One of last year’s most anticipated espresso machine launches was the Breville Dual Boiler as has been covered and discussed in the home barista community. Although Breville had some espresso machine products, they were never heavy contenders in the serious home barista community. A very serious research and design effort has very much changed this, and made this machine a serious consideration for baristas looking for machines in the $1000 to $3000 range, although the machine is priced at the $1300 level.
Before getting into many details, let me give you my home machine experience. I first owned a Rancilio Silvia for 5 years, and I now own a Rocket Giotto Premium Plus for the last 2 years. The Giotto is an excellent HX machine with good thermal stability and steaming power. As I’ve installed a group head thermometer, my temperature control has much improved, and with some flushing and attention to temperature, I pull some great tasting shots. Overall the machine is great, although there is room for improvements for temperature control, as I sometimes wish I could set the temperature and go without all the flushing routine.
The Question and Conclusion
Having read the first look review and some of the forum chatter, I was curious to check out this machine hands on. Is this the real deal? Would I seriously consider this machine if I had a budget of up to 3000? After 3 hours with the machine, the answer is “Yes”.
I spoke to the Williams-Sonoma store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, and they generously offered to let me give it a whirl along with some coffee friends. To really try it’s shot quality, we decided to use a grinder we were familiar with, the Baratza Vario, and some great coffee that we were familiar with, 49th Parallel’s Epic Espresso, which Williams-Somoma also carries and was generously sponsored by the roaster.
With everything set, we were excited to try the machine, and we spent a good 3 hours looking at details and tasting shots. Although this is by no means supposed to be a conclusive look at the machine, I wanted to give you some thoughts including the good, the could be improved, and the needs further investigation.
- Overall Shot Quality: Although it took us a bit to really pull shots in the parameter range that we wanted, when we did, we had some very nice tasting shots of Epic espresso. My general impressions were that the aromatics seemed to really come out clearly accentuated on the nose, in this iteration of Epic they reminded me of baking sugar pie with a really pronounced cinnamon. The taste also seemed very clean, and seemed to have very nice clarity highlighting beautiful light citrus acidity and delicious sweet caramel that finished in the typical sweet long aftertaste that typifies Epic for me.
- Steaming: The ease of milk steaming was amazing in that I created beautiful microfoam very easily with the machine. With more practice, it seems like you could produce easily produce café level micro foam. It seemed to vastly outperform my Giotto in this category.
- Temperature Control and Recovery: Although we didn’t have any tools to measure accuracy, we had the impression that we could easily adjust temperature and that the machine would accurately maintain it through multiple consecutive shots with minimal recovery time. Again outperforming the Giotto.
- Fully Featured: Many details on the machine are well thought out and implemented including things like timer for automatic machine turn on, programmable pre-infusion, in-tank filtration system, and tools included to dismantle the group head screen for cleaning.
Things We Weren’t Crazy About
- Interoperability with other machines: the size and shape of the portafilter and basket are slightly different than standard E61 group head making swapping parts impossible. For example, my 18 gram VST basket seemed not to fit, perhaps because I was too timid on the very tight fit. The threading on the steaming wand tip seemed different than standard.
- Aesthetic: obviously this is a very personal area of preference. Most impressions that I heard were that it looked like other Breville machines, except bigger. My impression was of a tame transitional style that was non-offensive and that would fit in almost any kitchen. Certainly, it is not as polarizing as a Kees van der Westen machine which has a strong design aesthetic.
- Grouphead Pressure: In the centre of the machine was the bar pressure reading from the group head. Depending on the grind and dose, we saw some significant variance in the pressure ranging from around 10 bar to around 15 bar. We got the impression that this gauge might be helpful for dialing in the grind, but also had the impression that the pressure might be set to high by default. This impression also came from the fact that we read about the machine’s OPV being set at too high of a level and which apparently occurred on the initial batch of machines.
- Basket Dosing: The machine came with 4 different baskets, presurized and regular, single and double baskets. We used the regular double basket. As we were dialing in shots, it seemed like the flow rate was very sensitive to the dose amount. When we underdosed in the basket, it seemed impossible to get an acceptable flow rate as it was much too fast. Likewise, when we overdosed, it seemed to also not be possible to get the right flowrate. The different basket and dosing is something that I need to understand more.
- Cleaning including decalcification: one of the concerns expressed online was that the system needed yearly professional maintenance to decalcify. People weren’t sure if this meant it was difficult and meant for only those technically astute. Obviously costly maintenance costs are not something desirable, possibly helped with pre-treated water.
- Temperature accuracy: without precise measuring tools, we do not know the machines ability although taste wise it seemed to be performing. More scientific results would always be better.
- Durability: When I initially laid my hands on the machine, it was considerably lighter than the Giotto. Until I learned to handle the machine smoothly, it was sliding around a bit on me. Compared to the Giotto, the lighter weight and material are different. In my estimation, I don’t think that lighter components should at all be associated with durability. However, I do think that the long term durability should be examined more before I would buy this machine.
No machine is perfect and without compromise, but the Breville Dual Boiler seems to tick many boxes for the home barista, certainly many of the main ones. In the cup, the results were certainly impressive. As I said at the beginning, if I was looking for a new machine in this price range, this machine would definitely rank high on my consideration list, although I would want some more answers on my remaining questions.
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