Making decent espresso at home has always been tricky, if not downright unpractical. Beyond a dedicated machine, espresso requires more precision than drip coffee, so you need a scale. And its quick, high-pressure brew process highlights flaws more dramatically than regular coffee, meaning you need freshly ground beans — add a grinder to the list. You see where this is going…
Breville, perhaps more than any other company, has cracked the code to home espresso. The Oracle and Barista series are both solid, but they start at $950. Which made the recent announcement of a compact, $500 espresso machine called the Bambino Plus, all the more exciting. We put one to the test.
The Good: Dollar-for-dollar, Breville’s espresso machines pull the highest quality shots with the lowest amount of requisite skill or knowledge. The Bambino Plus is an extension of that idea, and it’s built to make the same shot in the same way, every day, which it does. The espresso itself is slightly sweet, medium-bodied and perfectly acceptable coming from a nearly automatic espresso machine.
Clocking in under eight inches wide, the Bambino Plus is the narrowest espresso machine Breville has ever made (the next-smallest is the 11.5-inch Infuser). It also features the fastest heat-up time of any of Breville’s espresso machine — three seconds. For all the wannabe latte artists out there, the milk wand can yield café quality microfoam (that meringue-like milk that sits atop espresso drinks) without requiring any technical knowledge.
Who It’s For: The people who will benefit most from the Bambino Plus already have some coffee equipment, such as a scale and grinder, at their disposal. The value proposition goes way up if countertop space is at a premium.
Watch Out For: It is very small for an espresso machine, which is good, but it lacks a built-in grinder, scale or dosing tool — all pieces of gear absolutely required to make the kind of espresso you want to be drinking. If you already own these things, it’s not an issue, but otherwise the price of the machine may as well be bumped up $150 or more. Beyond that, the milk wand and drip tray get needlessly messy, but more on that later.
Alternatives: The best alternatives to the Bambino Plus are fellow Breville products. No other brand’s line of espresso machines are as consistent, easy-to-use or offer a milk wand that’s even close to that on Breville machines. The Barista Express is $200 more and takes up a few extra inches than the Bambino, but it comes with a built-in dose and grind system and the same high-performing shot-pulling features (you can operate it manually, too).
The Duo-Temp Pro is meant to be Breville’s most entry-level home espresso maker, and it is $100 cheaper than the Bambino. If for some odd reason you’re anti-Breville, Jura makes a fully automatic machine that’s highly rated on Amazon, costs $800 and takes up a similarly small square-footage.
Review: The Breville Bambino Plus is not for the espresso experimenter, it’s for the espresso-deprived.
Five buttons control the whole process and two of them serve the sole purpose of pulling one shot or two shots (denoted by drawings of one cup and two cups). The others start the steam wand, control milk temperature and decide what level of foaminess you want from your milk. Missing is a power button, a slightly annoying issue solved by pressing the single shot and steam buttons simultaneously.
Measuring roughly 12 by 8 inches, the small footprint is really excellent (it takes up less space than my drip coffee maker). The only potential drawback here is added messiness — when you lower the milk wand down after use, it begins purging (spraying hot steam and water) into the drip tray below. This has a tendency to spray a bit wider than the drip tray and require a quick wipe down. It’s not back-breaking, but it’s also not ideal to wipe the surrounding counter down after every use (the brushed stainless steel of the machine does wipe very cleanly).
As noted above, espresso requires a level of precision that drip coffee does not. A shot pulled with too much, too little or stale coffee will taste off. Coffee shops and espresso people fix this using burr grinders so they can grind fresh for every drink and scales to measure how much coffee to pull (roughly 15 grams is typical).
This machine, unlike the Barista Express ($600), does not have a dosing or grinding mechanism built-in. You could argue, then, that the space saved by making a slim espresso machine is lost again by planting a grinder next to it (unless you were to keep your grinder hidden in a cabinet). This also dampens the initial excitement of a high-flying $500 espresso machine — that price is before buying a decent grinder and scale. There is an argument to be had by slightly more serious espresso-heads that the lack of integrated grinding tool means you can experiment a bit more with grind size on your own machine, which is a fair point.
The Bambino’s most unsurprising feature is its ability to pull a great and consistent shot. Breville has proven themselves capable of making machines that do the hard work of temperature and pressure control for us, and this machine doesn’t step away from that. The 3-second heat time is pretty amazing, too.
Verdict: In a vacuum, the Bambino is great. But compared to other models in the Breville espresso catalog, it’s a bit niche. It’s more affordable than most of its other options, but not when you consider the need to augment your purchase with other coffee gear. It is smaller than Breville’s other options and it’s the fastest shot of the bunch, but unless you’re already loaded down with scales and grinders, you’re better off reaching for the Barista Touch.
Dimensions: 11.8” x 7.7” x 12.6”
Warranty: 2-year Limited
Steam Wand: Adjustable foam and temperature level
Comes With: Milk jug, tamper, razor trimming tool, filter baskets, portafilter
Breville provided this product for review.
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