Broadly speaking, we’re fans of a Breville coffee machine. The brand is known for delivering quality machines at reasonable prices, but our main complaint in the past has usually related to the look of the machine. Well, the Breville Barista Max+ might be the most stylish option yet, with an in-built burr grinder and separate brewing that resembles a professional coffee machine, and also looks pretty similar to the market-leading Sage Barista Express, which is a machine I’ve got hands-on experience of. I’ll be comparing the two further down in the review.
The Breville Barista Max+ has a good selection of smart features that I’ve not seen in a coffee machine before. This includes a timer that shows the brewing time, and 30 grind settings that are easy to switch between. I tested this machine for close to a month, which means it got a lot of use in my kitchen. This gave me all the time I needed to see if it’s worth a £500 investment. My verdict? This is the kind of coffee machine I’d buy for myself as a treat, or ask for as a gift. Its looks are flawless, it’s got some really thoughtful design touches, and it’s the kind of a machine that a coffee enthusiast could really get into. However, all the different adjustable elements could mean that it’s a little too hard work for the average coffee drinker to get into. If all you want is the best coffee machine to deliver consistent results with minimal fuss, look elsewhere.
Ideal Home rated: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Reasons to buy:
- Looks great
- Packed with clever controls
- Sensitive brewing
- Excellent milk steaming
- Huge water capacity
Reasons to avoid:
- Very hands-on
- Unreliable results
- Can get messy
Breville Barista Max+
- Coffee type: grind and brew
- Control type: manual
- Water tank capacity: 2.9 litres
- Pressure: 15 bar
- Dimensions: 40 x 34 x 32 cm (H x W x D)
- Weight: 7.75kg
Unboxing the Breville Barista Max+
The Breville Barista Max+ is not a small machine, so it unsurprisingly comes in a large box. I was struck by how heavy the box was, and unsurprised that the machine came packed in thick and sturdy styrofoam. On the one hand, it’s important to protect it from damage in transit, but I’d love to see a reduction in the use of single-use, non-recyclable packaging in appliances such as this.
The machine comes fully assembled, and it was very easy to get set up. The beans go into the hopper at the top of the machine, which twists out to be removed fully for easy topups. The hopper can also be twisted to adjust the burr grind setting, with 30 being the coarsest setting and 0 being the finest. I typically stuck to the 15 mark when reviewing, but adjusted depending on the bean I was using.
One feature I really liked was the water tank, which is very large at nearly 3 litres. Because this sits out of reach at the back of the machine the large capacity really helps in reducing the frequency of re-fills, essential in a coffee-loving home like mine.
The Breville Barista Max+ comes with a milk steaming wand that’s controlled by a dial on the right hand side of the machine. You can also use it to release hot water to top up coffees. Included is a steaming jug which doesn’t have the most high-quality feel but is standard for most coffee machines.
I opted to get the machine in black, which has a really sleek look that’s semi-matte and won’t smudge easily. It’s still got a metal panel that sits behind the opening at the front of the machine, and silver buttons. The drip tray has a side pocket that can be used to contain any wasted grounds that land on the tray, and it also has a red warning panel that lifts up with the level of water to remind you to empty it between uses. I also found that this didn’t need to be done very often.
The Breville Barista Max+ needs some flushing out before the first use, which is easy to do because of the manual controls in the machine. I was struck throughout testing by how thorough and useful the instruction manual is. It provides a really comprehensive guide on how to get your machine set up, which would be very useful for those who are new to a machine this detailed.
The grinder comes separate to the machine, and you can twist it into place after dropping in your burr grinder insert. By twisting it you can adjust the grind settings, from 0 to 30, and there is guidance in how to choose the right setting in the machine handbook.
How to use the Breville Barista Max+
After flushing out the steam and water wand, and the brewing unit, I was ready to get started. To get going you need to turn the machine on and allow a few seconds for it to pre-heat. Breville even suggests warming up the portafilter by running it under some hot water, which can help in the results of your coffee. It’s not a step you need to take, but it could make all the difference to a discerning coffee drinker.
To fill up your grounds container (I opted for double, and there is also a single option) you need to slot the portafilter into the container directly underneath the dispenser. When I tested the Sage Barista Express you simply had to press a button and it would automatically dispense an adjustable amount of grounds into the filter, but with the Breville Barista Max+ you need to continuously press the filter down to activate grinding, and stop when you’re ready. The display shows an estimated weight of the grounds as you pour them, and around the 16-gram mark is best. My machine showed a decimal point when it ground, meaning that a 16-gram measure actually showed as 1.6. You then take the tamper and press evenly (the manual will tell you the correct amount of pressure to use) to compact your grounds.
See the best coffee grinders
Grinding will always be messy in a machine like this. I did get some grounds that fell onto the water tray as I tapped and tamped my coffee grounds into place, but Breville takes this into account and has created a gap at the right side of the tray that you can wipe excess grounds into. This makes the machine a little easier to keep tidy.
I then twisted the filter into place, which I had no difficulty with. If you do have difficulty with this, it’s probably because your filter is too full. From there, it was just a case of brewing my coffee. I selected the double shot and watched as the display counted up the seconds it took for my drink to brew. Breville helpfully suggests that between 20-25 seconds is the ideal extraction time, so this is what I aimed for when brewing.
Interestingly, I found that the brew time heavily changed when I switched up the beans I was using. This could be fixed by adjusting the grind settings – a more coarse grind will lead to a lower extraction time, because and finer will take longer. Brew time can also be affected by the amount of grounds in your filter. Fewer grounds will provide less of an obstacle to the water that’s being pushed through it. This is what’s fun in coffee brewing, there are so many variables. However, if you really don’t care to get stuck in and adjust all the settings by hand, one of the best bean-to-cup coffee machines with an automatic in-built grind and dose cycle will take all the faff out of the process.
What is the coffee like?
I was happy with my coffee. Once again, the instruction manual with the Breville Barista Max+ lists off some signs that your coffee could be under or over-extracted. My first attempt was free of both acidity and bitterness (I used the Daily Blend from Caravan Coffee Roasters) and it had a sturdy crema that lasted a decent amount of time.
Throughout testing I did get a few bad cups, which is likely down to the settings I was using. I do wish there was an auto-dose of coffee grounds to guarantee an element of consistency across different brews. Overall, there is an above-average risk of human error with this machine, meaning you’ll likely learn a lot from using it, but will get the occasional bad espresso.
Using the milk frother
To use the Breville Barista Max+ steam wand you need to turn the dial on the right hand side of the machine to the right, which will start the pre-heat process. I would recommend bringing the temperature up until there is a consistent steam release, then turning it off and inserting the wand right under the top layer of your milk at an angle. Then, start once more to being texturising your milk.
The milk came up to heat very quickly when I tested the machine, which meant I had to be quick to get the texture I wanted. This took a few tries but because it is easy to adjust the angle of the steam wand with this machine it was not too tricky to get the right effect.
Cleaning the Breville Barista Max+
It’s important to keep this machine running smoothly, but it also can look a little messy if you don’t wipe it down easily. The back can mark with splashes of coffee and the grounds can get everywhere. First I’d recommend regularly emptying the drip tray (the red warning marker will show when this is essential, but you can do it in-between this as well) and wiping down the metal cover. You should also do this by buffing away any splashes with a microfibre cloth.
Make sure to wipe the milk wand clean after every use, and also flush it out, and you should flush out the group head to dispose of residue every few days. The bean hopper can be twisted and lifted away, even when there are beans inside the machine, which makes cleaning it out quite straightforward. The grinding insert lifts right out and there is a brush that can be used to wipe any fragments away from the burr grinder. I found it tricky to insert the grinder back into the machine after I’d done this, and had to tip the coffee machine towards me to scoop out the grounds that had accumulated in the machine.
When it needs a thorough clean, the machine has a cleaning light to alert you to this. You simply need to use the rubber insert that sits inside the filter and place a descaling tablet into the filter. From there the machine cleans itself, and it takes about ten minutes from start to finish.
How does it compare to other coffee machines?
The Breville Barista Max+ looks very similar to a few machines on the market. The first is the Breville Barista Max, which makes sense seeing as the Breville Barista Max+ is its souped-up new counterpart. The Breville Barista Max does not have the smart display that shows the grinding weight and brewing time, but the dial and brewing controls are very similar. The Breville Barista Max costs £100 less as standard, and when we tested it we found that the milk frother is lacking in power, which cannot be said for the Breville Barista Max+.
The other comparable machine is the Sage Barista Express, which is a machine I have a lot of hands-on experience with as it’s the machine I’ve used at my parents’ house for many years. The Barista Express retails at £629, it has a metal construction as opposed to the Breville Barista Max+’s plastic exterior, and it has a pressure gauge at the front of the machine that shows you the right level of pressure as your coffee brews.
The Sage machine auto-doses coffee grounds, which is a feature I missed in the Breville Barista Max+, but it also allows you to freestyle by pressing down continuously into the grinder. It also brews double and single shots and has a dial at the side of the machine that’s very similar to the Breville model – one side steams and the other dispenses hot water. The Sage machine does lack the high-tech display that shows weight and timings, and it’s more expensive. However, if I were choosing between the two machines I would struggle to choose. Both are great at brewing coffee, and while the Sage Barista Express looks slightly more high-end and has a sturdier design, it is more expensive and lacks a few of the smart features.
Should you buy the Breville Barista Max+?
The Breville Barista Max+ is certainly a very capable coffee machine, with heaps of customisable controls that will allow budding baristas to really take control of their brewing process. When testing the Breville Barista Max+ I was struck by how many variables there are in making coffee, and it would have been nice to be able to controls some of those a tad more. In particular I think the machine would benefit from an auto-dosing grounds feature, but the display will help you to monitor the weight of the grounds dispensed to add some of that control back.
In terms of looks, the Breville Barista Max+ is a very striking machine that I think would be at home in a style-conscious kitchen. It comes in black or silver finishes, but both are plastic to touch and not metal, which might not be the preferred material of choice for some buyers.
I was really impressed by the instruction manual that comes with the Breville Barista Max+, that will really help those who are new to coffee learn the ropes and pick up the telltale signs of certain user errors and advise how best to get the most of the machine. While it is not a cheap coffee machine by any means, I do think it is one of the more reasonably priced barista-style coffee machines on the market.
About this review, and the reviewer
Millie Fender is small appliances editor at Ideal Home. She reviews everything from coffee machines to air fryers from her own kitchen, meaning these tests have been carried out in the same conditions that you’ll be using the machine.
The Breville Barista Max+ was kindly sent to Millie by Breville, and Millie tested it for a month before writing this review. This gave her the chance to test all of its functions as well as cleaning and check for any troubleshooting. While she prefers a frothy latte or an iced cappuccino, her partner is never running on less than three americanos, so the Breville Barista Max+ was very thoroughly tested.