Breville's Barista Express is the best all-in-one, semi-automatic espresso machine you'll find for under $600 - here's everything you need to know
- Like it or not, $600 is an entry-level price for an espresso machine. For an all-in-one package (that is, a burr grinder, the espresso machine itself, and a frother), it's hard to beat the Breville Barista Express.
- Breville has newer, more expensive machines, but this one is still our favorite, and at $584, it's now cheaper than we've ever seen it.
- Sturdy, sleek, and powerful as can be, the Barista Express holds your hand like a novice while helping you produce like pro. It's also our top pick in our guide to the best espresso machines.
"Home espresso machines are a problem in a box," one inveterate reporter once told me. She wasn't wrong, mostly. I've spent many a day over the last few months troubleshooting several of them.Owning and maintaining a true espresso machine (I'm not talking pod machines like Nespresso here) is a meticulous endeavor for the borderline-obsessive coffee fiend. If you don't crave and cherish an espresso-based drink on a regular basis, stick with a simple drip coffee machine, French Press, or Moka pot if you don't want a hog of a machine dominating your kitchen counter.
Just as with bartenders, there's a very good set of reasons why baristas exist. Sure, between pulling shots they can often become our boho-chic shrinks, but perhaps more importantly, they handle our espresso and the machines that produce it with a degree of TLC that many if not most of us either can't or don't care to match. (I, for one, have destroyed or in some way disabled more than my fair share.)
What's the difference between espresso and coffee?First off, depending on how much you're drinking, espresso can be a more pedestrian dose of caffeine. "Consumer Reports" writes: "An ounce - or one shot - of espresso contains 63 mg of caffeine, according to nutritional information from the Department of Agriculture. By comparison, regular coffee averages 12 to 16 mg of caffeine per ounce."
At eight ounces per standard cup, that's upwards of 96 mg of caffeine per cup of regular coffee. But caffeine concentrations also vary from brand to brand: According to "Consumer Reports," a shot of espresso at Starbucks has about 75 mg of caffeine, while an 8-ounce cup of Pike Place roast coffee has 155 mg. But then, as with many cafes, the smallest size Starbucks offers is a 12-ounce "Tall," meaning you're walking out with about 232.5 mg of caffeine in your hand at minimum. That, if my arithmetic serves me, adds up to more than three shots of their espresso. I shudder at the idea of consuming three shots of espresso at once.Secondly, the way coffee is brewed, it absorbs much more water than espresso, which is made by a quick pulse of pressure (hence "espresso," or in full: caffè espresso, which basically translates to "pressed-out coffee") forcing nearly boiling water through very finely ground coffee beans.There are no true guidelines as to which beans go with which method of brewing or roasting, but you can expect certain flavors from certain roasts. A dark bean will be more bitter (perhaps overpoweringly so), while "a light roast will provide a sweeter and more complex flavor profile," the folks at Seattle Coffee Gear explain. Traditionally, dark-roast beans were preferred for espresso "to mask potential flavor defects and inconsistencies," but "because of the high standards that specialty roasters now hold for the coffees they use," that's no longer an issue.
But what about the label on your bag of beans? That's just a suggestion by the roaster, who's not necessarily wrong or right. These are subjective and muddy waters at best these days. You'll be able to find out what you like pretty quickly.
Why spend all that money on an espresso machine?
The main reason espresso machines are so expensive is the boiler. It has to be powerful enough to produce about nine bars of even pressure, but also maintain a consistent temperature just above boiling. Pod machines fool us into thinking they cover these bases, but what you get out of them is something much closer to coffee than espresso.If you're trading in your takeout coffee for an espresso machine, it'll pay for itself in no time (somewhere between one and two years). It'll also save you time. From start to finish, the Breville will provide you with a top-notch shot of espresso in under 60 seconds, once you've gotten the swing of it.
Keep reading for a breakdown of the Breville Barista Express
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Setting the grind sizeAdvertisement
Adjusting the grind amount
Tamping your shotAdvertisement
Tidying your tamped shot
Monitoring the pressure gaugeAdvertisement
Pulling the perfect shot
The product, straight upAdvertisement
Operating the milk frother
How does it measure up?Advertisement
The bottom line
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