Sep 30, 2023
Breville Espresso Machines: Features, Differences and the Best to Buy
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Breville's lineup of espresso machines run the gamut from machines for the amateur coffee nerd to the full-on coffee fanatic.
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Equipped with dozens of knobs and buttons, commercial espresso machines — those found in cafés — suggest making espresso at home is a complicated process. This isn't necessarily the case, and Breville's prosumer machines are evidence the quality drop-off isn't as extreme as you might expect.
Breville has been making kitchen appliances since 1932, and while the Aussie company dabbles in a bit of everything — toasters, pizza ovens, juicers, waffle makers, etc. — it's arguably best known for its coffee and espresso lineup.
"A commercial espresso machine is a workhorse," Kaleena Teoh, co-founder of Coffee Project NY, says. "It is able to pull shots and froth milk at the same time and has no recovery time between shots. The steam and water pressure is also very consistent and thus able to produce consistent espresso extraction."
Teoh says residential machines ones are designed to be used by even the most amateur espresso fans. This is everything you need to know about our favorite espresso-at-home brand.
Both amateurs and pros praise Breville's line of espresso machines for pulling solid shots of espresso. Home espresso machines, the good ones at least, usually start around $300 and go up from there. Breville's entry-level model — the Bambino — costs $300, with models getting relatively more expensive before capping off at $2,800 for the feature-packed Oracle Touch.
From a feature and build quality perspective, Breville's espresso machine lineup rides the line between commercial and residential. Unlike pod-based machines like Nespresso, Breville espresso makers often come with quality-focused features like pre-infusion, commercial-level pressure, built-in grinders and powerful boilers that deliver fairly consistent pressure and heat. They're not as powerful or consistent as machines you'll find at the local coffee shop and the warm-up times are lengthier, but the gap between pod-based espresso (which is really closer to coffee than espresso) and Breville machines is similar to the gap between Breville and commercial level espresso makers.
In general, Chi Sum Ngai, Teoh's fellow Coffee Project NY co-founder, says automatic machines are those "that will complete your drink with the touch of one button." You do not need to have any coffee skills to make the coffee with these machines, she says. Nespresso machines are probably the most popular example of fully auto espresso makers.
Manual espresso machines give more control over to the user. "You have more control over how the cup of coffee tastes, but you will need good coffee skills to make a good cup of coffee," Sum says. "Features that you usually control are grind size, temperature, extraction time, pre-infusion time, pressure, etc."
Semi-automatic machines – what Breville makes – lie in the middle. You get control over variables within the espresso-making process, but there are guardrails built into the machine to guarantee a solid shot every time.
Breville's Bambino is the brand's entry-level espresso machine that's equipped with the minimum it takes to get a shot into your cup. The compact machine comes with a 54mm portafilter, milk jug and tamper. The Bambino can pull single or double shots, and with the integrated steam wand, you can froth milk to create espresso-based drinks like lattes and cortados. For those who want to preheat their cup or make an Americano, the steam wand also doubles as a hot water outlet. The Bambino can do all the work in pulling a shot at the push of a button, but if you who want to experiment manual override is available and allows for programming shot volumes. The Bambino uses low pressure to pre-infuse the coffee before brewing at 9 bars, and it only takes about three seconds to start up the machine. (Bars are the unit of measure of pressure, with 9 bars being the ideal number for pulling a shot of espresso.)
The Duo-Temp Pro is another beginner's machine, like the Bambino, with a slightly larger countertop footprint. It makes espresso in pretty much the same way as the Bambino; namely it does uses low pressure pre-infusion and 9 bars of brewing pressure. Instead of choosing between one shot or two, users can manually adjust the volume of their espresso by using the dial on the front. The machine houses a hidden storage tray, which is a nice touch to store away miscellaneous espresso-brewing tools, and the machine is equipped with maintenance and cleaning indicators so you can keep the Duo-Temp Pro in tiptop shape.
The Bambino Plus is the Bambino's smarter sibling that's meant to make the brewing of café-quality espresso easier. Pulling a shot is the same as the cheaper Bambino, but the Bambino Plus has an automatic milk frother, which allows you to choose between three milk textures and three milk temperatures. While you can't pull a shot and steam at the same time, it's noticeably faster to go from one to the other than say the Duo-Temp Pro, which takes some time to heat up the steamer after immediately pulling a shot.
Breville's Infuser starts to let the coffee nerds geek out over their shot pulling. Either use Breville's settings to pull a shot or two, or take full control over how you want your shot to come out. The pressure dial that's front and center on the machine lets you know whether or not you're pulling a shot properly, which will be affected by how much coffee you used, the ground size and tamp. The Infuser reverts back to the manual milk frother, so there's no one-push operation for getting your desired milk temperature and texture.
The first of Breville's Barista line of espresso makers, the Express is our favorite of the whole lineup. Why? It's the lowest-priced Breville that comes with a built-in grinder. Espresso grinding requires a very nice coffee grinder, which can cost $200-plus on its own. The Express (as well as all other Breville's with a built-in grinder) also features what the brand calls "dose-control grinding," which effectively replaces another necessary accessory: a scale.
You can't eyeball how much coffee you need to grind for espresso: if you use too much, you could damage the machine; if you use too little, the pressure may not be enough to properly pull a shot. Performance-wise, it hits the 9-bar benchmark consistently and the steam wand works beautifully. It also comes with both pressurized and non-pressurized brew baskets, meaning you have the choice between simple or more manual brewing. This is Breville's bestselling model for a reason.
The middle-child of Breville's Barista sub-line, the Pro model offers a couple important upgrades on the Express. Importantly, it features the same strengths: built-in dosing grinder, consistent shot-pulling and a price tag under $1,000. The upgrades are two-fold: power and control. The Pro model is equipped with a more powerful heating element than the Express, meaning pre-heat times will be reduced significantly. It also comes with a shiny new LCD display in place of the pressure gauge of the Express. The goodness of this change is up for debate; some will appreciate seeing the pressure their shots are pulling, live. Others still will appreciate the clarity the LCD brings.
The pricier Barista-level Breville is better-suited to newcomers than espresso geeks. The price hike includes the more powerful heating element from the Pro model but uses a touchscreen in place of the LCD display and every button except the On/Off switch. If you value having your hand held through the process to some degree, the Touch is worth it; when you press your desired drink the machine walks you through every step. Otherwise the Pro or Express are likely better values.
The Dual Boiler exists in a precarious in-between spot within the Breville espresso machine lineup. It's zapped with more power than any lower-priced models, but it's not as powerful as the Oracle machines that succeed it. It comes with some of the sneakier upgrades the Oracle line gets — dedicated boilers for pulling shots and steaming milk, an over pressure valve that limits bitterness in the espresso and additional customization options — but it doesn't come with a built-in dosing grinder, meaning you will have to purchase your own espresso-level grinder to go with it (Breville sells the Dual Boiler together with its own grinder under the name "Dynamic Duo"). If you don't want to spend the extra cash for the supped-up Oracle line or you have your own grinder already, the Dual Broiler is worth checking out.
The Oracle line is the ceiling of Breville's espresso machine group. The more affordable Oracle (it's $800 less than the touchscreen option) features the same duo of dedicated boilers for steaming milk and pulling shots, and its heating element and power level is the highest in the Breville lineup (along with the Touch). In other words, the guts are mostly the same from Oracle to More Expensive Oracle; the lower-priced variant just uses more buttons and a standard LCD display instead of the slightly cleaner touchscreen version. The over pressure valve limits bitterness, and the built-in dosing grinder and auto-tamper makes the Oracle line the closest thing to a push-and-pull espresso machine there is.
The tippy-top of the Breville espresso maker tree comes with firepower and ease of use in equal measure. The machine's touchscreen provides step-by-step walkthroughs for lattes, cortados, flat whites and more, and the lack of buttons makes for a dramatically less intimidating learning curve (though, it must be said, if you read the manual each Breville machine is fairly straightforward).
All said and done, this is a very expensive product for your kitchen, and one that, over time, will deliver value over dropping by a coffee shop every day. You're paying the premium for features like lower pre-heat times, more consistent (and higher quality) espresso and convenience.