Barista Express vs Dual Boiler
Today, we will be comparing two machines you may be considering from Breville’s Espresso machine lineup. The Breville Barista Express and the Breville Dual Boiler. If you are asking why I’m using the Barista Express and not the Barista Pro for this comparison, check out our article comparing those two machines here.
Let’s start by looking at the similarities between these two machines:
- PID Controlled Heating
- Programmable push buttons, as well as manual extraction modes
- Single Group / Single Steam wand machines
- Reservoir fed, and not plumbable
- Cup warming racks (although much larger on the Dual Boiler)
- Analog pressure gauges, the dual boiler having ACTUAL pressure markings
- Removable drip Tray with storage hidden in behind
The first major difference that I’d like to touch on is the physical size of these machines. In photos, the Dual Boiler can tend to look like a Barista Express with the grinder removed. In person, this is a BIG machine, bigger even than most e61 heat exchanger style machines. And once you include a grinder to go along side it, this setup is going to take up significantly more space on your counter than the Barista Express.
With that being said, the larger Dual Boiler is oddly easier to live with in many ways…
The Dual Boiler is also easier to move around thanks to a clever integrated castor system. Which I personally think all espresso machines should include, as it makes cleaning in behind and underneath the machine an absolute breeze.
With the Barista Express, you’ll need some good ‘ol elbow grease to lift it around.
The water reservoir can be filled from the front, which allows you to tuck the bulk of the machine further back under low cabinets without having to move it each time you top up the water.
You’ll also know when your water is getting low due to this nicely lit water level window. On the Barista Express, you need to peak around back.
The power cord on the Dual boiler also has a clever shortening and storage system
And finally appearance-wise, the Dual Boiler has gone for a slightly retro aesthetic from the back with this polished chrome, where-as on the Barista Express the back side is dominated by the plastic water tank.
Moving on to the features that impact the actual coffee making experience, we’ll start with the Dual Boiler’s party piece, and namesake, its’ DUAL BOILERS.
Having separate boilers for brewing and steaming means that you do not need to wait in between performing each step of the latte making process…. Not only do you not have to wait, but you can actually brew and steam at the exact same time.
Having a machine with Dual Boilers is a very high end option, with most dual boiler machines costing upwards of $3000. If you are someone who enjoys regularly making milk based drinks like lattes or cappuccinos, this will be a big advantage.
Continuing on the topic of milk based beverages, another advantage of the dual boiler is better steaming pressure, and a 3 hole steam wand versus the single hole found on the Barista Express. This means that not only can you steam sooner, but you can also steam faster on the Dual Boiler. However, a 3 hole steam tip will take a little more practice. Because it steams faster, things can also go wrong faster, and the steaming angle varies slightly from a single hole wand. It’ll take some getting used to, but it’s worth it. The Dual Boiler took 42 seconds to steam our pitcher of milk up to 60°C, while the Barista Express took a whole 75 seconds to complete the same task.
So far, I’ve only talked about the advantages that will benefit you if you plan on regularly making milk-based drinks. But is this machine still worth the bump in price if you only plan on only making espresso and Americano style drinks?
When it comes to espresso brewing, the Dual Boiler does have some differences. Most notably, it uses a full sized 58mm portafilter.
In addition to allowing you access to an unlimited number of standard sized tamping and dosing accessories, using a 58mm portafilter creates a thinner, wider bed of coffee for the water to pass through. This can either be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on the quality of the grinder you are using. With a decent quality grinder such as the Niche Zero, or Eureka Specialita, you will get a shot with impressive clarity and deep complex flavours. If you are using a lower quality grinder, the 58mm portafilter will begin to work against you, because when you have a thinner puck, small imperfections very quickly lead to aggressive channeling. A deeper 54mm portafilter will be more forgiving at the expense of some clarity and complexity of flavour. A 58mm will produce a better shot of espresso, but it will demand more from both you, and the quality of your grinder. Three off the least expensive grinders I’d consider pairing with this machine are the Sette 270, Eureka Specialita, and the Niche Zero. (all of these will also be linked below).
When I first switched from a 54mm portafilter to a 58mm portafilter, my consistency from shot to shot got a lot worse, and to be honest, I got a little frustrated. A shallower, wider portafilter does give you the ability to pull better shots, but it’s also going to expose any imperfections in your dosing and tamping process. Like anything, this is something that you will easily learn in time, and shouldn’t discourage you from switching to a 58mm portafilter. However, if you are still struggling with consistency on the barista express, or simply don’t want to shell out even more money for a high enough quality grinder, you may want to wait a little bit longer before upgrading.
Another key upgrade on the Dual Boiler is a separate PID controlled heating element right at the group head. This ensures that the portafilter is adequately warmed up, but more importantly, it provides unprecedented levels of temperature stability from shot to shot. Many espresso “experts” like to pick on the Breville brand, but one concession they often make is that the Dual Boiler is one of the most temperature stable machines currently available for purchase.
In addition to the steaming and brewing differences we just discussed, the Dual Boiler also packs in a couple added convenience features.
A digital display makes changing settings much easier than on the Barista Express. Brewing temp, brewing pressure, pre-infusion timing, shot length… all of these settings can quickly be changed at the push of a button, and without having to pull out the manual like on the Barista Express.
The digital display can also be used to program a time every day for the machine to turn on, and start warming up. This is important, as the Dual Boiler take significantly longer to heat up than the Barista Express. Using the program feature, you can have it turn on 30mins before your alarm goes off so that’s it’s warm and ready to go the second you get up in the morning.
The Breville Dual Boiler is a better espresso machine than the Breville Barista Express. It can make lattes in half the time, and has the capability of producing a better shot of espresso thanks to it’s 58mm portafilter, insane temperature control, and wide range of programmability. However, in order to take advantage of those features, you NEED to invest in a decent quality grinder, and you need to accept that a 58mm portafilter and 3-hole steam wand come with a potentially frustrating learning curve.