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:
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:
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:
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):
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:
Dose consistency is key to repeatability
...and then the doses were measured to 18 grams of coffee. Nick monitors the Breville's bottomless pour:
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.
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.