I didn’t start drinking it until 2005 when I started working full time at a theme park. Well – that’s a lie.
When I was little and my Mom took me grocery shopping with her, our local store set out coffee and cookies for the customers. I would snack on a cookie while she shopped, and sometimes took a few sips of her coffee. (It was the 90’s, gimme a break!) It was delicious, but I only liked it with all the “stuff” in it, like creamer and flavouring.
Fast forward to 2005 where I was drinking triple triples. Is it even considered coffee at that point? Isn’t that like… coffee flavoured sugar??
I needed to cut down on my sugar intake so I transitioned to double doubles, then 2 milk with 1 sugar, and now I only drink coffee with milk. One day we ran out of milk and I drank it black. It pretty much tasted the same, but I’ll keep adding milk since I’d like to think that it’s less of a “teeth-staining offender” that way.
Now that I don’t drink coffee with sugar, that means no pumpkin spice lattes, no peppermint lattes, and no green tea frappucinos for this one (unless I really want to treat myself… which I did recently to a PSL that felt like I was drinking a liquid butter tart).
But that doesn’t mean that all fancy coffees are out. It just means that I’m leaning towards the more traditional beverages like cappuccinos and regular, coffee flavoured lattes.
Because of this, I was so excited when Breville let me review their Barista Express machine!
Like the Breville Grind Control, the Barista Express has a built in grinder that lets you use freshly ground beans immediately before brewing your espresso. (Is that even the term? Brewing an espresso? I feel like “brewing” is too pedestrian for such a majestic process.) With an integrated conical burr grinder, it takes the expense out of buying a separate appliance and also spares the room it would take up in your cupboards or kitchen counter. Win!
This is the left side of the machine with the grind size adjustment dial, and the minimum/maximum level indicators on the water tank. The tamper attaches to the machine via magnet, so you can tamp hands free or remove it to tamp against the counter.
Here is the right side of the machine, where the steam and hot water knob lives right above the steam wand.
The drip tray and wet/dry coffee grind separator all smartly roll into a sliding drawer. That little bin in the back is for cleaning tool storage!
Good thinking, Breville! Now all these tiny little cleaning gadgets and accessories won’t get lost in the depths of your kitchen drawers.
These next two photos are of the filters that go into the portafilter. The single wall filters are for fresh whole coffee beans, or for use by those who are looking to exhibit their tamping skills.
In the single wall filters, all of the holes that you see is where coffee will be pushed through. However, in a dual wall filter, there is a second wall underneath that only pushes coffee through a single hole. This is especially helpful for beginners as it forces the machine to create more pressure and extract a proper espresso.
The water tank is located on the back of the Barista Express.
It slides out via the lid which also functions as the handle (!) and houses this water filter. It is held in place by an indicator that will help you remember when the filter needs replacing.
Also good thinking: the Breville Assist Plug. I hope whoever came up with this received an award, because look at it. It’s genius.
Now, I’m definitely no barista. It makes me anxious even just going to Starbucks and making sure I don’t order incorrectly. Luckily, I like following directions and the included manual does a great job of outlining what you need to do step by step.
First, I had to “condition the machine.” This means filling up the water tank and repeating 3 different functions until there is no water left: running water through the group head, running steam though the wand, and running water through the hot water outlet. Each task took about 10 seconds, so I had to cycle through the steps a few times which I felt gave me really good practice. Do baristas get ranked based on their skill level? Because at this point I feel like I’m at green belt barista status.
Then it was time to grind some beans into the portafilter. (Lots of new words to learn.) Because this machine is able to customize such precision settings, there were a few knobs to fiddle with – grind size, and grind amount. It recommends setting the grind size at 5 and the amount at 3 o’clock, so that’s what I did. I popped in a 2 cup filter for a double (because go big or go home) and pushed the handle in to start the dosing process.
Earth-like granules started filling up the portafilter, and then filling… and filling, then
filling overflowing. Whoa, Nelly!! I watched these grounds Geronimo onto my countertop and all I could hear in my head was “cha-ching, cha-ching!” because I bought the gourmet, organic, fair-trade beans and that stuff ain’t cheap (like I said: go big or go home). Luckily, the next little box in the manual said: “It is normal that the grind size/amount dial will need to be adjusted a few times to achieve the correct extraction rate.”
I’ll say. Sayonara 3 o’clock. I’ll be knocking you back a bit.
So after I tapped the portafilter to collapse the coffee, I took the tamper from it’s handy magnetic compartment and compressed the ground coffee into the filter (called tamping).
The manual said to tamp down with 35-40 lbs of pressure. I have no idea what that means. I weigh 120lbs (last time I checked…) so if I put a third of my body weight into it… I still don’t know what that feels like. I’m the one who goes around judging a pound by how close it feels to weighing like a block of butter. No idea. My spatial analysis skills are not my strong suit.
So I tamp.
Then, to make sure there is the right amount of coffee, I used the “Razor” precision dose tool to trim the “puck” of coffee to the correct level. Lots of coffee excess getting tossed off. My my, 3 o’clock is generous.
After that, I plug the portafilter under the “group head” (the main water function) and press the 2 cup button.
The machine chugged and whirred while extracting honey-like espresso into my ginormous coffee cup. I was pleased that my tamping job did the trick and created just enough pressure to get into the espresso zone (which, I learned, is the whole secret to making espresso: the pressure! Espresso isn’t a type of bean, it’s all to do with how the coffee is made). I could have done better, but at least I wasn’t completely under extracted. Of course, I did use the single walled “experienced barista” filter, so a simple switch to the dual wall should fix everything right up.
Half the job done. Now I have to texturize the milk.
…So, funny thing about creating foam out of milk – that stuff expands. And as per my previously declared poor spatial analysis, I must have over shot the “V” mark because I was running out of jug space hella fast. Instead of continuing and spilling hot milk everywhere, I decided to abort and just do with what I had.
I poured in the milk and instantly got excited. It merged with the espresso beautifully and expanded like they do in the cafes. The texture seemed perfect and as I kept pouring, I thought to myself “what design should I make, what design should I make?”
I decided to keep it simple and just try a bit of side to side swirling action. After half of the milk was poured, I initiated my artistic prowess and started my coffee foam slalom. It was that moment where it was confirmed that I did not steam the milk anywhere close to long enough, as my foam supply had run out and I was only dispensing thin, straight-out-the-bag moo-juice… Here is the final product.
Barista level: downgraded to orange belt.
As I semi-admired my mediocre execution, I heard a quiet hissing sound.
It was my coffee. My foam was dying.
Further proof that I prematurely poured the milk, what little light and fluffy foam I managed to create was dissipating faster than I could snag a photo of it. I could hear this “cappuccino” mocking me.
“Womp womp, you suck.”
Waaaaahhh. Barista status: downgraded to yellow belt. Next time I’ll use less milk so that I can steam it up longer.
Now that my cappuccino was completely deflated along with my ego, the only thing left to do was try it.
Then I got furious.
This was like the most glorious cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted. It was rich, it was creamy, it was sweet – and didn’t need sugar, flavourings, or sticky syrups. And I even screwed it up with my lukewarm milk!! How much more amazing will it be when I do it properly?!
I was furious because I buy espresso based drinks. But nothing I’ve had to drink out of that mermaid laden cup (red, white, snowflaked, or otherwise) has ever tasted as fresh and decadent as the half-proofed coffee I made on my kitchen counter.
I know, it’s a lot of money for an espresso machine. This isn’t for everyone. But for those who are interested: Christmas is coming up, and so is Black Friday… which means that it’s possible some merchants might offer up some sweet deals. If you’re looking for that wow-factor gift for your significant other, someone who really loves coffee, someone who is super hard to buy for, or just someone you really really love and want to spoil with some delicious, magnificent coffee (like maybe yourself?) – then this might just be exactly what you’re looking for.
If the price is still making your collar feel a little tight, let’s end this article with a bit of math.
I know, right? See where I’m going with this?
If you bought one cup Monday to Friday (so 5 x 52), you would buy 260 cups a year and spend $1300 with nothing to show for it.
You can wake up a bit earlier and savour a fresh, homemade, fancy coffee right in your own home, any day of the week. Or take it to go in an earth-friendly, reusable travel mug, and it won’t matter what colour the cup is. Hey-oh!!!
Disclosure: I was not paid for this post, although I was provided with a Breville Barista Express for the purposes of this review. All opinions are honest and my own, as always!