. I bought my version in Europe under the “Sage” name, and here single-wall baskets are included.
- Portafilter: The stock portafilter is a little bit cheap feeling. It’s also weird that it has such a tight fit in the group head. How come my 3rd party portafilter is so much easier to slide in? I’d assume a portafilter from an old Barista Express would also fit better than the one in the box.
- No temperature control: They could have added temperature control to the Bambino, and then it would have been even more awesome.
- Small drip tray: It fills up very quickly, and water will drip out from the backside without letting you notice.
- It’s Breville: Well, for some people, that will be a downside. This means you can’t repair the device yourself. However, I think this is actually quite common with electrical products in this price range. It’s the same with a microwave or flat screen tv. If there’s a problem in the warranty period, you send it back to the shop, and most likely, they will give you a replacement. You are free to dislike that philosophy, but at least be consistent and don’t have special rules for espresso machines.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the Breville Bambino Plus.
When it was released, I initially thought it would be a beginner espresso machine focused on cappuccino-drinkers. While it can be exactly that, there’s a lot more to it.
In fact, in my opinion, it’s the new budget semi-automatic espresso machine that other brands have to beat.
I’m sure some people will still be attracted to Italian single boilers as their first machine, but if they just want a consistently good user experience then this is where they should look.
This machine turns up in 3 seconds, and there’s no waiting time between brewing and steaming. You don’t have to flush water and temperature surf. You can just focus on making tasty coffee.
If you’re choosing between this and one of Breville’s other machines with a built-in grinder, I’d highly suggest that you go for the Bambino instead. By pairing this machine with a capable coffee grinder you’ll be able to make extremely tasty coffee at home.