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The Breville Barista Express Impress Will Help You Learn to Make Better Espresso

Epicurious 9/23/2022 Noah Kaufman

I drink a lot of coffee, for reasons both personal and professional. So much coffee, actually, that I’m not sure I could tell you the number of cups because I stop counting around 11 a.m. Over the last nine months, I’ve pulled espresso shots on a dozen machines while testing to find the best espresso maker and almost none of them surprised me. But the one sitting on my counter right now, the most recent release from Breville, is delightful in ways I didn’t expect.

The Breville Barista Express Impress, which is much more of a challenge to say than it is to use, is another appliance from the company that already offers some of the highest quality espresso makers in its price range. This machine can be incredibly easy to operate; so easy it borders on automatic. But it doesn't take the fun out of the craft: With just a couple button pushes, it can transform into something that lets you actually hone your barista skills. That kind of versatility in a coffee machine is particularly important in my house, since I’m someone who likes doing things the hard way, but I happen to be married to someone who would just like her cappuccino in the morning thank you very much (but also knows a cup of hot, caffeinated garbage when she drinks it).

© Provided by Epicurious

Breville Barista Express Impress

$900.00, Breville

The Express Impress brews espresso in the same way the three previous Breville machines I’ve used in this price range brew. But the secret sauce comes in the dosing and tamping. For dosing—that is, grinding the right amount of espresso into the portafilter—the new Breville has a built-in grinder. The previous model, the Barista Express (no Impress), has one too, and frankly, I don’t love it. It only has 18 settings (as a comparison, our favorite burr grinder for espresso has 70), and Breville recommends starting all the way at setting five for espresso, which doesn’t leave much room if you need to go finer. It also doesn’t have a timer, just a dial to set generally for longer or shorter, so you’re left with rather tedious rounds of trial and error. 

The grinder on the Impress improves on this in a few ways. First, it’s got more settings (25 in all) and those settings are more espresso-focused. Breville recommends starting on 13, which I found a little too coarse, but that left plenty of room to play around. Next, it is set to automatically grind quite close to the recommended 18 grams of coffee. (You can also grind in manual mode, but that has some of the same timing annoyances as the earlier model.) 

Then there is the tamping—the compressing of the coffee grounds. Tamping is one of the most important parts of an espresso shot; it’s also one of the hardest to get right. You have to apply just the right amount of pressure at just the right angle. The Impress has a built-in tamper lever that uses the correct pressure and angle, and detects whether the grounds have been compressed appropriately. It even lights up a little smiley face when they are, which I choose to find cute and not patronizing (coffee snobs, don’t @ me). Here’s where the machine gets really smart, though: If the tamper detects there is not enough coffee in the portafilter, say because you switched to a finer grind, it tells you to reinsert it into the grinder and push the button to add a bit more coffee. If the tamp is correct when you redo it, the grinder automatically adjusts to grind that amount of coffee going forward, seriously reducing the amount of trial and error you need to do. I should say that I cross-checked the grinding results with a scale accurate to .1 of a gram and the adjustments the machine made on its own were pretty impressive—registering 17.8 to 18.7 grams through a range of grinds and different beans. 

The grinding and tamping apparatus on the Impress also allow anyone who is interested to work on those two skills manually if they choose. Because it’s easy to know if your grind is correct, you can grind into the portafilter and then practice tamping with a manual tamper. And, because it’s easy to know that you got a good tamp, you can zero in on the right time and grind coarseness with another burr grinder. TL;DR: The Impress seems like a good bridge for someone with barista dreams but bottled Frappuccino skills.

Somehow I’ve made it this far without actually mentioning the coffee. It’s good: balanced shots with nice crema. Also, I’ve always found Breville’s steam wands to be okay, but not great. In my testing I think they made a real improvement with this latest model. Not only did I get a thick, smooth layer of foamed whole milk, I got one with oat milk as well, which earlier Breville machines really couldn’t handle.

I don’t like coffee shortcuts—fully automatic machines, pods, instant coffee with boxes that say “as good as pour-over”—but what the Impress can do doesn’t feel like a shortcut. It just feels like a bit of a helping hand that can get you to a better cup of coffee and a damn good cappuccino.

© Provided by Epicurious

Breville Barista Express Impress

$900.00, Breville

If the Breville Barista Express Impress doesn't seem like it's the right machine for you, read our full review of the best espresso makers below:

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