I know how frustrating it is to invest a lot of money in an espresso machine that handles everything for you, but in doing so stops you developing your home barista skills.
What if you could buy a high quality espresso machine that comes with training wheels though?
Most important of all, you get your fantastic coffee from day one. More than that though, you also get the option to take more control as your confidence grows.
This is what makes the Breville Infuser espresso machine such a fascinating appliance, and it’s why I wanted to review it for the site.
Before you buy an espresso machine
Semi-automatic espresso machines have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
They’re designed to replicate the kind of quality you’d expect from a coffee shop in your own kitchen.
They’re best for those of you who don’t mind putting in a little extra effort to achieve a far superior drink.
If you want a somewhat better cup of coffee but need more convenience, you might consider looking at something like a grind and brew coffee maker instead.
You’ll get to work with fresh beans, which means a better brew, but they don’t require as much hands-on work.
The Breville BES840XL (aka the Infuser) is one of many home semi-automatic espresso machines that the company’s brought to market in recent years.
It promises to produce barista-quality coffee in your very own home. If you’re looking to significantly improve the quality of your home kitchen coffee, the Infuser will certainly do that for you.
Just be aware that it requires a little extra work in terms of preparing the coffee grounds, and then adding the finishing milk touch using the steam wand.
That extra involvement is actually one of the machine’s big selling points though.
Once you’ve gained some confidence, you can override the presets and tweak the brewing volume to get precisely the drink you want.
If you’re prepared to put a little work in, and the prospect of taking more control excites you, it’s a fantastic machine to add to your collection.
There are limits to how much control you can exert over the brewing process though.
If you’re hoping to become a truly dedicated home barista in the future, you’ll need to replace this machine at some point in the future.
Consider Breville’s Barista Pro machine if you’re looking for something a little more involved from the get-go.
- Right out of the box the Infuser makes exceptional espresso shots and it’s a doddle to use.
- Override options allow you to customize your drinks to your precise tastes, and as your brewing confidence grows.
- Pre-infusion feature makes a significant improvement to the quality of the espresso shot.
- 1600w thermocoil heat gets going very fast. Expect around 30 seconds for the initial warm-up from a cold start.
- High quality manual steam wand provides everything you need to embrace your inner latte artist!
- If you want to go beyond the presets, it is going to take you a little bit of time to tweak the settings.
- PID temperature control is very useful, but means you have no control over the temperature. A bit of a missed opportunity given the freedom the Infuser otherwise offers.
- The learning curve is a little steeper than with other semi-automatic espresso machines.
- No built-in grinder, and so for the best results you’ll need to find a way of grinding fresh whole beans.
(Viva Flavor is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for helping us continue to produce our in-depth reviews.)
Features of the Breville Infuser
In the next section I’m going to take a closer look at the specific features of the Infuser, and what they mean to you.
As the name suggests, the signature feature of the Infuser espresso machine is its pre-infusion function.
The way this works is quite clever.
Before the main brewing process begins, the Infuser applies hot water to the grinds at very low pressure.
This gentle approach allows the grinds to slowly expand, and fill in any tiny gaps that exist in the puck. This ensures you extract the coffee flavor evenly once the main brew is properly under way.
Although the overall brewing time is a little longer, the end result is a significantly more flavorful extraction. I think it’s well worth the extra wait.
The presets on the Infuser make consistently flavorful espresso in one or two-shot sizes.
You really can’t go wrong with them if all you want is an exceptional coffee experience, right out of the box.
Volumetric Control lets you spread your wings a little bit, however.
Once you’re ready to experiment with the settings, you can use this function to override the presets.
The way you go about this is pretty simple:
- Press the Program button.
- The machine will beep and the button will flash to confirm you’re about to change the settings.
- Choose the shot volume you want to tweak to begin extraction.
- Press the button again when you’ve reached the desired volume.
The Infuser will also remember the settings you just replaced as well. That lets you make a really consistent espresso shot, just the way you like it.
PID Temperature Control
The Infuser makes use of something known as “proportional–integral–derivative” temperature control, or PID (we’ll stick to that from here on out!)
What this rather complicated term means is that the heating system continually checks itself for deviations in temperature.
If it detects a change, the machine automatically adjusts to compensate for the temperature change.
The end result is an incredible stable extraction temperature. That in turn helps to deliver an outstanding espresso flavor.
Like a lot of home espresso machines, the Infuser makes use of something called thermocoil heating.
This keeps the water circulating through the system at an even temperature. It also means a quick switch in temperature as you go from brewing to steaming.
Ultimately, this time reduction helps you produce your espresso drinks much faster.
The steaming wand on the Infuser helps you make the kind of delicate froth that’s essential to recreating the real coffee shop experience.
You’ve got free movement with the wand as well, as it features a full 360 degree rotation. That makes it really easy to adjust for different sizes of mugs or frothing jugs
If you dream of creating your very own latte art with this thing, have no doubt it’s going to take you a little while to master frothing.
Here’s a video that I found really useful when I was getting started out:
You can also use the wand as a water supply for other hot drinks or soups. By turning the knob on the side of the machine, you can quickly switch from steam to hot water.
The Infuser features an auto-purge function, but what does that mean?
Steam wands work at a much higher temperature than is required for espresso extraction. Brewing the coffee too hot though results in an unpleasant taste.
If you’re making drinks one after another – perhaps because you have guests over – you don’t want to have to wait for the machine to cool down so you can move on to preparing the next shot.
As soon as you finish steaming, the Infuser immediately begins to cool the heating system in readiness for the next brew.
That significantly reduces the time it takes to produce many shots for multiple drinks.
Everyone gets a better cup of coffee, and you spend less time hanging around your coffee machine!
You have to make some trade-offs when buying a home espresso machine. One of those trade-offs is the water reservoir.
If it’s too big, you’ll struggle to situate the machine in your kitchen. If it’s too small though, you’ll be filling the thing up all day long.
At 61oz, the water reservoir on the Infuser is at the higher end of espresso machines in this category.
Don’t forget that you’re making espresso shots – rather than long drinks – as well, so a tank this size goes further than you might think.
The Infuser also comes with a water filter, which helps to keep impurities out.
If your household guzzles a lot of coffee, I’d recommend situating the Infuser as close to your water supply as possible.
The tank comes out easily enough for refilling, but do make sure you have enough clearance space to lift it out too!
I’ve always been impressed by the design of Breville’s espresso machines, and I feel the same way about the Infuser.
They all take a very similar, professional aesthetic which is then softened a little for the home market.
The finish on the Infuser is very soft, brushed stainless steel, with a minimalist approach to button controls. It feels strong and durable – surprisingly so for an espresso machine at this range.
Those buttons are big, clear and backlit too, which is handy during those darker winter mornings.
Finally, there’s a built-in cup-warming tray. Espresso’s always better from a pre-warmed cup, but just be aware that you’ve only around four inches of clearance to play with here.
Size & Weight
- Dimensions: 13.7 x 11.5 x 13.2 inches
- Weight: 17 lbs
It’s worth pointing out a few other features I really like about the Infuser. They’re not exactly signature features, but are worth highlighting nevertheless:
Dry Puck: Once the brew has finished, any excess water in the filter is drained automatically. That means a dry puck, which means a lot less mess when it comes to ditching the used grounds!
Cleaning Alert: You really need to take care of a machine like the Infuser, and I like that it has a specific alert for when the machine needs a good clean out. You don’t want gunk building up in these machines over time, and with a young family to look after I always appreciate this kind of nudge.
Emptying: The removable drip tray is pretty easy to clean, but there’s an “Empty Me” notification that pipes up when the tray is full too. No one wants a mucky countertop, after all.
Hot Water Dispenser: If you just need to grab some water for soup or a different drink, you can run the tank as a source of hot water instead.
Storage: There’s another clever touch I really like on the Infuser. Behind the drip tray itself is a little storage area that accommodates the accessories supplied with the machine. I’ll detail what those accessories actually are in the next section.
Out of the box you get a number of handy accessories to help you get started with the machine.
- Single filter baskets
- Dual-wall filter baskets
- Stainless steel frothing jug
- Cleaning disc and tablets
- Cleaning tool
- Water filter
As long as you’ve got some freshly ground coffee beans in the house, you’re good to go after the initial set up.
As I mentioned earlier on in this review though, it doesn’t have a built-in grinder. You’ll need a dedicated bean grinder to get the most out of the Infuser, as the results are always so much better using whole bean coffee
Don’t short-change yourself here. When you’re investing in a machine like this, it just doesn’t make sense to compromise the results.
There are some alternatives worth looking at before settling on the Infuser. Here are some of my favorites, highlighting some of the main differences:
One of the main advantages the Barista Express has over the Infuser is the inclusion of a very good bean grinder. You do pay for that extra convenience, but it is another very popular semi-automatic espresso machine.
- Includes an integrated conical burr grinder.
- Higher water reservoir capacity at 67oz.
- Easy dial controls for adjusting grind volumes.
- Built-in grinder provides another potential failure point over time.
- Requires daily cleaning for optimal performance.
- Guesswork and experimentation required to get things just right.
Gaggia’s machine is available at a similar price point and has proved quite popular with its owners. Overall it’s a little smaller than the Infuser, but it is heavier. I don’t think that’s too much of a problem though, as I wouldn’t plan to move either of these machines around too much.
- Higher water reservoir capacity of approximately 71oz.
- An overall more compact machine, although it is a little taller than the Infuser.
- Outstanding espresso flavor.
- A very industrial looking machine that may not suit your kitchen’s aesthetic.
- More cramped to use, with the steam wand located close to the portafilter.
- Steam valve has a reputation for leaks.
This is one of Breville’s high-end espresso machines. Like the Barista Express it has a built-in grinder. It also heats up exceptionally quickly (3 seconds compared to the 30 seconds of the Infuser), and has more brewing options that give you greater control over the whole process.
- A more advanced machine providing a greater degree of brewing control.
- LCD screen makes tweaking the settings extremely simple and intuitive.
- Rapid heat up time means your espresso is ready at lightning speed.
- One of the more expensive semi-automatic espresso machines on the market.
- You need to be willing to tweak and prepare the brew to a much greater degree.
All in all I was really impressed with the Infuser.
It does the most important job of making amazing espresso, even if you just stick to the presets.
Some of the extra features for using and maintaining the machine are really helpful as well, and I like being able to tweak the brew to my preference.
Although that degree of fine control is a little limited, you’re not going to run into that issue unless you plan to dive far deeper into the finer details of home coffee brewing.
It’s a great halfway house for a midrange machine, and another triumph for Breville’s march towards dominance of the semi-automatic espresso machine market.
Click here to find out more about the Infuser, and read more reviews.