Breville Dual Boiler Review: Great Value Espresso Machine
The Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler espresso machine builds on the brand’s viral BES900 model, making an already excellent machine even better. The Dual Boiler is a unique espresso machine that pairs advanced functionality with a user-friendly interface, and it is unmatched by anything else on the market.
In this Breville Dual Boiler review, we’ll tell you everything this impressive – and impressively affordable – espresso machine has to offer, including the exciting new upgrades from the previous edition.
Summary: The Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
- Dual boiler automatic espresso machine with PID temperature control
- Programmable pre-infusion ensures consistently incredible espresso
- Automatic cleaning cycles and alerts make maintenance a breeze
This Breville has everything I’d ever wish to have. I love the ability to control the shot process.– Customer
A Full Breville Dual Boiler Review
Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine, also known as the Sage Dual Boiler in Europe, is a rarity. It occupies a specific niche in the market, yet that niche is popular with many consumers. Shockingly, no other brands have stepped up with a competing product.
As you’ll see in the following paragraphs, Dual Boiler offers a lot of features you’d expect to find on way-more-expensive prosumer espresso machines. Such as two boilers, PID temperature control, pre-infusion – but at a much lower price and in a far more user-friendly package.
The trade-off is that it lacks the alternatives’ build quality and commercial-grade components. But if that’s a trade you’re willing to make, this is a great value espresso machine.
Let’s get into the details.
Design – 4/5
The design of the Breville Dual Boiler (BDB) is outstanding. It feels like the engineers responsible took note of what consumers want, and as such, it is chock-full of clever features that make it a joy to use.
Let me give you a few examples.
For convenience, you can fill the 84-ounce water reservoir from the front or the back of the machine, or you can remove it for refilling at the sink. Rather than sitting on feet, like most espresso machines, the BDB has retractable wheels, so you can quickly move it around and then plant it firmly. This comes in handy when filling the aforementioned water tank, especially if your machine lives under your cupboards.
Another great feature? You can program a turn-on time so that the Dual Boiler is heated and ready when you get up in the morning. Even though the average dirt cheap coffee maker offers this option, it’s unaccountably absent from nearly every high-end espresso maker, forcing the purchase of extra gadgets like smart plugs.
It also has a Standby mode and an Auto Shut Off. After one hour of inactivity, the machine will enter a low power mode and cool the boilers. After four hours, it will shut off altogether. These features are fantastic for energy efficiency, safety, and preserving the machine’s longevity.
None of these are groundbreaking design elements, but together they add up to an enjoyable coffee brewing experience that you won’t find on any other double-boiler espresso maker.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the BDB looks very much like every other Breville appliance, and how you feel about it will be a matter of personal taste. Though I will say that the brand’s design continuity is excellent if you own several Breville appliances and like a cohesive look in your kitchen.
It features smooth curves, a brushed stainless steel casing, inset backlit buttons, and a small LCD screen. Instead of going for a more friendly and approachable vibe, it doesn’t have the all-stainless heavy-duty look of a typical prosumer machine. It is much more compact than the typical prosumer model, which is excellent if you have limited counter space, and it can even fit comfortably underneath upper cupboards.
Brewing System – 4.5/5
As you might suspect from its name, the Breville Dual Boiler has a dual boiler heating system. It has one boiler for steaming milk and a separate boiler for brewing coffee, and the temperature needed for steaming is much higher than that needed for brewing. This machine allows you to steam milk and extract espresso simultaneously by assigning each task to its boiler. You’ll be preparing drinks just like the professional barista at your local coffee shop – and producing cafe-quality results!
Both boilers have their own PID temperature controllers. PIDs are a modern addition to espresso makers, providing far superior temperature control when compared with the pressure states found on older or cheaper models (1). A PID allows you to set a temperature more accurately, maintaining that temperature with fewer fluctuations.
A PID is a game-changer if you prepare specialty coffee, which is sensitive to slight differences in brew temperature.
You can set the steam temperature from 265 to 285 ℉, which is a broader range than the previous model, and you can set the brew temperature between 190 and 205 ℉ (2). Changing one doesn’t impact the other because the two boilers are independent. You can brew at a high temperature and steam at low pressure simultaneously.
A third heater is used to heat the group head itself. Electronically heated group heads produce a more consistent extraction temperature and are a hallmark of high-end espresso machines. A second advantage of the group head heater is that it makes the Dual Boiler very fast to heat up when you first turn it on. While some larger machines can take upwards of 30 minutes, the Breville will be good to go in under 10 minutes.
The Breville Dual Boiler is an automatic one, which means that you can pre-program single and double shots. Once programmed, pulling a shot of espresso is as simple as hitting a button. Uniquely, the latest edition of the BDB lets you do this either by shot volume OR by time.
Of course, there is also a manual button if you prefer semi-automatic machines. In this case, you’ll want to take advantage of the built-in shot clock to monitor shot duration.
This machine also includes the option of low-pressure pre-infusion and offers you a ton of control over the process (3). Not only can you program the pre-infusion time, but you can even adjust the pressure. This degree of control is a common theme on this machine, and it is why it appeals to both novices and experts alike. It’s effortless to pull a tremendous balanced espresso shot, but you also have the option to tinker with a lot of variables to achieve a fantastic shot.
Coffee Quality & Versatility – 4.5/5
Thanks to features like PID temperature control and pre-infusion, the Breville Dual Boiler produces incredible espresso. Coffee expert and former World Barista Champion James Hoffmann agreed, even when comparing it against some well-known prosumer machines.
It’s a capable machine when it comes to brewing good espresso.
Because the temperature is accurate and adjustable, you can dial in the ideal brewing conditions for your favorite coffee beans. For example, light roasts typically excel with a finer grind, longer and lower pressure pre-infusion, and a hotter brew temperature (4). And the BDB will let you play with all those variables in the quest for the perfect espresso extraction.
It also has a brew pressure gauge to help with the dialing-in process. By monitoring the pressure gauge, you’ll know when you’ve got the right grind size to hit the 9 bars of pressure recommended for the best extraction (5).
The Dual Boiler relies on an OPV valve to release excess pressure, and this will keep you from hitting too high a pressure, resulting in a bitter or astringent espresso shot. Unfortunately, this model’s OPV isn’t easily adjustable, so it’s not straightforward to play with different brewing pressures.
Not just an espresso machine
This isn’t just an espresso machine; it also steams milk. And it does this very effectively, whether you want a creamy latte or a foamy cappuccino.
The steam wand is the professional caliber, and it’s double-walled so that the outside doesn’t get hot enough to burn you. The steam wand is on a 360-degree ball joint, so it’s a pleasure to use, and it comes standard with a nicely balanced three-hole steam tip.
You can adjust the steam pressure by changing the steam boiler temperature. If you’re new to frothing milk, it’s nice to start at a lower pressure, which gives you a little more time to make sure you’ve got the milk texture just right. A lever operates the steam wand on the side of the machine, a system you’ll see on many top espresso makers like the La Marzocco GS3 or Slayer. Compared with a knob, many users find the lever more ergonomic and better for controlling the steam.
The Breville Dual Boiler also has a dedicated hot water outlet. This is not a massive surprise at this price, but it’s a much nicer alternative to making the steam wand do double duty.
Cleaning & Maintenance – 4.5/5
Cleaning and maintenance is an area in which this machine shines, especially when compared to similar double boilers.
Breville upgraded the older model, the BES900, to the new BES920 and added an automatic descaling process. If you’re not familiar with prosumer espresso machines, let me tell you this is a HUGE selling point for this machine. Typically descaling is a task you want to avoid altogether because it involves, for most laypeople, either shipping the machine to a dealer or taking it to a local technician – both of which are expensive and time-consuming. But with the Dual Boiler, it’s as easy as pushing a few buttons.
Not only that, but the BES920 now ships with a water hardness test strip. Enter the test results into the machine, and it will calibrate itself to your local water to tell you exactly when you must descale. (6).
The boilers of the Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine are straightforward to drain, another upgrade from the last model. If you need to ship your machine somewhere, or you’re putting it in storage, simply undo two screws on the outside. The boilers will drain into the drip tray – a far cry from many machines requiring you to remove the outer casing and dig around inside.
Less advanced day-to-day cleaning is even more manageable, and for the most part, this machine will alert you when anything is needed. Just keep the water tank full and the drip tray empty. The drip tray is even equipped with a cute little floating pop-up that will let you know it’s full. Wipe the outside surface with a damp cloth to free it from coffee oil stains.
Value for Money – 4/5
It’s not uncommon to hear the Breville Dual Boiler referred to as one of the best value espresso machines on the market. I certainly can’t think of a cheaper model with dual stainless steel boilers, volumetric dosing, PID temperature control, and programmable pre-infusion.
The trade-off for that affordability is that the build quality of the BDB doesn’t match that of the prosumer models, and it lacks commercial-grade components. So while a well-maintained prosumer machine might last a decade or more, a more realistic lifespan for a Breville is 3 to 5 years, though there are always exceptions. Breville has recently extended the warranty on this model from 1 to 2 years, showing their increasing confidence in its longevity.
Breville espresso machines are great for including all the accessories you need, compared to other brands.
The BDB comes with a commercial-standard 58 mm portafilter and four different filter baskets – both pressurized and non-pressurized single shots and double shots. Pressurized baskets, also known as dual wall filter baskets, make it easy for newcomers to pull a beautiful shot of espresso, even if the coffee grounds aren’t quite perfect.
Impressively, you also get a stainless steel steaming pitcher and a nice metal tamper with this machine, add-ons that might run upwards of $100. The tamper attaches to the machine magnetically. This safekeeping mechanism is a clever design found on many Breville espresso machine models. Hidden in the drip tray storage area, you’ll find even more goodies: a backflush disc, allen key, “razor” dose trimming tool, and a steam tip cleaning tool.
All of this, coupled with its incredible performance, really makes you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth (and then some!) from the Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine.
Things we liked:
- PID temperature control and programmable pre-infusion
- Ultra-fast heat-up time for a dual boiler
- Electronically heated group head
- More user-friendly than most dual boilers
Things we didn’t like:
- Lacks the build quality of a prosumer espresso machine
- Can’t adjust the OPV
Don’t Buy the Breville Dual Boiler If…
You don’t make a lot of milky drinks: If you rarely make a latte or cappuccino, you probably don’t need the ability to brew coffee and steam milk simultaneously. You can save a significant amount of money opting for one of Breville’s smaller models like the Infuser, which is our pick for best espresso machine this year, or even the Duo Temp or the Cafe Roma.
You don’t have enough space: If you’re short on counter space, consider the remarkably affordable Breville Bambino Plus. It doesn’t offer quite as many features like the Dual Boiler. Still, this compact espresso machine has volumetric dosing, pre-infusion, automatic milk frothing and yields some very impressive drinks for its size.
You don’t own a grinder: If you don’t want to buy a grinder to pair with your espresso machine, or lack the space for yet another appliance, consider the Breville Barista Express, the Barista Touch, or the Oracle. All these machines come with a built-in grinder.
If you are looking for a machine with the brewing capabilities of a prosumer espresso machine but in a far more approachable package and at a lower price. In that case, the Breville Dual Boiler is just what you need. Its friendly design and easy operation belie the advanced features tucked away inside, making it popular with beginners and more experienced baristas alike.
- Partida, V. (2017, December 5). PID vs. Pstat. Retrieved from https://coffeetechniciansguild.org/blog/2017/11/21/pid-vs-pstat
- Fekete, M. (2019, February). How brew water temperature affects espresso extraction. Retrieved from https://www.beanscenemag.com.au/brew-water-temperature-effect-espresso-extraction/
- Aloe, R.M. (2020, July 2). Pre-Infusion for Espresso: Visual Cues for Better Espresso. Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/pre-infusion-for-espresso-visual-cues-for-better-espresso-c23b2542152e
- Randolph, J. (2019, August 9). How to Choose Brewing Temperatures for Different Roast Levels. Retrieved from https://fellowproducts.com/blogs/learn/how-to-choose-water-temperature-for-different-roast-level
- Kilbride, D. (2017, June 8). How Does Pressure Affect Espresso Quality? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2017/06/how-does-pressure-affect-espresso-quality/
- Carr, A. (2019, February 20). The Science of the Perfect Water for Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.sevenmiles.com.au/blogs/editorial/the-science-of-perfect-water-for-coffee/