Recommend this product?
The Breville 860XL is a non-automatic Espresso machine with built-in grinder. It is non-automatic in that you will need to grind and tamp the coffee grounds yourself as well as clean up the "puck" afterwards. The unit has a steam want with which you can heat up your milk to make a latte. Though not small, the Breville860XL is compact enough to be unobtrusive on your kitchen table. Making coffee, steaming milk, cleaning, filling the water canister are all well thought through by Breville and are easy to do. Above all, with the right beans, the coffee it makes is heavenly.
The deep dive
This Breville unit combines three essential functions: grinding, brewing and steaming. I liked having the grinder built-in because this saves space on the kitchen table and gives cleaner look. Breville uses a "Burr" grinding operation which is uses a spinning wheel to burr (grind) the beans. On the side of the machine is a wheel with which you have control over the fine/coarse setting of the grounds. Don't make a mistake to think that any grinder will do; for good coffee, getting to a very fine (powdery almost) grounds is key to release the flavors. The Breville grinding unit works very well and is easy to control. Beans are fed from the top and holds enough beans for 10 cups or so. To grind, you simply select the size of your shot (single, dual) and press the head inwards, the grinder starts and stops automatically. You can also press and hold for manual control, the unit will grind as long as you hold.
Brewing the coffee itself is simple; select your filter type (single wall or dual), your shot size, put the cup in the right place and press the button. During the brewing cycle you should pay attention to the pressure indicator as this will show you if you tamped your grounds correctly, have the right coarseness etc. It is not exact science but I found that with a few times going through the motions it is very simple to do. Two filter types are provided; single wall and dual wall. Supposedly the dual wall filters are meant for anyone learning how to make coffee - the consistency of the dual wall filter is better but the flavor not as great as with the single wall filter.
Breville says to have implemented "dry puck technology" which makes it easy to remove the coffee grounds and clean out the head. 9 out of 10 times this seems to work as advertised and only a quick tap on the trash can is needed to remove the grounds. The brewing head is pre-heated and for best result you should give it time to heat up. This holds true for your coffee cup as well, you can place this on top of the unit which pre-heats the cup. Alternatively, rinsing your cup with hot water will work also.
If you make a latte, you will want to use the steam want a milk in the stainless steel can that comes with it. Making frothy milk is not difficult to do either though you need to spend a bit of time gaining good practice with making the milk frothy as well as hot enough. The unit has only a single boiler so switching over from brewing to steaming takes perhaps 30 seconds - not much of an issue to me.
The water reservoir is at the back and can be taken out easily, it contains a small carbon filter to improve water quality. The filter needs to be replaced every 2 months. I mostly make Americano coffee so the water reservoir is big enough for maybe 10-15 cups. If you making a latte, however, requires steam and makes the unit go through its water supply rather quickly.
There are a few little tools and cleaning things the 860XL is delivered with, they can all be nicely tucked away in a little drawer that sits behind the drip catch. The drawer is big enough to hold all the tools and a few cleaning tablets.
Cleaning the outside of the Breville is very easy as the unit is entirely stainless steel, with a damp cloth you're done in minutes. The drip catch should be given a good rinse and scrub from time to time. The Breville will tell you with a little light indicator if it is time for a head-cleaning cycle. It seems this is based on the number of brewing cycles and not an actual measurement. Cleaning the head is simple and uses a back-flow technique whereby a cleaning tablet is placed in the head.
I like beans that are somewhat oily which tend to have trouble sliding down the grinder at times. So sometimes I have to bump the unit slightly to make them go or I simply add more beans (more weight) which generally solves the problem also. Not really an issue.
Most of the time I use a double shot but when I set the unit to grind a double shot for me a portion of the grounds spill over and are lost. Yet after tamping the grounds, I feel I still need a bit more to fill up the head. So instead of grinding a double shot in one go, I simply do two single shots and tamp in between. This solves the spilled grounds just fine.
A lot of folks on the Breville support forum complain about the pressure gauge not working (at times or at all). In my experience, this is all a function of how well you tamp (how compact the coffee grounds are) and how fine the grounds are. At times I mix grounds from different brands with some of them being much courser than what the Breville produces and I can barely get the gauge to move. I must say that really the best coffee is made with a very measurable pressure i.e., fine coffee setting.
I would recommend not to spend much time with the dual wall filter, the perceived difficulty of making coffee with the single wall filter is far overdrawn. It was not difficult at all to get a consistent good cup of coffee with a dry puck. Do spend some time working out your coffee making sequence, froth your milk first or make your coffee first whatever floats your boat. For making an americano I find that a water/milk mixture is best heated in the microwave before adding the espresso brew. Also, having the head heated up first makes a pretty big difference in cpffee taste.
Compared to a drip coffee machine, the Breville860XL looks a bit intimidating. It seems there a many operations necessary to make a cup of coffee and I wandered if I would like to do that on a daily basis. Let me take your fear away, it is very easy to operate this machine and doesn't take me more than a few minutes to have an excellent cup of Joe. The unit is build sturdily and it seems I will be able to enjoy this machine for quite some time (I have it for almost 2 months now). The on/off steam button on the right side of the unit does get a little difficult operate if you have been steaming milk for a while, hopefully that doesn't develop into a problem (repair) later on.
The unit does indicate when cleaning is needed. A Breville tablet (cleaning chemical) is needed for this which, priced at $18 for 8 10 tablets, is way over priced. Cleaning needed to happen regularly so expect to spend a few bucks on these tablets. Still coffee taste and price to make it are better than Starbucks.
What works well
This unit is build with the purpose of making excellent coffee - it fulfills that purpose and does it well.
What doesn't work well
I have no issues with operating this unit and cannot remark negatively on any of its aspects. I haven't had the machine long enough to speak of its durability.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Its a good espresso machine particularly with the built-in grinder. Beats restaurant coffee anytime.