Breville Barista Express Review: Jack of All Trades or Master of None?

After working as a professional barista for many years, Arne Preuss founded Coffeeness.

meanIt seems every time I turn around, someone asks me to conduct a Breville Barista Express review. Truthfully, as a professional barista and espresso machine reviewer, I get asked all kinds of questions.

meanIt seems every time I turn around, someone asks me to conduct a Breville Barista Express review. Truthfully, as a professional barista and espresso machine reviewer, I get asked all kinds of questions.

  • What’s the best espresso machine for beginners?
  • Is the Breville BES870XL a good choice for a newbie?
  • Would a different Breville Barista model be a better fit?
  • Can you make regular coffee with Breville Barista Express?

To clarify, I often find that people are looking for a beginner-friendly espresso machine that won’t cramp their brewing style the way super-automatic espresso machines do. They want greater control over the brewing process, yet don’t want to be overwhelmed by all the functions found in a fully manual espresso machine.

In other words, they like the idea and retro look that comes with displaying a stainless steel espresso machine in their kitchen, but don’t want it to require a B.A. — Barista of Arts — degree to operate the thing.

Breville Barista Express

A solid step in your espresso journey

Very easy operation

Stylish design

High-quality workmanship

Very good value for money

Lots of espresso settings and learning opportunities

A hybrid machine with the usual limitations

The Breville BES870XL

Meet the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine. Though not alone in this category, this Breville Barista model is a strong contender for the title “best espresso machine for beginners.”

Breville the Barista Express BES870XL Espresso Machine.

Certainly, Breville has the same thinking, as they’ve made considerable effort to ensure the BES870XL is available across the globe.

In true Bourne-style, the Breville Barista Express has a way of popping up all over the place under a variety of aliases. In the UK, for example, it’s called the Sage BES875UK Barista Express. While in other parts of Europe, such as Germany, it’s known as the Gastroback Advanced Pro S 42612 GS.

Don’t be fooled by all that “Pro” and “Advanced” in the German name. The price — currently $699.95 on Amazon — and features indicate this is solid beginner territory.

That’s why this Breville BES870XL review will first focus on how aspiring home baristas can make great espresso — and lattes or cappuccinos. It will also focus on how the Breville Barista Express stands up next to some of the best espresso machines in the mid-range category.

Breville the Barista Express BES870XL espresso machine in stainless steel overview

An Overview of the Breville Barista Express

The Breville brand has its roots in Australia, where the company initially earned its reputation with a sandwich toaster. Since then, Breville has made inroads into the consumer market by designing gourmet-style equipment for home cooks. And that’s just the niche they are aiming for with the Breville Barista Express.

First impressions are important. With all its brushed stainless steel, dials, settings and gauges, this Breville Barista espresso machine certainly looks like it would be found in the homes of the pro baristas from your local coffee shop.

Breville Barista Express pressure gauge

But give it a second glance and you’ll see that it’s set up to automate a lot more processes than a bonafide portafilter does.

Take the built-in grinder and attached tamper, for instance. In fact, purists might sneer that the Breville Barista Express is really just a super-automatic espresso machine disguised as a portafilter.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As long as you know that hybrid semi-automatic espresso machines are built on compromises — which you’ll notice in their performance.

In spite of that, the Breville Barista Express has what it takes to teach you the skills necessary to pull a good shot of espresso. In my mind, this makes the BES870XL a pretty ideal tutor in the fine art of coffee à la Italiano.

Is the Breville Barista Express Worth It?

Honestly, it’s a good deal. In addition to all of the amazing brushed stainless steel, there are tons of thoughtful little details that went into the design. Features such as having two types of filters and a milk jug with a temperature gauge will make your barista learning curve a lot less steep.

So, I can confidently say that many of you will be very happy with this machine and use it for a long time. But sooner or later, as you get into the groove, you’ll likely feel the irresistible call of a “genuine” portafilter.

This, of course, raises the question of whether it’s worth shelling out your hard-earned cash for an entry-level espresso machine you’ll outgrow. I don’t think anyone will tire of this machine within a month. No, it will take a lot longer than that. Years perhaps.

And thanks to quality workmanship, a well-cared-for Breville Barista Express should earn you a good chunk of change on the second-hand market when you’re ready for an upgrade. Consider it a deposit toward a proper portafilter machine for your kitchen.

There’s also something to be said for purchasing a machine that’s a match for your skill level. In this way, buying a Breville Barista espresso machine is an investment in your personal education.

Time for a quick recap:

The Breville the Barista Express espresso machine is a great buy for beginners. Despite trade-offs in high-end pro features, it cleverly bridges the gap between a super-automatic and a traditional espresso machine with a portafilter.

Breville Barista Express Pros and Cons


Whenever I review an espresso machine, I find it helpful to weigh the pros and cons. After all, no machine is perfect. My tests for this Breville Barista Express review brought the following pros and cons to light.

PROS

  • Very easy operation
  • Stylish retro design
  • High-quality workmanship
  • Very good value for the money
  • Lots of espresso settings and learning opportunities
  • Cleverly conceived accessories and details
  • Good espresso extraction
  • Great milk froth

CONS

  • The grinder could be better
  • A hybrid semi-automatic espresso machine with the usual limitations

The first con actually stems from the second one, since combo machines involve compromises. Despite that, the Breville Barista Express manages to keep these trade-offs to a minimum. That alone is quite an accomplishment.

Breville Barista Express Features

Just like you cannot judge a book by its cover, I encourage you to think critically and recognize that choosing the best espresso machine involves not judging a machine by its looks. Yes, having a stylish look is important. However, that beauty will quickly fade if a host of great features don’t accompany it. Let’s take a closer look.

What's in the Breville Barista Express Box?

Accessories tend to be somewhat of an afterthought when a manufacturer decides what to put in the box. That’s not the case with the Breville Barista Express. Clearly, Breville wanted the Breville BES870XL to appeal to beginners.

Check out what’s in the box:

  • 17-ounce milk jug
  • A magnetic tamper
  • “The Razor” – a dose-trimming tool that lets you precisely level off the coffee
  • Single and double-wall filter baskets
  • A removable, half-gallon water tank

Double-wall Filter Baskets

As for the double-wall filter baskets, we’ll get to those and why they’re designed for newbie baristas in a bit.

The Razor Dosing Tool

While the Razor dosing tool isn’t really necessary, at least you won’t dirty up a butter knife leveling out coffee grinds.

Breville Barista Express packaged Razor dosing tool

BES870XL Magnetic Tamper

In contrast, a tamper is an important accessory for extracting perfect espresso. The good news is that the tamper on the BES870XL is of good quality. I’m personally not crazy about how it hangs from the machine by magnetic force, but some of you will find this convenient. My concern is simply that if the tamper were any heavier, the magnet wouldn’t be able to support it.

For the actual tamping job, heavier would’ve been better. Still, the fact that it is included in the box is a big plus.

Read more about tampers in my post The Ultimate Espresso Tamper Guide: The Holy Grail of Espresso?

Removable Water Tank

Just so you know, a removable water tank is one of the most obvious trademarks of a semi-automatic espresso machine. Since you have to remove and replace the tank at the back of the machine, a half-gallon tank is a pretty standard capacity.

The Breville Barista Express water tank

You’ll want to avoid sloshing and spilling water when reinserting a full tank. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created a spill… even while conducting this Breville Barista Express review. Believe me when I say that it happens quickly!

Another reason to think twice about filling the tank to capacity each time is to preserve the quality of your water. Unless your home is inhabited by coffee lovers like mine, the water will just sit there.

The Importance of Water Quality

Basically, Fresh water yields better espresso. It also prevents the unnecessary growth of algae in your machine. Don’t believe me? Run your finger across the inside of your coffee machine water tank. You’ll be surprised!

The above said, what with brewing coffee, running cleaning cycles and frothing milk, the Breville Barista Express can burn through half a gallon of water rather quickly. Just be sure to leave the water tank turned upside down and empty at night so it can completely dry out.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Breville Barista Express includes a water filter. This is an important feature that many manufacturers overlook.

The Breville Barista Express uses Breville BWF100 replacement water filters, which are readily available on Amazon. A pack of six water filters will run you $29.99.

Specifications for the Breville BES870XL

 Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine
Model NumberBES870XL
Housing MaterialStainless steel
DisplayNo
Water Tank67 oz
GrinderStainless steel conical burr grinder
Grind Levels16
Auto TampingNo
Bean Compartment8 oz
Pre-Ground Coffee OptionYes
Double ShotYes
Pre-Programmed Café FavoritesNo
User ProfilesNo
Adjustable Water TemperatureYes
Adjustable Milk Foam TemperatureNo
Water FilterYes
Digital PID Water Temperature ControlYes
Number of Boilers1
Auto StartYes
Wattage1600 Watts
Power110-120 V
Weight23.0 lbs
Dimensions (Height x Width x Depth)13.5 x 12.0 x 11.0 in
NotesHas outdated technology.
Warranty1-Year
Current Price on Amazon$699.95

Check out the specs. You’ll see you will see the Barista Express does a good job of incorporating the kind of features an aspiring home barista wants. Take, for example, the Breville Barista Express wattage. 1,600 Watts is more than enough to electrify espresso-making for any aspiring espresso barista.

The Bean Hopper

Regarding the bean hopper: with a capacity of half a pound, it holds enough for about 30 shots of espresso. That may be great for large families, but less so for smaller households. So, I recommend you refill the hopper with smaller quantities of beans more frequently. That way you can change bean types more easily.

The Daily Grind

The grinder is the heart and soul of any espresso machine, whether it be a Breville semi-automatic espresso machine or a super-automatic. The 18-level integrated conical burr grinder on the Breville BES870XL dispenses freshly ground beans directly into the portafilter basket.

Having a built-in grinder means one less step — and appliance cost — to consider. However, let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. There’s more to this story!

In concept, selecting the right grind size is simple, thanks to the clear markings on the dial. I always recommend people start on the finest setting and then make adjustments.

The Breville Barista Express grinder

Admittedly, I assumed that the Breville BES870XL, being an entry-level machine, would miss the mark when it came to grind settings. I wasn’t wrong … even with the dial tuned to the smallest grind size, the Breville Barista Express isn’t capable of producing as fine of a grind as I would have liked.

In practical terms, finer coffee grinds mean better quality espresso.

Adjusting grind coarseness on the Breville Barista Express

On top of that less than stellar performance, you’re stuck with the placement of the grinder and brew head being situated side by side.

That can be a real pain. The reason is that, although the dispensing is accurate, stray coffee particles still end up mixing with water and getting into places you don’t want them. Much like sand making its way into your bathing suit at the beach!

Of course, you need to get into the habit of thoroughly cleaning the drip trays daily. But the hard truth is the design makes potential messes more likely.

Another big plus of the Breville BES870XL Barista Express espresso machine is the option to adjust coffee dosage entirely by hand or by use of the dial. It’s more evidence of pro features that will appeal to customers who like to experiment.

PID Temperature Control

The first sign that the Breville BES870XL Barista Express is serious about the pursuit of perfect coffee is the PID temperature controller centered on the actively heated group head. What is a PID controller, you say?

It’s basically just a gauge that permanently monitors the temperature of the brew head, ensuring a more perfect espresso extraction in the filter basket.

What’s more, you can also adjust the water temperature in increments of one or two degrees between 187º F and 205º F. Believe it or not, a 2-degree change in temperature can make or break an espresso.

Forget about other beginner machines giving you that kind of temperature control!

Don’t worry if you’re still finding your feet here. The default temperature setting is a good starting point until you’re comfortable making adjustments. Some people complain that the temperature of their espresso is on the cool side, so being able to increase that is ideal. Pre-warming cups with hot water helps too.

Steam Wand and Hot Water

When it comes to milk froth, the Breville Barista Express goes all out with a pro-style steam wand. It can swivel 360 degrees and generates enough water pressure at the tip to create evenly textured microfoam.

Breville Barista Express steam wand

There’s a separate hot water outlet that’s useful for tea, Americanos and the pre-warming of cups. Like with the steam wand, you can select it via a dial on the side of the machine.

Be careful though, the spout sits fairly high up on the machine, so there is potential for spattering. Keep your hands clear, in other words!

Frothing Milk With the Breville Barista Express

Indeed, this steam wand is a blast in every sense of the word! Using it was actually my favorite part of carrying out this Breville Barista Express review.

Sure, the pressure is more home-barista than coffee shop. But since the steam wand can pivot 360-degrees and there’s a handy milk pitcher included, it’s a breeze to produce microfoam that’s good enough to make some latte art. You know, heart-shaped milk swirls and such.

Breville Barista Express milk pitcher

Thanks to the rubber grip on the steam wand, you’re far less likely to burn yourself. From a pro perspective though, I have a small gripe.

Milk froth from the Breville Barista Express

Specifically, because there isn’t much space in front of the machine, you have to hold a cloth over the steam wand when flushing out milk residues. On other machines, you can just release the cleansing steam into the drip tray without any risk of scalding yourself.

Making milk froth with the Breville Barista Express

It’s not the end of the world, but with the Breville Barista Express, you risk contaminating your coffee or even splattering the whole machine with milk.

Portafilter and Baskets

Finally, it’s time to talk about those disconcerting double-wall filter baskets that come with the Breville Barista Express. I’ve already written a lot about these in my review of the DeLonghi Dedica EC685.

Why two walls? These beginner baskets allow the espresso to flow into the basket through many holes, but only exit through one. The upshot is that, even if you bungle the setup, you’ll still get a shot of espresso with a thick crema.

In other words, your espresso will pass the taste test, though sophisticated palates might pick up on how you fudged things with the filter.

Once you feel more confident, you should switch over to the single-wall baskets. They give you more precise control of the finer points without needing to cheat your way to good results.

I’m pleased to report that the portafilter is high quality and locks neatly into place — once you’ve got the hang of it, that is.

Every barista knows that’s a tricky step when you’re still new to the game. We all remember cleaning up a few small coffee explosions after failing to properly secure the portafilter. With the BES870XL, that’s very unlikely to happen.

Breville Barista Express portafilter plastic inlay

Unfortunately, the portafilter contains a small and unnecessary plastic inlay. I truly don’t see the point.

Getting With the Program: The Control Panel and Settings

In terms of settings, there’s a lot that you can program on the Breville Barista Express. In that sense, the machine is very professional.

It’s not a stretch to get great results simply by adjusting the grind size and grind amount, whether for a single or double shot.

Even more, the front control panel clearly displays the important factors at a glance. You only really need to grab the manual when fine-tuning individual components.

For such adjustments, you use specific button combinations. Starting out by programming the perfect coffee dosage for a single or double shot really isn’t difficult.

Of course, it would be nice if it wasn’t necessary to use combinations of buttons, but to achieve that we’d need the Breville Barista Express’ successor, the Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso Machine. More on that machine in a few minutes.

One feature to keep an eye on is the pressure gauge on the front of the BES870XL. It immediately tells you if your settings will work together to produce enough pressure.

Getting Started With the Breville Barista Express

The components rundown already shows that operating the Breville Barista Express is fairly user-friendly.

I would still recommend that you start off with cheap espresso beans and keep the Breville Barista Express manual by your side… at least until you’ve gotten a few espressos on your belt.

Breville’s instructions are actually an excellent textbook for home baristas. In fact, a lot of what you learn translates seamlessly to operating professional espresso machines.

Anyone who already kinda knows the drill will feel right at home. Which is another point in the machine’s favor.

Coffee Extraction and Getting Your Brew On

Ultimately, what makes or breaks any espresso machine is how good — or bad — its black (caffeinated) magic is. And while the Barista Express checks a number of boxes, there are some definite negatives:

  • Once you’ve mastered single-wall filters and the ins and outs of brewing a good espresso shot, you can no longer overlook how the Barista Express falls short in the espresso grinder department. No matter how perfect your dose control and water temperature are, a mediocre grinder negates those efforts.
  • If you’re the type that can turn a blind eye, the factory presets will serve you well enough. As is par for the course, you’ll need to decrease the water volume and increase the coffee dosage in order to achieve the best results.

Think of the Breville BES870XL Barista Express espresso machine as a DSLR camera. Use it in auto mode and you’ll get rather meh pictures. Put the camera in manual, make some adjustments and you’ll get an improvement.

Just like with cameras though, owning the best of the best doesn’t guarantee amazing results. Nor does owning a lesser machine mean you can’t achieve great espresso. You have to learn how to use the machine you have.

Remember in the Fate of the Furious when Vin Diesel won that street race in Cuba while driving a clunker?

Gallery ImageGallery ImageGallery Image
Breville Barista Express Espresso

Breville Barista Express Cleaning

Let’s be real: if the Breville Barista Express stops working like it should because it is too dirty, then it’s your fault. After all, there’s no shortage of cleaning accessories, settings and programs.

It’s worth paying close attention to the different lights and symbols that indicate when cleaning or emptying is required. The warnings are pretty unmistakable, so you won’t be left wondering what to do next. If in doubt, refer to the Breville Barista Express manual.

Amazingly enough, the obligatory rubber portafilter insert, Allen key, soft brush and bristles to clean the little holes in the filter are readily on hand thanks to the convenient storage compartment in the machine.

The cleaning tools for the Breville Barista Express

It’s advisable to change the water filter more frequently than absolutely necessary. Mineral buildup can be the death of an espresso machine.

Accessing the stainless-steel grinder is also no sweat. Although, as an experienced nuts-and-bolts guy, I like to disassemble things a bit more thoroughly than what’s described in the Breville Barista Express manual.

In addition to using a mild detergent, you have to be extra cautious about cleaning the portafilter, especially on a Breville semi-automatic espresso machine. The reason is that there are a lot of coils and features packed tightly into a small space. They need to be well maintained.

The first commandment for coffee machines: thou shalt clean the drip tray, grounds tray and steam wand every day.

Keep in mind that milk goes bad much faster than ground coffee. Flushing the steam wand will deal with the worst residues.

Totally Doable

Sound like a hassle? It’s not that bad. Make a habit of it and cleaning the Breville Barista Express cleaning won’t take longer than washing a plate. OK, so I’m exaggerating a little, but you’ll thank me for it.

Speaking of hygiene, the more you clean the brew head, the better. Again, this entails flushing in short bursts — preferably before and after every brewing cycle.

Another aspect of Breville Barista Express cleaning is polishing all that brushed stainless steel, which is a big part of the retro-cool look that got you to open your wallet in the first place. The problem is every fingerprint shows so you’ll have to stay on top of it.

A final word of advice: no part of this machine should go in the dishwasher. You’re probably looking at the portafilter and baskets and thinking, really?

If you ask me, espresso machines are artisanal machines and that means doing things the old-fashioned way. The milk pitcher is the one possible exception, grumble, grumble.

Cleaning the steam wand on the Breville Barista Express

How Does the Breville BES870XL Stand Up Next To Other Machines?

When shopping around, it’s always a good idea to see what else is in the market. That way you make an informed decision that you’ll be content with. You definitely don’t want buyer’s remorse. Below are a few machines that people like to compare when considering the Breville BES870XL Barista Express espresso machine.

Breville Barista Express vs DeLonghi La Specialista

Breville Barista Express vs DeLonghi La Specialista

In my review of the DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine, I explain how this machine is much closer to a true portafilter than the espresso machines in the Breville lineup. So, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you are new to espresso and willing to learn, the DeLonghi La Specialista has a lot to offer. But be sure to remember that the learning curve will be steep.

Some highlights of the DeLonghi La Specialista are a dual boiler system, 1-second quick start, and a smart tamping station that tamps coffee grounds without you ever having to remove the portafilter.

The current price of the DeLonghi La Specialista on Amazon is $899.95.

Related: DeLonghi La Specialista Maestro Hands on Review 2022

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Barista Pro

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Barista Pro

There are really only a couple of differences between the Breville BES870XL and the Breville BES878BSS Barista Pro Espresso Machine. The most obvious one on the surface is that the Barista Pro takes a step away from the retro design that many people love. It has taken on more of a modern look, which also has its merits.

Further, the more important difference is in the heating element. The Barista Pro has a ThermoJet heating system, which provides a 3-second heat-up time. That’s considerably better than the 30 second recovery time from the thermocoil heating system found on the Barista Express. In reality, thirty seconds may not sound like a long time, but if you’re in a hurry or creating several drinks at once, it adds up.

The Breville Barista Pro is available for $849.95 on Amazon.

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Infuser

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Infuser

The Breville BES840XL Infuser Espresso Machine doesn’t really have anything on the Breville Barista Express. Though it is slightly cheaper and has a smaller footprint, it doesn’t have a built-in grinder. In short, the Barista Express is a better purchase.

You can find the Breville Infuser for $570.35.

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Barista Touch

Breville Barista Express vs Breville Barista Touch

Now, compared the with Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso Machine, there’s a clear winner, and it is not the Barista Express. The Barista Touch has a lot of the great features found on the Breville BES990BSS Oracle Touch Espresso Machine.

What does $1,099.95 buy ya? Well, like the name suggests, there’s a touch screen that walks users through the process of brewing drinks. On top of that, the steam wand on the Barista Touch has a built-in thermometer. Plus, a Theromjet heating system is onboard. Lastly, the Touch has five pre-programmed drink recipes and eight customizable drink profiles.

I go into great detail about all of the Breville espresso machines in my post: Best Breville Espresso Machine: Which One Fits Your Lifestyle? I recommend you check it out before making your final decision. In that article, I explain why I named the Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso Machine the “Best Overall” mid-range semi-automatic espresso machine.

Verdict on the Breville Barista Express

Okay, so I have a great appreciation for what the Breville Barista Express can do. As a professional barista, I’m not at a place myself where I’d want this machine.

However, as a professional espresso machine reviewer, I can see why it would be a reasonable purchase for people who are in the early days of their espresso journey.

Hence, the results of my Breville Barista Express review are simple: I think the Breville BES870XL is a great beginner espresso machine.

Do remember that its hybrid nature means you’ll eventually hit a wall when trying to dig deeper into the various factors that go into the perfect espresso. Thankfully, there’s a lot to learn between now and then.

Breville Barista Express

A solid step in your espresso journey

Very easy operation

Stylish design

High-quality workmanship

Very good value for money

Lots of espresso settings and learning opportunities

A hybrid machine with the usual limitations

To put it another way, if the manufacturer had skipped the integrated conical burr grinder, and instead focused more on functionality, this machine could really have gone the distance to meeting pro expectations, too.

Of course, buying an espresso machine and separate grinder is never going to be as compact a package as the BES870XL. It also comes at an additional cost.

By the same token, I know that many of you will like the Breville BES870XL Barista Express espresso machine precisely because it gives you everything wrapped up in a single package. All things considered, it’s fairly priced at $570.35 on Amazon.

Arne Enjoying a Latte Macchiato Made on the Breville Barista Express.

Should You Buy the Breville Barista Express?

If the Breville Barista Express has caught your eye, rest assured, there are reasons enough to recommend it. Those who know that their approach to coffee is on a fast track to sophistication might be better off with the DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine.

Otherwise, you risk buying two machines in quick succession. Not that you couldn’t sell one to recoup a chunk of your investment.

If having the latest and greatest technology built into your espresso machine is a priority for you, the more recent Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso Machine would be a better choice.

At the end of the day, remember to learn how to fully use whichever machine you go with.

Let me know if I can clarify anything else for you in the Breville 870XL review, or if you’ve used the Breville Barista Express. One of my staffers just bought a black Breville espresso machine — the 870XL — and loves it. See you in the comments!

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