Newbie - Breville Barista Express Frustration

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?

Postby smokinfish » Feb 10, 2018, 4:14 pm

Hi Everyone -

I've enjoyed lurking in the shadows of this site as I researched the fine art of espresso. There is a lot of information here and users knowledge base is incredible. After three weeks of tinkering and researching I have decided to sign-up and reach out.

Here's my situation: I decided to buy an espresso machine to kick my random Starbucks habit. To tell you the truth until recently, I had no idea what I was really drinking. After a lot of research I decided to purchase a Breville Barista Express, the price point seemed right for what you get (for a newbie) and the majority of the reviews were positive. Although after finding this site, I know realize I may have made a mistake. That said I can't seem to pull a decent shot and the dialing-in process is never-ending.

I bought medium roasted beans from a roaster down the street from me. They were roasted 3 days ago. The roaster also has a coffee shop so I was able to taste a shot of what I was buying. When I got home I tried dialing the new beans in.

I'm wieghing out my doses in a single wall double shot basket at 17g, but have tried 16g and 18g. I started the grinder at 4 and ended up at 9. At 17g of a 9 grind the gauge was at 12 o'clock and I got 2oz in my rattleware measuring glass in about 20 seconds after pre-infusion. That said it tasted bitter to me.

The finer grinds caused the needle of the gauge to go way past 12 o'clock. Then it barley dripped out yielding not much espresso at all. I'm using a ESPRO calibrated tamper to keep my tamping as consistent as possible.

A lot of my research led me to believe that espresso was a 3-4 grind depending on beans roast and age and that a 9-10 grind is for coffee. So I'm a little confused.

Things that have happened during my testing, wet pucks, dry pucks, dry pucks with just the bottom of the puck is wet. I had one time where the puck actually stuck to the group head.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Some day I hope to own a Rocket R58 and a Monilith Flat single dose grinder. Until then the struggle is real.

Thank you.


Postby BillBurrGrinder » replying to smokinfish » Feb 10, 2018, 5:29 pm

Hey there fish,

I just bought this machine a few weeks ago and am/was dealing with the same issue. First, I went through a pound of fresh roasted local coffee. It was a dark roast (light French roast) witch is essentially a full city or full city+ roast. Every shot was bitter as hell. I tried every method with every brew ratio, grind, amount, temp you name it...still bitter as hell.

Bitter is a sign of over least it can be.

Bought some other beans. Medium roasted (Lavazza Super Crema) because the reviews say it's great. So I'm thinking "if this tastes bitter as hell, either my methods are off or the machine is too hot, not calibrated".

Well, the shots were NOT bitter at all. But, now they were SOUR! A sign that it is underextracted. Again, no matter the adjustments I made from 14g-18g and every grind, time, brew ratio...always a sour shot.

This made no sense to me. First coffee was always overextracted and 2nd coffee was always underextracted. So....I have come to this conclusion.

If you are getting good shots on paper (mathematically) and even bad shots on paper, overextracting, underextracting and still getting the same gross flavor, THE PROBLEM IS THE BEANS!

"But why would the beans have such good reviews" you might ask. Well there is this movement in America (maybe other places too) called "3rd wave" coffee movement. They do not describe the coffee as sour or bitter unless it is so unbelievably bad that they are unable to choke it down. Instead they say "bright fruity notes" and take that description way out of context. A good classic Italian espresso should taste like good dark deep coffee with a bold flavor. It needs to be balanced and not too bright or acidity, not too bitter.

Try a few different coffees first. Try a shot from the local Barista and see if yours tastes similar.

I have some fresh roasted beans from a world Barista champion winner for best espresso. Roasted to order online. I will let you know the outcome in a few days (they were roasted Friday). But first try and use a lower does, say 14g and see if that helps.


Postby wowzors » Feb 12, 2018, 5:48 pm

I just bought the machine as well, havent been able to pull a good shot yet. You can adjust the top burr grinder as well so maybe try and fiddle with that. Most things I have had are sour, i got an allegro sierra espresso that was a bit bitter but not bad.

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Postby slipchuck » replying to wowzors » Feb 12, 2018, 6:01 pm

The sourness night be caused by low temperature (these machines used to be known to have too low of temperature, not sure about the new ones) first get the shot right (example 18 grams of coffee, 36 weighted grams of espresso, 25-35 seconds from the pump turns on full) then...
Try put the temperature up +4... if it's bitter then work your way backwards subtracting one degree one shot at a time until it taste right.

“There is nobody you can’t learn to like once you’ve heard their story.”


Postby wowzors » replying to slipchuck » Feb 13, 2018, 10:36 am

What do you do when the pressure gauge is outside of the pressure range lets say like 1 o'clock (On the high side) yet the coffee is still sour on +4 temperature?

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Postby slipchuck » replying to wowzors » Feb 13, 2018, 12:24 pm

I would not put too much emphasis on the Gauge. It is just a guideline as it has no numbers on it.
The most important thing is to follow the guidelines (right does, time, and output).
If this fails then try a different coffee.
Are you sure you aren't mixing up sour with fruity?
Some coffees can taste like fruit others like chocolate just to name a few general flavours.
I am no expert but to me if the taste makes your mouth "pucker" then it is sour.
Hopefully others with more experience can chime in :)

“There is nobody you can’t learn to like once you’ve heard their story.”


Postby wowzors » replying to slipchuck » Feb 13, 2018, 5:23 pm

I bought Metropolis Redline roasted on 2/6, I haven't heard anyone call it fruity online. Gonna try and mess with the grind I guess, have the side at like 12 now, maybe it needs to be finer.


Postby chrisbodnarphoto » Feb 13, 2018, 5:35 pm

Don't forget that the grinder also needs break-in time. You'll need to run a few lbs or so to get some consistency.


Postby smokinfish » Feb 14, 2018, 12:38 am

Thank you for all the feedback. It's interesting to see others having similar issues.

All the shots I pull that are fine on paper are at a 8-10 grind. Isn't that too high? Anything lower on several different beans chokes the machine.

Things I'll try next; lower doses, adjusting the temp, watching Grinder bean weight, grinder break in, warm-up time and yes more bean varieties.

Has anyone had success using a different grinder with this machine?

Thanks again this is all very helpful.

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Postby Subrutum » Feb 14, 2018, 7:35 am

The Barista Express was my first machine... I liked it at first, but the ease of use rapidly goes down after guests arrive. Its limit was around 3 cups/15 mins sustained I believe as the vibe pump & grouphead needs time to chill.

I recommend buying a spare for the grouphead gasket as mine broke in 6 months... It's a good machine for home use but dont expect it to come close to proper cafe quality without a separate grinder. (The B DualBoiler can match cafe quality with a standalone grinder. The reliability is not as good however)

For secret tips :
The breville's temps are low so flush the group for around half a second to warm up & even out the exposed metal's temps.
Program it to go as hot as possible, it likes to chill.
Grind it slightly finer than usual, then hold the shot button...this will use the pre-infusion setting for a longer time. Play around with it to find the sweet spot.
Try not to stop by time. Stop by volume instead regardless of time (in preinfusion)
Try to Single Dose. Dont leave beans in the hopper as the hopper itself gets quite warm when the machine is on.
Try to hit 9 bars (around 12:00-1:00 in the dial) with the pre-infusion setting and pull a 1:1 ristretto (hahahaha :twisted: )
Magician of the Great Coffee Bean Pressure-Extraction Machine.