Breville Barista Max+ Review: Cafe-quality coffee from home
January 17, 2024
The Breville Barista Max+ is a large and very capable bean-to-cup machine that can make several espresso or milk-based coffees using either beans it grinds itself, or ground coffee if you prefer.
Breville knows a thing or two about coffee machines, and the Breville Barista Max+ is one of their most impressive models. As a shopping writer, I’ve got hands-on reviewing experience for everything from hair dryers to frying pans, and I’ve tested this does-it-all machine for several months to determine how wise an investment it is. Among the machine’s standout features is a smart display that shows the brewing time and grind size, making the often-confusing process of brewing coffee from scratch that little bit more accessible, and giving you the tools you need to get the perfect extraction out of each and every bean.
This is a lot of money to spend on a coffee machine, which is why I’ve spent months of daily use putting it through its paces before writing this review. The Barista Max+ won’t be for everyone’s budget, but if you’re looking for a premium machine to invest in, I do think this is a great choice and one of the best coffee machines you can buy.
Breville Barista Max+ specifications
Dimensions: 407 x 347 x 322mm
Water tank size: 2.8L – enough for 30 double shots
Bean capacity: 250g – enough for 12 double shots
Guarantee: One year
In contrast with previous models such as the somewhat boxy Breville Barista Signature Espresso Machine, the Barista Max+ has undeniably had an upgrade when it comes to design. The machine comes in either silver or a matte black (I opted for the latter), and Breville clearly understands that if this machine is going to take up a lot of space on the counter, it should be attractive to look at.
The LED display is clear and simple, and I like how the bean grinder is always visible, sitting at the top left of the machine so you can see when you need to fill it up. The water tank sitting at the back of the machine is also helpful, because if it’s pushed up against the wall on your counter then you’re not really going to see it, and the tank isn’t exactly the prettiest part of the machine. In terms of the accessories that the machine comes with, you’ll find two filter baskets for putting the coffee in, one 58MM group handle for the filter basket to sit in, a tamper to press down on the coffee once the beans have been ground, a 460ML stainless steel milk jug, and cleaning essentials (more on that below).
Another plus of the design is that all the accessories you need for the machine can be neatly tucked away when not in use. If you remove the tray at the bottom of the machine, you’ll see a space for the filter basket that you’re not using to sit (so if you usually opt for one cup, you can keep the one-cup filter basket in the group handle, and then sit the two-cup filter basket in the bottom of the machine). A silicone cleaning disk can fit inside the filter basket, with the cleaning pin sitting next to it, and there’s a designated location for the small grind cleaning brush, too.
This means that when it’s time to clean the machine, everything is in one place, and it’s all out of sight when you’re not using it. There’s also a spot for the tamper to slot in, on the top right of the machine opposite the bean grinder. My only gripe is that it would be nice to have a specific place for the group handle and your desired filter basket to go, too. I’ve taken to just placing it on top of the coffee machine, behind the tamper and the bean grinder, but it would be nice if there was somewhere it sat more comfortably. This is a small negative, though, for such a sleek and practical design.
Ease of use
As bean-to-cup machines go, this one is remarkably user-friendly. Don’t confuse the abundance of controls and displays with a complex process, because these are actually here to make life easier. First, when grinding beans, it’s easy enough to place the group handle into the holder underneath the ‘tap & go grinder’ (as it is labelled), and push down gently to start the grinding process.
You can also skip the grinding process entirely and use pre-ground coffee if you wish, although the fresher your grind, the better your coffee would taste. This feature is more helpful for those who may prefer to switch to a pre-ground decaf in the afternoon, for example. In terms of how long the water tank and bean grinder will last you until you need to refill, I’ve found that the bean grinder only needs to be refilled around once a month – that’s with about 1-2 coffees being made a day. If I fill the 2.8-litre water tank up to the ‘max’ line, I find that this can last me around a week, but it could be longer if you don’t add any frothed milk to your coffee (as I think the milk frother uses a small amount of hot water in order to froth).
Once your coffee is ready, you should apply a strong pressure to the tamper to give you an even and compact puck. The group handle can then be inserted into the group head. You can choose to brew a single or a double shot, in line with your choice of filter size, and while you may be partial to an extra-strong coffee the double shot feature is also helpful when brewing drinks for two, as you can place two espresso cups under the group head to speed the process along.
It’s useful to know that the optimum number of seconds for coffee to be poured (extracted) was around 25-30 seconds. This means your water has met enough resistance to create a rich, smooth espresso, but not too much to the point that your water struggles to leave the puck. You’ll need to adjust your grind depending on your bean and unfortunately, the only way to know the right grind setting is trial and error, as it would be with any coffee machine. Unlike many machines though, the Breville Barista Max+ actually helps you by timing the extraction, which should make it easier for you to know if you’re hitting the right pressure.
If you like to drink milk-based coffees, the attached steam is just as easy to use. Turn the switch to the right for the steam function, and as long as there’s enough water in the tank, the wand will start working within a few seconds. Allow those first few seconds of water to purge from your wand before switching off again, and then inserting the tip of your wand into your milk jug. It’s a noisy process, but the resulting milk is silky and has enough body to make a cracking cappuccino.
It does steam very powerfully and fast, which means you could be at risk of burning your milk when you’re steaming it. To avoid this, make sure to hold the bottom of the jug with one hand, and when it’s too hot to keep holding on for three seconds, the milk is done.
How good is the coffee?
The most important question – how nice is the coffee? I drink a lot of coffee – at least one every day for the last few years, and my palette has become pretty fine-tuned to tell when a drink is too bitter, or too weak.
In my opinion, the cappuccinos and iced coffees I can make with this machine are just as good as the ones I buy from coffee shops. When brewed correctly (and there’s always some human error that comes into play here) you’re perfectly capable of getting rich crema and a full-bodied taste that brings out the notes of every specialty blend you could hope to try. The fact that it’s so easy to use is another bonus, as I’m able to roll out of bed and make myself a barista-worthy coffee before I’ve fully woken up.
Just like using it everyday, cleaning it is also super easy. There’s a mode that you can switch the dial to which will clean the whole machine too, and this is the part which will start flashing when it’s time to do a deep clean. The only thing you need is a box of espresso cleaning tablets, and if I had to be very picky, I would say that it would be a huge bonus of this machine if they could include a packet of these tablets with the purchase. However, they’re very inexpensive, and once you have your tablets, doing this deep clean couldn’t be easier.
Make sure you don’t throw away the instruction booklet that comes with the machine, as this is where you’ll find a step-by-step for how to clean each part of the machine. But essentially, it does it all for you – the only thing you need to sort yourself is the cleaning of the steam wand. Breville recommends doing this by placing a cleaning tablet in some warm water in the milk jug, before placing the wand inside and leaving it there overnight. In the morning, just pour out the liquid and make sure you clean the milk jug thoroughly, ready for use again.
I’m really impressed with how easy-to-use the Barista Max+ is, producing great results every time. A big plus is also how easy the machine is to clean, both quickly after each use and intensively every so often.
The great thing about this machine is it allows you to get as involved with the brewing process as you wish. If you simply want a hassle-free, high-quality morning brew, you can ignore some of the more fiddly features and the machine will still do the hard work in guiding you to a well-extracted espresso. However, if you find yourself becoming more and more interested in the behind the scenes of what makes a seriously good brew, this machine allows you to get into the specifics of grind size and volume, brew time, and quality milk steaming.
This definitely isn’t a cheap machine, and I do think it’s particularly loud (especially when frothing milk), but if that’s not an issue for you and you want to invest in a smart and powerful machine, I couldn’t recommend this more.