A manual machine with an integrated grinder, The Barista Express gives you everything for a great coffee
Ground coffee doesn’t have a long shelf life, so for the best quality espresso, you really have to grind your own beans. To get the best results the grinder is, arguably, as important as the espresso machine, but how do you make sure that you get a good one?
With the Sage the Barista Express, you don’t have to worry about choosing the right grinder, as this manual machine has one built in. It means that you have the flexibility and control that a manual machine gives you, with the neatness and compact nature of a bean-to-cup machine.
Although half the price of the company’s the Dual Boiler, the Barista Express retains the same high build quality and looks. Its stainless steel finish (available in Black or Silver) looks fantastic and feels tough and durable. It really feels as though you’re getting your money’s worth from it.
Sage the Barista Express review: Setup and bundled accessories
Getting the Barista Express set up is very easy. All you have to do is fit the water filter into the large 2L reservoir, fill it with water and insert it into the back of the machine. There’s no water-hardness setting on this machine, so there’s nothing further to do.
Next, you need to fit the coffee grinder’s hopper on top, which is big enough to accommodate a standard 250g bag of beans. It’s then a matter of fitting the right filter into the machine’s group handle. There are single- and two-cup filters for ground coffee; both are single-wall filters designed for coffee that you grind yourself.
You also get a well-made tamper that attaches magnetically into a slot at the front of the machine, and the Razor, a credit-card-sized block of metal used for levelling off the coffee in the filter.
Sage the Barista Express review: Making espresso
Getting started with a shot of espresso is easy. All you have to do is set the grinder for one or two cups, then push the ground handle into the slot and the Barista Express will grind the right amount of coffee for you. As the type of bean can make a difference, you can manually adjust both the amount of coffee that’s ground and set the size of the grind, using the 18-step dial on the side.
You’ll need to play about with getting the grind right, as it makes a huge difference to taste: a fine grind slows extraction and can make coffee too bitter; a coarse grind can leave you with watery coffee. We found that setting the machine to setting 11 was right for our regular test beans.
While you’re sorting out the grind, you can warm your cups on the cup warmer or, for quicker heating, use the switch on the side to dispense hot water via the dedicated tap. Once everything’s in place and you’ve tamped your coffee, you just insert the group handle into the machine and then you can hit a button to dispense a single or double shot (or two singles if you prefer) of espresso.
You may find, as we did, that the default settings aren’t quite right and don’t dispense the right volume of coffee (around 30ml for a single and 60ml for a double). This is down to a range of factors including the grind, beans and tamp. However, to compensate, you can hit the programme button and set your own default one and two-cup pours.
Even better, is the completely manual option, where you hold down the one- or two-cup button to start pre-infusion (around seven seconds should be right), and then let go to let the machine free pour, hitting the button again to finish pouring (20 to 30 seconds is right for an espresso). This option gives you complete control over each and every shot and allows you to make longer drinks, such as a cafe crema.
Although the Barista Express requires a bit of experimentation to get everything right, we have to say that the results are worth it, with a rich and dark shot of espresso, and oily, thick crema our reward. Taste was excellent, too, with the full-bodied richness of our beans coming through. Our one minor complaint, was that the coffee was a little warm at 71˚C (closer to 65˚C is about right), and there’s no temperature control.
Sage the Barista Express review: Milk frothing
If you want to start making milk drinks, you can use the provided milk jug and steamer want to get frothing. All you have to do is insert the steamer wand into the milk and then turn the dial on the side to the steam setting. As the Barista Express is a single-boiler machine, it first has to increase the boiler’s temperature to make steam. This takes a little while for the machine to heat, and then the steam takes a while to really build up and start swirling and frothing the milk. There’s no control over steam flow, via a tap, so you’ve got to go with the output the machine provides.
Fortunately, even with these limitations, we managed to get soft, textured milk ready for our latte. Once you turn off the steam mode, the Barista Express automatically vents itself, as it cools to espresso temperature. We were pleased with the overall quality of our latte, both in looks and taste.
Sage the Barista Express review: Grinding
Although the Barista Express can be set to produce a coarse grind that would suit a french press or filter machine, the grinder can only be operated by pressing the group head in. We’d have liked to have seen a dedicated button to let us grind into any container, so that we could also use the grinder for different coffee machines: we like to use a filter machine if we’ve got a lot of people around. It’s a minor complaint, but one worth bearing in mind if you also use a filter machine.
Sage the Barista Express review: Maintenance
There’s little in the way of maintenance on this machine, bar the usual requirement to clean it regularly (there’s a dedicated cleaning filter that accepts cleaning tablets), and descaling it occasionally. While neither job is tricky, the clear manual explains how to do everything. You also get a pin for cleaning the steaming wand, which you can store with all of your other cleaning paraphernalia in the storage box that you access by pulling out the drip tray at the front.
Sage the Barista Express review: Verdict
The Barista Express is a chunk more expensive than most single-boiler manual espresso machines, there are two things that help justify the price: it has a built-in burr grinder and it gives you a lot more manual control than cheaper machines. The results speak for themselves, with excellent espresso and brilliantly textured milk. The grinder’s a little inflexible in that you can’t use it easily with other machines, but if that’s not a concern, this all-in-one package is a great choice. If this machine isn’t quite what you’re looking for, our best coffee machine article will have something that is.
|Maximum mug height||100mm|
|Cup warmer||Yes (steamer wand)|
|Milk frothing||Yes (steamer wand)|
|Number of boilers||One|
|Coffee type||Ground (integrated grinder)|