So a few weeks ago, my coffee machine packed in and I was gutted. It lasted a couple of years, so out of warranty, can’t really complain but I needed something sharpish to keep my caffeine levels up. I had a low budget really of 3 to £400. I wanted bean to cup, I wanted to grind, I wanted to get textured milk as well. I was looking at the Sage Barista Express, but that was nearly £600 retail. I kept searching and found the Breville Barista Max, it’s an all-in-one espresso machine, with grinder and milk steamer, all for £299. Too good to be true, nope, and I’m actually really quite impressed. Let’s take a look.
So this is an espresso machine and that’s what it will deliver, a shot of espresso. At the top, you’ve got the hopper, which can hold a 250g bag of coffee beans but it’s not airtight, so bear that in mind. That feeds into the metal grinder, which can be adjusted via up to 30 increments. Smaller, larger coffee granules, there’s enough flexibility there to get the coarse of coffee you want for an espresso. The top of the machine also acts as a warming plate, so turn the machine on and 10 minutes later, the cups placed on top will be warm. To the rear of the machine, there is a large, removable 2.8L water tank.
To the front of the machine, a number of buttons, power on/off, start/stop the water flow, and single or double-shot buttons. To the far right, the rotary knob to control the steam wand. Below the grinder is the outlet and it acts just like much more expensive machines. Put the portafilter beneath the outlet, somewhat lock it into place and then gently pull down and the grounds will release. There is a handy little light that will turn on when grounds are released, helping you see how much is coming out. The portafilter, it’s 58mm and you get single or double baskets included in the box. To the right of the grinder, the water dispenser, insert portafilter, and twist into place. Then further right of that is the steam wand. At the very bottom of the machine is the water overflow tray, and part of that includes a small plastic container to collect overspilled coffee grounds.
Spec-wise, it’s a single pump or heater machine at 1.3kw, so you can’t pull a shot and steam at the same time, you have to do them one at a time. Pressure-wise, 15 bar, and I’m not too sure if you can mod that, from taking a closer look, I wouldn’t want to try to open it up and change the spring, if it’s a spring, like most do with say the Gaggia classic pro.
Using the machine is pretty straight forward and you can either just go for it or get technical and start measuring and testing what setup works for you. At first, I got the scales out, I was measuring the coffee grounds and shot time, to try and work out what I need to do to get the best shot I could. Over time, I got lazy or I was rushing around in the mornings but I’ve pulled enough shots now that I kinda know what I need to do. Roughly, I go for 18grams of coffee, mid-setting on the grind, 14/15 or so, and pull a double shot in about 25 seconds. If you wanted to, you could weigh your beans out and only ever put in the required amount of beans into the hopper, instead of keeping a whole bag in there and guessing. That configuration for me gives a really nice, smooth shot with a nice crema.
Next, texturing the milk. You get a metal jug with the machine, I fill the jug to the bottom of the spout or about halfway with milk and steam. There is a pre-steam, turn the knob to the right, it will release an initial burst of water into the drip tray and wait for a few seconds. You’ll hear the steam wand kick back in, so inert your jug and get steaming. This does make nice, silky, glossy textured milk and once you’ve practiced enough, it’s easy to achieve every time. As for making some latter art, I’m fairly confident it’s achievable but, I’m yet to master it but I will keep working on that. I typically make cappuccinos every day, it’s how we drink our coffee and after the first few being just ok, the ones I’m making now taste delicious.
I recommend turning the machine on for a bit before using it, let it warm up but I have noticed that after about 40 minutes, the machine will turn off, so don’t wait around too long. Cleaning the machine is easy, the drip tray is very large and can hold a lot of waste. All you have to do is pull it out and empty the waste in the sink. Wipe the machine down after every use, including wiping the dried milk on the wand and the main water outlet with the small brush provided to remove any residue. If I remember, I do flush water through the portafilter and a little in the cup too to get it warm, before making my coffee in the morning. There is a descaling program, a little light on the machine will light up and you can just follow the instructions to clean it.
At the moment, I’ve got no complaints but it’s still early days. I’m impressed with how easy the machine is to use, it’s good quality for the price and anyone who has had a coffee from me recently has really liked it. Longevity is a concern, I do have hard water in my area, I will keep on top of descaling but hope the machine can withstand it. If I was being really picky, the grind is a little slow, a bit messy, and the distance from portafilter to drip tray isn’t great. Fine for a shot or cappuccino cup but if you want to add scales, you’ve got to find a short enough cup. I’d also upgrade the tamper, the plastic one provided is ok but you can easily get something better, a metal one off amazon or something pretty cheap.
For more info, head over to the official Breville website.