Serious Eats: Drinks
Coffee Equipment: Breville's New Home Espresso Machine
High quality coffee at home is a challenge. Behind the everyday kvetches about counter space, low steam wand power, and coffee that "just doesn't taste good on my home machine" are a series of legitimate technological and consumer laments: shouldn't we really have something at least pretty good to make espresso on at home?
The Australian-born small appliance manufacturer Breville recently convened an assortment of New York coffee pros to show off their latest toy, which attempts to satisfy the answer to the above question. The new Breville BES900XL Dual Boiler espresso machine (here's to hoping for a catchier name) simply packs more power than most kitchen countertop espresso makers, using two separate boiling mechanisms (remember the catchy name?) to maintain temperature, pressure stability, and of course enough steam power to texture a super-decent cappuccino without even leaving the house.
We really hope it launches a new generation of less-expensive but high quality home espresso machines. Currently the home espresso market has a rather upsetting gap in quality between classics like Rancilio's Miss Silvia (around $700), Nuova Simonelli's Oscar (around $1,000) and, you know, if you're feeling fancy, you can always leap to the La Marzocco GS3 (a scant, cough, $6,500). Planning to enter the retail scene somewhere around $1,200, Breville hopes to throw as much commercial-grade technology as possible at the home game, emphasizing that the dual boiler technology—famously popularized by the commercial duty Synesso machines, also Australian—will be the ticket in leaping ahead of the competition.
Alongside the company's new Smart Grinder, a tabletop drip-to-espresso grinder commercially comparable to the Baratza Vario, the Dual Boiler machine took on some of the country's finest coffees—blends from Ecco Caffe, Stumptown and Counter Culture were in the hoppers—to surprisingly strong results. (Third Rail's Mike Jones produced an unusually good Hairbender macchiato for being in a hotel basement, while Deaton Pigot of Toby's Estate had no problem corralling the Dual Boiler's separately controlled steam wand into texturing a supply milky macchiato.)
The machine's concessions to current popular trends, like variable programmable preinfusion times (that's the initial soak of water through the espresso grounds before the high-powered "express" extraction, in non-geek terms) are matched by the real-world pressure and temperature stability to pull legit shots even in a noncommercial machine. And if you're not a supernerd—or as Breville's design team put it, a "highly engaged coffee consumer"—there are still plenty of civilized concessions to the home environment that add appeal to the machine's performance. From the quirky tamper-hanger magnet to a programmable wake-up-and-warm-up time, the BES900XL (focuses on earning your precious counter space. And it's meant to be easy to clean because—let's admit it—some of you home baristas aren't too fastidious, are you?
While Breville's hat in the ring will take some feet on the ground to be a contender for real-life, every-morning espresso, any entries into the competition for genuinely high quality home espresso machines are welcome. Here's to hoping one day the home espresso machine question will no longer be, "is it possible?" but instead, "how will it look next to my deep fryer?"
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is bad at keeping up her coffee-world blog at twitchy.org.