TLDR; After several months of testing, we can only conclude that this is a fantastic choice for both beginners and enthusiasts on a smaller budget.
The Breville Barista Max has won our hearts for sure. But what’s the deal with Breville? Because this Barista Max is not the Breville Barista Express, which is also offered in Europe under the brands Sage and Solis and is sold at 699 €. Which is considerably more than the 499 € that Breville asks for this Barista Max. In Australia, Sunbeam sells the EM5300 for $ 699, which resembles our Barista Max a lot (because it IS the same machine). But more important than the brand, the real question is: how good is this machine?
We used the Barista Max for months on a daily basis, enough to present you with an informed opinion. It doesn’t look like a classic espressomachine in stainless steel like an ECM, Rockett, etc., it has a built-in grinder, not a lot of control buttons, so is it a complete machine? That’s what we set out to discover.
What instantly gained our trust is the fact that the machine uses full-size 58mm portafilters. A lot of entry level models use a smaller size, for example the 54mm on the Sage-Solis we mentioned before. Which is a plus, if you want to use another tamper than the one supplied with the machine for instance. Also, the technics work very good; a thermoblock which warms up really fast, so you don’t have to wait 30-45 minutes like you have to when using a machine with an E61 group. By then this Barista Max probably already shut itself off again…
It is however a ‘single boiler’-machine, but no complicated procedure needs to be followed to cool the boiler down and fill it up after you used the steam pipe, or vice versa. Do you want to be able to pull a shot of espresso and at the same time froth your milk? Then you would need a heat-exchanger or dual-boiler machine. This will be about 3 times the price of the Barista Max though. From our measurements we noticed that it takes about 20 seconds to heat up the steam boiler to be able to froth milk. In that time we cannot even fill up the milk pitcher… After steaming, it takes about 10 seconds to cool back down to 92°C to pull another shot of espresso. Frothing milk takes about a minute for cappuccino, so in comparison to some (much more expensive) machines with a lot more steaming power you will have to stretch your milk a little bit longer, but that is just a detail.
Thanks to the PID controller you can vary the temperature in steps of 2°C, from 88 to 96°C. Do you want to have more control, then you can opt for 3 different pre-infusion presets. This all in combination with a decent built-in grinder with 30 steps of grinding. This means you have everything at hand to finetune your Barista Max to pull an excellent espresso. And drinks with milk are also easily made. For practical reasons we prefer to first pull two shots of espresso, which can rest on the warming plate on top of the machine. About 70 seconds later, you can start pouring latte-art. One remark about this: the supplied pitcher works okay, but is too small to supply 2 cappuccinos with frothed milk.
What else is in the box? Two portafilter baskets, for 1 or 2 shots. We use 14 grams of coffee on the 1-shots, and 18 grams on the 2-shots. More than 18 grams will be difficult without spillage, but 18 grams works fine in combination with the standard 2-cups preset of 600ml. We adjust the grinder to have extraction time of about 27 seconds, but that is a question of taste preference. Both the 1- as 2-cups preset can be programmed. But it’s not a MUST.
And that’s the top selling point of the Breville Barista Max: using the machine couldn’t be easier, but there is enough space to finetune it when you get to know it a little better. It’s just a good design, which is accessible for users of every skill level. On a lot of much more expensive machines the user can change more variables like pump pressure, flow control, etc, but the no-nonsense approach of the Barista Max also has its merits. Beginners will learn to use the machine more quickly, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. Comparable machines easily are about 20% more expensive, and if you’re going to buy a single boiler espresso machine with a separate grinder, then you’re paying more than double. Plus, you can use it pull a mighty fine espresso.
Are there any negatives? Of course. The steam pipe has a limited reach, which is no problem for standard use, but you cannot steam a big pitcher with it. The removable water-reservoir is more convenient than on other machines, but there is no built-in filter, so you will have to fill it with filtered water yourself. The included plastic tamper and milk pitcher are usable, but might need to be replaced in the long run by more solid ones. Thanks to the 58mm standard portafilter size that shouldn’t be an issue. Cleaning is everyones least favorite part (at least it ours…), but can be done pretty easily thanks to the separate reservoir for water and for grounds. In the same area the cleaning accessories and extra baskets are being kept.
You won’t win a WBC with it or pull the ultimate god shot, but at home the Breville Barista Max is unparalleled in this price range! And you can buy it HERE.