Maybe it’s a hazard of the job, but I’m not one to get too emotionally attached to any gadget I own — I’ve seen too many come and go. It’s just not worth getting your emotions tangled up in something that could be rendered obsolete by a sudden malfunction or put on a list for “sunsetting.” That said, I love — and I mean love — my espresso machine.
Sure, there’s the obvious reason to love it: it makes coffee, and coffee is sweet, beautiful manna from heaven. That’s a fact; you can look it up. But my relationship with my espresso machine isn’t simply transactional. I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy using it and taking care of it, not just the thing it makes. It’s the perfect kind of gadget: complex enough to require some hands-on routine maintenance but not so intimidating that I feel like I need to call in a professional. It fosters the kind of relationship that your TV or toaster could only dream of.
My espresso machine isn’t the most elegant gadget I own. At $700, it’s far from the cheapest, but also not the most expensive discretionary item I’ve paid for. And you can spend a whole lot more on a fancier machine. But the Breville Barista Express is just right for me, and it’s the thing I miss most from my daily routine when I’m traveling. Nothing says “welcome home” quite like its mechanical rumble when I press the power button after a week away.
I’m not the kind of person who gets into hands-on projects; replacing the cabinet pulls in my kitchen is probably the handiest bit of home improvement I’ve managed. But there’s something I find deeply satisfying about espresso machine maintenance. The weekly and monthly cleanings aren’t hard — the most I usually need to do is pop a cleaning tablet into the portafilter, press a few buttons, and let it work its self-cleaning magic.
I got by with these surface-level cleanings for a long time but, after a while, realized I should probably get in there and really scrub it. I’m too embarrassed to admit how long it took me to remove the shower screen from the machine’s group head to give it a good scrub, but I did it recently and let me tell you what — A little Cafiza soak and it was shining like new. It’s magical and also kind of disgusting when you realize your latte tastes better because you were previously getting notes of old coffee residue in your cup.
One of the things that makes maintaining this machine feel approachable even to the DIY-averse like me is that Breville includes most of the tools you’ll need for deep cleaning right in the box. They even sit in a special little tray until you need them, so you’re never hunting for the right Allen key when it’s time to get into that group head.
Is this the best home espresso machine? I have absolutely no idea, and I do not care
The Barista Express is also extremely popular, so there are plenty of videos and Reddit threads to help walk you through the finer points. Breville readily sells replacement parts for just about everything on the machine, from the steam wand assembly to the special felt washer that goes inside the burr grinder. A damaged water tank or a cracked drip tray isn’t a death sentence for your machine.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is the secret to the Barista Express’ likeability. It’s simple enough to use on a daily basis with minimal maintenance, but when you do get your hands dirty for some deep cleaning, it’s a rewarding exercise. And even for the more intimidating projects like disassembling the burr grinder (those tiny washers!), there’s someone on YouTube with the exact same model there to hold your hand along the way.
Is this the best home espresso machine? I have absolutely no idea, and I do not care. It’s the one I love, and I plan to keep it running as long as I can.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge