A unique machine in the world of semi-automatics, and amazingly full-featured for an entry level model.
Recommended for: This is an especially newbie-friendly machine and a great model to learn Barista skills on. Great for power drinkers and large households.
Table of Contents
- 1 An Overview of the Breville BES870XL
- 2 Amazingly Easy to Use & Clean
- 3 Pros & Cons of Breville BES870XL the Barista Express Espresso
- 4 Breville BES870XL Review Conclusion
An Overview of the Breville BES870XL
Are you on a budget, and looking for a good semi-automatic machine to practice your budding Barista skills on? If so, then you’re going to love our in-depth Breville BES870XL review.
This is an interesting machine on many levels, offering features and capabilities not normally found on semi-automatics. In some respects, this means new users will be spoiled, and switching to a different machine, later on, will require you to re-learn a few things.
On the other hand, it’s a quite forgiving machine and enables beginners to pull consistently good shots with ease, giving you fine-grained control over all the key aspects of making all your favorite drinks, while automating enough of the process to keep things simple.
It’s not a perfect machine, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but for the right user, it offers the perfect combination of ease of use and control.
In the sections that follow, we’ll outline everything this machine can do, and a few areas where it could stand some improvement, so you’ll have all the information you need to decide if it’s the right model for you. Let’s jump right in and see what it can do!
Form Factor, Footprint & Aesthetic
The first thing you’ll think when you first see Breville BES870SL espresso maker the barista express that there must be some mistake. Boasting an integrated grinder and with a bean hopper sitting on top of the machine, at first glance, you might think this is a super automatic.
It isn’t, although it does have a few intriguing features you don’t normally find in semi-automatic machines.
It’s not an especially large machine, measuring just 13.2” x 12.5” x 15.8” and weighing a scant 23 pounds, which means that even if you have a small kitchen and limited counter space, you’re probably not going to have any difficulty finding a permanent home for the 870XL, and even if you do, it’s light enough that moving it about won’t be an issue.
Note: The 870XL is constructed mostly of thin stainless-steel with an ABS plastic top.
One of the first questions we ask, any time we see a new machine is, “how big is the water tank?” As power drinkers, we’ve never met a water tank we regarded as “too big.”
As such, we consider this a critical part of our Breville BES870XL barista express espresso machine review, and here, the machine really delivers, offering up an impressive 2-liter (67-ounce), top-loading reservoir. While it’s true that there are machines offering an even higher tank capacity than this, you’ll be hard pressed to find one for any cheaper!
Note: This tank is designed to accept a charcoal water filter. We’re on the fence about filtered reservoirs in general, but we understand why some people like them. It cuts down on maintenance by dramatically reducing the frequency you’ll have to descale.
That’s undoubtedly a benefit, but you can achieve the same goal by using distilled water or filtering it at some other point, before putting it in the tank. In any case, the option is there if you want it, and on balance, we judge that to be a good thing.
This is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Breville BES870XL semi-automatic espresso machine. It comes with both a grinder and a bean hopper. Very few semi-automatics offer either of these things. It’s not quite a “bean to brew” experience, but it comes close.
The top-loading 8-ounce hopper feeds into a stainless-steel conical burr grinder. Rather than having a preset number of grind settings, you’ll find a dial, conveniently located on the front face of the machine. You can just adjust it from fine to coarse, dialing into your particular flavor preferences.
On its face, we love this feature and think it would be a great addition to any semi-auto on the market, but there are a couple of issues we have with its implementation.
First, the capacity of the hopper (8-ounces) is a bit small, when compared to the size of the water tank (67-ounces). When there’s a size mismatch like this, it creates unnecessary busywork, because one or the other is always running low, forcing you to stop what you’re doing to refill.
Second, we’d much prefer to have seen ceramic burrs, rather than stainless-steel. The stainless burrs aren’t bad, but they do have a tendency to overheat when used, which can burn your grounds and ruin the flavor of whatever drink you’re making.
A third issue or limitation is this: Integrated grinders don’t play well with oily beans. That means that you’ll want to avoid using Dark Roast beans with this grinder. It’s a minor limitation, but for best results, you’ll want to stick with a nice Medium Roast you enjoy, just as you would with most super-automatic machines.
Operationally, the way you use the system is as follows:
The 870XL grinds straight into the portafilter, and conveniently, the unit includes a built-in tamper you can detach from the machine to prepare your puck.
Then, load the portafilter under the brew head when you’re ready to pull your shot.
Note: One of the most common complaints with this machine is the fact that the grinder is messy, and no matter how careful you are, you’ll wind up with excess grounds in the drip tray. Again, not a deal-breaker, but something to be aware of.
The Boiler System
The Breville BES870XL barista express espresso maker features a single aluminum boiler, lined with stainless steel. We prefer double boiler systems because they allow you to simultaneously steam milk and pull shots, but it’s hard to find a value-priced double boiler system, so this did not surprise us.
We’ll have much more to say about the boiler in the Control System segment of our review, but for now, the key point to draw your attention to is the fact that the 870XL features a PID, which allows you to precisely control the temperature.
This takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation and is one of the reasons we regard the unit as being particularly forgiving and newbie friendly.
Telescoping Coffee Spigot
This will be a short section because like all other semi-automatic machines, the 870XL does not have telescoping coffee spouts. They are fixed position and located on the underside of the portafilter.
Note: When you make your purchase, you’ll get the portafilter, single and double shot baskets, and the tamper that comes attached to the machine.
The Brew Unit and Control System
This is the heart and soul of any espresso machine, and the BES870XL is no exception.
Where the brew unit is concerned, the key point to draw your attention to is the fact that it’s non-removable, which means you’ll have to periodically backflush the system.
This is as simple as loading the backflushing disc into your single shot portafilter, inserting a cleansing tablet and cycling the boiler on and off several times in rapid succession to work the cleanser into the innards of the machine, then flush it thoroughly.
The control system is a curious mix of new and old.
On the one hand, the hot water spout and steam wand are both old-school, utilizing simple levers to activate them. On the other, the boiler temperature is precisely controlled via a PID on the front face of the unit, and you’ll find two programmable buttons.
This allows you to precisely set the shot time and amount of water used when you pull a single shot (the first button) and a double (the second programmable button).
You’ll also find simple dials that allow you to set the fineness of your grind, and the dosing strength, which measures how many beans are ground for each shot you produce.
Rounding out the set, you’ll find a single gauge which measures the pump pressure precisely. This is an incredible feature, and honestly, we wish it was offered on super automatic machines too. The ability to see exactly what your pump pressure is allows you to pull extremely consistent shots.
Even better, the 870XL’s pump is rated for a maximum of fifteen bars of pressure, which allows you to intentionally vary the pump pressure so you can experiment with different extraction techniques, which give you lots of opportunities to let your Inner-Barista out to play!
The Milk Frothing System
There are two ways a company can implement a milk frothing system on an espresso machine: An auto-frother or a steam wand. It should come as no surprise that the auto-frother is preferred by newbies because it gives you hands-free milk froth. The tradeoff though is the loss of precise control.
The 870XL uses a conventional steam wand, but if you’re new to the world of specialty coffee drinks, don’t let that intimidate you!
It’s true that it takes a bit of time and practice to master the wand, and you can assume that your first 4-5 milk-based drinks won’t turn out quite the way you had hoped, but once you master its use, you’ll be able to create some real coffee magic and dazzle your friends with your Barista skills!
As a single boiler system, there is some wait time as the boiler shifts gears between steaming and brewing, but it’s fairly minimal, and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for many, if any people.
Once the boiler does shift gears though, you’ll find that the steam wand has plenty of power and is capable of heating your milk quickly and producing froth of exquisite quality.
Cup Warming Tray
While the BES8670XL does have a cup warning tray, it’s quite small, owing in large part to the smallish footprint of the unit. While you can certainly use it, you’re probably better off to simply add some hot water to your cup via the dedicated hot water spout and let it warm while you’re making your other preparations.
Amazingly Easy to Use & Clean
Breville rightly deserves high marks for this model’s ease of use and cleaning, making this another important part of our Breville Barista BES870XL review.
Most semi-automatics are fairly easy to use, owing to their old-school design philosophy, but where semi-autos suffer is when they try to incorporate more advanced electronics. Typically, this is done in a crude and inelegant fashion, which is unfortunate and makes their use more complicated than is necessary.
That’s decidedly not the case with the 870XL, whose electronic components are melded seamlessly into the design as a whole, which virtually eliminates the learning curve on this machine. By the time you’ve finished thumbing through the manual and run through the initial setup, you’ll have mastered the basic function of the 870XL.
Cleaning is a simple proposition too, made even easier by virtue of the “Clean Me” light on the front face of the unit. It’s a simple and effective way of reminding you when the machine needs a cleaning cycle, and when you make your purchase, you’ll get a cleaning kit as well.
In broad terms, here are the cleaning tasks you’ll face:
Pros & Cons of Breville BES870XL the Barista Express Espresso
There’s a lot to like about Breville BES870SL the barista express espresso maker. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and gives you enough control to allow you to burnish your Barista skills; all good things.
Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect machine. In our view, its three biggest weaknesses both revolve around the grinder implementation:
Most people probably won’t see these things as deal breakers, and the ones who do will likely be interested in a value-priced machine without a grinder included, freeing them up to get the grinder they want, and get around the 870XL’s limitations on that front.
Breville BES870XL Review Conclusion
That wraps up our Breville BES870XL review. It’s a solid machine that’s forgiving to new users and easy to learn on. It also offers up enough capacity to satisfy even the most diehard coffee drinkers out there, making it ideally suited for power drinkers like us and large households.
It is important to note, however, that it’s an entry level machine. Unfortunately, that means that it’s just not rugged or robust enough to stand up to more rigorous use like busy commercial offices.
We highly recommend this model for any of the following:
Unlike many other entry-level machines, you probably won’t outgrow this one any time soon.
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