My thoughts on…the Breville Infuser Espresso machine

I am a self confessed coffee snob. Unfortunately this can be an expensive habit, I only drink one coffee a day in the morning but at $5 a pop it was costing me over $100 a month, or a frightening $1200 a year. It was a pretty easy Cost Benefit Analysis to justify buying an espresso machine for our home.

After doing some research I quickly came to realise my coffee snobbery didn’t even register on the scale for most of the websites I visited. Heated discussions abound regarding which high end machine made the holy grail of espresso, all for the meager investment of several thousand dollars. I only wanted to spend around $500, which put me firmly in the mid-level machine territory. I tried attacking the problem the other way, instead of asking which machine I should buy, I found machines within my price range and then checked out the reviews. This is when I stumbled across the Breville Infuser (BES840XL). It was bang on the budget and had consistently good reviews, and more importantly the positive comments I found focused on the excellent taste of the espresso it produced. I bit the bullet and ordered one from Amazon.

IMG_0393
Just like Christmas

First Impressions

A few days later my new toy arrived. The first thing that struck me right out of the box was the design. This is a seriously good looking machine. I was even more impressed when I plugged it in and saw the clean white lighting – very sexy. I powered it up and pulled a couple of shots with some store bought ground beans. I was impressed at how quietly it ran, not exactly silent but nowhere near as loud as my previous machine thanks to some excellent engineering, for example the water reservoir that clips shut to reduce vibrations. You could conceivably run it in the morning with everyone else still in bed and not wake up the household. The buttons were also straightforward and easy to understand, a Power button and a Program button to set the preferred length of extraction for the single and double shot buttons. In the center is the pressure gauge, which I initially paid no attention to, but soon became an invaluable tool. More on that below.

A photo of the buttons on the Breville Infuser
Sexy!

A couple of other things worth noting before I talk about the performance. Firstly, the included accessories are all high quality, particularly the nice chunky milk jug and magnetic tamper. Not only that, but there is a clever solution to storing them all too. Instead of filling my cupboard with filters I may never use there is a hidden compartment behind the drip tray which is just the right size to store all the extra bits and pieces. The second flourish I noticed was the first time my drip tray filled, and up popped a sign saying ‘Empty me!’ which brought a smile to my face. It’s this kind of attention to detail that turns a good espresso machine into a great one.

IMG_0017
The hidden accessory drawer
IMG_0015
A sense of humor!

Performance

Ok, enough about the ancillary details, what about the coffee? Well I am pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. After a few test runs to learn the machines quirks I was regularly pulling decent shots with it. The inbuilt pressure gauge was a big help early on in learning how consistently (or not) I was applying pressure when I tamped the ground coffee. There’s some fancy technology at work with pre-infusion, where the machine runs water through the grinds before applying the pressure, but the really interesting part for me was watching where the orange needle spent most of its time in the pressure range. You can typically tell if a shot is dramatically over or under tamped just by watching the results, but the gauge helped me see some of the more subtle differences. My new favorite game is trying to get the needle to hover above the first screw for the majority of the pour. Taste wise I can’t complain, when I’ve done my part correctly the machine has produced consistently decent results. I’ve been using it every day for just over a month now and I particularly notice the difference when I am using beans I ground that day, which is really encouraging me to invest in my own grinder.

IMG_0019
The very useful pressure gauge

The steam wand also does a fantastic job. With a little practice I can produce a decent microfoam with 1% milk, and I’ve even had some success with soy milk. With my old machine the results would sometimes resemble a bubble bath, but with the Breville the foam is much finer, perfect for cappuccinos and lattes. My wife is particularly enjoying her Chai Lattes now that I’ve mastered the frothing. It’s also an adjustable wand which is a nice feature, the Cuisinart was fixed and was actually so low to the counter I had to tip the whole machine sideways to get the milk jug under the steam wand. The machine produces steam quickly, it’s only 10-15 seconds after turning the dial. There’s also a hot water spout if you’d like to pre-heat your cup or make a quick cuppa tea, but it’s not something I use.

Niggles

I only have a couple of minor niggles. I wish the water reservoir was more accessible, it’s kind of fiddly to remove it when the machine is nestled away on the kitchen counter. I’d also like a way to extend the standby time, it goes to sleep after around an hour which sounds like a long time, but sometimes I flip the machine on whilst I am making dinner in preparation for coffees and deserts and by the time we are ready to go the machine’s dozed off. Not a deal breaker, it would just be nice if you could extend the duration or turn this feature off entirely. Finally, the dial to activate the steam wand is on the same side of the machine as the steam wand itself, which is awkward because I am already holding the milk jug in my right hand. I have to reach across the machine with my left hand to turn the steam on. Again not a big deal, but it feels a bit awkward and could easily be solved if the dial was moved to the other side of the machine.

Verdict

Overall I am extremely pleased with my new purchase, it consistently makes a great mocha or latte with the minimum of fuss and looks good on the kitchen counter. If you are after a mid-level espresso machine I recommend you add this one to your wish list.

IMG_0397
The end result

6 month update

Now that I’ve been using this machine for 6 months I thought I would do a quick update. The good news is that all is still well, the Infuser continues to produce consistently good coffees when I do my part correctly. Maintenance has also been straightforward, the machine handily tells you via a small light on the front when it’s time to do a cleaning cycle, approximately every 3 months. I just did my second cleaning cycle this morning, it is super easy and pretty much automated, you just have to pop in a special pod with a cleaning tablet on it (2 tablets are included with the machine) and then turn the machine on while holding a particular button combo. The machine then performs a backwash cycle and squirts out foamy water intermittently for around 5 minutes. Once it’s done that’s it clean for another 3 months. Note this doesn’t replace the standard de-calcifying process and I tend to do them both on the same day so I don’t forget.

No other major gripes have come up since I got the machine. The only thing I can think of is the end of the steam wand. It has flat edges to allow you to unscrew the tip of the steam wand using an included tool. However, these flat edges result in a small nook that is not always cleaned when wiping off the steam wand after foaming milk. After a few months I noticed a build up of gunk in these nooks and had to pop the end of the steam wand in some soapy water and really give it a good scrub to get them clean. It’s not a big deal, just something to keep an eye on. Other than that, everything is running smoothly.

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “My thoughts on…the Breville Infuser Espresso machine

  1. Just bought on myself. Looks as though that with this machine there’s a ten percent chance you get a lemon, I really hope the odds are with me!

    1. Fingers crossed! I hadn’t heard about those issues, do you know if its a total failure or is there some component that’s not behaving as expected?

      I’d love to know your thoughts on your new machine!

  2. I have not had much lucky with mine, after 6 cups of espresso the pressure gauge needle is stuck and the quality of the espresso is just ok! My previous machine was a Sunbeam cafe series $169 cheapie it made a nicer espresso everytime. Also the new Breville Infuser BES840 is in to be repaired…. disappointed I feel I made a mistake with this lemon

    1. I’m really sorry to hear this, I have heard a few people talk about the pressure gauge issue, not sure if it was a bad batch or an underlying design problem. Hopefully they can get it resolved!

  3. First off great review on this machine & good choice as well.
    With the gauge it all depends on all of these things here.

    Now let me edify you with my experience.
    Owner of Breville Infuser & Breville Smart Grinder.

    I use my infuser with whole beans & grind with Breville Smart Grinder. To find the perfect grind setting on the Smart Grinder this will be hit & miss with a few grinds but once you have tailored it you won’t have to touch the Smart Grinder ever again, unless you change coffee beans. Now tamping this is very important as well, this to will take a bit of work but once you have the perfect tamp your set & you will get a feel for it. The Gauge on the machine will help you identify the perfect consistency for your coffee (Mouse Tail), there are 5 lines of espressing (The grey area) on the gauge & if everything is done perfectly the arm of the gauge should reach the 4th line for a perfect mouse tail.
    I tell you this machine once perfected makes one of the best coffees & beats any coffee bar but this also depends on the Barista as well, & the effort placed on making perfect coffee. With perfect coffee comes patience.
    (This machine definitely isn’t for the novice coffee drinkers.)
    The Breville Infuser amalgamated with the Breville smart grinder makes the perfect mouse tail every time & crema even Italians would be proud of, & the taste is simply satisfying.
    So be patient with this Machine because once you have mastered it you will be simply amazed with it like I am.
    I am not affiliated with Breville in any way,( I wish I was ) But am a coffee geek & snob. Gotta love Coffee. ( I am enjoying a Breville infuser Latte right now.)

    1. Hey Kim,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Funnily enough I got the Breville Smart Grinder for Christmas! I haven’t had a chance to post my thoughts on it yet as I am still tweaking it, I couldn’t agree more with your point that it takes a bit of tinkering to perfect. It’s not being helped by me changing coffee beans every few weeks to test out different kinds. I have had some truly stellar cups of coffee with this pairing though, now I am just working on achieving them consistently. Glad I am not the only one that had to work to find the perfect settings, I was beginning to worry 🙂

      1. Thanks for your reply it was indeed the beans. I switched away from Starbucks espresso beans to a medium roast from kicking horse coffee. Problem solved rich and almost chocolaty with good crema.

    2. Hi there i also have this same pair and i was wondering what setting you have your grind at. I have been experimenting with mine but i seem to be getting consistently bitter shots. Any advice?

      1. Hey Dennis, which filter head are you using, the double or the single? I have found the double leads to more consistent results, although that could just be me.

        Bitterness suggests over-extraction so you may be grinding too fine, how far does your pressure gauge get during the process? You should be aiming for somewhere around the middle, if it is on the far right it is over-extracting. My grinder is about 5-6 notches from the far right on the display. I have found anything greater than that made the grinds too fine.

        The tricky part is that this will very much depend on the beans you are using, so will require some trial and error. The best way I found was to make several shots in a row continually tweaking the settings until you find the sweet spot.

        If none of that works I would try different beans!

    1. Hey Melissa. I typically use the setting 4 or 5 from the far right hand side, depending on the beans. I found that any higher than that made the grind too fine and the infuser struggled.

      The first couple of shots after I buy new beans is always trial and error. Tamping makes a huge difference too, I can leave the smart grinder on the same setting and still see a pretty big variance in the pressure of the extract. I only make one or two cups a day though so I’m sure the inconsistency is on my end, not either machines.

      Hope that helps!

      Craig

  4. Hi,
    Just wondering if you could tell me what filter basket you use?
    I’m new to making coffee and am not sure how to go about what basket to use and what amount of water, wether the one or two cup option.
    I generally make a latte most the time.
    If you could let me know if yu use double or single that would be great
    Thanks

    1. Hey Macauley. Great question. This will really depend on how much espresso you like in your latte. One way to figure this out is to make two coffees, one using the one cup button and the other using the two cup button. This will help you figure out which one is closer to your taste. That’s a good starting point, and afterwards you can program one of those buttons to your own liking (I typically have about 1.5 shots of espresso in my coffee, but I have quite a tall coffee mug. I therefore use the two cup basket but have reprogrammed to two cup button to pour less water)

      One thing to be aware of is if you end up using the two cup basket is that you may want to stop and tamp the grinds halfway through – otherwise you end up trying to pack down a small mole hill at the end and that can make quite a mess!

      Welcome to the world of the home barista. The only other thing i will say is that it can take a while to perfect all the different parts of the process. I’ve been doing this for 6 years and I’m still striving for consistency. Don’t worry if your first few attempts don’t work out exactly as planned – that’s half the fun 🙂

      Let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

      1. I recently bought an Infuser and I have a question regarding what the espresso puck should look like. Let me prequalify this question: I have not completely dialed in the infuser yet as I am still making up my mind on which grinder to use. I am currently using store ground coffee. Anyway, the reason I am asking is because the puck I get at the end of the brew cycle is still very, very wet and sticks to the filter basket – to the point where I have to use a spoon to dig out the grinds (primarily for the two shot basket). This is despite the pre-infusion and the brew pressures are dead on what the manual recommends. The coffee tastes great and all, but I just want to verify whether this is normal or not (or maybe I can pull an even better shot of espresso).

        Thanks.

      2. Hey Alvin,

        It’s not unusual to have a little bit of water left in the puck but it sounds like you have more than a little. The tricky part is that there are a few different things that can cause that.

        There are three main variables which will effect the extraction and the resultant puck – the amount of ground coffee in the basket (dose) how finely it is ground up (grind) and how hard you press it down (tamp).

        The one that is easiest to keep consistent is the grind as you can just buy a bigger bag of ground coffee from the store. Try pulling several shots in a row, varying the dose and keeping the tamping pressure as consistent as you can. You should notice a difference in both the pressure of the extraction and the resultant shot based on different dosing. How are you measuring out your dose? Are you eyeballing it or using a scoop? You’ll quickly start to narrow down the dosing that results in a drier puck.

        Once you are happy with the dose try switching the grind. Ask the store for three or four different espresso grinds. You may find the Infuser chokes on the really really fine grind, at least that has been my experience, but then you can rule it out. Note that you may have to adjust the dosing slightly for each grind. Extraction pressure will be all over the map depending on the grind and some of your pucks will be a mess! Grind has probably the biggest impact on the end result so finding the right grind is worth the effort. Annoyingly the best grind will vary depending on the coffee beans used, so what works great for breakfast blend may not work at all for a nice dark roast.

        Last up is the tamping, and I left it until last as initially it’s the hardest to keep consistent. If you really want to practice get a set of small kitchen scales and tamp the basket on top of the scales, then you can see how variable the pressure you are applying is. If you are using the two shot basket you may want to tamp halfway through as tamping just at the end tends to only compact the top half of the basket. This one really comes with practice!

        The fun part comes in combining all three of these together. You can get a grinder with automated dosing which will take care of the first two (I got the Breville Smart Grinder which is mid-range, a pretty consistent grind without being crazy expensive) but even then you’ll still see some variance. You’ll soon start to get a feel for it, a few seconds after a shot has started I can typically get a sense of what I did well or not so well 🙂

        Hope that helps!

      3. Yes that does help. My new grinder literally showed up yesterday so I have been playing around with the grind already. I use a scoop, but will move to a scale to better dial in the amount. My big concern really was how wet the puck was and to ensure there wasn’t anything wrong with my machine. I have a lot of playing around with the the Infuser and will probably have many a jittery nights :). Thanks again for your help.

  5. One more question: can you get the pressure to go from infusing to extraction like the manual says? Despite all my attempts, the pressure does not get to the extraction pressure. I am not sure if it is the grind of the coffee — I’ve set my grinder to the finest setting and tamped in two stages like you suggested but the pressure still remains in the infusion pressure range. The only time I got the pressure higher than infusion was when I got preground coffee from Starbucks (Turkish grind) but that caused the machine to choke, spike the pressure to the max, and no coffee coming out at all.

    Thanks.

    1. Hey Alvin. Yes my pressure gauge is regularly in the mid to high range of the dial which i think is where you want it to be. Were you getting their before you started using your grinder? What coffee beans are you using? This can make a big difference. If it’s vaccuum packed stuff from the store maybe see if you can find somewhere that sells freshly roasted beans. That might help. How hard are you tamping the grinds? Maybe try using the single basket and see if that is any better? Let me know if none of that works!

      1. The beans are from a local coffee roaster, not store bought. I tried both single, double cup and single wall and double wall. I have a sneaking suspicion it is the grind — I need to get a are grinder that can produce a finder grind. What model of Breville grinder are you using?

      2. Using the Smart Grinder. The finest grind is too fine on this model, makes it like flour and it chokes the machine. I use it 4-5 notches from the finest grind setting.

      3. Just want to mention I got my new grinder and the espresso is now great — pressures and all. Having fun playing around with the various grinds and coffee mixes. My wife has not had a decent sleep in over a week! Thanks for your help.

  6. Hello,

    I have been doing a lot of reading regarding semi-automatic machine, and almost considered buying a Rancilio or Ascaso – due to their reliability, only problem is the price is double the Breville infuse which is more of my price range.

    Now I would not ask the quality of the espresso being produced by the infuser, since there are lots of variables, technique that affects this. My question is the reliability of the machine? Since you already had the machine for quite a while now, can you attest to the machine’s durability? Reason for this question is I had an older version of the infuser, when it was new and working, it was really great! Then it started leaking, losing steam power and now even the espresso being made is like drinking sludge :-).

    I read a lot of review with this machine, some getting lemon, some attest it’s great but really I just wanted to know from a real user if the machine is worth buying at all. I mean, I know it will eventually break, but at least 3 years of good coffee will make me happy, not under 9 months.

    Oh by the way, which type of filter basket are you using? are you using the double wall (pressurized) or the single wall basket (non-pressurized)?

    Thank you and nice review that you did with the machine.

  7. I also have the infuser. I always adjust my grind to finer as the coffee bean ages. I have heard talk about the pressure meter not working but I think this is mostly due to incorrect grind/dose, although there may be duds. I felt the same way when I began and I blew a lot of shots before I learned to dial the grind in, but now I’m in the middle more often and still improving, so don’t give up. On my grinder, starting with freshly roasted coffee, I run from setting 12-14 of 15. As the coffee ages, I try to dose up a bit when I see that I’m getting lower in the extraction range at which point I know I’m close to a grind change. My dose is usually in the 15-16 gram range for a double shot. I also think that consistent and level tamping is critcal. I was tamping too lightly in the beginning. I do the first light tamp, almost just dropping the tamper onto the grinds, level it, blow off the excess around the edges, then press firmly ending with a slight twist (some argue the twist is unnecessary, but I think it helps). My pucks seem drier and more consistent as I improve. I’ve started keeping a log of dose weight, roast date, extraction, etc. I find this helps me to see the relationship between dosing, grind, extraction, and the effect of aging beans. I buy my coffee locally and it is usually been roasted within the past few days. I am no pro, but hopefully my experience helps someone.

  8. Reggie, I had the same concerns. I have had mine for about a month so far with no problems. I will keep you posted. I don’t think a lemon is the worry in the short run as you can return it. I fear it breaking just out of warranty. Like you, I would like to get 3-5 years of service. From what I have read, how you care for the machine is important with regular cleaning and descaling. I intend to use the heck out of mine for the first year in the hopes that I can sort out any major problems within warranty. I use the single walled double shot basket as I don’t use pre-ground espresso. The Rancilio does seem like more of a commercial machine rather than a home machine. From what I have heard, the Breville has better temperature control but it is basically made by a home products company, not a company that makes commercial machines, so it may not last as long as the Rancillio. I am hoping with proper care it can last. Time will tell. This coffee obsession is an expensive proposition either way. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s