Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis Evo Review

Unfortunately, this product is no longer available. Check out a similar product, the Saeco Philips Intelia Deluxe Espresso Machine

An image of Saeco HD8954/47, an espresso machine with stunning design and extensive feature set

Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis EVO

9.9 Total Score
Saeco HD8954/47

Saeco’s top of the line machine. Bigger, and even better than the Exprellia, and with even more to love about it.
Recommended for: Anyone who can afford one. A stunning design that does it all.

Reservoir Size
Overall Brew Quality
Customization Options
Ease of Use

An Overview of the Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis EVO

Do you consider yourself an “accept no substitutes” kind of person?  Are you looking for an espresso maker that does it all, but still gives you plenty of control over the process to totally customize your favorite drinks?

If that describes you and what you’re looking for in an espresso maker, and if your budget can handle it, then our Saeco HD8954/47 review is going to take your breath away.

This is the flagship of the Evo line, and the Exprellia’s big brother, and like that smaller model, it came within a hair’s breadth of getting a perfect five-star rating from us.

Even if you ultimately decide that this model isn’t the right one for you, we think you’ll agree that it’s a stunning design and an incredibly capable machine.

Form Factor, Footprint & Aesthetic

First and foremost, this is a big, burly machine, measuring 20” x 14.4” x 19.9” and weighing in at a hefty 40 pounds.  Much of the Xelsis’ heft comes from the fact that it is constructed of stainless steel.  The entire front face of the unit swings open, and even the hinges are stainless steel!

A few black and chrome highlights give it a sleek, modern appearance, unlike the smaller Exprellia, which has a vaguely industrial appearance, although it’s clear that the design team put more emphasis on function, rather than form.

This is not to say it’s an unattractive model.  It’s reasonably stylish, but at a glance, you can tell that the Xelsis is all business.  It’s got a job to do, and every aspect of its design was meant to work toward that end.

Reservoir Size

We’re power coffee drinkers, and because of that, the size of an espresso machine’s water tank is critical to us.  At a minimum, we like to see a sixty-ounce tank.  Unfortunately, the Xelsis falls just shy of the mark here, with its 54-ounce, top loading reservoir.

This is literally our only complaint about the unit.  If it had a bigger tank, it would have gotten a perfect score from us.  Fifty-four ounces is okay for most people, but if you’re a power drinker, or if you have more than one moderate coffee drinker in your home, you’re going to have to refill it more often than you’d like.

Although the reservoir is designed to accept a filter, you don’t get one when you buy the machine.  That’s unfortunate, especially given its hefty price tag, but if you want to use one, you’ll have to buy it separately.

We’re on the fence about using them, honestly, although we understand why many people use them. With the filter in place, you cut down on the amount of routine maintenance you need to do, because you virtually eliminate the need for descaling.

The flip side of that coin though, is that filters aren’t cheap, and if you use them, you’ll need to buy a replacement every month or so.  Over time, that’s going to dramatically increase your total cost of ownership.  Besides that, there are other ways to minimize your need to descale, including simply using distilled water in your tank.

Again, its use is optional, and there’s no “right” answer to that question.  Ultimately, it’s going to come down to what works best for you.

An image of Saeco HD8954/47's 54-ounce water tank

Note that if you opt to use the water filter, you’ll need to go into the system menu on the device and change the filter setting to “Yes.”  The machine isn’t “smart,” so there’s no way for it to auto-detect its presence in the tank, and if you don’t update the menu, then you’ll get periodic reminders about descaling when you don’t actually need to.

Integrated Grinder

The SaecoHD8954/47 has an excellent ceramic burr grinder with eight settings.  While it’s true that there are other machines on the market that offer more grind settings, the industry standard is six, so this is an improvement, and offers enough grind customization that it allows most people to dial into their preferred flavor settings.

If you’re new to the world of specialty coffee drinks, this is something you should spend some time experimenting with.  You’ll quickly discover that a slight change in your grind setting can dramatically influence the way your drink tastes.

An image of Saeco HD8954/47's ceramic burr grinder and 12-ounce bean hopper

Since everyone’s tastes and preferences are different, the more grind settings you have to play with, the better!

The fact that the grinders are ceramic is another thing this model has going for it.  Grinding burrs come in two flavors:  Ceramic and stainless steel, and of the two, ceramic is the superior choice.

The reason?  Stainless steel heats up when used, which can burn your grounds and ruin the flavor of whatever drink you’re making.  That wastes time, beans and money.  Not good, so kudos to Saeco for going high-end here!

On a related note, there’s a top-loading, 12-ounce bean hopper attached to the grinder, which is excellent, although its size is slightly mismatched with the water tank.

What happens from a practical standpoint in cases like these is that it forces you to stop what you’re going and reload one, or the other, or both too often, which can get tiresome.  Our preference here would be that they leave the bean hopper the size that it is and find some way to expand the size of the tank.

In any case, the hopper is exceptional, not just for its size, but also because it comes with an interior lid, in addition to the top hatch you have to open to access it.  This inner lid has a rubber seal around the rim which helps keep the beans fresh longer.

Pro Tip:  Don’t load your hopper with oily beans!  As with all other super-automatics, the grinder doesn’t do well with these, which can lead to clogs, increased maintenance, and ultimately hasten the demise of your grinder motor.  For best results, stick with Medium Roast beans.

One final note on this topic: The Saeco HD8954/47 also comes with a one-scoop bypass doser, which is great for those evenings when you’re just looking for a quick decaf, or don’t want to go through the whole process.

Boiler System

The Xelsis is a double boiler system, which we prefer over models that only offer a single boiler.  The chief advantage here is that systems like the Xelsis can simultaneously steam milk and brew coffee.

Granted, the delay single boiler models see when switching from one task to the other is minimal, measured in seconds, rather than minutes but if you’re in a hurry, or drink a lot of coffee, that extra time can add up quickly.  Sure, you pay a premium for the added speed, but we think it’s worth it.

Both boilers are stainless steel, and both feature a Thermoblock technology, so they heat up fast, minimizing your wait time even more.  A truly exceptional feature implementation!

Telescoping Coffee Spigot

An image of Saeco HD8954/47's milk steaming and coffee brewing units

Most (but not all) super-automatics have telescoping coffee spigots, and the Xelsis is no exception.  Typically, the range of motion spans between 2.5” and 6” and here, the Xelsis is a little underwhelming, accommodating cups up to a maximum of 4.5” in height.  That's pretty good, but we were a little underwhelmed. 

Again, as power coffee drinkers, we use jumbo-sized mugs, which won’t fit under the spigots.  It’s not something we took points off for here in our Saeco HD8954/47 review because there’s an easy fix.  We just brew a double shot and fill two regular sized cups, then pour them both into our monster-sized cups.  It’s not perfect, but it’s simple and effective.

The Brew Unit and Control System of the Saeco HD8954/47 Philips XelsisEVO

This is where the HD8954 really shines.  The center of the control system is a brightly lit LCD screen, and Saeco makes good use of it.  They’ve designed a superbly intuitive menu system that’s incredibly easy to navigate and master.

It would be an oversimplification to say that the Xelsis doesn’t have a learning curve at all, but if you can use a smartphone, you won’t have any trouble mastering this unit.

An image of the LCD control panel of Saeco HD8954/47

You can set an auto-start time, so the machine is on, heated up, and ready to brew when you wake up.  You can also set a custom auto-shutoff time, change the language of the machine, reset to factory defaults, and access the automated maintenance routines available.

In addition to that, the Xelsis offers the following one-touch drink options:

  • Espresso
  • Cappuccino
  • Latte Macchiato
  • coffee
    Café Latte
  • American Coffee
  • Hot Milk and Foam
  • Hot Water

Where the straight coffee drinks are concerned, you can adjust the coffee strength (mild, normal, strong), the temperature (low, normal, high), the amount of the water in each shot, and the pre-infusion time.  When you order a milk-based drink, you can also set the milk volume you want, which by extension, gives you some ability to control the amount of foam you get. 

It gets even better though because the HD8954 also has six profile slots so that each coffee-drinking member of your family can save his or her preferred settings for every drink the machine can make.

That’s huge.  Most models don’t offer a profile system, and because of that only one person can save their drink settings, and if someone else saves theirs, it’ll overwrite yours.

If you live alone, or at the only coffee drinker in your house, the profile system won’t be a big deal to you, but if you share use of the machine with even one other person, this will probably be your favorite feature.

As you can see then, the Xelsis gives you, and up to five other people, a range of tools you can use to customize the flavor of your favorite drinks.  It gets even better though.  In addition to all of that, there’s also a knob on the front center of the machine.

If you adjust this knob when you order a drink, it will change the amount of pressure that drink gets brewed with.  Before the full significance of that can be appreciated, we have to pause for a minute here and say a few things about how espresso is made.

If you’re new to the coffee world, then the coffee you’re used to drinking probably comes from a drip-brew machine.  These devices rely on simple gravity to get the coffee from the grounds chamber and into your pot.

Super-automatics aren’t like that.  They use pressure, rather than gravity, and pressure is measured in bars, with one bar being equal to the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

An image of Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis EVO's brew unit and dregs box

It takes at least nine bars of pressure to make a good shot of espresso, and the Xelsis’ pump is rated for a maximum of fifteen bars.  All that to say that you won’t ever have to worry about getting a substandard espresso from this machine!

So, how does that relate to the control knob in the center of the unit?

Simple.  When you change the pressure of the coffee coming out of the spigot, you change the character and body of the coffee itself and wind up with more or less crema at the top of your drink.  This is yet another way you can alter the flavor of whatever drink you’re making, giving you a level of flexibility that few other machines on the market today can match.

All that, and we haven’t even gotten to the brew unit yet.

Earlier, we made a quick mention of the fact that the entire front face of the unit swings open like a door.  That’s how you access the brew unit and dregs box.

Not all machines have brew units that can be removed, but the Xelsis does.  It’s easy to access, and easy to take out.  Just release the catch and slide it out.  Once a week, as part of your maintenance routine, just remove it and give it a thorough rinse.  That’s all there is to it.  No cleansing tabs to worry about, no struggling with tiny brushes.  Just remove and rinse.

The Milk Frothing System

This is our favorite feature implementation.  We love it.  The Xelsis offers both an auto-frother, on the right side of the machine, and a conventional steam wand on the left.  If you’re in the mood for convenience, the auto-frother is perfect.  If you want to take full control of the quality and quantity of the foam for your drink, the wand is ready to serve!

An image of Saeco HD8954/47's auto-frother and steam wand

There are only two models we’ve ever seen that offer both.  This one, and its little brother, the Exprellia, and while some people will argue that you’re essentially paying for a feature you won’t be using, in practice, that’s seldom the case.

Even if you live alone, there will likely be times when you feel like experimenting and will gravitate to the steam wand, and others when you just want the work done for you.  And of course, if there are multiple coffee drinkers in your home, then odds are that you’ll have different tastes and preferences, and gravitate to a different milk-frothing tool.

The auto-frother features a refrigerator-safe plastic carafe that comes with the machine.  Just pour your milk in, plug it into the slot on the machine, and order a milk-based drink.  That’s all you have to do.

If you’re not satisfied with the amount of milk you get in whatever drink you order, you can always make adjustments on the menu, or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can try out the steam wand. If you do, don’t let the steam wand intimidate you!   

It takes time and practice to learn to use it well, but just stick with it and let your inner Barista out to play. Your first three or four drinks probably won’t turn out quite the way you had hoped, but keep trying, and you’ll get the hang of it.  Once you do, you can make coffee magic just about anywhere that will dazzle and delight your friends and family.

Cup Warming Tray

In our view, the cup warming tray is the unsung hero of the specialty coffee world.  It matters because specialty coffee drinks are typically brewed and served at lower temperatures than most Americans enjoy their coffee.  If you’re new to specialty drinks, then the change can be jarring.

You’ll notice it keenly if you order a milk-based drink because milk has to be steamed at temperatures lower than coffee is brewed, lest it ruin the flavor of the milk.  Then, when you add the milk to the coffee, you lose heat.

Dispense your drink into a cold cup, and you lose even more heat.  That’s where the cup warming tray enters the picture.  By pre-warming the cup, you minimize heat loss.  Do that and set your brewing temperature to maximum from the system menu, and you’ll go a long way toward making a drink that’s hot enough to enjoy.

You may be skeptical about how much of a difference the cup warming tray can make, so try an experiment and see for yourself.  Brew two of your favorite drink, dispensing one into a cold cup, and one into a pre-warmed cup.  You’ll be astonished at the difference in temperature.

All that to say that the lowly cup warming tray is more important than many people realize, and the Xelsis has one.  In fact, its cup warming tray is exceptional.  Where most models are heated passively by the boiler or boilers on the machine, this model features an active warming plate.  It’s got its own power supply, and as such, it tends to get hotter than passive warmers.  You’ll love it.

An image of Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis EVO's cup warming tray, which features an active warming plate

Very Easy to Use, Exceptionally Easy to Clean

We’ve already mentioned how well-designed the Saeco HD8954’s menu system is, so we won’t rehash that here.  Instead, we’ll simply say this:

This machine does have a slight learning curve, but given the sheer number of features it offers, that’s certainly not a surprise.  While it can feel a little daunting and overwhelming, it will only take a few minutes to get familiar with the layout, and once you have that under your belt, the rest is easy.

Some people are intimidated by all the drink customization options, but don’t let that get to you.  Our recommendation on that front would be to simply start with the factory default settings, and make incremental tweaks from there until you get the flavor settings just the way you want them.

That way, you’re not sitting there for an hour or more on your first day with your new machine, trying to guess at what you’ll like best.  You can build your flavor profile gradually, over time.

In terms of keeping the machine clean, the Xelsis does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. 

If you haven’t used your machine for two weeks, then when you first start it up, it automatically runs a rinse cycle.  Each time you make a milk-based drink, on completion, the machine runs another cleaning cycle to keep the lines free of milk, and of course, you can run one any time you like from the maintenance menu.

Sure, there are some things you still have to do manually.  The drip tray and dregs box both need to be emptied at regular intervals.  The brew unit has to be taken out and given a good rinse, and if you’re not using a filter, you’ll need to perform a periodic descaling.

Again though, thanks to the HD8954’s excellent design, all of these components are easy to access, which makes cleanup a snap.

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Pros & Cons of the Saeco HD8954/47

We said earlier in this review that the only thing we didn’t like about the Xelsis was the fact that it had a water tank that was slightly too small for our liking, and now that we’ve reached this point, that remains true.

Everything about this model is rock solid.  Sure, we’d love to see even more grind settings, but this model already offers more than the industry average, so it’s hard to classify that as a “con.”  On the whole, then, we regard the HD8954 as a near-flawless model.

Saeco HD8954/47 Review Conclusion

If you’re a newbie, you’ll love the Saeco HD8954/47 Philips Xelsis EVO for its sheer simplicity.  It allows you to create a variety of advanced drinks with the push of a single button (you don’t even have to move your cup!).

If you’re a coffee purist, you’ll love the access to two additional grind settings and the steam wand, which will allow you to make your drinks, your way, and the control knob that lets you fine-tune the flavor of your coffee creations in ways that other machines simply can’t offer.

No matter who you are, you’ll appreciate its rugged, durable construction and extensive feature set that allows you virtually unlimited freedom to create any drink you can imagine.  This machine is like having your own personal, live-in Barista.  It gives you the coffee shop experience from the comfort of home, any time you want it.

As you can see, having reached the end of our Saeco HD8954/47 review, the only real downside is the unit’s price.  Unless you catch it on sale, it’s going to set you back more than three thousand bucks, which will put it out of reach for many, and that’s a pity, because the Xelsis is a masterpiece, and highly recommended.

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