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Quick look at Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Postby HB on Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:01 pm

The Breville BES900XL has received attention in the U.S. market since prototypes were introduced at the SCAA conference in Houston this past April and previewed in a First Look on CoffeeGeek. Now Breville's double boiler espresso machine has hit U.S. stores at a jarringly low price of $1200 and they're inviting those who write about coffee/espresso to try it out. Stefanie Tiong from Breville USA shipped an evaluation model to me last week; I took the opportunity to test drive it with some of the attendees at our usual Friday morning get-togethers at Counter Culture Coffee:

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Breville Dual Boiler BES900XL from Breville USA

Prior to Friday, I had filled and flushed the boilers per the user manual "getting started" instructions. Other than poking the buttons a few times, I pulled no shots until arriving at Counter Culture a few days later. Since we planned on comparing its performance with the La Marzocco Strada, I swapped the stock Breville double basket for the 18 gram VST/Strada basket.

Below are photos of one of the early attempts. At least in terms of appearances, the espresso looked promising:

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One of the first half-dozen espressos... not difficult to dial in

We intentionally chose a more challenging coffee, Counter Culture's Finca Mauritania Single-Origin Espresso:

Counter Culture Coffee wrote:This 100% Bourbon-variety Single-Origin Espresso is crafted from a "pulp natural" lot - peeled coffee cherries dried in the sun with their sticky fruit layers still intact - of Aida Batlle's 2011 Finca Mauritania harvest. With a malt-like creamy texture, this perfect autumn espresso is anchored by rich notes of pure cocoa and sweet stone fruit.

The Breville rendition of this espresso was bright with fruit flavors. Since one of the main reasons buyers choose a double boiler espresso machine is the ability to steam/brew at the same time, I tried my hand at steaming a cappuccino:

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Steam power is not one of the Breville's strong suits

Nathan was cataloging each moment like a member of the Hollywood paparazzi; my reaction in the photo above was an attempt to prevent him from recording my pathetic excuse for latte art. Despite the lack of aesthetics, the cappuccino was quite good. My struggle was exacerbated by the Breville's weak steaming capacity; it was difficult to get the milk roiling in order to mix the microfoam. Nick Merryman had better luck than me:

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Nick's patient hand improved on Dan's initial attempt

In terms of microfoam, my attempt was more latte than cappuccino. Nick's had better incorporation of the aerated milk and milk below, producing a more chrome-like finish and more texture. My guess is that the point of the heating cycle of the steam boiler may have made a difference.

Towards the end of the session, we did a quick shootout between the La Marzocco Strada (Dan) and Breville double boiler (Nick):

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Side-by-side espresso; 18 grams, 200°F brew temperature, approx. 1.5 ounces

By this time, we had pulled at dozen or more espressos from each machine using two separate grinders (Nuova Simonelli Mythos). For consistency, we first tared the portafilters to measure the coffee dose:

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Dose consistency is key to repeatability

...and then the doses were measured to 18 grams of coffee. Nick monitors the Breville's bottomless pour:

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Please note the stock Breville portafilter is not bottomless

There were only a few side-by-side comparisons and I only have the one session's experience with the Breville dual boiler, so I won't comment other than to say it compared favorably. Others that tasted the espressos from the Strada and Breville gave them thumbs up.

In closing, I would like to thank Breville USA for the evaluation unit, Nathan for taking photos, Nick and Bob for pulling shots during our shootout, and the continuous stream of Counter Culture Coffee employees chiming in as they passed through the espresso lab. In particular, it was fun chatting with Brett Smith, co-owner of Counter Culture Coffee about all kinds of subjects, not just coffee. It was definitely one of those "you had to be there" moments. Please note the full photo album is available here on flickr.

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Goats and Woody Allen movies were inexplicably among the topics discussed

We plan a more thorough follow-up next Friday, this time comparing the Breville double boiler, the La Marzocco Strada, and the Vibiemme DoubleDomo. In the meantime, your comments/questions are welcome.
Dan Kehn
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Postby bowie on Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:32 pm

The most interesting aspect of the BDB(?) to me is the PID controlled SS group. I know you were pounding out shots on that thing, but it would be interesting to test its walk-up-and-shoot performance....
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Postby indend007 on Sun Oct 30, 2011 8:35 am

Very interesting first look!!
I really want to know that how different chracter of two shots(strada and breville)

Maybe BDB is the best player in home kitchen. thanks HB -
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Postby HB on Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:15 am

Breville sent their temperature performance data, but I plan to measure it myself, including comparisons with the La Marzocco Strada and Vibiemme DoubleDomo. It will be very loosely based on the WBC Procedure for Measurement of Brewing Water Temperature, i.e., a mix of scenarios including starting from idle, irregular, and full-on usage.

PS: BDB? What is it with TLAs? :roll:
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Postby samuellaw178 on Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:24 am

Does the production model BDB has the grouphead PID or was it removed from the final production? I don't see anyone mentioning about the grouphead PID in the review other than the first look on CG. If the GH PID is there and can be set separately, then there is a potential for some temperature (declining or upward) profile play (me think).
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Postby pcrussell50 on Sun Oct 30, 2011 12:53 pm

I'm looking for this machine to revolutionize this price point, the same way the Baratza Vario did in it's category. If so, and since I have a Vario, it would make a great team.

In my eyes, what makes this happen or not is the taste testing results I read from you guys. Its "consumer grade" construction does not put me off any more on this machine than it does on the Vario, as I care less about consumer grade construction, than I do about professional grade taste.

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Postby ampguy on Sun Oct 30, 2011 1:13 pm

Looking at the published specs and notes on other forums, it appears there is just a group head heating element (200W North America, 100W RoW?) but not a sensor.

So I am not sure there was ever a real discrete group head PID, but rather the main PID having an ability to apply heat to the group head.

Perhaps others can elaborate here.


samuellaw178 wrote:Does the production model BDB has the grouphead PID or was it removed from the final production? I don't see anyone mentioning about the grouphead PID in the review other than the first look on CG. If the GH PID is there and can be set separately, then there is a potential for some temperature (declining or upward) profile play (me think).
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Postby sweaner on Sun Oct 30, 2011 2:31 pm

After using a friends BDB, I agree that the steam power could use a bump. I wonder what pressure the steam boiler is set to?

Dan, do standard portafilters fit? Also, what was the brew pressure that you noticed? The one I used was hovering at around 11 bar. He probably needs to have the OPV adjusted.
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Postby mcknightp on Sun Oct 30, 2011 4:55 pm

ampguy wrote:Looking at the published specs and notes on other forums, it appears there is just a group head heating element (200W North America, 100W RoW?) but not a sensor.

So I am not sure there was ever a real discrete group head PID, but rather the main PID having an ability to apply heat to the group head.

Perhaps others can elaborate here.


Hi,

I'd like to introduce myself, I'm Phil McKnight & I work for Breville in AUS. Just like to answer a few queries if I can.

There is a separate PID that controls the element embedded in the group head, but it is not adjustable.

The lugs on the PF/Group are proprietory & more "regular" patterns like LM/Synesso etc don't fit straight in. The PF is deep enough to take a 18g VST, but the 21g VST is a little snug against the floor & might not yield perfect results, but clearly a naked would be OK. You will have to remove the plastic floor to fit in the 18g VSTs.

The Steam Boiler is running at ~1.6bar. It's not PID controlled, but just by an NTC temp sensor. Dan's machine might be just one on the lower end of the temp spec causing it to appear to be a little under powered. It might not be super fast, but it's consistent and it does produce really silky shiny micro-foam.

Cheers, Phil
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Postby sweaner on Sun Oct 30, 2011 8:22 pm

Phil, thanks for chiming in. I really did like the machine. It has some great features. Even though the steaming was a bit slow, it did a nice job.

How should I advise my friend on the OPV issue? I noticed that it would pull at around 11 bar during a decent shot.
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