Breville Barista Max espresso maker review — feel like a pro with this coffee-maker

We reviewed the Breville Barista Max espresso maker to see how pro you can go when making coffee at home

Breville Barista Max espresso machine review by Real Homes. The stainless steel like item is pictured on white marble kitchen counter with open wooden shelving in soft focus in background
(Image credit: Breville)
Real Homes Verdict

A stylish bean-to-cup coffee machine for skilled home coffee brewers who want to feel pro with some top notch equipment

Reasons to buy
  • +

    All the features of a commercial machine

  • +

    Easy to use

  • +

    Built-in grinder

  • +

    Customisable extraction temperature and other features

  • +

    Good value

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Could do with a temperature indicator

  • -

    Milk frother is not powerful

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The Breville Barista Max is a great place to start elevating your coffee-making game. This stainless steel model is smart, small enough for a compact kitchen, and comes with all the innovative tech you'd expect from a commercial coffee machine.

This machine will suit anyone who likes a solid espresso and a more high-quality cup of java at home. It's a great gadget for anyone who works from home but likes having fancier coffees.

As one of the best coffee makers on the market, it took a little getting used to, especially if like me, you've largely been using a cafetière or percolator. But once you know what you're doing, it runs like a well-oiled machine and delivers a great beverage whenever you need it.

Breville Barista Max review

Breville Barista Max specifications

  • Type: Ground/bean to cup
  • Pressure: 15 bar
  • Capacity: 2.8 liters
  • Watts: 1100 watts
  • Dimensions (in): H17 x W14 x D15 

Using the Breville Barista Max espresso maker

The Breville MAX Barista espresso coffee machine with milk frother in Christina Chrysostomou's kitchen

(Image credit: Future / Christina Chrysosotmou)

There's a lot to this bean-to-cup coffee maker, and although its features are stylishly packed away, you need to familiarize yourself with them all before getting started. Thankfully, using this espresso maker is simple.

It's a sizeable machine, so I positioned it where I could easily fill the water tank reservoir. I use filtered water from my ZeroWater jug (available on Amazon) as it means descaling less frequently.

Once in position, wash, dry, and place the parts and accessories into place. This coffee includes the drip tray, one and two-cup filter baskets, a 16-ounce milk jug, plus a few nifty cleaning utensils: cleaning disk, pin, and brush. 

Fill up the water tank and press the power on button. This will illuminate the "start" and "grinder" lights, which will flash. Once all the buttons are lit, the machine is ready for priming and use. Purge a couple of main parts of the machine, starting with the group handle and then the steam wand, ahead of making your first cup.

Test one: grinding coffee beans

Grinding your best coffee beans is the first and most essential step in creating the ultimate coffee. Breville's guidelines are thorough, from advice on using freshly roasted coffee beans to grinding and extraction temperature tips, the advice is thorough.

It took me a little while to get used to it, but even in the meantime, the coffee was good with the Barista Max offering 30 different grind levels, with setting one delivering the fastest extraction and 30 the slowest. 

The optimal and recommended pour time is between 20-30 seconds, and this will deliver a rich, caramel-colored espresso that is robust, sweet, and vibrant. Breville recommends you start on 20. Though it's a daily ritual, I love seeing this amber nectar being dispensed into her BODUM double-walled glass espresso cups.

The coffee beans and the grind setting are mighty important, then it's all about the dosage and tamp force (how hard you use the tamp to squeeze out air from between coffee granules). 

You'll need to grind around 0.5 ounces of coffee for one cup and 0.7 ounces for two cups, then use 20-30 pounds of tamp force, pivoting the tamp a little as you go. In real life, that looks like a firm press for 3-5 seconds, making sure any air between granules has been removed and the surface of your coffee "puck" (compressed coffee disc) is flat.

Another vital part of ensuring the best extraction is temperature. Breville Max's default is set to 198°Fahrenheit, but you can customize this to suit your needs. We suggest leaving it as it is, as many coffee shops set this super high (which results in a bitter-tasting drink).

You can also change the pre-infusion profile to give your espresso the perfect finish for your taste. There are three profiles to choose from in total: gentle, distinct, and constant. You can return to default settings if you wish.

Test two: using the milk frother

The Breville Barista Max's wouldn't be complete without the built-in milk frother however, it's not one of its best features. There's no ability to customize the power and temperature and I found the quality of the finish was not so impressive. The milk was warm but often lacked that fluffy texture and voluminous body you'd expect from the pros.

The metal jug included is large enough for a variety of coffee drinks and you can use dairy milk or alternatives like soy, oat, or almond milk. Breville also includes advice in the manual on how to best steam plant-based drinks. We have our own set of methods to foam milk if you'd prefer.

Otherwise, the wand is easy to wipe clean, and by turning the steam dial anti-clockwise, you can remove any remaining milk in the wand. I'd suggest investing in a couple of microfiber cleaning cloths, too.

Test three: making classic coffee creations

Christina Chrysostomou filling Breville Barista MAX coffee machine with ZeroWater water filter jug

(Image credit: Future / Christina Chrysostomou)

Breville's Max espresso maker does give you access to a full coffee shop menu. Including classic espressos, macchiatos, babyccinos, mochas, and more, there is a full list of specialty coffee recipes and other hot drinks that you can try to recreate.

With it being a bean-to-cup machine, you enjoy a full flavor profile and it's great getting to know the best grind setting for your favorite beans. A simple espresso will smell aromatic, have a lovely crèma layer, and come out at the right temperature. It's the steam wand that can be temperamental at times, which I can imagine would be a nuisance if you're a dedicated flat white artist. 

It's quick and easy to use, so the machine makes a great first bean-to-cup coffee machine to impress your household, parents, and any guests alike. And, because it's 5 pm somewhere in the world, why not use your brewed shots to shake up some espresso martinis? For dinner parties, having this on hand for post-meal Irish coffees is always a crowd-pleaser.

Cleaning the Breville Barista Max espresso maker

Some parts should be cleaned after each use, which is easy, and others weekly — for which there are Breville cleaning tablets available on Amazon and a cleaning cycle to run. However, if you want a low-cost alternative to using shop-bought descaling tablets, you can learn how to clean a coffee maker with vinegar.

For the daily parts, some are dishwasher safe (top shelf only) while others can easily be cleaned by hand, using your favorite dish soap (such as Dawn Platinum on Amazon). There is a specific descaling cycle to run also when needed. Otherwise, be prepared to clean the filter baskets and grind outlets, every two to three months.

Christina Chrysostomou
Acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket. I'm the in-house appliances expert and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.