Update as of December 2016:It appears that the Breville Dual Boiler BES900XL that is the subject of my below review has been replaced with the "Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine" and only used models of the original 900XL are available at Amazon. The new 870XL espresso machine includes an in-built conical burr grinder and currently sells at Amazon for $599.95, which is definitely great value in my opinion. I haven't used or reviewed this machine, but because of my positive experience with my Breville 900XL espresso machine and Breville Smart Grinder, I believe it would be worth your while reading reviews at Amazon and considering the 870XL for your purchase,
Review of the Breville Dual Boiler BES900XL Espresso MachineIt didn't start out that I was going to buy a Breville "Dual Boiler". I have been happily pumping out espresso shots with a Gaggia Evolution for about the last 5 years (original Gaggia Evolution review here). Five years is a long time to keep a domestic espresso machine running in the home, but something that can be achieved by only ever using distilled water like I have all this time. (I distill my own water using this Water Distiller.) However, it was a matter of either having the Gaggia serviced (I suspect is needed a new gasket around the group head there was a small stream of water coming out of the center of the filter basket as I extracted the espresso. So off I went to Amazon to check out was was up the the Gaggia Evolution these days. Just like what happened a few months ago when I went looking to replace my grinder a couple of months ago, one review led to another and I end up on the page for Breville's new "the Dual Boiler" BES900XL machine. I read all the reviews at Amazon and also searched the web to see what I could find and everything seemed to agree that this was a well-designed machine that would only make my shots better than my old Gaggia machine. And what's more, it had a double boiler which would allow for steaming milk if I so desired.
I've now lived with my new machine for almost 3 weeks and I have not one regret about this purchase.
Here's what's to love about the Breville "Dual Boiler" BES900XL
- Most important of all, it turns out the most amazing crema-rich espresso shots I could only imagine getting by being back behind the espresso bar in my old barista days working with a commercial machine, and it turns them out without fail every time
- As its branding name suggests, it is a "double boiler" machine. This means it has a tank for storing and heating the water that will be used for making the espresso, and another that will be used for steaming the milk. This is important because the water temperature for making steam for foaming the milk has to be near boiling point, which is way too hot for making espresso. Most domestic-grade espresso makers are single boiler machines, and this is problematic for making both espresso shots and steam, and is the reason why I have always recommended that if you have a single boiler machine, you foam your milk using an Aerolatte whisk. (Read my post about foaming milk - includes a video of using an Aerolatte whisk). The steam coming out of this machine's steam wand is as good as any you'll see on a commercial machine at your local coffee shop. It's awesome!
- Pressure used for extraction is generated with a 15 bar Italian pump, but extraction pressure in the group-head is controlled to 9 bars by an over-pressure valve (OPV). A dial on the face of the machine displays the pressure in bars as the extraction takes place
- Water temperature for extraction is controlled with PID. PID is a controller that continuously monitors a set value and adjusts up and down to maintain the set value. An example of PID that we can all understand is cruise control in our cars. In the Breville BES900XL, the extraction temperature is set (you can change it yourself within a range) and the PID controller ensures that that temperature is maintained. (I have mine set to 200F/93C). Even the group head itself is heated separately to ensure constant temperature at all points.
- Extraction can be done using the pre-set timed single or double shot buttons, or to your own judgement by using the "Manual" button. You can easily set the extraction timings to something different from the factory settings for the single and double shot buttons!
- Pre-infusion is part of the deal. Rather than the coffee puck being slammed hard with full pressure at the beginning of the extraction, preinfusion allows water to enter the coffee puck at a controlled lower pressure for a controlled time before the pressure is raised to the full 9 bars of pressure. This allows the coffee grinds to become saturated and for any cracks in the puck that were not removed by tamping the coffee to fill in before applying full pressure. This helps prevent chanelling of the water through cracks in the puck resulting in a poor extraction. Pre-infusion is designed to all but eliminate bad extractions. And I can tell you I have not had even one poor extraction from this machine.
Cool Design Details
Apart from all the excellent technical details listed above, here is a list of the exceptional design features of the machine that I love:
- No need to worry about the weight of the machine; when you need to move it, there's a dial under the easily-removed drip tray that lifts the machine onto three wheels, two at the front and one at the back), rendering the machine totally maneuverable on the wheels. By the way, the weight of the machine means there's no sliding of the machine when you lock the portafilter into place.
- There's a compartment under the machine that is accessible by removing the drip tray. Here you can store the three of the four filter screens not in use at any one time
- The overall design is chique, with a brushed stainless-steel finish, and smart back-lit buttons and read-out displays
- Auto-power on: You can set the machine to turn itself on at a predetermined time every day so that your machine is warmed up and ready to go as soon as you are in the morning
- Auto-power off: Machine turns off when idle for more than 4 hours. No need to sit at the office worrying if you turn your machine off.
- The machine has a hot water dispenser, perfect for making Americanos, or quickly heating a cup.
- A back-lit water level indicator viewable from the front of the machine so that you know when it's getting to be time to distill some more water.
- The water tank is fillable from the top front of the machine, or from the back of the machine. Who would use the back of the machine option when you have access to fill from the top front?
- The steam wand connects to the machine with a ball connector meaning you can move it any which way you like.
- There's a nice silicon finger ring attached to the steam wand that allows you to marry your machine, I mean, move it without burning yourself.
- The steam lever is variable through a quarter turn, so that you can control the steam pressure as much as you like with ease.
- All the settings behind the automatic single and double-shot buttons are able to be customized to values you prefer including: pre-infusion pressure and duration, overall extraction time, and extraction temperature.
- There's a large cup-warming surface on top of the machine
- The machine is reasonably large and tall. You will need more counter space than with many domestic machines, and no less than 15in/38cm of overhead clearance to sit the machine underneath your kitchen cabinets, and note that that doesn't allow for placing cups on the cup warmer.
- You'll fall in love with this machine, so be prepared for resulting domestic strife as your spouse, partner, significant-other, cat or dog vies for attention! Also, you might find your friends are dropping in at your place for your latte (how to make a latte) or flat-white (how to make a flat-white) rather than at their favorite but expensive coffee shop. Start charging now!
This is a "prosumer" espresso machine. In other words, you are really stepping up into the role of pro-home-barista with this machine. But I'm here to help with that will all my step-by-step guidelines on how to make espresso like a pro at home. This machine will cost you a bit more than many other domestic machines, but believe me; it's worth it! If this is your passion and you have the budget (did I hear a shout out of "Coffee Snob"?) then don't go past this machine.
If you're a coffee snob and aspiring home-barista but don't have this kind of money to spend at this time, then go for either the Gaggia Evolution or Gaggia Classic (Gaggia reviewed here). Both served me very well over the last 7 years. Whatever machine you use, stretch your budget by investing in a water distiller and use only distilled water to avoid the build up of lime in the internal plumbing of your machine. Do that, and whatever machine you buy, it will last for many years longer than if you use water straight from the tap or fridge dispenser. This way, over time you will get your money back compared to buying your favorite cup of expensively-priced coffee everyday at wherever. Cheers!
Is the Breville Dual Boiler espresso maker out of your price range? Then consider the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine. I have not used this machine, but it has 4.5 out of 5 stars from user reviews at Amazon, and is available for about half the price of the Breville Dual Boiler BES900XL that I recommend in this post. Be sure to read a few of the reviews at Amazon to help guide your decision.