sage barista express review
Sage have a number of espresso machines in their range. I went through a long process before buying this particular model, so what’s my verdict? Find out with my Sage Barista Express review. (Note: in other regions, Sage are marketed under the name Breville).
Here’s my video version of this Sage Barista Express review:
Why choose the Sage Barista Express?
Sage make eight different espresso machines, so why did I choose this gadget?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say cost didn’t factor into the decision. This is the cheapest machine in the range that is bean-to-cup i.e. has a built-in grinder. The next up (Barista Pro) has a dual boiler which means it can’t heat the water for coffee and milk simultaneously. This will slow down your routine. That’s not a deal-breaker for me as I usually only make coffee for one. Then you have the Touch and Oracle systems, which are a lot more expensive but almost one button press dispenses the complete beverage. It’s about three to four times more expensive for that. I’ve had the pleasure of using their top-of-the-range Oracle Touch and it does make fantastic coffees, but I actually want some of the fiddly optimising and tweaking that the Barista Express requires.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What are the features of the Barista Express?
Each time you change the beans you use and try out a new product, you’ll need to tweak your machine to get your perfect espresso. The Barista Express has a number of features to help you brew it to perfection.
- Choosing grind size. Add your beans and set your grind size from coarse to fine. The size of the grind will affect how quickly water can pass through the grounds and therefore adjust the pressure.
- Choose your dose. Once ground, you can adjust how much is dispensed and keep it the same each time you use it.
- Tamper and Razor. You get a tamper with the machine that is designed to work precisely with the portafilter. You align the tamper with the top of the portafilter, apply pressure and this should compact the grounds into the perfect puck of coffee. The tamper also neatly tucks away in a magnetic slot on the machine. The Razor is a tool you use after tamping to scrape away any excess grounds. If I’m honest, I don’t find using this adds or subtracts from the coffee at all.
- Pressure gauge. The gauge on the front of the display tells you how much pressure the water needs to force through the coffee. There is a ‘sweet spot’ that gives an indication where you want to get your shot. Not too fast, not too slow.
- Steam / water. On the right of the device is a dial relating to hot water and steam. Turn it one way to enable steam. Turn it the other way to pour hot water which is perfect for topping out your espresso into an Americano.
- Range of portafilter baskets. You get four baskets in the box to adjust for the type of coffee you use and how you drink it.
- Programmable. You can adjust settings for temperature and timing then lock them in, so you can bring them back at a button push.
What are the negatives of the Barista Express?
- Fussy. If you want to click and go, this is not the machine for you. You can potentially waste a lot of coffee beans and milk trying to get the perfect drink. The amount of settings can be frustrating.
- The manual. This machine retails for £599. You get a 22 page manual in the box. A lot of that is concerned with safety plus two blank pages. There’s a lot of how you operate it, and not a lot of how you make good coffee. There’s one page which is very useful for deciding what to adjust to improve it, but not much more. For such a high ticket price I would expect more guidance to get the right beverage. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos to perfect it so I knew where to start, but I’m surprised there’s not more.
- Mobility. Other models in the series have a lockable wheel to move the machine around. This model doesn’t and it makes it clumsy to get to the back of it. Which leads me to…
- Water tank placement. It’s right at the back of the machine, and assuming you push the Barista Express up to a wall, you’re going to need to reach to the back to yank out the water tank to refill. Not very convenient.
What are the positives of the Barista Express?
- Customisation. The opposite of the fussy point – you get full control over what happens to your espresso and get it exactly the way you want it. More or less crema, more sweet, more bitter, more concentrated… it’s up to you. And then the milk options are up to you too. Add as much steam as you like, and bring it up to your preferred temperature.
- Design. The Sage look is in full force here, brushed steel, block caps and large round buttons. Everything feels purposeful and well-built.
- Everything in the box. You get water filters, cleaning equipment, a milk jug and other portafilter baskets. Apart from beans you can get it up and running, flush hot water through the system and you are ready to go. You won’t need to buy anything else. And everything that comes with the machine has a compartment where it belongs.
- It makes great coffee. I should highlight that as it needs saying, but it does make great coffee. You need to set up the customisation for your coffee beans, but once you’re there you are going to pull great shot after great shot.
- Economical… eventually. Obviously there is a large outlay at the beginning but at some point you will hit break-even on the machine. If you paid £599 for the machine, and spend £2.50 on a barista coffee twice a day, it’ll start paying back in about 120 days or 4 months. Add back on the cost of buying beans & milk and you can probably add a couple more months on to that. So in about 6 months the machine pays for itself. So see it as an investment. It’s also worth pointing out that they hold their value well for resale if you decide to sell it on in the future.
Sage Barista Express opinion
During lockdown I’ve missed having regular cappuccinos. I’ve tried hacks with cafetiere, electric whisks and mini frothers and it just isn’t the same. You need a full-strength espresso shot and steamed, textured milk. And this espresso coffee machine delivers. I’m smitten with this device.
The negatives aren’t deal breakers to me. You should be prepared that on buying this you are getting a new hobby. I fully enjoy the customisation and getting the drink exactly the way I want it. There’s quite an outlay at the beginning, but it should give you satisfaction for years to come.
Top tips for using the Sage Barista Express
- Buy fresh beans that have a “roasted on” date. Find a supplier – local to you if you can – and buy little and often. Once roasted the oil that provides beans with their flavour evaporates. You need to get between 4 – 20 days from roasting for best results. Supermarkets never give you this, just an abstract “best before” date. Fresh beans = fresh tasting coffee. (Shout out to CoffeeLink in Suffolk who sell a brilliant decaf Brazilian Cerrado which I love.)
Coffee Direct’s coffee expert Lewis Spencer says:
“The single biggest mistake many people make is buying coffee that hasn’t been freshly roasted. Supermarket coffee is generally mass-produced and is often roasted many months before being consumed. Freshly roasted coffee is in a completely different league by comparison!”
- Get a container with opaque walls for storing beans. Excess heat and light can allow beans to lose their freshness so store them away from sunlight.
- Use your scale. Work out how much coffee you get from a weight of beans, then how much espresso that creates. That will tell you an awful lot about what’s going on.
- Keep it clean. Set a reminder once a month and maintain your machine. Check the water filter, run descaling and flush it with espresso cleaner. Pull everything out and flick out all the loose grains of coffee, give it a wipe.
Video resources for the Barista Express
Hoon’s has lots of great videos on how to get the most out of the Barista Express https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2cDae0GAy9ytVEmkFi4i5g
Aristi coffee roasters have great videos on working with milk in particular https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGd5F6fdCbxjrTivAkaeXpw
Lifestyle Lab compares all the Sage machines together to help you decide on the right machine https://www.youtube.com/user/MyEverythingVideos
James Hoffman is the godfather of coffee on YouTube. Knows a staggering amount of stuff about little brown beans https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMb0O2CdPBNi-QqPk5T3gsQ
And now you own your espresso machine, here’s some recipes you can use it for (besides making a drink!):