Breville, long known for its tremendous kitchenware lines, doesn’t disappoint in the slightest with its newest Barista Express—a classic Breville espresso machine with an integrated burr coffee grinder. The coffee maker/grinder combination is an eloquent response to a budding consumer problem; as kitchens continue to fill up with the latest and greatest gadgets, consumers are looking for ways to save space and still keep the kitchen routines they know and love.
Breville is incredibly aware of its consumer’s desires and has responded with the Breville BES870XL Barista Express. For those looking to consolidate counter-top coffee gadgets or craving a minimalist coffee ritual, the Barista Express is definitely for you.
- Nice color options – The return of the traditional Breville colors: Silver, Cranberry Red, Black Sesame
- Space saver – You don’t need both a grinder and espresso machine on the counter
- Great value – Good mid-level espresso machine
- Strong technical support – Breville is a well-known company and thrives on positive customer experiences. Because of this, they take customer support very seriously. More on this later.
- Easy grinding – Freshly ground beans for every cup you brew. Since the grinder is built and tuned for the machine it doesn’t require tweaking.
- Limited grinding capability – We love espresso, but we also like other brewing methods. Unfortunately, grinding coffee for other brewing methods takes a bit of fine tuning to get right.
- Extra-wide – While this machine does save space by integrating the grinder into the machine, it inherently makes it wider. It’s not as wide as an espresso machine with a grinder next to it, but it’s still big.
This grinder is not your typical grinder. I’s a burr grinder but can only grind for espresso – something we dislike about this machine. Breville manufactures a standalone grinder that functions as an all-purpose grinder so it doesn’t make much sense to us that they would have limited such a capable machine as the Barista Express.
Filling the Hopper
The machine has an integrated bean hopper that protrudes from the top of the machine. One great thing about the Breville grinders are their removable bean hoppers. It may seem like an unnecessary design choice, but if you decide you want to empty your hopper of beans, it’s nice to have the hopper be removable instead of needing to shake the machine upside-down.
The hopper is UV-protected, so if you decide to leave beans in it, you won’t compromise much of the flavor. The capacity of the hopper is just a bit over a half pound, so you’ll have plenty of room to make after-dinner coffee for any houseguests.
Setting the Grind
A small dial on the left side of the machine can be used to adjust the coarseness of the grind. When you get a fresh batch of beans, you’ll likely have to play with this a bit until you’ve dialed in the setting that pulls the best shots. It makes a bit of a mess to experiment with grind settings on this machine, though, because if you don’t have a portafilter under the spout, the coffee will drop straight into the drip tray.
We recommend always grinding into an empty portafilter when experimenting with the grind consistency. It makes cleanup much easier.
Once you’ve gotten your grind setting dialed in, you’ll want to adjust the dose for your espresso. There is a knob on the front of the machine that adjusts the dose and accurately dispenses the right amount.
Once you’ve set the coarseness of the grind and the dose amount, you’re ready to fill the portafilter basket. The grinder dispenses the grounds through a chute with an integrated portafilter holder. This allows you to easily slide the portafilter into the holder and grind directly into the filter basket. It makes dispensing super easy and cleaning up even easier.
The Espresso Machine
The espresso machine seems to pretty much be a clone of the Breville Infuser, another Breville espresso machine. It features a pressure gauge, semi-automatic extraction, single or double shot buttons, a hot water dispense, and a steam wand. Oh and did we mention the integrated magnetic tamper?
Breville has their espresso machines figured out, and they have been very successful in selling their Infuser, Dual Boiler, and Oracle machines. This machine features much of the same engineering and coffee prowess that went into those machines.
The water reservoir is nestled snugly against the back of the machine. It holds 2 liters of water, so you don’t feel like you’re always filling the water tank. The reservoir uses a charcoal filter to remove impurities from your tap water so that your machine stays healthy and lasts a lifetime. These don’t have to be changed all that often, and are a nice thing to have built into your machine.
The machine preheats within minutes, which is great for the daily commuter who doesn’t have much time to kill before sunup.
As the machine heats up, the top of the brewer begins to warm and can actually be used to preheat your espresso glasses as well. If you decide to go this route, we recommend you turn on the machine 10-15 minutes before you intend to use it.
After dosing your freshly ground coffee into the portafilter basket, you’re ready to tamp the grounds down. Tamping the coffee will allow you to achieve the right pressure in the portafilter and extract the espresso properly. For most machines, you have to purchase a tamper separately from the espresso maker. Because the Barista Express portafilter is not the industry standard size of 58mm, they include an removable magnetic 53mm tamper. The tamper fits the portafilter perfectly and, when you’re finished with it, satisfyingly snaps back into place in the machine.
Once you’ve properly tamped the coffee, you can attach the portafilter to the group head. To extract espresso, you will want to select the size of shot you want. There are two options: single and double shot. When you’ve made your selection, the machine will begin to pressurize. Make sure you’ve got an espresso glass underneath the machine to avoid losing your shot to the drip tray.
The machine will begin to rumble and gets a bit loud when it extracts the shot. We’ve found that most of the time, the machine will finish extracting within 25 to 35 seconds, but that time largely depends on your grind coarseness and dose. The machine measures volume of the espresso shot by default, so it will likely vary.
We like to use the manual mode of espresso extraction. To do this, you hold down either the single or double shot button. The machine will pressurize and you’ll notice the hand on the dial move to the “pre-infusion” section. Once that happens, release the button. When you’ve extracted your desired amount (we use a stopwatch), press the button again. This will stop the extraction. Using the manual extraction method is a great way to improve your espresso, as you have much more control over the process.
Breville makes frothing milk with the steam wand incredibly simple. All you need to do is fill the provided stainless steel pitcher with your desired amount of milk. Keep in mind that you’ll be “stretching” the milk, so you probably will not need as much as you think you need.
After you’ve filled the pitcher, you’ll switch the knob on the right side of the machine to the steam functionality. As an aside, if you were to switch it the other direction, you would be able to dispense hot water from a dispenser near the group head—perfect for making a delicious Americano.
With the knob switched to steam, point the wand toward the hole in the drip tray. The pump will kick in and you’ll hear a pulsing sound coming from the machine. Within a few moments, steam will begin to shoot out of the wand and straight through the hole into the drip tray. The first few seconds of steam will likely spit out quite a bit of water. It’s good to get this condensation out of the wand so that it doesn’t end up in your milk.
Switch the steam off after you’ve purged the wand of the water. The steam light will begin to pulse. You have 10 seconds to turn it back on before it discharges the pressure. Now that you’re on the clock, slide the wand into your pitcher with the nozzle pointing at an angle downward into the pitcher, but make sure it’s only about 1/4” deep into the milk.
Within moments, you’ll begin to see the milk “stretch” and the pitcher will fill up with silky, creamy foam. After you’ve steamed the milk to your liking, turn the steam off and wipe the wand with a damp cloth to remove residual milk. Finally, purge the steam wand into the drip tray again.
Cleaning the Breville Barista Express can be broken up into two camps: daily and recurring maintenance.
We recommend doing the daily cleaning after each cup of coffee you make.
After extracting an espresso shot, we like to press the single shot button again without a portafilter connected to the group head to remove any stray coffee grounds. It uses a bit more water, but keeps the brew head nice and clean.
When you’ve finished steaming milk, be sure to always wipe the wand with a warm, damp cloth to remove dried milk. This is an important step in keeping your machine free from bacteria. Purging the steam wand after use is also a good idea to ensure you don’t clog the nozzle.
When you’re finished brewing for the day, it’s a good idea to remove any stray grounds from the machine and wipe down any splashes of espresso that may have landed on the stainless steel. Any buildup that’s left for too long will be much more difficult to remove in the future.
Water Filter – If you decide to use the carbon water filters in your water reservoir, they should be changed out every 60 days. We recommend using the filters because they’ll lengthen the life of your machine and reduce the need to decalcify the machine.
Clean Me – When the machine needs to be cleaned, the Clean Me light will illuminate. The instructions for this routine are called out in the machine’s manual, but it is important that you do this within a few days of the light illuminating to prevent buildup within the machine.
Decalcifying – If your water is hard, over time you will have mineral buildup on the internal components of your machine. Breville recommends decalcifying the machine on a monthly basis.
Drip Tray – You’ll find that the drip tray fills up faster than you’d like. Every few times that you empty it, you should rinse it with warm soapy water. That’s because a thin dark film of coffee sediment will build up on the bottom and the sides of the drip tray. Keep it clean to keep your machine bacteria-free!
Overall, we really like this machine. If we were to sum it up into just two points they’d be that we:
- Don’t like the idea of having a grinder built in. It somewhat limits upgradability. If you’re a budding barista, you may want to look elsewhere
- Love the fact Breville makes both grinders and espresso machines, so they’re not just playing to one strength. They embedded this machine with a ton of great capability to make great espresso