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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 year update
Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since I bought this machine! I just wanted to add a note saying that I have had no issues with the machine during this time and it’s still going strong. I’ve been pretty good at sticking to the cleaning schedule, using the cleaning tablets when the machine tells me every 6 months and otherwise running a half vinegar/water solution through it every month (I know, I know, I should get some fancy espresso cleaner mixture, but I’m paying for daycare for 2 kids at the moment, I am lucky I can afford vinegar and water!) There’s been no noticeable drop in pressure or any other signs of wear & tear and I’ve used the machine at least once or twice every day since I bought it. I figured it was worth adding this note so that people can get a sense as to the reliability of this machine, and so far I have been extremely pleased with it.