The Breville Barista Express is one of the most popular domestic espresso machines on the market.
And if we’re narrowing it down to only talking about espresso machines with a built-in grinder, then I’m pretty confident it’s number one in the world regarding units shipped.
However, the current iteration of the machine is around a decade old now, so in this review, we’ll look at whether it’s worth recommending in 2023 🤔
Breville Barista Express at a glance
The Barista Express is different from many other espresso machines because it has a built-in grinder.
This makes it a great all-in-one machine for beginners.
Having a proper espresso grinder is a crucial step that many first-time buyers overlook, but by getting the Barista Express, they are over that hurdle.
On the other hand, the grinder is also the Achilles heel of the Barista Express. It’s certainly a capable enough grinder. However, on the other hand, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that it’s a great grinder.
Many Barista Express owners eventually come to a point where they wish to upgrade.
The machine also comes with PID temperature control, and a built-in steam wand, making it easy to craft lattes and cappuccinos at home.
In this review, I’ll take a closer look at the features of the Breville Barista Express and talk about some of the annoying things that other reviewers tend to gloss over.
About the brand
Breville is a well-known Australian brand that has been around since 1932.
It was founded by Bill O’Brien and Harry Norville.
Yes, you guessed right; the name is created by combining the two founders’ last names.
The brand started as a small kitchen appliance manufacturer, but over the years, Breville has become one of the most innovative names in kitchenware.
Breville has continued to grow and expand, especially in the coffee market.
In 2018, the brand acquired Baratza, a respected manufacturer of domestic coffee grinders. They also bought Lelit, an Italian espresso machine maker, in 2022. This deal gave Breville access to some of the best technology in the industry for creating high-quality espresso machines.
With these acquisitions, Breville, at least on paper, seems to be one of the strongest players in the domestic coffee industry.
Let’s quickly go over the accessories that come with the machine:
- Portafilter. It’s a decent enough quality but has an annoying plastic insert. This makes it look a bit cheap, but it’s easy to remove. Removing it will also enable you to use bigger baskets.
- 54 mm tamper. It’s decent enough to get the job done.
- Four baskets are included: a single basket and two pressurized baskets. The non-pressurized basket is already located in the portafilter.
- The cleaning kit is also a great addition to the package. It comes with a rubber backstop disc, espresso cleaning tablets, a branded brush, and a pin for cleaning the steam wand. Not all brands include these things, so it’s thoughtful of Breville.
- Pitcher for steaming milk. This pitcher is beginner-friendly since it has a built-in temperature strip to indicate when you’re at the perfect latte temperature.
- The “razor tool,” which is used for leveling your grounds in the basket after dosing.
I have never used this gadget, but if you don’t plan to use a scale for weighing your shot, this might be helpful.
- Water filter and descaler packets. If you live in an area with hard water, this will help protect the machine against unwanted scale build-up.
The espresso part
When it comes to brewing espresso, the Breville Barista Express is surprisingly decent.
I have experience with several of the other popular entry-level models, such as Gaggia Classic Pro and Breville Bambino, and for some reason expected Barista Express to perform worse.
It’s been three months since I purchased the Breville Barista Express, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the espresso shots the device can pull.
The Barista Express features a 15-bar pump. That’s a bit too powerful; 9 bars is usually considered the gold standard for espresso brewing.
I believe the high pressure is a compromise from Breville’s side to make the machine work better with the pressurized baskets also included in the box.
However, it’s worth mentioning that Breville has a low-pressure preinfusion, so it will slowly ramp up to its maximum pressure.
The machine also has clearly visible pressure gauge, so you can easily see if your grind size is correct and that you’re brewing at the proper pressure.
The thermocoil heating system and built-in PID ensure that the water is at the correct temperature for brewing, and you can adjust the temperature quickly. This is handy if you switch from a very dark roast to a light roast or vice versa. On the other hand, I find the machine’s standard temperature works pretty well for your typical espresso roast.
With those machines, you must spend time and energy “temperature surfing” to brew at the right temperature.
Temperature surfing sounds a lot more fun and exciting than it is. In reality, it just means you have to purge/flush a lot of hot water through the group head and steamer.
Overall, I think the Breville Barista Express brews espresso at the same level as the Bambino Plus. It’s better because you can adjust the temperature (which you can’t with the Bambino Plus) but worse since it brews at slightly too high pressure, which is a bit more likely to result in channeling.
💡 Heads up on the 54 mm platform
Barista Express uses a 54 mm portafilter similar to many other entry-level espresso makers from Breville.
Even though some coffee snobs prefer 58 mm, the smaller size shouldn’t be underestimated.
Because Breville is such a big player in the domestic espresso industry, it’s easy and affordable to buy espresso accessories such as bottomless portafilters, baskets, tampers, puck screens etc. for the Breville Barista Express.
This is not something one should take for granted!
For instance, even though the Gaggia Classic Pro uses a 58 mm portafilter, it can’t accommodate the most common portafilters produced for E61 machines. So you’ll have to buy a very specific Gaggia-style portafilter, which will be more expensive.
The Barista Express is a thermocoil machine, which means you can’t brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously.
But it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people considering this machine; it’s the standard for all machines in this price bracket.
I usually brew my espresso first and then switch to steaming the milk afterward.
The steamer does take a bit of time to get rolling. With a dual boiler, you can just turn the knob, and then steam will roll out right away, but with this device, the thermocoil first has to heat the water and turn it into steam.
The steam is not that powerful, even compared to single boiler machines like Rancilio Silvia. However, if you’re a beginner, it might be a good tradeoff since it gives you more time to incorporate air into the milk and create proper microfoam.
Compared to the Bambino Plus, the difference in speed is quite striking. The Barista Express uses an older, slower heating technology (thermocoil vs. thermo-jet).
One of the biggest pros of the Breville Barista Express is its built-in grinder. It features 40-millimeter burrs calibrated for espresso, making it a decent option for espresso newbies.
To cut to the chase: It’s an adequate grinder for beginners who use darker beans and are mostly brewing milk-based drinks.
However, you might get the urge to upgrade after a few years.
The built-in grinder eliminates the need to purchase a separate grinder, saving you both money and countless hours submerged in the rabbit hole of researching coffee grinders.
And it also saves you counter space, as you won’t have to worry about finding room for an additional appliance.
However, the built-in grinder on the Breville Barista Express has a few downsides.
While it is calibrated for espresso, it may not be able to produce the same quality of grinds as a flat burr grinder.
If you’re looking to brew the very best cup of espresso possible, you may want to invest in a separate grinder.
However, dedicated espresso grinders are also prohibitively expensive. Many models are already more expensive than the Breville Barista Express alone. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they may perform better than the built-in version.
Another potential downside is that the built-in grinder has a stepped adjustment system.
You have many settings to choose from and the option to calibrate the grinder further. However, many famous espresso grinders are stepless, so you have an infinite adjustment range.
- Removable Water Tank: This is a nice feature to have. On the other hand, I also find that’s pretty easy just to open the lid and fill up the tank without removing it.
- Removable Bean Hopper: Again, nice enough to have. It means that you can quickly access the burrs to do cleaning or calibration without fiddling with a bunch of loose beans. Breville really do consider many of the small details.
- Hot Water outlet: Yes, you can get hot water quickly for your americano.
- Pressure gauge: The pressure gauge works well! I adore this feature since it gives you a lot of insight into the extraction process. Rancilio Silvia, Gaggia Classic, and Breville Bambino Plus don’t have this.
- Preinfusion: Another ace up the sleeve of the Barista Express. This greatly increases the chance of having a great pull. You can also get a longer preinfusion by keeping the button pressed in. This can increase extraction when brewing lighter roasts since you can grind finer and increase contact time.
The Barista Express has a few potential drawbacks that should be considered before purchasing.
The integrated grinder can be pretty messy. Coffee grounds can easily fall into the tray, which can make it difficult to clean. For that reason, many people invest in an extra funnel to put on top of the portafilter.
Also, the integrated grinder will feel out of place if you ever want to take your coffee to the next level by investing in a new grinder. If you get the Bambino Plus, which doesn’t have a built-in grinder, you won’t face this dilemma in case you get upgradeitis.
The steam wand on the machine is less powerful compared to rival espresso makers, and the tip only has one hole. This makes the steaming process relatively slow and can take some time. Once the steam wand is ready, it can also be quite weak compared to other machines.
Finally, the Barista Express is pretty loud. When activated, it produces a rattling sound that can be quite alarming when you’re not used to it.
Who is it for?
The Breville Barista Express is an ideal espresso machine for those just getting started in the world of coffee. It offers a great all-in-one package with a built-in grinder, PID temperature control, and a steam wand.
The Barista Express is a good choice if you mainly want to drink lattes or get a quick shot without getting a new hobby.
Verdict on the Breville Barista Express
Even though this model is more than a decade old, it’s still a solid first buy if you want to get into espresso.
It’s an all-in-one unit, so you don’t have to spend much time researching and buying accessories and a grinder. With this device, you can start pulling shots and steaming milk immediately.
While coffee snobs will probably want a better espresso machine in the long run, I think it can suit you well in the first years of your espresso journey.
If you genuinely value counter space, this is also a better choice than all its rivals which will need a separate grinder.See more reviews
Breville Barista Express FAQ
The Breville Barista Express is reasonably reliable if you follow Breville’s recommended cleaning cycle and use relatively soft water. There are a lot of horror stories out there about Breville espresso machines breaking down quickly, but often they say more about the user than the company.
The Breville Barista Express should last for several years, but as mentioned above, it also depends on the level of care you put into the maintenance.
Delonghi and Breville are two of the most popular entry-level espresso machine brands. In general, Delonghi covers the cheapest part of the market, whereas Breville also covers the high-end domestic market by offering the Breville Dual Boiler and Oracle. If I had to pick one, I would say that Breville is better and more innovative when it comes to espresso.
Breville is a big company that produces some of the most popular entry-level espresso machines. For that reason, many people’s first espresso machine is produced by Breville (or one of their sister companies, such as Sage, Solis, or Gastroback.) These first-time users often treat their machines poorly, which end up causing trouble down the line. So what this means is that there can often be a lot of negative reviews around the Breville brand from disgruntled first-time buyers, however, this isn’t really a reflection of Breville’s true quality. For instance, I own a Breville Dual Boiler which has been running smoothly for over a decade producing several thousand shots in total.