Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine (An In-depth Review)
Espresso lovers everywhere seem to be losing their marbles over the Breville Barista Express espresso machine, a mid-priced coffee maker, unrivalled in its category. You’re here because you’re considering buying it, but what if it’s not the right choice for you?
If you’re in the market for a good, mid-tier semi-automatic espresso machine, keep reading carefully. The BES870XL is a fantastic choice for some, but a terrible choice for others.
Let’s dive deep into this Breville Barista Express review and find out which fence you sit on.
SUMMARY: The Barista Express
- Best value-for-money semi automatic machine on the market.
- Built-in burr coffee grinder, steam wand, 54mm integrated tamper
- Beginner friendly but also suitable for experts.
I’ve owned other home machines in the past, but quickly lost interest because dialling in the shot was too difficult, or cleanup was too painful. The Barista Express solves these problems, and a year later I’m still using it daily, and loving it!– Alex – Editorial team
Is a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Right For You?
We’re head over heels about this brewer. In fact, we think it’s one of the best Breville espresso machines to date. But it’s still not perfect for everyone. Before taking the plunge – have you considered whether this type of coffee machine is right for you?
Are you willing to learn espresso brewing?
If you’re new to making espresso at home, you’re going to want to make sure you can handle all of the bells and whistles that a more intermediate machine like this one can offer. There WILL be a learning curve. You need to understand espresso extraction, grinding, dosing, tamping, and frothing milk. But this is the fun part! Check out this espresso brewing tutorial where I actually use the Barista Express to pull espresso.
If you already know how to operate semi-automatic espresso machines, you’ll be fine. The Barista Express is an easy machine to operate when it comes to semi-automatics. In fact, it’s easier than most.
Semi-automatic machines require you to brew the shot. This is good as it means you control the outcome.
To see how the Barista Express fares against much cheaper and much more expensive semi-automatic espresso machines, watch this fun video with Steven from Home Grounds:
If you’re just looking for quick and easy espresso without heading to the nearest coffee shop, you may want to consider an automatic model. These do everything for you. You push a button and out comes your drink. If you’re not happy with a semi-automatic, head to this page and look for something else.
Ok, you’re still here? Let’s get into the review. You’ll soon have it sitting on your kitchen counter and be as excited as I was.
The Breville BES870XL Barista Express Full Review
Brewing Capability – 5/5
Whether you’re an espresso newbie or an expert; you’ll be enjoying amazing quality espresso based drinks every day if you pick up the BES870XL. It’s rare for a coffee maker to meet the needs of both novices and experts (at the same time)…so let me explain.
You get 4 filter baskets when with the Barista Express – pressurised and non-pressurised versions of a single and double filter. You could also call them single or double walled baskets.
If you’re a novice, or just feeling lazy – start with the pressurised baskets. These remove the need to perfectly dial in the shot by adjusting grind settings and grind amount. You’ll still have to tinker around but there is a larger margin for error. But you can see the pressure on the dial, and adjust accordingly. You’ll still be able to pull a great shot of espresso, even if you’re a beginner (1).
The 1 and 2 cup buttons are going to be programmed for volume only. They are not set for a ’30 second’ shot or a ’20 second’ shot.
Feeling Confident? – Step up to the plate brew with the non-pressurised baskets. You’ll need to dial in the shot, but once you do you’ll be brewing amazing quality espresso.
The custom controls on the Express give you several ways of modifying your shot of espresso, so you can dial it in at a high level. The Dose control lets you vary the grind amount in each cup, between 19 and 22g of ground coffee, which defines the coffee-to-water ratio. The grind size control lets you choose from 16 levels of fineness, which affects the extraction (and flavour) of your espresso (2).
“The ritual of setting up, pulling your first shot and adjusting your grind to get the very best out of that coffee is extremely satisfying”.
‘Make-Life-Easy’ Features – 5/5
Ok – we already covered the fact that the Barista Express has a ‘lazy / newbie’ brewing mode above, which is a huge plus. But what other features does it have to enhance your brewing experience? How does it rate on the easy of use scale?
Let’s start from the top (literally). The most obvious feature is the built-in conical burr coffee grinder and bean hopper. The bean hopper is easy to remove so you refill it or clean the burrs (more on that below).
The in-built grinder will save you $300+ on buying a separate espresso grinder.
Breville is well known for building great coffee grinders. Stainless steel conical burrs and 16 grind settings allow you to fine-tune your grind size and dial in that perfect shot. It doesn’t get any fresher than dropping the beans right from the grinder into the portafilter.
“A barista will quickly tell you that the most important ingredient to deliver an amazing espresso is to use fresh beans and to grind them as close to the time of use as possible”
Ok, now let’s move further down and look at the display, the buttons, the programmability and how it all works.
First up, you’ll decide if you want a single or double shot by choosing a filter basket (large or small), and selecting the filter size button. As I mentioned above, you can choose to ‘dial in’ your shot by using a non-pressurised basket, or go for ‘lazy mode’ by choosing a pressurised basket.
Then you simply push your portafilter into the grinding bracket. This hits a button and grinds the perfect amount of coffee into your filter. Remove the tamper and tamp your coffee. Lock in your portafilter and let the machine start extracting by hitting the single or double cup button.
The process to pull an amazing shot of espresso is easy…but gives you the option to tinker around to dial in your shot if you want to play around.
Once you hit brew, the Express will begin with a ‘pre-infusion’ stage. This means that the machine will wet the coffee grounds and wait for 30-60 seconds before pulling the shot. It ensures the shot brewed is much better.
The Express also includes several features that make your espresso journey better:
- 1600-watt thermocoil heating system for quick start-ups (less than 1 minute)
- Low-pressure pre-infusion and 9-bar espresso brewing pressure from its 15-bar pump, for optimum extraction (3).
- Brewing pressure gauge which tells you how you’re dialling in your shot based on the pressure level.
All in all, this machine proves itself to be an excellent jumping off point into more advanced barista skills. It even comes with all these accessories to help you along:
Ok, now that you are pulling a perfect, crema rich espresso into your pre-warmed cup: it’s time to deal with the milk. This video shows a good overview:
Milk Frothing – 5/5
Yes, this machine can help you make great cappuccino. You will need to learn how to steam and froth milk with the Barista Express. This is not an automatic machine that does everything for you. Those are for lazy people.
BUT… in terms of frothing milk the Express, again, makes life easier. The stainless 360-degree wand makes it easy to find the right angle for your steaming pitcher, and whether you’re going for a head of milk froth for a cappuccino or silky microfoam for a latte, the infuser does a good job. Needless to say, it is one of the best latte machines.
The wand with hot water nozzle swivels any direction you want it to. Handy.
It uses a conventional thermoblock wand. Ultimately, this means YOU are in control and have to get the air into the foam, so be prepared to practice if it’s your first time. It can be a little challenging for total beginners but its the best option for those wanting to learn. It should only take you a handful of practice runs to master the art of the milk froth.
Everyone’s Least Favourite Part – Cleaning – 4.5/5
If you have to spend 3x the amount cleaning your machine than it takes you to make the darn coffee, a trip to the coffee shop begins to look better and better. Espresso machines are notorious for being heavily involved when it comes to cleaning. But not the Barista Express.
Customers tend to love the small yet handy features built into the Express which make cleaning that little bit easier. To clean the burrs: just remove the bean hopper with one twist and you can access (and remove) the steel burrs. Same deal for the removable water tank and water filter – just flick your wrist to unlock it, remove it, clean it and refill it.
It also has a built-in “clean me” light, and a ‘floaty thing’ in the drip tray (for lack of a better term) that tells you when it’s time to empty it. Again, simply pop and remove it for easy cleaning.
The Express loses half a point because you’ll inevitably get some coffee grinds in your drip tray that will mix with water to create sludge. But this only happens because the built in coffee grinder exists. It’s inevitable, but no big deal.
Related: How to Descale Breville Espresso Machine (Super Easy Steps)
Build Quality – 4.5/5
The quality build of this machine, which consists of Italian made parts, ensures that the espresso you are brewing is true to the finest tastes in Italy (4).
Like the Barista Touch, she loses half a point here because of its a brushed stainless steel casing over plastic internals. But for this price, nobody is going to sell you a fully stainless steel machine. They would go bankrupt.
Customers seem to love how the Barista Express is built, and it comes with a one-year limited warranty for your peace of mind.
Don’t Buy The Barista Express If…
You have no interest in learning to brew espresso – The Express is a powerful, flexible machine, but it requires a little practice and understanding to master all the nuances. If you just want to push a button, buy a fully automatic machine like the Saeco Picobaristo. Another great machine we recommend is one of the industry favourites in this space: the Delonghi ESAM3300 automatic machine. Check our review here.
You own a good burr grinder already – If you’ve already invested in a good burr coffee grinder that grinds for espresso; there’s no need to invest in a machine with a built-in grinder. Go for something like the Dual Boiler BES920XL, Infuser or Bambino instead – which are like the Express, minus the burr grinder. Another machine you can check out is the Gaggia Classic Pro, which we reviewed in detail right here.
You are an advanced espresso brewing geek – If you’ve already mastered the art of dialling in espresso shots, a few of the features of the Barista Express, like the pressure gauge, will make you…yawn. If this sounds like you, consider something like the Breville Duo Temp Pro, although you’ll still need a good grinder.
You’re on a budget – Espresso machines can get much much pricier but the Barista Express is still a bit of an investment. It may be out of reach for some. Don’t forget, however, that a good espresso grinder will cost you almost $300 (often more). To find the best cheaper option, you can read our Cafe Barista review, DeLonghi EC155 review and EC702 review. If you’re a big fan of Breville, the Cafe Roma is also a good choice especially if you’re a big latte fan.
You want an upgrade – In 2019, Breville released the Breville Barista Pro. It shares a lot of similarities with the Barista Express but with 30 grind settings and more added features. Here’s where you can learn more about the Barista Pro.
You’re purchasing for a coffee shop – This machine is intended for home use and won’t fare well under pressure in a commercial environment. I have no idea how you even got this far in this article. Are you high? Here’s our guide on commercial espresso machines.
Features like the integrated burr grinder, dosing and brewing abilities, and the ability to easily (and quickly) clean it make the Breville an excellent buy that will bring your home brewing to life. It’s a best seller all over the internet for good reason. I couldn’t resist myself – I ordered, and paid for it as soon as I had used it elsewhere.
From its intermediate brewing challenges to its utterly smooth espresso production, the Breville Express is a machine that is designed to bring a spark of life to your home brewing adventures!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, the Breville Barista Express is worth it for anyone who is ready to take their espresso-making prowess to the next level. The BE870XL provides much of the power of a professional machine, but at a lower price point than, for example, the Breville Oracle. It is a great espresso machine – a good pick for those looking to advance their espresso experience without breaking the bank.
You can, but this is not a smart way to ‘hack’ to save money. Cheap grinders won’t grind properly for espresso extraction, so you’ll end up with terrible espresso, and you’ll still spend close to $300. If thats your plan, you may as well drink instant coffee; it’s cheaper.
The Barista Express can make coffee in the form of an Americano, which is an espresso shot plus hot water (direct from its hot water spout). It cannot make drip or pour over coffee.
We’ve selected the Breville BES870XL as our top pick in our review of Breville espresso machines. In addition to our own assessment of its features and capabilities, the response from hundreds of satisfied customers support the observation from the espresso-machine review: a ton of people love this thing!
- The Barista Express®. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.breville.com/us/en/products/espresso/bes870.html
- Christie, D. (2016, December 14). The Art of the Dial. Retrieved from https://fivesenses.com.au/blogs/news/the-art-of-the-dial/
- Barista Technique: Good Extraction, Good Espresso. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.home-barista.com/espresso-guide-good-extractions.html
- Espresso. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coffeeresearch.org/espresso/potential.htm
- the Barista Express® (n.d.) Retrieved From https://www.breville.com/us/en/products/espresso/bes870.html