Review: Breville's Barista Express Impress delivers consistent, good quality coffee

The Breville Barista Express Impress
If you like coffee but don't understand tamping and extraction, could this work for you? Photo credit: Supplied / Breville

As I've aged and realised I actually need to look after my body, I've dropped quite a few vices - from meat to dairy to alcohol.

One thing has persisted, however - the punch of caffeine delivered by a good quality coffee.

New Zealand coffee culture delivers a long black unquestionably better than that back in Scotland, and as I'm now on my third Breville Barista Express coffee machine, I can continue to enjoy and recreate that café experience at home.

But, there's always something that can go wrong. Too much extraction, too little extraction, not enough tamping or pushing too hard - especially for a perfectionist like me.

Could Breville's new machine remove some of those frustrations and deliver a cracker of a cup on a more regular basis?

I've been using the Breville Barista Express Impress for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

There's a reason why I keep going back to Breville's coffee-making range, and that's because they're pretty damn good at getting me what I want.

The biggest difference this time around is the addition of a more enclosed dosing system and tamping arm to try and take the guesswork out of doing the tamping yourself.

More on that in a minute.

The Breville Barista Express Impress
Photo credit: Newshub

If you're not familiar with the Barista Express, essentially it gives you all you need to make the best cup of coffee at home, from the conical grinder to the milk frother.

The grinder is one of the more important aspects. The hopper can store 250g of beans at one time and grind to many different sizes to suit the bean type and your preference, courtesy of a dial on the side.

It does so without burning the beans, which makes the coffee much more pleasant to drink. A cheap grinder will spoil any coffee, regardless of how good the beans are.

The removable water tank at the back holds two litres of water and includes a (replaceable) water filter to ensure the insides don't get clogged up. The tank size means you don't have to fill it up very often, either.

Also included are one and two cup single and dual wall filters so you can make the right amount of coffee for your needs. There's also a manual milk foamer and a hot water spout to top up your espresso and turn it into a long black.

This time around however, the manual metallic tamper is gone, replaced by that automatic tamper and more enclosed bean dosing system. And what a great addition that proves to be.

Previously you pushed your portafilter back and that would drop beans into the filter until you stopped. You then used the heavy tamper to push down the beans, ensuring it was just the right amount using a manual trimming tool.

The Breville Barista Express Impress
Photo credit: Newshub

This time around, you put your portafilter in place, select how much you want to grind and then press the button.

That amount is delivered with zero mess, and you can then use the tamper lever on the left-hand side to put a precise 10kg of weight and a seven degree twist, every single time.

A system of lights indicates whether you've got too little, too much or just the right amount of beans in there, and then you're ready to brew.

You can then put the portafilter in place, select a single or double shot and wait for that dark deliciousness to flow into your cup.

I've never been quite sure whether I tamper correctly or not - and the tampering style of my partner and I differs wildly. By ensuring exactly the same pressure is used each and every time, you give yourself a much better chance at getting a great cup of coffee.

My experience matched that - there were far fewer poorly extracted cups in my time using this compared to my older machine.

It's relatively effortless and so much more satisfying than waiting in a caféqueue, hoping they've got your name right.

The bad

The biggest downside as someone who has used a Barista Express for years was my autopilot.

I'm so used to immediately pushing the button on the far-right to get a double shot that it's virtually impossible for me not to do so.

Unfortunately for me, Breville switched the buttons around this time - and that now switches the machine off.

The Breville Barista Express Impress
Photo credit: Newshub

If there's one thing you don't want to do, it's get between me and my first coffee of the day - and yet every single time I went to make a cup, I delayed the dark drips by hitting the wrong button.

I became unnecessarily annoyed by this simple change. Thankfully, I suspect the number of people impacted by that 'flaw' will be small.

The other thing is that the new tamping process doesn't quite guarantee a good coffee. It's an important step for sure, and I loved the functionality, but to get it perfect you require the beans to be ground to the correct size.

One of my ongoing frustrations with making coffee at home is the need to readjust the grinding size every time I use different beans. I've wasted so much ground coffee trying to ensure the extraction is right.

Once I got the grinding size right for my chosen beans this time around, I didn't want to change things up - but even then there was some variability in extraction quality.

Sometimes it didn't quite hit the sweet spot, other times it went slightly too far and gave a bitter brew. There's inherent variability with every bean and so with every cup - as long as you understand it won't always work perfectly then consider yourself forewarned.

The only other thing to note is if you're short on space or don't like noisy machines, then you might like to see one in action before committing.

The Breville Barista Express Impress
Photo credit: Supplied / Breville

This isn't unique to the Impress model - it's not obviously bigger or noisier than the previous iterations - but it will take up a fair amount of room on your kitchen bench.

And if you like to froth up some oat milk for the perfect morning latte then you need to be prepared for some angry housemates if you're always up early.

The verdict

If you're at the point of upgrading your existing coffee machine or taking your first tentative steps into the world of brewing your own delectable delight, the Barista Express Impress could well be the right move.

There are multiple reasons why Breville's range has been so popular in New Zealand, and reducing the complexity further makes getting a great coffee at home even more accessible.

The one doubt I have is whether the price - $1299 - might be a little high, certainly compared to some of the older models you can buy for somewhere around the $749 mark.

The Breville Barista Express Impress
Photo credit: Supplied / Breville

Taking the guesswork out of tamping is definitely a good thing - but is it worth the $550 premium?

If you are comfortable doing it yourself, then I don't believe it is. But if that whole world is foreign to you, the extra cost for the all-in-one solution might be your best bet.

I know one thing, however, and that's when it comes to buying a new coffee machine, the Impress is going to be right up there at the top of my list.

That way I can take most of the guesswork out of the coffee brewing process, meaning I can get my kids to make it and deliver it to me in bed. BLISS!

Newshub was supplied with a Breville Barista Express Impress for this review.