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Breville Barista Express vs Breville Dual Boiler: My Comparison

They might look alike, but there are some key differences you must be aware of between these popular Breville espresso makers.

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

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I have been using the Dual Boiler for several years now, and I added the Barista Express to my collection around six months ago.

Not so much because I thought it would be an outstanding machine, but rather because I wanted to see how it stacks up against the other popular espresso machines from Breville – especially the Dual Boiler, which will be the topic of this article.

Here, I’ll explain the key differences to you. And depending on your preferred espresso brewing style, they might not be as big as you’d expect.

➡️ Barista Express: Amazon | Official Store

➡️ Dual Boiler: Amazon | Official Store

The Breville Barista Express bes870xl: A Quick Look

The Breville Barista Express is a compact, chic espresso machine that boasts an integrated grinder. When it comes to units shipped, this espresso maker is likely one of the most widely used ones globally.

This machine has a 54mm portafilter and a thermoblock for speedy heat-up times. The pressure gauge aids in shot diagnosis and the programmable shots offer a level of customization that’s appreciated by both beginners and experts.

Breville Barista Express
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Breville Barista Express
It’s a solid option for beginners, but despite the looks, it doesn’t have much in common with the Dual Boiler.

However, the Barista Express brews at a slightly higher pressure than the traditional 9 bars, which might not sit well with espresso purists. And while the integrated grinder is a bonus for beginners, it may not satisfy coffee aficionados looking for a more refined grinding experience.

  • Compact and stylish design
  • Built-in grinder
  • 54mm portafilter
  • Thermoblock for quick heat-up
  • Volumetric programmable shots

The Breville Dual Boiler: A Brief Overview

The Breville Dual Boiler is a darling among hardcore coffee snobs (if you want to know even more about it, check out my full review here.)

The appliance is aptly named as it features not one but two separate boilers. This allows for increased temperature stability and the ability to brew and steam simultaneously. It has a commercial 58mm portafilter and a display that offers advanced features like preinfusion duration and volume percentage.

However, the Dual Boiler’s size can be a drawback, as it takes up a significant amount of counter space. And while it’s considered the pinnacle of espresso maker from a tech standpoint, some users find the materials used in its construction inferior to traditional Italian espresso machines.

Breville Dual Boiler
The Dual Boiler is a benchmark when it comes to advanced & customizable third wave espresso.
  • Two boilers for increased temperature stability
  • Ability to brew and steam simultaneously
  • Commercial 58mm portafilter
  • Display with advanced features

The Showdown: 54mm vs 58mm Portafilters

The Breville Barista Express features a 54mm portafilter, a common size among entry-level espresso machines from Breville (it’s also used with models such as the Bambino Plus, Infuser, Duo Temp, Barista Pro, Barista Impress, and so on).

While some espresso enthusiasts may prefer a larger 58mm portafilter, the smaller 54mm of the Barista Express isn’t to be overlooked.

Breville dual boiler portafilter
The Breville Dual Boiler uses the industry standard 58 mm portafilter size.

In fact, the 54mm portafilter offers a unique advantage. It’s easy to find and purchase various accessories, like bottomless portafilters, baskets, tampers, and puck screens, precisely because most models on the market are designed for Breville’s machines.

The versatility and convenience of the 54mm portafilter make the Barista Express a compelling choice for espresso enthusiasts seeking a high-quality brewing experience without compromising on accessory options.

Breville 54 mm bottomless portafilter
The Barista Express uses a smaller 54 mm portafilter, however, it’s still relatively easy to find accessories that fit this size due to Breville’s popularity.

Features

Control Panel: Display vs Button Controlled

When it comes to control panels, personal preference is key. Some coffee lovers prefer the modern look of a display, while others enjoy pressing buttons for a satisfying tactile experience. If you prefer a display, the Dual Boiler is the only option available here. However, it’s worth noting that the Breville Barista Pro, which is similar to the Barista Express in many ways, has a display.

Grinder & Tamper: Built-In vs Your Own Choice

The Barista Express is equipped with a built-in grinder. This convenience is a perk for those who prefer a one-stop shop for their coffee needs. However, most dedicated coffee enthusiasts will see this feature as a limitation because a grinder is ultimately one of the most important things when it comes to the flavor profile of the shot.

Pre-Infusion & Pressure Gauge: A Comparison

The Breville Dual Boiler allows for ultimate control of pre-infusion. With the Barista Express, the duration can be controlled by holding a button, but the amount of pre-infusion can’t be adjusted.

Temperature Control: A Head-to-Head

The Breville Dual Boiler offers superior control with a PID panel that can be controlled down to one-degree Celsius increments. In contrast, the Barista Express allows for programming in 2 degrees Celsius intervals using buttons. However, the Dual Boiler has two PID’s (in the brew boiler and group head, respectively), allowing for a more accurate level of precision.

Workflow Differences

Despite a slightly longer warm-up time, the Dual Boiler takes the trophy in this category. The machine allows for seamless transition from brewing to steaming, with the steam ready to go at full force immediately. The Barista Express, on the other hand, has a workflow more akin to single boilers and thermoblock machines. It’s still superior to traditional single boilers, such as the Gaggia Classic, with less concern about cooling flushes.

The Barista Express brews a decent espresso shot, offers temperature control, and provides pressure visibility.

One potential solution is to upgrade to the IMS precision basket, which can significantly improve your espresso’s quality. However, even with this upgrade, the Breville Barista Express falls short when compared to more advanced models, due to its 15 bar pressure and less advanced preinfusion.

ims breville 14-17 g
The IMS basket for the Breville Barista Express (and Bambino Plus) is a must-buy if you want to pull outstanding shots.

Its thermocoil heating system eliminates the need for temperature surfing. However, its steaming process is slower compared to dual boiler machines, but it allows for better milk incorporation.

The machine’s integrated grinder can be a bit messy, and the steam wand is less powerful with only one hole.

Additionally, the Barista Express is louder than expected, generating a rattling sound when activated.

Moving on to the Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

For the serious coffee geek seeking an ‘end-game’ machine, the Breville Dual Boiler might be the perfect fit. Known for delivering exceptional espresso, this machine shines with its precise temperature control and extraction process.

To provide some context, only lever machines and high-end commercial espresso makers typically extract better shots. This speaks volumes about the quality and performance that the Dual Boiler brings to the table.

The main downside to the Dual Boiler is the slightly outdated look. It has pretty much looked the same since Breville introduced the first version of the machine more than a decade ago (the BES900XL)

Breville dual boiler two shots
Programmable pre-infusion is pure luxury

The Verdict

The Breville Dual Boiler is a strong contender in its price range and if money (and kitchen counter real estate) is no object, then it’s the device I’d personally go for.

Some coffee lovers argue that an Italian brass and steel model might provide a better experience, given the rich history and tradition associated with Italian espresso machines, but to be honest, the Dual Boiler is just more advanced and better value for the money.

The Barista Express is also a solid machhine, but it’s aimed at a different group of users. If espresso extraction theory and abbreviations such as WDT, RDT and TDS sound scary to you then it might be the more suitable option.

However, if you want an easy and straightforward way to enjoy lattes, americanos and dark roast espresso without going all in on the coffee hobby, then it’s an excellent choice.

➡️ Barista Express: Amazon | Official Store

➡️ Dual Boiler: Amazon | Official Store

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Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.