One minute review
Known as Sage in the UK or Breville in the US and Australia, this premium kitchen appliance brand is known for making some of the best espresso machines (opens in new tab) you can buy. From the simple entry-level models to the investment-level coffee machines that allow you to control every aspect of the drink using a beautiful color touchscreen, there is something for everyone.
The Barista Express is a mid-range model, it builds on the entry-level espresso machine – the Bambino (opens in new tab) – by adding a built-in grinder to pour freshly ground coffee directly into the portafilter. But unlike the more automated bean-to-cup machines from other brands, this one lets you practice your barista skills. You have to tamp the coffee yourself, use the razor blade to get it to the perfect level, and steam your own milk, which can take a little practice to perfect, especially if you’re a novice.
To get the best possible results, you can adjust the grind size, amount of coffee dispensed, volume and temperature of the espresso, and once you’ve reached your caffeine limit for the day, use it to make hot water for tea. to deliver. We found it simple to use, with easily customizable settings, it’s certainly not as intimidating as it looks. It took a while to get the settings just right, but after a few slightly weak cups of coffee, we produced intense espresso time after time. It’s a good kit suitable for coffee aficionados looking for a machine that offers plenty of control over the finished drink, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Sage the Barista Express: price and availability
- MSRP: £629.95/$699.95/AU$999
As we have already mentioned, the Barista Express is sold under the Sage brand in the UK or Breville in the US and Australia. You can buy it directly from Sage of Breville online, as well as other retailers like Amazon.
This is one of the brand’s mid-range coffee machines, a step up from the more entry-level models like the Bambino, but with less luxurious features than more expensive machines like the oracle touch (opens in new tab).
- Italian pump 15 bar
- Integrated grinder with 16 grinding settings
- 2 liter/67oz removable water tank
While this model isn’t as sturdy as some coffee machines we’ve tested, it still requires nearly double the counter space of the most compact espresso machines you can buy, measuring 15.9 x 12.5 x 13.8 inches/ 40.4 x 31 inches. .8 x 35.1 cm (hxwxd).
Inside the box you will find a 54mm stainless steel portafilter which comes with four filter baskets, the two double wall filter baskets are for use with pre-ground coffee which is handy for making the odd decaffeinated espresso. Meanwhile, the single-wall filter baskets are designed to extract the best possible coffee from freshly ground beans.
The stainless steel milk carafe has a handy temperature strip that changes color as the milk heats up and brings the thought of steaming milk to the right temperature. In the box you will also find a range of cleaning accessories and a water filter.
You can choose between a stainless steel or black machine – there is also a red or gray option if you are in Australia. And the machine itself looks like some serious kit; it’s certainly sturdy and while a little intimidating if you’re a novice, it won’t take you time to master the clearly laid out controls.
On initial setup, you need to run hot water through the various outlets until the tank is empty, which is a simple process. After that, it’s a matter of filling with beans and experimenting to get the perfect coffee.
A simple rotary knob gives you access to 16 grinding grade levels and a second rotary knob allows you to control the amount dispensed. To start the process, simply choose between the single or double filter, push the portafilter into the grinder, give it a nudge and the grinding begins – it couldn’t be easier. Once the portafilter is piled with ground coffee, you can play barista by pressing it down and using the razor blade to create the perfect ‘puck’. Once in position it’s a matter of pressing the one cup or two cup button to dispense coffee, you can choose the preset volume or adjust it to your liking.
With a switch on the side, you can dispense hot water for tea or steam to heat milk in the included jug. And at the bottom, there’s a large removable drip tray to catch any mess or spills.
- Intense espresso with a thick crema
- All parts feel sturdy and well made
- It takes time to get the perfect settings
For the first cup of coffee, the manual recommends setting the grind size to 8, which is the middle of the 16 different grind settings. However, this gave us a weak and under-extracted espresso, so for each subsequent coffee we lowered the grind size by one notch on the dial. Finally at the eighth cup, with the dial set to level 1 – almost the finest grind possible – it started to produce a well extracted espresso with a smooth thick crema.
When we adjusted the grind, we also had to adjust the grind, increasing it from the middle setting to make sure enough coffee was dispensed into the portafilter. Because although the coffee builds up during dispensing, it quickly disappears into the filter basket if it is pressed firmly. The razor is a unique tool that you won’t see your local barista use, but after tamping you can use it to cut off any excess coffee in the portafilter to make sure it’s just the right level. So it also serves as a handy guide, if it cuts the load you’ll probably need to reduce the grind amount and if the razor doesn’t hit the coffee you’ll need to dose more.
We liked having the pressure gauge during the initial setup process, the correct pressure range is very clearly marked and it’s a handy indicator that you can see as you pour espresso to see if it’s extracting at the correct pressure. The manual will then tell you what adjustments you need to make to correct an espresso with too little or too much extracted coffee. This is usually the grind size or the amount of pressure you use when tamping.
After we brewed those first eight cups and perfected the settings, it was easy to make consistently great espresso every time. The machine takes about 40 seconds to heat up when first turned on, then it took us 17 seconds to grind and dispense the coffee, but it depends on your settings. As you would expect, grinding is the loudest part of the process, reaching 80dB on our sound meter.
As with all manual espresso machines, tamping the coffee with the right amount of pressure can take some getting used to. We found that the coffee had to be piled high in the portafilter or there wouldn’t be enough, but this meant that the tamping could be quite messy and the ground coffee would inevitably end up all over the counter. Pouring a double espresso takes about 25 seconds and it may splash a little as it drips into the cup.
To steam milk, turn the switch to the steam position to heat up, which takes about 12 seconds, after which you can place the steam wand in the milk. The temperature gauge on the jug is very useful if you are just starting to steam your own milk. As always, making the perfect micro-foam when steaming milk takes practice if you’re a beginner, but we found it pretty easy with this machine whether it’s dairy or non-dairy milk. Unlike some steam pipes, it wasn’t too screeching, but the steaming of milk is almost as loud as grinding the coffee beans.
Daily cleaning after use is easy enough and only requires a quick rinse of the portafilter. The steam wand should be wiped clean, followed by a small amount of steam to clean it. When the drip tray is full, a yellow sign will appear that reads ‘Empty Me!’ As with all coffee machines, a more thorough cleaning and descaling is a bit cumbersome, but it’s an automated process and the machine will tell you when it’s time to do it, so it’s just a matter of following the steps in the manual.
Should I buy the Sage the Barista Express?
Buy it if…
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- First assessment: June 2022