Breville BES900XL Review

This product has been DISCONTINUED by the manufacturer. Check out a newer model of this item, the Breville BES920XL.

Breville BES900XL, an excellent semi-automatic espresso machine

Breville BES900XL Espresso Machine

9.6 Total Score
Breville BES900XL

One of the most intriguing machines we’ve seen to date! It’s a full-featured semi-automatic, and has a number of extras normally found only in super autos.
Recommended for: Power drinkers, large households, moderately busy offices. Not recommended for casual coffee drinkers, singles, or small households.

Reservoir Size
9.5
Overall Brew Quality
9.5
Customization Options
10
Ease of Use
9.5
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Have you always wished some smart person would invent a machine that was somewhere in between a semi-automatic and a super-automatic? One that offered you some of the convenience features of the supers, without you having to give up the control afforded by the semis?

If you’ve been looking for a machine like that, then you’re going to love our Breville BES900XL review.

We’ll say up front that this machine isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. There are some real tradeoffs here, but for the right user, it’s magnificent. Let’s dive right in and see what’s different and unique about this model!

An Overview of the Breville BES900XL

Form Factor, Footprint & Aesthetic

The first thing you’ll notice about the Breville BES900XL is its industrial appearance. Sheathed in stainless steel, it’s a handsome machine, and you can tell that the designers spent some time focused on aesthetics.

It doesn’t look as old-school as most other prosumer-grade machines, having softer edges and far more electronics than they do.

Looks, however, can be at least somewhat deceiving. While it’s true that the BES900XL is dressed in stainless steel, it’s very thin metal, especially when you compare it to most other prosumer models, which means it’s not as durable as they are, and better suited for home use than in a commercial environment (although it’s certainly capable of pulling enough shots per hour to keep pace in that environment).

It’s a fairly sizeable unit, measuring 16.26” x 15” x 15,” so if you’re pinched for counter space, it might be a bit difficult to find a permanent home for it. Also note that the water tank (which we’ll talk more about in the next section) is top loading, which may be problematic if you’ve got low clearance between your countertops and cabinetry.

An image of the stainless steel Breville BES900XL

It is, however, surprisingly light, weighing just 30 pounds, and this is due, in large part, to the thinness of the stainless-steel cladding.

Reservoir Size

An image of Breville BES900XL's 84-ounce water tank

This is one of the most important features to us, as rabid coffee consumers, and we’ve never yet encountered a machine with a water tank we regarded as “too big.” Here, the 900XL delivers in style, offering up 84 ounces of capacity, which is plenty for power drinkers, large households, and busy office environments.

Also note that unlike most other prosumer devices, the 900XL’s tank features a water filter. Actually, it’s vital that you use the water filter, because this model cannot be descaled at home. If you need to have your machine descaled, you’ll need to have a professional do it.

If you opt not to use the filter, you can count on having to take it in to a pro at least every two years. Using the filters, you can get away with taking it in every 4-5 years, so the filter is highly recommended, and when you make your purchase, you’ll be given enough filters to last you for fourteen months. After that, you’ll have to buy replacements yourself.

Pro Tip: The absence of the possibility of a dedicated water line makes this a less than optimal choice for a busy office or commercial environment, though it should be fine for a moderately busy office.

Integrated Grinder

While the Breville BES900XL offers many features you don’t typically find on a semi-automatic, this isn’t one of them. It’s still not a “bean to brew” one-touch system, and you’ll need to purchase a grinder separately.

Given that reality, here are our recommendations:

  • Steer clear of blade grinders. They’re cheap, and…well, they’re cheap. You don’t want to pair your very expensive espresso machine with a bargain bin grinder. You won’t be doing yourself, or your coffee any favors!
  • Steer clear of stainless-steel burr grinders. These tend to heat when you use them, which can burn your grounds, which in turn, can burn the flavor of your coffee. Not good.
  • Purchase the best ceramic burr grinder if your budget will allow. Your taste buds will thank you for it!

Even though you have to buy your grinder separately, don’t look at that as a negative. It’s easy to see how some people might consider it so, but in reality, it’s a positive, and here’s why:

The biggest problem with super automatics is that you’re stuck with whatever sort of grinder the manufacturer decides to toss into the machine. Given that the industry average super automatic grinder has just six settings, you’re probably going to wish you had something better.

True, it’s possible to find a super automatic with a grinder that has a dozen or more settings, but it’s rare. This way, you are guaranteed to get exactly what you want.

Also, the grinders in super automatics don’t tend to play well with Dark Roast beans, which limits you to Medium Roast, and by buying your own, you get around that limitation, which opens up a whole lot of flavor possibilities!

The Boiler System

One of the strongest features of the Breville BES900XL is that it’s a double boiler machine. This allows you to simultaneously steam milk and pull shots, which cuts down on your total drink making time.

If you’re a casual coffee drinker, and you don’t like milk-based drinks anyway, there’s little value to you in getting this machine, but if you drink a ton of coffee and regularly make milk-based drinks, then the time saved adds up in a hurry.

Note that both of these are aluminum boilers, lined with stainless-steel, which is another departure from many of the other prosumer machines on the market today, which utilize old-school copper boilers.

From a practical standpoint, both are excellent, so there’s no compelling advantage one enjoys over the other.

We’ll talk more about temperature control in a later section, but for now, it’s enough to note that the 900XL has a PID on its front face that allows you to precisely control the temperature of both boilers, which is incredibly handy and takes a lot of the guesswork out of pulling shots.

An image of Breville BES900XL's double boilers

Telescoping Coffee Spigot

This will be a relatively short section in our Breville BES900XL review, because the 900XL’s coffee spouts are not height-adjustable, residing on the underside of the portafilter. Speaking of the portafilter though, you get one, but four different baskets; unpressurized single and double shots, and pressurized single and double shots.

In addition to that, you get the generous supply of filters we mentioned earlier, a backflushing disc, and two cleansing tablets, which we’ll talk about in a later section of the review.

The Brew Unit and Control System

An image of Breville BES900XL's PID that controls the temperature of both boilers

This is the heart and soul of the unit, and on this front, the Breville BES900XL offers a lot of features you normally don’t find in semi-automatic machines.

For starters, there’s the PID that controls the temperature of both boilers. That’s a rarity, and as we mentioned earlier, the level of control it provides is hard to argue with. It really does make a semi-automatic much easier to use, allowing even newbies to get consistently good flavor out of their shots.

That, however, is just the tip of the ice berg. There’s also a digital clock on the machine, and an option to set an auto-start time, just like you would on a super automatic, and in addition to that, you’ve got two programmable buttons; one for single shots, and one for doubles (these, in addition to the manual button).

These buttons allow you to set a custom shot timer, pre-infusion time, and water temp, which again, comes awfully close to one-touch convenience – something unheard of in the semi-automatic world. It’s one of the things that makes the 900XL standout.

The rest of the controls are old school. You’ve got levers for hot water and steam control, and an old school gauge that allows you to see the precise pump pressure. That’s handy because it allows you to identify problems on the fly, and make adjustments as needed.

It also allows you to experiment with higher or lower pump pressures and extraction methodologies in your never-ending quest for the perfect shot.

We love almost everything about the 900XL’s control system and the fact that it introduces so many features you just don’t find in other semi-automatics, serving in that regard as a crossover machine.

The Milk Frothing System

There are two ways manufacturers implement the milk frothing feature; either via an auto-frother (preferred by newbies because it’s essentially a hands-free operation), or a steam wand.

The 900XL utilizes a steam wand, and again, thanks to the dedicated steam boiler, you get it on-demand. That’s the good. Now for the not so good.

The quality of the foam you get is excellent, but the steam pump is a bit underpowered.

What this means from a practical perspective is that if you’re trying to steam a large quantity of milk, it’s going to take some serious time. No, it won’t take endless hours, but you’ll find yourself shifting your weight from one foot to the other wondering when the heck it’s finally going to get hot.

It’s not an issue when you’re doing smaller batches of milk, but if you’re making several back to back cappuccinos and want to froth a whole pitcher at once…yeah, you’ll be waiting for it.

An image of Breville BES900XL's frothing wand and container

As mentioned, new users tend to be a little intimidated by the steam wand, but don’t be! While it’s true that it takes time and practice to learn to use it well, and you can write off our first three or four milk-based drinks, once you’ve got the hang of it, you’re golden, and you’ll be able to impress your friends with your crazy Barista skills!

Besides, since the frothing wand of the 900XL is a bit slower than some of the others, it’s also a little more forgiving. Just keep at it, and you’ll master it in no time!

Cup Warming Tray

There’s not a lot to say here except to note that the Breville 900XL has a cup warming tray, and it’s more important than most newbies realize. The reason? Heat loss mitigation.

See, specialty coffee drinks were meant to be enjoyed at temperatures lower than most Americans like their coffee.

Since you can’t steam milk at the same temperature you brew coffee, adding milk to your drink brings the temperature down further still. Dispensing into a cold cup brings it down even more.

You’ve got two ways to combat the problem with the 900XL, and you should use them both.

  • The first is, of course, the PID, which allows you to precisely set the temperature of both boilers. Note here that the boiler temp of the steam side will be higher than the coffee side, but the temperature of the milk will be lower than the shots you’re pulling – in fact, you’ll ruin your milk if you get it too hot, so that’s something you’ll want to be careful with when using the steam wand.
  • Second though, is the humble cup warming tray.

If you’re not convinced it will make much of a difference, try a simple experiment: Make two of your favorite drinks, dispensing one into a cold cup, and the other into a cup you’ve had on the warming tray for a while. You’ll be astonished at the difference in temperature!

Easy to Use, Very Easy to Clean

As a semi-automatic, all of the analog controls on the machine are intuitive and easy to use. Even if you’ve never seen an espresso machine before, you can just look at it and work out what most of the buttons, levers, knobs and gauges are for.

The electronics are fairly well implemented; much better than is typical of semi-automatics, but still, a shade cumbersome, although hats’ off to Breville in this regard for the cleanest, smoothest implementation we’ve seen to date.

All that to say, there’s not much of a learning curve here. By the time you run through the machine’s initial setup, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the machine, with a few minutes spent on learning the electronic controls and a couple of milk-based drinks to get used to the steam wand, and you’ll be all set.

An image of Breville BES900XL's parts which need manual cleaning

Cleaning is a thing of beauty on this machine.

As we mentioned early on, there’s no descaling to be done, at least not by you, so that’s one item off the table right from the start, which leaves you having to:

  • Keep the machine clean in general
  • Clean the steam wand after each milk-based drinks
  • Empty the drip tray as needed
  • Backflush the machine

This last bit deserves a bit of extra attention.

If you’re new to semi-automatic espresso machines, then you should know that backflushing is to a semi what cleaning the brew unit is to a super auto.

In this case, though, the 900XL will tell you, via the LED screen on the front face of the machine, when it needs to be backflushed, and best of all, it’s an automated process!

So far, this is the only machine we’ve reviewed that offered an automated cleaning cycle, and we love it!

Just pop the backflushing disc into your portafilter, put a cleansing tablet into the disc, attach it to the machine, and tell it to run the cycle.

That’s it. You just stand back and let it do its thing. Self-cleaning routines are commonplace in super automatics, but virtually unheard of in semis, which makes this one of the best features the 900XL offers. It’s outstanding.

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Breville BES900XL Pros & Cons

As you can see, there’s a lot to like about the Breville BES900​​​​XL. It’s a full-featured semi-automatic, wedded to several high-value aspects of a super auto.

A lesser manufacturer may not have been able to pull it off as well as Breville has, but they’ve got an excellent reputation where design and engineering are concerned, and those strengths really shine in this model.

There are only two things we’d change in an ideal world:

First, we’d love the option to descale the machine ourselves to save the trip in to have a professional do it, and second, we’d love to see the outer casing made from thicker stainless steel to give it more durability. It’s sadly not nearly as rugged as it looks.

Better than ABS plastic, to be sure, but compared with the other prosumer models it competes with, it’s a real point of weakness in the design.

Breville BES900XL Review Conclusion

And that wraps up our Breville BES900XL review. As you can tell from the tone of this piece, we’re quite taken with the machine, but we recognize that it’s not going to be for everyone.

It’s a fairly forgiving machine to learn on, making it newbie friendly, and the electronics are minimal enough that purists are not likely to take issue with them.

While we don’t recommend this machine for singles, smaller households or casual drinkers, it would be an excellent choice for anyone else and comes highly recommended.

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