My Breville Barista Express Review: First-hand experience

After owning it for almost a year, I decided to make my own Breville Barista Express review, the BES870XL. I really love this espresso machine with grinder, and I use it to make several espressos, cappuccinos, and Americanos per day.
I took the time to learn how to make the most out of it.

As with any other espresso machine, you need to learn the best settings for making the various beverages, but I can assure you it's a fun and rewarding experience.

You won't find many true first-hand accounts on this device, and I have noticed that many other reviews contain some inaccuracies. So in my Barista Express review, I will make sure to include all specific details.

Also, you'll find some of my personal tricks for making coffee, along with my routine for making maximum use of its capabilities.

Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Breville Espresso Machine

Quick 1-minute breakdown


If you're in a hurry and just want to know whether or not you should purchase the Breville Barista Express BES870XL (the latest model), let me give you a quick breakdown:

  • If you're looking for the best espresso machine with grinder for a decent price, do it! Really, you won't find anything better at this price.
  • This device is also the best espresso machine for aspiring barista's, as the Barista Express is a forgiving machine with a few tricks up its sleeve to improve your skills.
  • If you want to up your game and require more fine-tuning or even a double boiler, then you're better of with the Rancilio Silvia or the (far more expensive) Breville Dual Boiler, respectively.

Features
Ease of use
Durability
Price
Average

If you're still unsure, please keep reading. Hopefully, after reading my full and detailed Barista Express review, you can make a solid decision. If not, just let me know in the comments, where I am happy to answer any questions.

Full Breville Espresso Machine line-up

The Breville Barista Express is the most popular member of the Breville Espresso Machine range. From the entry-level Duo-Temp Pro to almighty Oracle, there's a Breville for every budget. Below you will find a short overview of all the Pros&Cons of each device. If you want more detailed information, please read: "So, What is the Best Breville Espresso Machine?".

Breville Oracle BES980XL

the Oracle

With automated tamping and frothing, meet the world's first automated semi-auto espresso machine.

High-end

  • Fully automated
  • Consistent espressos
  • Perfect milk foam
  • Requires high budget
  • Large footprint

Price:

$$$$$

Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

Dual Boiler

The perfect machine if you want to improve your barista skills with full control and a dual boiler for excellent heating.

High-end

  • Exellent heating
  • Improves your skills
  • Competitive price
  • Build quality, could use less plastics.

Price:

$$$$

Breville Barista Express BES870XL Best Choice

Barista Express

Best choice!
Capable of making a perfect espresso, with an built-in grinder to save space and money.

Prosumer

  • Perfect price point
  • Built-in grinder
  • Small footprint
  • Single boiler/pump
  • Bit messy grinder

Price:

$$$

Breville Infuser BES840XL

the Infuser

Same as Barista Express but without grinder, in case you want/own a better grinder, but still want the same quality.

Prosumer

  • Smaller footprint than the Barista Express
  • Not much cheaper than Barista Express 

Price:

$$$

Breville Duo-Temp Pro BES810BS

Duo-Temp Pro

An entry-level espresso machine, with some of the professional features or its bigger brothers, at a very friendly price tag.

Entry-level

  • Lowest price
  • Has some of the higher-end features
  • No pressure gauge
  • No fine-tuning

Price:

$$


This article can be found under:

Brand(s): Breville
Budget: $500-$1000
Level: Prosumer
Type of coffee: Espresso, Americano, Cappuccino

First published: 2/19/2017
Last update: 2/19/2017
Rank:
#1 in Best Breville Espresso Machine
#1 in Best Espresso Machine with Grinder


How did I review the Breville Barista Expres BES870XL?

The goal of each of the reviews on Let's Grind Some Coffee is to do an insane amount of research, so you don't have to anymore. We work with a number of talented and experienced writers, who know what they're talking about. Each writer is responsible for conducting his/her own research, so there's no miscommunication possible. When doing this review I owned the Breville Barista Express BES870XL. For the comparison I used product reviews, customers comments, and instruction videos and manuals.

Click to learn more about our review process


An introduction to the Breville Barista Express BES870XL Espresso Machine with Grinder

The Barista Express is Breville's most popular espresso machine. It's one of the just two espresso machines with grinder available in the US. The other one is the Oracle, also from Breville, which is three times the price of the Barista Express. Don't confuse this wonderful piece of engineering with a regular coffee machine with grinder, even when that machine can make espressos as well. This is a semi-automatic espresso machine, meaning you have to do some of the work yourself.

The Barista Express is a full-blown espresso machine, meaning you can mess up any cup of coffee you make if you don't take a bit of practice. It also means you can't make a regular cup of Joe with it by the way. However, you can make excellent Americanos.

Coffee 101:
Manual, Semi Automatic or Super Automatic Espresso machines?

These terms are applied to show the amount of labor involved when making coffee. A manual espresso machine requires the most effort, where the super-automatic is fully hands-off.

Featuring a user-friendly steam wand (so you don't blow up the milk), you can also make cappuccinos and lattes. It's also more than capable of making the finest latte art. However, it took quite some practice before I was capable as well :-)

But the most distinguishing feature is the built-in conical burr grinder, which saves you both money and space. It is a good grinder, and you would be spending around $200 for a comparable separate grinder. Underneath the grinder is a very solid cradle, which allows for hands-free grinding. It is a bit messy, though, but more on that later.

Coffee 101:
Cappuccino or Latte?

A cappuccino consists of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk foam. A latté is also 1/3 espresso, but has more steamed milk and just a layer of milk foam.

Simply said, this is one of the most newbie-friendly, all round espresso machines. I can assure you that everyone can make a delicious espresso, Americano, and cappuccino with this machine. But, I spent quite some hours before I found out that the Barista Express was the perfect device for me. If you are interested in my search journey, please read along. If not, just skip this section to learn more about its features and capabilities.


Why did I choose the Breville Barista Express?

After having a Super-Automatic Coffee machine for years, an earlier version of the Saeco HD 8775 - B00ETLNSQ4 (which are far cheaper in the Netherlands, where I live), I decided it was time for something more serious. I have always wanted to have a semi automatic espresso machine, but most were either too complicated or too expensive (sometimes even both).

Luckily I was able to give myself a budget of around $1,000, but it had to include a coffee grinder. In fact, it would even be better if I could buy two coffee grinders along with an espresso machine. I drink both caffeinated and decaf coffee, and I wanted to switch between cups. My previous machine only had one reservoir for coffee beans. This means you're stuck with the same beans for a few cups in a row, along with some cross "contamination" because of residues.

In my journey I considered the following espresso machines, and I've listed the reasons why it they didn't make it:

DeLonghi EC702 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker, Stainless

DeLonghi Espresso Machines
Not a big fan of DeLonghi, too much plastic. These are simple machines without PID or pre-infusion, but they come at an excellent price.

ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker

ROK Presso
Looks awesome, but a bit too manual for me, requires too much practice, hardly any plastic used, low price, could be nice on the side.

La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine, Chrome

La Pavoni Manual Lever Espresso Machines
Too advanced for me, however, it's something I would love to have in the future, high price leaves little room for a grinder.

Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine, Brushed Stainless Steel

Gaggia Espresso Machines
No PID or pre-infusion, questionable build quality/durability on cheaper models, not so easy to operate, decently priced. Popular entry-level espresso machines.

Rancilio Silvia and Rancilio Rocky

Rancilio Silvio (with Rancilio Rocky grinder)
This combination was a serious contender. However, adding a PID required an additional $200+ expense. Also, no automatic pre-infusion. This machine was a bit too newbie-unfriendly, but still on my list to check out in the future (once I become a better barista...)

What's that about the PID and pre-infusion you might ask? Well, a PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) controller is used to maintain a consistent temperature throughout your device.

Since temperature is a key factor in brewing an espresso, any device which has this feature generally allows for a better espresso. Some devices even have an external controller for you to modify the temperature. The Barista Express has the PID built-in, but you can modify the brewing temperature 4°F up or down in 2°F increments in the settings.

Coffee 101:
PID Temperature Control?

PID temperature control allows you to specify the brew temperature of the espresso machine. Learn more:
PID Controlled Espresso Machine


Pre-infusion is a technique that is used to saturate the coffee grind in the portafilter for the high-pressure water that is coming. The espresso machine runs a bit of water through the portafilter, preferably under low pressure to prevent coffee coming out on the other end. This way any irregularities in making the grind (uneven tamping, small air pockets) a straightened out a bit, allowing for a better brew.

You can always pre-infuse the portafilter yourself by starting the brewing process. But it's better if this is automated by the machine as part of the full process, preferably at a lower pressure than the actual espresso making.

Coffee 101:
What is pre-infusion?

Pre-infusion takes place a few seconds before full pressure extraction starts. By slowly building up the pressure, the grinds are better saturated, resulting in more flavor coming into the cup.


I definitely wanted my espresso machine to have a PID, with automatic pre-infusion being a nice to have. The device also needed to have a steam wand, as I wanted to dive into latte art as well (still working on my skills, though...). I also preferred to buy the device in the Netherlands, where I live. I don't mind shopping in the US, but when it comes to warranty, issues it's better to buy it locally in case it should get returned.

But after some extensive searching, which had cost me more than a couple of weeks (fun doing, though :-), I came across the Breville Barista Express. It had all the features I wanted:

  • PID temperature control, with the option to modify the temperature 4°F up or down in 2°F increments.
  • Pre-infusion at a lower pressure for a few seconds.
  • A pressure gauge, which was not on my must-have list, but is preferred if you're just starting out and don't have "the feeling" yet.
  • Some nifty tricks to achieve a dryer puck after brewing or get rid of the excess steam after using the steam wand (you won't notice much of this, though).
  • ​Hot water pipe for making Americano's, something which I serve to guests who find an espresso too strong.
  • Control over your extraction times, including pre-infusion time, so you can fire-and-forget without the risk of overflowing your cup.
  • A competitive price. Even though it is much pricier in the Netherlands (see below), thanks to the included grinder it's still within my budget.
  • And, of course, its built-in grinder, which is basically the same as the Smart Grinder.

All of these factors combined made me decide that the Barista Express was the best espresso machine with grinder for me. And to counter the fact that it still has only one bean reservoir, I decided to add a separate grinder.

I choose the Breville Smart Grinder. I would have preferred the Breville Smart Grinder Pro, but it isn't available in the Netherlands. In the end, I have a perfect combo, serving me many delicious espressos and cappuccinos each day.


Regarding model numbers: Breville BES860XL vs. BES870XL

Feature

Breville Barista Express BES860XL small

Breville BES860XL

Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Breville BES870XL

PID temperature control

Improved hopper design

Hot water dispenser

Heating system

Thermoblock

Thermocoil

Please note that all of this applies to the latest version, the Breville Barista Express BES870XL. Its predecessor, the BES860XL doesn't have the PID which is the main difference. Also, the BES870XL makes use of a Thermocoil heat design, which allows for a better distribution of heat with a minimized risk of leaking. The BES860XL uses a Thermoblock design, which is less efficient and prone to leaking.

Also, the primary concerns of the BES860XL model are improved with the BES870XL, like a better hopper design (to prevent beans getting stuck), and a hot water dispenser to make Americanos. The Barista Express BES860XL is phased out, but can still be bought from remaining stocks. It's preferred, thought, that you get the BES870XL as it's simply a better product.

Coffee 101:
Thermocoil or Thermoblock?

A thermoblock consists of two heating elements welded together, which is prone to breaking in the long run. A thermocoil is one solid block with a better durability. Learn more:
Thermocoil vs. Thermoblock


If you're from the Netherlands like me, the exact model name is: SOLIS Grind & Infuse Pro 115, which is sold by SOLIS in the Netherlands. SOLIS is the European brand name of Breville. You can more information here.
The SOLIS Grind & Infuse Pro 114 is the same as the BES860XL. You can get the 114 much cheaper than the 115, but I would advise buying the more expensive 115 instead as its added/improved featured are more than worth it.

In the UK the same model is: Sage by Heston Blumenthal the Barista Express Coffee Machine and Grinder, and can be bought on Amazon. Sage by Heston Blumenthal (who is a chef) is the brand name of Breville in the UK. So to be sure, this review also counts as a Sage Barista Express review, as just Sage is the name to which it is better known.

Sad news, though, this machine is a bit more expensive in the UK, and far more expensive in the Netherlands (or the rest of Europe). However, shipping it over from the US makes it equally costly and causes return issues. Still, whatever you pay for it, it's worth every penny (or euro).


Breville Barista Express: Features, Pros&Cons

Breville Barista Expresss Built-in Grinder

The most prominent feature on the Barista Express is, of course, its built-in grinder. Comparable to a Breville Smart Grinder, this grinder makes grind fine enough for making espresso (it would be quite useless otherwise if it wouldn't, but still important to note). On the left side of the machine, you will find the grind size selector. On the front, you can select between enough grind for a single or double espresso, and you specify the amount of dial time with a twisting knob. This fine-tuning needs to be done every time you use different beans, as most beans have different characteristic. But even when using the same beans you might need to adjust the grind size and amount, due to changing freshness of the beans. In general, the older the beans, the finer you need to grind it to build up enough pressure.

So, after establishing that the Barista Express is the best espresso machine with grinder (partly due to lack of competition), let's look at what it is capable of and where it lacks in features when it comes to making espresso, Americanos and cappuccinos/lattes.

The Good

Breville Barista Express Pressure Gauge

Pressure Gauge
The Barista Express pressure gauge has a so-called "Espresso range," which is the range you should try to get the needle in for the best espresso. However, it is a rather broad range, and your espresso will taste best when you try to get the needle just before the end of the range.

Also, I would have preferred numbers instead of this range as it allows for a more universal approach. It's a great way of practicing your skills, though. Just so you know, the pre-infusion is done with low pressure, which isn't always shown in the gauge.

Breville Barista Express Hot Water Pipe Americano

Hot water dispenser, a.k.a. The Americano maker
The BES870XL comes with a hot water pipe, to make a delicious Americano. The water isn't boiling, nor should it be as espresso isn't made with espresso either. This handy little pipe allows you to dilute your espresso for those who aren't that fond of espresso (which is considered by some as too strong).

It could be used to make tea as well, but you're better of just boiling some water instead (as I have been told, I don't drink tea myself).

Breville Barista Express Steam Wand

Steam wand
The Barista Express has a very safe steam wand, allowing you to make latte art like a pro (after some practice) and perfect cappuccinos and lattes. I was a bit scared of steam wands in general, as I had a little milk blow-out when trying a different one in the past. Trust me, that nasty milk gets everywhere! But not with this one.

Its design makes that you need a little more time than a regular steam wand (because of how steam is distributed), but it is so safe that you could steam milk without holding the milk jug, without it shooting away. I strongly advise against this by the way! You need to hold the jug anyway because you need your hands to feel the temperature. But it works like a charm!

Breville Barista Express Hands-free

Hands-free
The built-in grinder and the brewing unit both come with auto shut-off, so you don't need to hold the portafilter, nor do you need to switch or hold any buttons.

Also, because all of the grinding and brewing times are pre-defined, this makes sure your espressos are very consistent. This is not something you should think lightly off by the way, as it is very convenient. The other option would be timing everything yourself, which easily leads to mistake and causes more hassle.

Breville Barista Express Tiny Footprint

Footprint
For all the features it has, this is quite a small machine. I found no troubles in fitting it into the desired location in my kitchen. Just keep an eye on the height, as the bean hopper is on top and you might want to refill it now and then. The water tank on the back is easily accessible, and don't require much space to get it out.

As you can see, there's also some room on top of the machine to store your accessoires. The plate is warmed up by the boiler to heat your cups, but you're better off heating it yourself as the temperature is quite low.

Breville Barista Express Programmable Shot Times

Programmable shot times
Not to be confused with a shot timer (which is a little second counter on your machine, which the Barista Express doesn't have). You can specify how long you want the water to pass through the portafilter, including the pre-infusion time.

The Barista Express has pre-defined times for both a single shot and a double shot. Please note that the 30-35 seconds extraction time mentioned in this article is for a double espresso. A single shot should take around 15-20 seconds. 

Breville Barista Express Dual Wall Filters

Dual wall filters
Dual wall filters are the ultimate newbie tool, as these help you in making espressos. Simply said, the dual wall design helps you regulate the pressure better. Anything you did wrong in the preparation (not enough grinds, uneven tamping, not the right brewing pressure, etc.) is straightened out a bit with these filters, at the cost of a slightly less perfect espresso.

It's not magic, though, so too many flaws still result in a bad espresso. The US and UK machines come with both dual wall and single wall filters in single and double espresso size. Mine only had single wall filters, so I quickly needed to master the craft without any help. My advise: Go straight for the single wall filters, much more fun and a better espresso once you get used to it.

PID
PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) temperature control allows for a better heat management inside the device, especially the Thermo-Coil heating system. It works like a thermostat, keeping all parts of the machine at the right temperature, which is essential for making the perfect espresso. It doesn't have a display as you will find on some other espresso makers (which is why I can't show a picture), but it's there and working behind the scenes. The PID on the Barista Express allows for 4°F up or down in 2°F increments.

Pre-infusion
Before unleashing the full 15 Bar pressure, the grinds in the portafilter are saturated a bit at a lower pressure for a few seconds, without any coffee coming out below. The pressure gradually builds up to the full 15 Bar for a better extraction. This way the grinds are better prepared for what is coming, ultimately releasing more of the coffee flavor which make for a good espresso.

Breville Barista Express Newbie friendly

Newbie friendly
Even when using single wall filters, the Barista Express is a perfect companion if you are just venturing into the world of the almighty barista, the King of espressos. Its pressure gauge, safe steam wand, and flexibility in settings made me churn out perfect espressos after just a few hours of practice. Especially when this is your first semi automatic espresso machine, it is a fun way of learning how to make the perfect espresso or cappuccino/latte and upgrade your barista level.


The Bad

Breville Barista Express Hands-free

Spillage of grinder
The main issue I have with the Barista Express is that it's messy when it comes to grinding coffee. As you can see in the picture, the ground coffee just overflows even in front of your machine. I don't mind it spilling on the left and right of the portafilter, as there is a perfect drip tray to catch it. But there's just coffee everywhere, because it makes some kind of a tower inside the portafilter, instead of spreading it in the basket. You can minimize the effect a little bit by shaking the portafilter, but it still looks like a design flaw to me. Maybe the next version will have this fixed?

Breville Barista Express Stainless Steel

Stainless steel casing
Now we're on the topic of cleaning: Stainless steel looks great and modern, but with coffee, you just keep cleaning after every run. Each drop of coffee splatters shows on stainless steel and soon looks much dirtier than it actually is. Greasy fingers (after touching coffee beans), water and milk drops, stainless steel is not very forgiving. You could cheat a little by getting a Black Sesame edition, which diminishes the effect, at least optical. But, most of the times the stainless steel version is cheaper, and when it's clean, it looks great. And yes, I do realize this is a first-world problem...

Breville Barista Express Bean Hopper

Bean hopper leftover
This may be a bit of nitpicking, but when taking out the bean hopper (for cleaning), a couple of beans are left on top of the burrs. This sometimes prevents you from easily inserting the bean hopper back in. It also means that when you're switching beans, you first need to run the hopper and leftover beans empty. Since you can't see how many beans are exactly left over inside, you can't predictably use this for just another round of coffee. Basically, you need to waste coffee anytime you're switching beans unless you don't mind a mixed bean blend. But, with the latter, you might end up making a bad espresso due to different bean variables. As I said, it's nitpicking, but I hope they improve this as well in time.

Noise
Don't expect to hold a proper conversation if you're making coffee, especially when you're doing a cappuccino. From the grinding to the steaming, it is noisy. My device makes it even worse when switching from making steam to brewing, as I weird "cloink" is heard, sometimes for seconds, as if it jams. When it gets worse I will contact the support desk, but to me, this is the sound of an advanced machine struggling with heat distribution because of its single heating element.

Single heating and pump
Speaking of the heating, keep in mind that having a single heating element simply means waiting. A double boiler machine will mitigate that effect but will cost you more than twice the cost of a Barista Express, though. It's key to make maximum use of this waiting time, which I specify in the tips & tricks below. Keep in mind, though, that after like making 4-5 cappuccinos in a row (which demands the most from the machine), you might need to wait a few minutes to prevent it from overheating. You'll notice when this happens, as it just stops itself.

54 mm Bottomless portafilter
This one is was more of a personal disappointment, due to insufficient researching on my part (even after all those hours). I really wanted a bottomless portafilter (which looks like this), also known as a naked portafilter, as it looks amazing and helps you to identify flaws in your brewing process. But, as it turns out, these only come in 58 mm. I can't find a specific 54 mm Breville Barista Express bottomless portafilter anywhere for now, but my search continues!

When doing this Barista Express review I decided to give it another go, and finally, I found a bottomless portafilter for the Breville Barista Express! I had to get it from Australia, but it's definitely worth it. Of course, I had to make an article showing what you can do with it, so here you go: Bottomless portafilter for Breville Barista Express.


Barista Express Tips & Tricks

As this is the machine I own, I thought it would come in handy if I throw in a few ways to make maximum use of your Breville Barista Express. Feel free to add your tricks in the comments, and I will include them in this article.

How to grind your coffee with the Barista Express?

Breville Barista Express Grind Coffee

Breville recommends starting at level 5 as grind size, but I would advise using number 4 or even 3. The grinder has a limited range of only 18 settings, most of which you don't use. You shouldn't shouldn't need level 1, unless you're using old coffee beans.

As for the grind amount, this depends on the beans. Always start out with the grind size selector in the middle. Use the Razor (which is an included skimming tool) to remove excess grinds. Anytime you need to remove grinds, turn the grind selector a bit more to the left until you're removing just a tiny bit. Make sure there's always something to remove, as you want to prevent using not enough coffee. Eventually, you will be able to do this on sight alone. This is how it looks in slowmotion, and you can also see the spillage of the coffee grind.

How to stay in the espresso range of the Barista Express?

Quick tip: It's much easier to start with over-pressure and work your way down to within the range, than with under-pressure, as lessening tamping pressure is easier than increasing pressure.

You should aim for an extraction time of around 30-35 seconds, including pre-infusion time, for a double shot of espresso. Coffee should flow as two steady streams. In the video below you can see how it looks when the pressure is within range. I have to admit I would have liked the needle to be even a bit more to the right in the end, though. It is in slowmotion, you can see the extraction going on a bit better.

Over-pressure= The needle stays on the right of the range; extraction time is much longer than 35 seconds.
You are either using too fine grind or are tamping too hard. It is a fine balance, which you can find but changing one of the two variables, but never at the same time (or else you don't know what's going wrong).

  • First make sure your grind isn't too fine, set the level higher but don't go above number 5.
  • Try different amounts of tamping pressure, each time applying less pressure until you get it right.
  • If coffee starts to flow but the extraction time is under 30 seconds, try grinding a bit finer. Apply the same amount of tamping pressure as the time it worked.
  • As long as you stay in the espresso range, either grind your beans a bit finer or increase your tamping pressure to keep a steady stream for 30-35 seconds.

Under-pressure = The needle stays on the left of the range; extraction time is under 30 seconds.
An espresso requires a fine grind, almost at the finest level possible of the grinder. You are either using too coarse grinds or aren't applying enough pressure when tamping.
Always use fresh beans, as too old beans will always come out with under-pressure, no matter what you do.

  • Make sure your grind is fine enough, set the grind size selector at 4.
  • Try different amounts of tamping pressure, each time applying more pressure until you get it right.
  • If you are starting to reach, or are in the espresso range, aim for a steady stream for about 30-35 seconds.
  • As long as you stay in the espresso range, either grind your beans a bit finer or increase your tamping pressure to keep a steady stream for 30-35 seconds.

Be sure to check out our bottomless portafilter article for more tips on how to make the best espresso.

Always use fresh coffee beans!

This advice applies to all coffee makers. You read me stating this throughout the article, but especially with an espresso machine, you're going to notice the difference.

Fresher beans are much easier to work with. You don't need to grind them to the finest level, and you don't need to apply a lot of pressure when tamping. In my experience, the older the beans, the tougher it gets to keep the steady pressure your looking for. You end up needing to grinder finer than your grinder is capable of, and tamping so hard that you risk breaking anything (probably your spirit first ;-). Using too old beans often results in under-pressure when making your espresso, which tastes sour and stale. I made a slowmotion video to show how it looks.

Try to use up your beans in about four weeks after they're roasted. I would also advise using so-called "espresso beans". These are beans that are selected for their excellent taste when you use them for espresso. And with the risk of stating the obvious, always grind your beans fresh right before making an espresso. Then hopefully your extraction will look like this.

Don't drink up every espresso you make when practicing

This also applies to other espresso machines. If you're a rookie like I was, you're getting your fair share of flawed espresso before getting it perfect. Specifically, the ones that are made with under-pressure can be outright gross, as the sour tones tend to dominate. Over-pressure can happen too, which results in a bitter coffee.

If you see that the pressure gauge doesn't stay in the "espresso range" for most of the brewing, just ditch the coffee and try again. You may sip or smell, but don't drink the whole thing as it can get you nauseated and too hyped on caffeine (trust me on this, I was both at my first runs :-)

Pre-heat your Barista Express, and coffee cups

Making sure everything is heated up prevents too much temperature differences. I found out that when you don't pre-heat, the espresso tends to taste a bit sourer than when everything is warm. It's the same effect when you wait too long for drinking your coffee, and it cools down, that always tastes a bit sour. Luckily, this is easily solved.

The most convenient way is to have the portafilter in the group head, so it warms up with the device. After a minute of 5, place your cup under the portafilter and let water run through it. This way the group head, portafilter and cup all warmed up. Just make sure you cleaned the group head from any remaining coffee residue from the previous time you used it.

Alternatively, you can use the hot water pipe to warm up your cup, by placing it underneath without any coffee in it.

How to make cappuccino with the Barista Express fast?

As I mentioned before, making maximum use of the single heating requires a tight routine, with minimized waiting. I make mine in about two minutes, but I must admit I don't use a lot of milk (it is more of a flat-white coffee). Also, I like my machine to be clean when I am done, which is why I included cleaning up in my routine. My steps are:

  1. Make sure everything is pre-heated like described above
  2. Grind and tamp the coffee, and put the portafilter in the group head.
  3. When the extraction is done, remove the group head and clean it.
  4. While cleaning and drying the group head, turn on the steam.
  5. Make the foam.
  6. Once foaming is done, put it somewhere close.
  7. Run steam through the steam wand for a few moments to clear its sprout of remaining milk.
  8. Use a wet (preferably warm) towel to remove the milk from the steam wand.
  9. Pour the milk in your coffee jug, try to work in some latte art in the process.
  10. Run water through the group head for a few seconds to remove remaining coffee residue.
  11. Use the wet towel to wipe your machine, finish it up with a dry towel.

With these steps, I don't have to stand to wait for anything, while I also end up with a thoroughly cleaned machine in the end. Some people advice to do part of the cleaning before you make coffee, but that's just not me.

Bonus tip: As I don't have a direct hot water boiler for my water tap, it takes 10-20 seconds before I have hot water for cleaning the steam wand. I warm up the water in step 3, so I can also use it on the portafilter. If you have a boiler, where you're water is hot in a few seconds, you can ignore this tip.


What are some useful Breville Barista Express accessories?

Breville delivers a convenient accessory kit with the Barista Express, including a cleaning kit. I've bought some extra accessories, like a knock box and tamping mat, along with resupplies of cleaning materials.
This is what I am currently using:

Bottomless portafilter and original filter basket

Bottomless portafilter
This has been a tough one to find, and I ended up with a custom-made portafilter as Breville simply doesn't make them. But, it was worth the search, as I am making perfect espressos with this bottomless portafilter. I did a full article on it, showing you how you can improve your barista skills by using this special portafilter.

Breville BES001XL Knock Box, Mini

Breville Knock Box, Mini
This is where you clean your portafilter in if you don't want to ruin your bin (which I did...) when knocking the puck out of your coffee filter. I actually got mine from Sage in the UK. I choose this because the design matches the machine.

Espresso Parts Tamping and Packing Mat, 6 by 6

Tamping Mat
You use this to rest your portafilter on when tamping. You can use any tamping mat, as long as it is food safe/ food grade. 

BrewGlobal Rhinoware Professional Milk Pitcher, Stainless Steel 20 oz

Larger milk pitcher
As I found it hard to make milk foam for two cappuccinos at a time without the milk overflowing, I bought a bigger milk pitcher. The one I use has etched measurement lines which make it easier to use the same amount of milk every time. It also has a bit smaller sprout, for better latte art (it really works better than the milk jug that comes with the Barista Express).

DeLonghi Double Walled Thermo Espresso Glasses, Set of 2

Espresso Glasses
Besides my espresso cups, I also have a couple of espresso glasses, like these, double-walled ones. These are very convenient if you want to keep a closer eye on the brewing process, as this tells you a lot about the quality of the coffee, especially the crema, which is the creamy layer on top. It also just looks delicious!


Breville Barista Express Cleaning Supplies

You also need some products to keep your product up and running (and in some cases within your warranty). You don't need to use the official Breville products (if available), as long as you make sure it's compatible.

Urnex Grindz Professional Coffee Grinder Cleaning Tablets, 430 grams

Coffee grinder cleaning tablets
These are used to remove coffee oil and residue from the built-in grinder. I have used Grindz, but there are other brands for this as well. The benefit of Grindz is that it comes out white, so you can easily spot any residue. Always grind some coffee beans and throw that first run away after using these cleaning tables, before making a new espresso.

Breville BWF100 Single Cup Brewer Replacement Charcoal Filters White

Water filters
Luckily, I hardly have to descale, nor use any water filters, because the water quality is excellent over here. The reason I do descale is to keep my warranty, should a problem occur. Breville recommends in the Barista Express manual that you use this for descaling (or decalcifying as they call it):
Diluted Solution (for softer water): • 1 part white vinegar• 2 parts cold tap water.
They also recommend using water filters, which are these: Breville Water Filters.
Learn more about descaling.

Breville BEC250 8-Pack Espresso Cleaning Tablets, White

Cleaning tablets
Breville has a very easy cleaning cycle. Just pop these tablets in your portafilter with a specific tablet holder which closes the water flow. Wait a few minutes, and you're done for a couple of months.


Rounding up my Breville Barista Express Review

If you made it this far into my Barista Express review, you're really serious about getting one! I tried to be as thorough as I could be, which resulted in a very extensive review.

I hope that I have convinced you that the Breville Barista Express is an amazing machine, and truly worth your money. I had a lot of fun (along with a healthy dose of frustrations ;-) when I was learning how to use my machine. But now that I can almost use it with my eyes closed, it's a delight to use. I love buying fresh coffee beans from roasters all over my country and enjoy the fact that I can make the most of any bean because of my espresso machine.

If you have any questions, just ask me in the comments below and I will be more than happy to help! Also, if you end up buying a Barista Express, please let me know.
Thank you for reading this article!
Jacco, Chief Grinder

Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Breville Espresso Machine