Breville Barista Express Impress REVIEW
At last there’s a pocket-pleasing home espresso machine that wins the applause of hardened coffee aficionado PAT PILCHER.
Having given up smoking a decade ago and not being a big drinker, I have few vices. The one exception to this is caffeine. I don’t function without at least two double-shot flat whites for breakfast first thing in the morning, plus several shots during the day and an after-dinner cup to round things out. If coffee isn’t just a nice to have but a must, like me, then a good espresso machine is an essential part of your kitchen appliance lineup.
The trouble is that good espresso machines cost a bomb. With a fancy Italian machine typically costing the GDP of a developing nation, Breville spotted a gap in the market and launched the Barista Express Impress. It retails for $1299, but depending on where you shop, it can be had for significantly less. It is affordable and makes getting a decent shot of espresso at home a complete doddle.
A while back, I wrote a buyer’s guide to espresso machines. At the time, I was pretty clear that pulling a decent shot of espresso meant avoiding kitchen appliance brand coffee machines and going for a “proper” Italian brand. Breville, who has a long history of batting well above their weight with kitchen appliances, has turned this wisdom on its head with the Barista Express Impress. Its triple barrelled name might sound silly, but it costs a wallet-pleasing $1,299 and delivers great espresso.
My preference for home espresso machines is manual or semi-automatic. They give you more control over the coffee-making process. Because of this, they’ll deliver a superior shot of coffee compared to a fully automatic machine.
The Barista Express Impress comes with adjustable controls and enough manual settings to give you all the control over the coffee extraction process you’ll ever need. While there is a small learning curve associated with using it, I found that I’d got the hang of it after pulling just a few shots. My total learning time was several minutes (along with a few cups of increasingly tasty joe).
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Measuring 406.4mm high x 342.9mm wide and 317.5mm deep, the Barista Express Impress is no shrinking violet. You’ll need to set aside some serious kitchen counter space for it. That said, as it comes with an integrated conical burr grinder (which is a must for espresso), so you end up saving space.
From a build and design perspective, the Barista Express Impress doesn’t look like a cheap espresso machine. Its stainless-steel chassis and steel portafilter/coffee handle gives it a semi-commercial look that is helped along thanks to the built-in coffee bean hopper and pressure gauge. In short, it might be affordable, but it really looks the business.
After filling its clever water tank, I plugged it in. I waited for it to heat up to an optimal brewing temperature. A small white LED shows when the machine is at temperature, removing a lot of guesswork. Filling the hopper with Flight Coffee Bomber beans, I dialled the grinder into the right grind using a small dial adjustment knob on the side of the machine. Getting the grind right plays a critical role in pulling a decent shot. If the grind is too coarse, you’ll end up with under-extracted coffee, which tastes like watery shit. If it is ground too fine, you get over-extracted coffee which can be bitter and unpleasant (and tastes like shit). After several tries, I hit the Goldilocks zone. I was away drinking espresso until I was literally vibrating on a molecular level.
Speaking of grinding, the Barista Express Impress makes the entire grind, dose and tamp process as simple as possible. This means even complete beginners can get a decent cup without too much grief. The grinder dumps the ground beans directly into the steel portafilter, which attaches to a fitting. This ensures grounds end up in the portafilter, instead of the floor or your bench, keeping mess to a minimum. Getting the right amount of grounds is as easy as selecting the size (single or double shot) portafilter via a button on the front of the machine. Once you’ve ground the beans, a handle on the side of the Barista Express Impress allows you to tamp the grounds down, and an indicator light tells you when you’ve got the tamp right. In short, Breville has made their semi-automatic machine as tweakable as a manual, but as easy to drive as an automatic machine. Nice!
Steaming milk for cappuccino, flat whites, mochas and other milk drinks require that you use the steaming wand. It is mounted on a swivel joint and has a handy plastic grip, so you don’t burn your fingers when moving it. It took around 30 seconds to get enough pressure for texturing milk, but once underway, it did a solid job. There’s also a hot water nozzle next to the group head. It’ll come in handy for long blacks or Americanos. Both are activated using a knob on the right side of the machine.
I liked that the Barista Express Impress has several simple but clever design touches. One is the easy-to-remove drip tray with a small floating pop-up indicator to tell you when it needs emptying. The integrated lid/handle on the water tank also makes refilling the machine hassle-free. These mightn’t sound like a big deal, but in use, they’re a lifesaver.
The shots I pulled from the Barista Express Impress were comparable to my $2700 Lelit Elizabeth dual boiler machine and $500 Baratza Grinder. Considering that a very reasonable sticker price gets you both an espresso machine and grinder, the Barista Express Impress bats well above its bantam-weight sticker price. It is a great introduction for anyone wanting to up their coffee-making game. Because of this, the Barista Express Impress earns a well-deserved 10 out of 10.