Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine Review

The Breville BES870XL Barista Express espresso machine is one of the most impressive devices in the semiautomatic class. With an overwhelming feature set, with a modern look, and a great reliability, the BES870XL is a great choice for any serious espresso enthusiast

If you are on the market for a new semi automatic espresso machine, you probably looked at least at another few options including Classic and the Rancilio , which are the standard for the price bracket. What is it that makes Breville BES870XL so wished for, and how does it compare with the other two? Read on for a comprehensive review of the BES870XL

Don't get me wrong, I respect both Gaggia and Rancilio, they are great espresso equipment manufacturers, and they are especially great in the semi-automatic range, but the BES870XL beats them feature wise. In fact, Breville Barista Express is an automatic espresso machine, rather.

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If I were to choose a decent competitor for the price range, that would definitely be the DeLonghi . In fact, many think that DeLonghi did too good of a job when they tried to create a competitor for the Barista Express. The design similarities are very striking, some accusing DeLonghi of copying from Breville.

Barista Express is in a way the cheaper version of the Breville Oracle. If you have the budget, I strongly recommend the Oracle, but if you don't have the budget, the Barista Express is great.

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine – At a Glance

This is a great espresso machine, with features from both the semi-automatic and the automatic classes. Here are a few things that made me fall in love with this machine:

  • It has advanced programming options, to allow you to pull a customized shot the same way every day.
  • Integrated conical burr grinder makes equipment compact on the kitchen counter.
  • Very easy to use even by beginner baristas, very forgiving.
  • A lot of included great accessories.

Breville BES870XL Barista Express – Features

This machine has a lot of features which appeal to an espresso aficionado, allowing a fine-tuning and tweaking of almost every aspect of the brewing. For a beginner barista, the abundance of options could be a little overwhelming, especially if there is no one to explain the functionality. You can, however, ignore most of these, and focus on the essential – pull the shot. The Breville BES870XL is very forgiving for the beginner, even if make silly mistakes, you will still get a decent shot. Here is a list with the most important features of this technological wonder.

Coffee Brewing

Barista Express is equipped with a lot of great features to make pulling an espresso shot a great experience. There are a number of features that allow you to aim for coffee perfection. Or, if you are a systems person, you can find that perfect shot variable combination and set the machine to deliver that cup of coffee all the time. It just helps you keep things simple, and consistent.

I thoroughly enjoyed using the Barista Express, it made my espresso routine fun and exciting. I was able to tweak various aspects of my shot, and it really looked great on my counter top. The integrated grinder is a nice touch and it saved a lot of space.

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Here are some of the features that help pulling great espresso shots.

  • The BES870XL has an integrated conical bur grinder.
  • The conical burrs are made from stainless steel, and they will last you a very long time. But steel burrs are on the noisier side.
  • You can grind directly into the basket grace to the built-in doser.
  • The doser will automatically dispense the programmed dose for a single, or for a double shot of espresso, with the filter size selection button.
  • The built-in grinder has an adjustable grind size. Don't expect it to grind coarse though, because it is calibrated for finer grinds, from espresso to maybe a coarser drip.
  • Built in pre infusion function. During the pre – infusion, the water pressure through the brewhead is reduced. This ensure a proper saturation of the coffee grounds, for a perfect extraction.
  • Programmable volumetrics. You can adjust the volume of water for the single shot and for the double shot. If you want a , you just program the machine to push more water. (You will need to adjust your grinding size.)
  • Filter Size button selection. You cam select a single or a double shot filter basket by just pressing a button.
  • Button beverage size selection. There are a one and a two cup buttons to choose between single and double espresso.
  • There is a great tamper included, which should work for any barista with a good hand. However, if you need extra precision you might want to read this post on how to tamp espresso.
  • The machine comes with a great 54mm portafilter and two sets of filter baskets. One set is pressurized, (dual wall filter baskets), and the other is a non-pressurized, (single wall filter baskets).
  • There is also a replaceable water filter to reduce the scale and improve water taste.
  • All the parts that come in contact with the beverage, (water, milk, and coffee), are BPA free.

Breville Barista Express gives you the choice of portafilter baskets. This is a great idea, since it allows the beginner barista to explore the espresso brewing and not get discouraged by poor results. I always suggest beginner home barista to get better equipment if they can afford it.

The problem with higher end semi-automatic espresso machines is that they all come with non-pressurized baskets. Which is the right way to go for best results. But the pressurized baskets give you that confidence boost you need as a beginner, even if your barista skills are not fully developed.

You can also use the double wall inserts for pre ground coffee. Sometimes the espresso ground coffee you purchase at the grocery store are a little too coarse. With coarser coffee grounds water travels too fast through the puck, so you might get under-extracted coffee. The pressurized baskets will ensure you have enough pressure even with a coarser grind.

Milk Steaming and Frothing

A great 360-degree swivel action steam wand ensures effortless milk steaming and frothing.

The thermoblock design has a bad reputation because they don't deliver enough pressure for great steaming. However, Barista Express has a good quality thermoblock that more than adequate to make steamed milk for latte, or a great froth for cappuccino.

With a cheap thermoblock, you cannot create that microfoam milk that is required for latte art. But Barista Express has a great thermoblock that can steam milk perfectly, just as good as the boiler machines.

You can also dispense hot water with the steam wand, if you need Americanos or Long blacks.

Maintenance and Refill

  • The removable drip tray is conveniently partitioned for both wet and dry spills
  • The bean hopper can be easily removed for easy cleaning.
  • The bean hopper holds half a pound of coffee, but I personally suggest you keep as little beans as possible in the hopper. This way your coffee beans are as fresh as possible.
  • The top burr can be also removed for easy access inside the integrated grinding machine.
  • The removable water reservoir. With a 67oz volume, the water tank has enough capacity to last for a while.
  • Nice drip tray that separates ground coffee from spilled water or coffee.
  • The convenient “Clean-me” light announces you when it's time to run a cleaning cycle.
  • By the way, you get a cleaning kit included with the purchase.

Other Features

  • Auto power saving mode for saving energy.
  • It's a beginner-friendly unit, which is forgiving for new baristas.
  • The tamper has its own magnetic storage space for an organized space around the machine.
  • The unit has a cradle for your portafilter, just under the grinder's chute, for a hands-free grinding.

Advanced Features of the Barista Express

Now the geeky features that set this machine apart from competitors:

  • The machine is equipped with a thermocoil and not a boiler, and is controlled by a PID.
    Thermocoil is the better version of the thermoblock. No leaking, fast heating, and energy efficient. 
  • The PID is a digital temperature control to ensure the delivery of an accurate temperature.
  • Espresso pressure gauge, to monitor the pressure during the extraction.
  • The volumetric control button allows you to program the machine in order to set your custom volume for a shot. The button also lets you conveniently switch between one or two cups shot.
  • The water temperature is automatically adjusted after steaming by using the auto purge function.
  • The pre-brew function helps for a perfect extraction by pumping just a small amount of water at a lower pressure to moisten the grounds uniformly. Pre-brew is also known as pre-infusion is a great feature to have, and it will dramatically lower the chances of channeling. 
  • The flat shower head takes this a step further, to ensure all the grounds are wet when the shot pulling starts, in order to avoid espresso channeling.
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Breville Barista Express comes with the following accessories:

  • A water filter and water filter holder
  • 54-millimeter stainless steel portafilter,
  • A total of four filter baskets single and double shot in a pressurized and non-pressurized form.
  • Coffee scoop.
  • The dosing tool allows you to trim your dose volumetrically. It's fast and precise, but it might not work for all coffee beans. 
  • Decent quality tamper.
  • A good stainless steel milk jug.
  • Cleaning disc and tablets and some cleaning tools such a a cleaning brush, and needle tipped tool.

Reliability of the Breville BES870XL Barista Express

The machine is pretty reliable, and if you use it at home for personal use, and you take care of it, it can last you a long time. Sure, it's not as reliable as a Rancilio Silvia, which one of the most reliable machines. But Silvia is nowhere near the Breville BES870XL's feature set. And by stubbornly keeping it simple, Rancilio has managed to make an incredibly reliable machine

Getting back to our Breville, if you want your BES870XL to last you a long time, use distilled water, and descale it when it needs it

And getting back to our comparison, it's almost unfair to compare the two machines. One is built to allow you to explore espresso brewing and play with various settings until you find the magic match between tamping, grind size, and shot volume. The other one is built to last you forever, but it is very fussy. If you missed something, your shot is going to be under average

The 15 bar pressure is oversized, for reliability reasons. The extraction process happens at 9 bars, and it is regulated by an over pressure valve. But it feels good to have a more powerful pump, knowing it won't break so easily.

Breville BES870XL Barista Express – Critique

Is this machine perfect? No, it's not, but it is pretty damn close to perfection. Here is my critique of it

One of the problems with all Breville products is the long waiting times for customer support. But in all fairness, other manufacturers have even worse customer support. You probably won't have any problems with your machine, they are pretty reliable, but if you do, you might have to wait on hold for 15-30 minutes. Otherwise, the customer support is very helpful, knowledgeable, and most importantly willing to help fix your problem.

The removable water tank is located at the back of the machine, and is accessible through the top of the machine. This is a little inconvenient if you want to keep it under the cabinets. One of its direct competitors, DeLonghi La Specialista, has exactly the same problem. I am not a design expert, but it looks like for this type of machine it's the only spot you can place the water tank. or make the machine extremely bulky.

There is an analog display, which many people dislike. But there is also the more expensive alternative, the Breville Barista Pro, which features an LCD Display and other more interesting features. But you will have to adjust your budget.

I wish the PID was a better one. There is almost no point on changing the brew temp in 4 degree increments. It does a good job at keeping the temperature relatively constant, but the best PIDs work in 1 degree increments for a more precise temperature, and consistent extraction. This is a great improvement from the BES860, which had no PID, though.

The Breville BES870XL Barista Express is NOT a super-automatic espresso machine, as many people think. So don't buy it if you expect a one button push espresso machine. Sure it does have a lot of features, but ultimately it needs to be operated by someone who has some knowledge about espresso.

The warranty is one year only.

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Final Word

Let me be clear, we are comparing this machine with other machines in its class. So, yes, there are other machines that are better, (dual boiler, digital controls, shot clock, etc…), but those machines are much more expensive. So comparing apples to apples, this is an amazing combination of features and reliability.