Breville BES500 The Bambino Plus — The Mini-Me Espresso Machine

This scene deserves a gif. Because each time my team and I go to trade shows or conventions for you it plays on a loop: As we reach the Breville (or Sage as it's known in Europe, which is why you'll notice that name in our photos and video) booth, one of my crew is magnetically drawn to the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus. Furious fiddling and a Pixar-character squeak of "It's so tiny!" follows.

Sage the Bambino Plus Arne Happy

This scene deserves a gif. Because each time my team and I go to trade shows or conventions for you it plays on a loop: As we reach the Breville (or Sage as it’s known in Europe, which is why you’ll notice that name in our photos and video) booth, one of my crew is magnetically drawn to the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus. Furious fiddling and a Pixar-character squeak of “It’s so tiny!” follows.

Back when Breville announced that it was launching a micro-mini espresso machine called the Bambino Plus on the market, there were a bunch of stoked Coffeeness members. And not just because Breville has quickly earned a place in our good books, but also because portafilter machines are usually very bulky, often complicated and just plain pricey.

And they seem to be onto something, since we noticed at the 2019 Berlin Consumer Electronics Show (IFA) as well as other trade shows that not everyone is falling over themselves for super-automatic coffee machines any more. Instead, you, the coffee drinkers are more and more interested in bonafide espresso from a portafilter.

Even so, clunky, complicated and expensive machines aren’t going to win any super-automatic or drip-coffee maker converts. And Breville isn’t the only one to have realized this.

Incredibly affordable, entry-level espresso machines are popping up like toadstools. Which is why I rushed to review the Bambino Plus as well as the still very new Delonghi ECOV 311.GR and Delonghi EC685.BK.

In a head-to-head comparison with the two DeLonghis, the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus definitely scores plenty of points, but costs a bit more.

Cute and Convenient

Breville the Bambino Plus

Pint-sized, pint-priced and practical — but not barista quality.

Beautiful design with a tiny footprint

Automatic milk frothing with temperature sensor

Good espresso

Very easy to operate

Good value for money

Espresso needs improvement

Material quality is less than ideal

Which is all well and good but this category of equipment still makes me think of chihuahuas: Nobody really takes them seriously and their size and breeding have left them with a few hang-ups. Plus, people out walking their “real” dogs laugh at these anklebiters.

If you’re curious whether the Breville Bambino Plus fits the stereotype, you can watch the video in German, or keep reading.

Compared to full-sized portafilters, they feel like the toy version — more of a fashion statement than a serious evolution of the species.

Does that mean the Breville is a dud? No. Like a handbag dog, it will find adoring fans and is a great pet in more ways than one. Aside from the inevitable performance limitations, it’s a fun appliance and a breeze to operate.

The Big Picture – it's Small. And Cute.

Breville hasn’t even attempted to make its mini-me look like a traditional portafilter machine. Good for them, I say. Instead the Bambino Plus looks more like the lovechild of a  super-automatic espresso machine and (big ew) a coffee pod machine.

CategoryEntry
ManufacturerBreville
NameBreville BES500 the Bambino Plus
TypeEspresso machine
Water tank capacity64 fluid ounces
Removable water tankYes
Controls/indicatorsButtons, color indicator
Pre-infusion functionYes
Water filterYes
Automatic milk frotherYes
Hot water functionYes
Double shotYes
Casing materialBrushed stainless steel
AccessoriesTamper, precision dosing tool, 416 fl.oz milk jug, 1 & 2 cup dual wall filter baskets, cleaning tool, cleaning disc
Weight 14.4 pounds
Dimensions (W x D x H)7.7 x 12.6 x 12.2 inches

There are no pressure gauges or complicated controls to make your head spin. Breville has kept things simple with illuminated buttons and a couple of scale indicators. The buttons have clearly identifiable functions: single shot, double shot, milk temperature setting, steam. That’s it folks.

The buttons on the Breville the Bambino Plus

If you ask me, this is a big reason why the Bambino is so inviting. You just want to jump right in and give it a whirl. Newbies and the uninitiated don’t feel that misplaced sense of awe (and aw-shucks) as when confronted by some huge chrome monster with endless cryptic controls like they see coffee shops.

Which isn’t to say that the Bambino doesn’t have its fair share shiny metal. Except for a few details like the filter handles and upper section of the tamper, wherever you look is stainless steel. The result, it looks like a really high-quality package.

The tamper that comes with the Breville the Bambino Plus

If it were up to me, I’d have chosen a slightly heavier metal alloy. Because the Bambino Plus is a bit too flimsy for my taste. This turns into a real bugbear whenever you want to unlock the portafilter from the group head and the whole machine goes flying.

Let’s take a look at what else comes in the box:

  • Tamper
  • Dosing tool
  • 16 fluid ounce milk jug
  • Dual-wall baskets for one or two shots
  • Cleaning Tools

As always, I wish they’d include a knock box for disposing of coffee pucks. Breville thinks you should fork out another roughly $30 for their branded one. Since a knockbox goes with a portafilter machine like peanut butter goes with jello, you might as well invest in something a bit more sturdy.

The two dual-wall portafilter baskets are a bit deceptive. You’re probably wondering, what’s with the little strainer at the base? Does it make the espresso extra special? Nope. It’s just a different design for the usual entry-level, single-hole baskets.

Baskets for the Breville the Bambino Plus

Another portafilter machine accessory that often proves a total cop-out is the tamper. Happily, the Breville is not half bad. OK, so it’s still too lightweight and it’s ergonomics are not particularly inspired but it still beats what you get with a lot of models that cost well over $1,000.

In keeping with the teensy-weensy scale of the machine, the water tank holds just 64 fluid ounces. Considering the amount of water in an espresso, plus the bit of steam thrown in for the milk frother, this should still be plenty for a good few shots.

The water tank from the Breville the Bambino Plus

For some $500, you get a puppy of a portafilter machine — you just want to play with it and cuddle it straightaway: It’s not only a fabulous size but also a pleasure to look at and handle. To top it all off, the accessories and ease of use are really impressive.

Up and Running in No Time

When it comes to setting up the Breville the Bambino Plus, there’s not much to tell because there’s not much to it. After all, the tricky part in preparing espresso always happens in the coffee grinder.

The grinder is where you determine the grind texture and dosage. Once you get to the machine, it’s “just” a case of finessing the water quantity and temperature.

To take the head scratching out of the dosing, breville includes a special tool for the purpose. Fittingly dubbed the “Razor,” the tool sits at certain depth inside the basket. From there, it trims the dose and and levels off the grounds so they’re at exactly the right height in the portafilter.

Perfectly level grounds in the Breville the Bambino Plus portafilter basket

Even though the Breville pros, like many others in the industry, regard 19 grams of coffee as the correct dose for a double shot, they don’t bother telling you that in any of the materials. Cue a certain amount of befuddlement.

With that in mind, Breville’s 7-gram guideline for a single shot, sounds like a mistake. It isn’t. Don’t let the numbers (and metric units) drive you crazy. Go to work with a scale, the basket capacity and the appropriate grinder setting.

Remember that magic 19 grams doesn’t just apply to pro baristas but also their pro machines. So if the numbers on your scale don’t tally, but the brew is delectable don’t let it mess with your mojo.

Back at the machine, you choose whether to go with the preset water volumes and preinfusion time or manually program the brewing process. To do this, you press the button and hold it down for a second or two before releasing it at the right moment. The user manual provides clear and detailed instructions.

Adjusting the milk temperature is honestly child’s play. Just select one of the three levels on the colored indicator next to button. That’s it. Simple, right?

Using the milk temperature setting on the right of the Breville the Bambino Plus

To make microfoam, all you have to do is put milk in the pitcher, position it under the wand and press the button. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Making milk froth with the Breville the Bambino Plus

This isn’t not just a small espresso machine but also one that only requires the smallest amount of effort from you. Of course, you can’t just wink at the fact that without a built-in grinder a lot of the work of dialing in a machine disappears. Despite that, the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus puts in a stellar performance in terms of operation and functionality.

Espresso and Milk Froth — the Highs and Lows

You can tell that Breville had a very clear picture of the Bambino Plus’ typical user. How can I tell? One detail is dead giveaway: The portafilter locks into place miles above the drip tray.

Making a latte macchiato with the Breville the Bambino Plus

That means our Ikea latte glass fits perfectly underneath the spout, but the brew has a long way to fall before reaching a small espresso cup.

I can promise you that the baristas in your favorite coffee shop never put the latte glass directly under the portafilter spout, instead adding the extra step of using the milk pitcher. That’s why professional portafilter machines always come with cup raisers, which are kinda like a high chair for little cups.

Since the espresso plunges into the cup from a mighty height, it catches a lot of air. As a result, the coffee gets cold much faster. Plus it’s quite frothy.

Espresso drips from the Breville the Bambino Plus into a cup

Not the end of the world, but not great either. I found the coffee a bit cold. The shot’s crema and the body are OK… just not perfect.

If perfection is the bar, then the milk froth comes pretty close. With it’s beautifully fine texture and a temperature of around 144 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s very much in the goldilocks zone. I’ve often noticed that many entry-level or hybrid machines with an automatic steam wand do a much better job of frothing milk than making espresso.

Milk froth from the Breville the Bambino Plus

Cleaning – Keeping it Short and Sweet

If you flush the machine as often as possible and follow the instructions in the manual when doing a thorough clean, there’s no reason that the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus should ever get grungy.

That’s because the big advantage of a portafilter machine is that the coffee grounds never come into contact with the machine’s innards. So the list of potential issues for you to take care of is limited to limescale and other water problems.

Verdict on the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus: a Pre-Beginner's Machine?

As a rule, I advise that you steer clear of super-cheap super-automatic coffee machines. But super-cheap espresso machine aren’t the worst idea in world. Use the price tag on the Breville BES500 the Bambino Plus as your benchmark.

Once again the Aussies have taken on a machine category and aimed at — and succeed in — responding to their target market’s desires for ease of operation and good coffee. I not only love the automatic milk frother but am a fan of the design and size. Plus, I think the machine is good value for money.

Cute and Convenient

Breville the Bambino Plus

Pint-sized, pint-priced and practical — but not barista quality.

Beautiful design with a tiny footprint

Automatic milk frothing with temperature sensor

Good espresso

Very easy to operate

Good value for money

Espresso needs improvement

Material quality is less than ideal

The espresso earns a passing grade, even though it was definitely too cold for my tastes. This is what cost the Bambino Plus the most in my evaluation. The other downside is the rather flimsy material.

Bottom line, my top pick in this category is unchanged. Want to know what an entry-level espresso machine looks like and is capable of? Check out the Rancilio Silvia — it doesn’t cost much more.

In comparison, the Breville feels like a fun toy, designed as a teaser that you’ll want to trade in for a higher-quality model sooner or later.

In fact, I regard the Bambino Plus as a pre-entry-level machine — a Mickey Mouse portafilter. But maybe that’s just me.

What’s your take? As always, I look forward to your opinions and comments.

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