For serious coffee-nistas, the perfect Espresso is akin to the Holy Grail. The base of all great Americanos, café lattes, macchiatos, and flat whites, a strong Espresso delivers that caffeine hit like no other. Well, except a pure, unadulterated shot of Espresso, that is!
Generally, a truly exceptional shot of Espresso is only possible from a commercial machine, the type only found in decent coffee shops. The Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine aims to bring pro-barista-grade espresso into your home without the need to go on a training course or build a kitchen extension to accommodate it.
Admittedly, it does take a little trial and error to find your perfect grind level and shot size, but the Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine takes care of dosing, tamping, and temperature control for you. It also boasts a steam wand/milk frother and boiling water spout to enable the creation of long drinks and fancier brews.
In the UK, this model is sold under Breville’s Sage brand and is known as the Sage Barista Express Impress [BES876]. Does it live up to its name and impress us enough to secure entry into our best espresso machines or best coffee makers line-ups? Read on to find out.
Linda is a freelance interior journalist and has tested many products during the past two decades or so, including home tech, gym equipment, garden tools, and even mattresses. Literally, paid to sleep! She now works from home and is a dedicated caffeine addict.
As the type of person who can’t speak (or bear to be spoken to) before her first black Americano of the day, Linda was very excited to test out the Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso machine at her Devon home. Not least because her local award-winning coffee shop doesn’t open until 9.30 am, by which time she has usually been awake for three torturous hours.
She put the Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine to work for over a month and apologizes to her local barista, Cath, for the lack of custom in that time!
|Row 0 - Cell 0
|Row 0 - Cell 1
|Type of coffee
|Beans or grounds
|Brew size options
|Single or double espresso
|Water tank capacity
|Power cord length
|Average Noise level
|Brushed stainless steel
|14.9 x 12.9 x 16.1 inches
Breville Barista Express Impress: price & availability
The Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine is pitched at the luxury end of the coffee machine market, with a price tag of $890 / £729.95. You can buy it directly from Breville or from mainstream retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy.
Breville Barista Express Impress: First impressions
The Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine is a bit of a tongue twister – don’t try saying it after too many coffees – so I’ll start by shortening it to Express Impress. Upon opening the Express Impress box, which was exquisitely put together with neat little boxes for all the tools and accessories, it was love at first sight.
If you are familiar with bean-to-cup machines, you will probably not be fazed by the array of accessories and components required to use and maintain this machine – a lot of it is cleaning-related. The Express Impress comes with a 250g bean hopper, steel portafilter, steel milk jug, water filter holder with filter, four filter baskets (different sizes), cleaning tablets, a dose trimming tool, Allen key, cleaning tool for the steam wand, cleaning disc, descaling powder, and cleaning brush.
Luckily, all you really need to get your head around in the first instance is installing the filter into the water tank, attaching the hopper, and making sure you have your preferred filter basket in the portafilter. It comes with the 2-cup single wall basket (for grinding whole beans) installed, which, happily, is the one I wanted to try first.
As a bean-to-cup novice (I’ve only used tested one before – Smeg’s BCC02 Bean to Cup – which is fully automatic), I was very grateful to spot the Quick Start Guide. This one-page guide will get you to your first brew in 9 steps, and there’s also helpful advice on the back about how to adjust the grind size to ensure the results are the best they can be!
Unless you’re in serious need of caffeine or a bean-to-cup pro, I do recommend digesting the full instruction manual before you start. It’s extremely well written and easy to follow, with handy tips and explanations provided in bite-size nuggets that shouldn’t bamboozle even the simplest of folk (me).
Breville Barista Express Impress: Design
This is a seriously good-looking machine that feels solidly built (and heavy, in a good way) thanks to its brushed stainless steel construction. Admittedly, the Express Impress is big if you are upgrading from a filter or pod coffee machine. It doesn’t swallow up too much space on the countertop and should just about tuck under wall cabinets. And while it may be heavy, it does slide forward easily if you can’t quite get to the water reservoir at the back.
As well as looking good, the design is also very thoughtfully done so that the coffee-making process is intuitive and moves from left to right across the machine from grinding and tamping to brewing and, finally milk frothing. The water tank is easy to undock from the back, or you can leave it in situ as there’s ample room to pour in water with a jug.
The components have a nice feel – the tamper arm moves smoothly and feels high quality, for example. Even the buttons are nice to press, with a reassuring click, and the LEDs are bright, so can be clearly seen even in strong sunlight. Breville’s design team deserves a nice pat on the back.
Breville Barista Express Impress: Performance
As a semi-automatic machine, the Express Impress aims to please both bean-grinding professionals and complete novices alike. Sitting in the latter camp, I can confirm that it succeeded, just not the first time.
Working out how to use the Express Impress is impressively easy. In a nutshell, you select the basket size you want, one cup or two (making sure you have the corresponding size filter basket in the portafilter), and check the AUTO button is lit. Then, you slide the portafilter under the grinder and press DOSE. Next, you go into full Barista Mode with a swing of the tamp lever (so satisfying) and repeat until the dose level hits the “ideal” line. Move the portafilter over to the group head (slide right to lock it in place) and select one cup or two.
For me, the tricky part was working out the correct grind size. If the grind is too coarse, the water will just whizz through without properly extracting any flavor = weak, sad coffee. Too fine, and it won’t drip through enough, and you’ll end up with bitter, sad coffee that melts the enamel from your teeth. I went through a LOT of coffee beans before I found the dream grind size (level 10, FYI – but that info won’t help you as different beans will produce different results). It didn’t help that I always went for a two-cup payload because I like my coffee stronger than The Hulk. The one-cup basket/button would have been a savvier move, wastage-wise.
The good news is, once you’ve established your perfect ground size, the auto dose system will ensure subsequent grinds produce the same amount, and (unless you change beans) it should take just one or two tamps to fill the portafilter basket to the correct level. And while I did have to refer to the Quick Start guide a couple of times, the process soon became second nature. It’s so simple, my nine-year-old daughter learned how to make me a coffee in one demo.
I didn’t let her use the steam wand though, partly for safety reasons but mainly because I didn’t want her to steal my fun! Used for texturing milk (aka heat it/make it frothy), the wand is a breeze to use and is perfect for producing creamy lattes etc. We also used it to make the most deliciously velvety hot chocolate. Word of warning: The steam wand is ear-splittingly high-pitched, so be prepared for dogs to come running from several miles away! It measured up to 88dB on my sound meter App, which is similar to a train whistling past. The regular coffee-making process is a lot more kinder on the ears at around 57-60dB.
There’s also a hot water spout for turning that espresso into an Americano, but as our boiling water tap sits next to the Express Impress, I tend to save the water tank supplies and use the tap instead. Not that the water tank is hard to refill. It slots on and off and has a robust handle, or you can just lift the lid in situ and fill it with a jug. It holds a decent amount, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly refilling.
One slightly tricky issue I had was switching between one and two-cup filter baskets. I decided to change from the two-cup basket to a single when I realized how fast the beans were going down. First up, I needed a knife to wedge the basket out of the portafilter and nearly lost a fingernail in the process. Secondly, the Auto Dose button kept overfilling the basket, which meant a lot of grounds had to be scraped off with The Razor trimming tool (included) = which was messy and wasteful. It took four coffees before the machine adjusted to supplying one cup, not two, but it got there in the end.
Once I’d found my sweet spot on the grind size situation, the Breville Barista Express Impress produced the best coffee I have ever tried in the comfort of my own home. I used my favorite Devonian beans, locally roasted by No. 1 Coffee, which are really fresh and extremely good. Breville recommends always buying beans that have the roasted-by date on the bag rather than use-by, so you can be sure of freshness.
For strong coffee fans (me), the 2-cup (double espresso) option was A-MAZING. The coffee was robust but not bitter and had a nice crema covering on top, even after I made it into an Americano by adding hot water. The 1 cup (single espresso) option is better suited to those who prefer weaker coffee, but it is still full flavored and easily identified as freshly ground coffee. I say that because I have tried bean-to-cup coffee that’s so weak and tasteless it could be Instant!
As this is an espresso machine, you only get two options – single or double espresso, so don’t expect a complex menu of iced drinks, long brews, etc. However, with the steam wand, you can go full barista with all manner of milk or milk substitute blends, and it produces a lovely fluffy top, just like you’d get from Starbucks et al. I also used it to make hot chocolates by mixing chocolate powder with a little boiling water, then adding steamed milk made smooth and frothy using the Express Impress. Delicious.
How does the Breville Barista Express Impress compare?
There is a lot to love about the Breville Barista Express Impress Espresso Machine, except for its price tag. If you’re looking to save a few dollars and a little space on your countertops, you might prefer to go for the Breville Infuser BES840XL. It has a similar look and the same built-in pressure gauge and milk frother but no built-in grinder, so you’d also need to add a grinder to your shopping basket.
For pod-friendly espresso, it’s hard to beat the Nespresso CitiZ&milk C122, which makes great-tasting espresso without the mess of grinding or tamping and has a milk frother on the side. You will miss out on the fun of pretending to be a barista, though!
Should you buy the Breville Barista Express Impress?
|Expensive but fairly priced. You get what you pay for.
|Just beautiful – in shape, style and finish. All the buttons feel nice to use, the tamper is solidly constructed and moves smoothly
|Once you’ve got it set up to suit your preferences, it delivers consistently great coffee, mug after mug
Buy it if...
You are deadly serious about coffee
There’s no doubt that Express Impress produces truly excellent coffee fast, and you get to enjoy all the banging, tamping, steaming, and frothing fun of a pro barista in the process.
You love a latte
The steam wand is wasted on black coffee drinkers like me, but if you love a thick head of frothy coffee, this machine will deliver.
You are a perfectionist
The option to manually control the grind dose and extraction time/quantities will be appreciated by those with exacting tastes.
Don't buy it if...
You are impatient
Yes, the Express Impress’ Auto modes make life easy, but this is not a simple press-and-go machine.
You've no time for care and maintenance
The conical burrs (in the grinder), tamp system, steam wand, and drip tray all need regular TLC to keep that fresh coffee coming.
How I tested the Breville Barista Express Impress
- Tested over a month, using the machine several times daily
- Replaced a Nespresso pod machine
- Used every setting and tool available
I tested this espresso machine for a little more than a month, trying out both cup sizes, the Auto and Manual settings, and the milk texturizing wand. I also taught my daughter to use it, and my brother-in-law, who stayed with us for a few days – both found it easy to master.
I used a sound meter App on my phone to record noise levels, and many friends to quality-check the results! Despite it being far quicker and easier, I wasn’t even tempted to revert to my regular Pod machine once during the testing period.
Read more about how we test
First reviewed: August 2023