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Last Updated on October 29, 2022
Third-wave specialty espresso is both a product and an experience. Breville brings this sensibility to espresso lovers who are willing to invest in their home barista skills.
If you are undecided between the Breville Infuser vs. the Barista Express, we can assure you that both are thoughtfully designed semi-automatic espresso machines that can deliver a coffeehouse experience in your kitchen. Their primary difference is the built-in bean grinder that the Barista Express offers for an extra $100 and change.
We consider the Barista Express the best Breville espresso machine, but should you pay the extra money for its integrated grinder? Let’s compare the two models and find out.
About the Breville Infuser and Barista Express
The Breville Infuser is Breville’s most affordable full-size semi-automatic espresso machine. It appeals to users who relish the idea of craft espresso at home and don’t mind experimenting. You will flex your barista skills to achieve that perfect cup with this model’s combination of manual and automatic functionality.
The Infuser offers features that rival those in more expensive machines. As its name indicates, it has a pre-infusion function to extract maximum flavor from coffee grounds. When extraction begins, the process expands the grounds under slow and even pressure before they undergo higher pressure. Pre-infusion produces a smoother, more balanced espresso and richer crema.
The Infuser comes with a pressure gauge that monitors the water pressure delivered to the portafilter during extraction. As you brew, the indicator serves as feedback on your choice of grind, coffee amount, and tamping.
Low pressure creates a weak espresso, whereas over-extraction from excessive pressure produces a bitter cup.
Your goal is to keep the needle in the middle sweet spot after the initial infusion. (Check out our article about why your Breville espresso machine is not reaching pressure if that’s an issue for you.)
Consistently excellent espresso requires a stable water temperature of about 200 F. The Infuser achieves this with electronic PID temperature control and a 1600-watt thermocoil heating element.
The Infuser’s automated convenience shines in its programmable water volume settings for one and two shots. The preprogrammed volumes are 1 fluid ounce (30 mL) for a single shot and 2 fluid ounces (60 mL) for a double. If you prefer different amounts, you can easily reprogram or override individually.
Ready to sip a creamy latte or flavorful Americano? The Infuser features a commercial-grade steam wand capable of generating art-worthy microfoam. It also has a hot water dispenser that’s ideal for crafting tall drinks and warming cups.
The Infuser boasts rugged stainless steel construction and weighs 17 pounds. At a bit over one square foot, its footprint is compact enough for most kitchen spaces. The finish is available in brushed stainless steel, cranberry red, or black.
The Breville Barista Express adds an integrated bean grinder to the functionality it shares with the Infuser. The mill features stainless steel conical burrs for precise grinding and dosing directly into the filter basket. Sixteen adjustments from fine to coarse can cover off most types of beans and drinks. To dispense the perfect amount for one or two shots, you can rely on the preprogrammed filter size button or set your own volume.
The grinder system features:
- Automatic dosing for one or two shots
- Grind amount dial for manual dose adjustments
- A hopper holding eight ounces of beans
- Removable burrs for easy cleaning
As long as you start with quality beans, a built-in grinder will ensure that you’re brewing your espresso with the freshest coffee possible. By grinding on demand, you don’t need to store ground coffee and suffer degraded flavor. You also avoid waste.
Like the Infuser, the Barista Express features pre-infusion for optimal flavor extraction and a pressure gauge to guide you in perfecting your cup. It also provides precise water volume control for one and two shots.
What the Infuser and Barista Express have in common
Both models focus on Breville’s “4 keys formula” to ensure the quality of grind dose, temperature control, water pressure, and microfoam milk. You get coffeehouse performance at home with either machine, but we want to highlight a couple of features in particular:
Single and dual-wall filter baskets
Both the Infuser and the Barista Express come with single-wall filter baskets for freshly ground coffee and dual-wall baskets for pre-ground coffee.
What’s the difference? Well, pre-ground coffee is less fresh, so it doesn’t produce a nice crema like freshly ground beans. A dual-wall basket has a false bottom in it, so after the espresso passes through the ‘real’ filter, it is then forced through a second filter with a smaller number of holes at the bottom. This causes it to foam up a bit, producing a manufactured crema.
Needless to say, you won’t find this feature on espresso machines in high-quality coffee shops. It’s strictly for home use where people are more likely to have pre-ground beans. But trust us—you want to grind fresh beans and use the single-wall basket.
Experienced baristas know that beans can differ in the ideal water temperature needed for optimal extraction. Both the Infuser and the Barista Express feature an advanced temperature mode that allows you to adjust the heat by 4 F above or below the baseline 200 F in two-degree increments.
Other features in common
Other features that the models share include:
- Semi-automatic operation
- 15-bar pump
- Electric temperature control and thermocoil heating system
- Stainless steel 54-millimeter portafilter with commercial-grade dual spouts
- Programmable selector buttons for one and two cups
- Pressure gauge to monitor espresso extraction performance
- Programmable water volume
- Large water tank with replaceable filter
- Rugged stainless steel construction in three finishes
Both models include a wealth of accessories and handy built-in storage:
- Razor dose trimming tool
- Filter baskets for one and two cups
- Coffee scoop
- Integrated tamper
- Stainless steel milk jug
- Cleaning and maintenance supplies
- Water filter and holder
Differences between the Infuser and Barista Express
Yes, these machines have a lot in common. If you’re torn between the two, then the big tie-breaker is clearly the Barista Express’s built-in grinder. However, there are a few other things to consider.
Does size matter?
The Barista Express has a somewhat larger footprint than the Infuser. It is just over 16 inches tall when you include the bean hopper, which is three inches taller than the Infuser. Do you need to slide it under cupboards? This might make a difference.
The Barista Express is also six pounds heavier at 23 pounds. Hopefully you aren’t planning to move it around too much.
Comparing specifications of the Infuser and Barista Express
|Breville Infuser||Breville Barista Express|
|Dimensions||13.7" W x 11.5" D x 13.2" H||15" W x 15.2” D x 16.2" H|
|Weight||17 pounds||23 pounds|
|Heat source||1600-watt thermocoil||1600-watt thermocoil|
|Filter size||1 and 2 cups||1 and 2 cups|
|Construction||stainless Steel||stainless steel|
|Water tank capacity||61 ounces||67 ounces|
|Warranty||1 year||1 year|
As always, Gail from Seattle Coffee Gear does a nice job here of laying out the differences between the two machines:
Is the Barista Express worth it?
The Barista Express’s integrated burr grinder is the main differentiator between the two models. Ask yourself whether you plan to drink fresh-ground coffee other than espresso. If so, the grinder’s 16 adjustments may not be versatile enough to deliver what you need.
Rather than pay over $100 more for a built-in grinder with limited range, consider purchasing a premium burr grinder that will provide years of delight from fine Turkish coffee to coarse French press. Highly rated choices that do justice to espresso include the Baratza Virtuoso+ and Breville’s Smart Grinder Pro.
That said, you may prefer the Barista Express if these situations apply:
- You will only be grinding beans for the Barista Express.
- You don’t own a quality grinder and don’t have space for one.
- You don’t mind sending the entire unit for service if the grinder needs repair.
Choosing between the Infuser and Barista Express
When weighing the Breville Infuser vs. the Barista Express, keep in mind that the main differences are the integrated bean grinder in the Barista Express and the associated higher price.
Buy the Infuser if you want to brew coffeehouse-quality espresso and don’t need a built-in grinder. If you enjoy drip or other types of coffee along with espresso, save your money for a more versatile premium grinder.
Consider the Barista Express if you crave a seamless bean-to-cup experience and don’t own a quality grinder. If you aren’t concerned with other types of coffee, this integrated model may be your answer. Similarly, if you already have a drip coffeemaker with a built-in grinder, you may be satisfied with the same espresso approach.
Except for the Barista Express’s built-in grinder, these two machines offer nearly identical functionality. Either should serve up years of excellent espresso. Choose the model that best fuels your lifestyle, and your inner barista will thank you.