Starting off with the build quality and design, the technically “older” Barista Pro does have a slight advantage in this area. Although being the less recent machine, it is using the newest chassis from Breville, with a more angular design, curved metal backsplash, and an array of reeeally nice color finishes on top of the standard stainless steel. This color is called Damson Blue.
In comparison, the Express Impress is using the same chassis as the now VERY old original Barista Express. Although it is still all-metal and does feel solid, things like the grind adjustment knob do feel noticeably nicer on the Barista Pro.
Moving on to the user experience, these two machines continue to have some considerable differences. The Barista Pro is able to heat up in 3 seconds. Yes, you heard that right, 3 seconds. Whereas the Barista Express Impress takes a longer but still very respectable 45 seconds. This is due to the newer heating system in the Barista Pro, which we’ll touch on in more detail a little later-on.
On the Impress, the power cord is fixed, and the waterspout is located on the front right corner of the machine. In comparison, the power cord on the Barista Pro is retractable, which is a nice feature to keep your counter looking tidy, and the hot waterspout is also conveniently located behind the group head so that you don’t need to move your cup when making an Americano.
The user interface is also much more granular and easier to navigate on the Barista Pro thanks to the digital display. Things like changing the brew temperature, programming the shot time, and running the cleaning cycle can easily be found, whereas on the Impress you’re going to need to refer back to the manual to find the correct combination of button holds and presses.
Other than that, the features are essentially the same. Same sized water tank, same size portafilter, sample programmable single and double shot buttons, same sized drip tray with storage in behind.
So far, this comparison is admittedly looking a little lopsided in favor of the Barista Pro with its newer design, and better interface. However, espresso brewing is the most important part of any espresso machine, and that is where the Impress possibly claws back some point, depending on your experience level and use case.
One fundamental element of making espresso that cannot be avoided, and can potentially cause frustration for new users is dialing in a new coffee or machine. This is the process of finding the right grind size and brew recipe so that your espresso flows not too fast and not too slow, and tastes the best it possibly can.
On the Barista Pro, the process is totally up to you. You need to tune in the grind timer to grind the right amount of coffee, you need to tamp with enough pressure to get out any air pockets, you need to tamp flat, and you need to tweak all these parameters accordingly.
On the Barista Express Impress, you absolutely still need to dial in, and you will absolutely still dump many shots down the drain in the process, but their new intelligent dosing and tamping system takes away the dosing and tamping variables, making the process FAR less frustration for first time users.
You grind your coffee, pull the lever to tamp, and then the machine will check if there is enough in the basket or if you need to grind more. After the machine gets the right amount, it remembers this for next time so that you only need to grind once. After that, you can brew, and adjust the grind size according based on whether the flow is too fast or too slow.
The beauty of this is not only that it is less frustrating, but it also means that once dialed in, anyone in your house, or even guests, can make an espresso easily and repeatably. The dose is measured, the tamp is the same every time, and the espresso is good. The Barista Pro is not so easy for anyone to pick up and use.
The Impress also has a pressure gauge which looks nice and is good to show that you’re reaching brewing pressure, but is really not a necessity. Pressure is a very broad indicator of espresso shot quality, whereas the flow rate and overall brew ratio are FAR more informative and can be measured on any machine, pressure gauge or not.
Now, it’s important to realize that ALL of the advantages in terms of espresso brewing on the Impress are purely from a repeatability and dialing in perspective. If these are things you are confident with and have done before, then there is really no reason not to go with the Barista Pro instead.
Not having a self contained dosing and tamping chamber allows you to have more control over your grind distribution, and tamping pressure. When done properly these things can lead to a better espresso on the Barista Pro, but if done incorrectly, are also what can allow for disastrously bad shots…
A good analogy would be that the Barista Express Impress is like a bike with training wheels, while the Barista Pro is a mountain bike. The bike with training wheels will be easier at the start, and anybody will be able to ride it around the block without issue.
However, if you’re an experienced rider it may be a little limiting in terms of what you can do with it. With a mountain bike, you can go as faster, take it down trails, do whatever you want… BUT, put a first-time user on one, and they’re going to fall on their face for a while before getting the hang of it.
Moving on to steaming performance, this is an area that the Barista Pro has the greatest advantage. Thanks to the new heating system mentioned earlier, not only does the Pro only take 3 seconds to heat up, but it also only takes 3 seconds to warm up to steaming temperature after brewing, and then 40 seconds to steam the milk.
Compare that to the 30 seconds it takes the Impress to start steaming, and additional 75 seconds to steam the milk, and you’re left with a latte making process that takes almost a minute longer…. If you’re only making 1 or 2 drinks at a time this isn’t the end of the world, but if you’re planning to serve many people back-to-back, the Barista Pro is the clear choice from a steaming perspective.
Both machines can steam great quality milk, absolutely make latte art, but from a speed perspective, the Pro is just miles ahead.
So in the end, the decision on which machine to get is pretty clean cut. If you simply want the easiest machine to dial in and use, the easiest machine for guests to use, and don’t want to learn the intricacies of puck prep, then the Barista Express Impress is the clear choice.
However, if you’re already an experienced barista, or have the willingness to go through some of the potential frustrations of learning, then the Barista Pro is a much better overall machine. It has a newer updated design, great digital display, and FAR superior steaming performance.