Aug 16, 2023

Breville Barista Touch Impress Review

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With no mess and no fuss, making cafe-quality drinks at home has never been so simple.

I've always wanted to be an espresso machine guy. Fine-tuning my grinds, perfectly timing my pulls, mastering milk art — the whole nine yards. But I also know that I am about as far from a morning person as one can get and that there is absolutely no room in my rushed a.m. routine for a lengthy and finicky coffee-making routine.

So when I saw that Breville's latest espresso machine, the Barista Touch Impress, took home the award for Best New Consumer Coffee Preparation and Serving Equipment at the 2023 Specialty Coffee Expo, I was intrigued. By adding its new mess-free Impress puck-making system to the already simple-to-use Barista Touch, Breville had seemingly crafted the most user-friendly, no-fuss espresso machine of all time. But would the appliance be convenient enough to seamlessly fit into my cramped and groggy mornings? I've spent the last several weeks testing the Breville Barista Touch Impress to find out.

If you want an espresso machine that automatically optimizes all settings for you and walks you through every step of making a perfect beverage, then it's tough to argue against the Barista Touch Impress. Breville's newest machine is incredibly simple to use, ultra fast and about as clean as espresso machines can get.

It can automatically adjust to four types of milk and allows for customization when you want it — but with the machine itself having the brains of a seasoned barista, you're going to end up trusting it to do its thing most of the time. The techie design definitely won't age as well as a streamlined manual machine, and the $1,500 price tag certainly isn't cheap, but overall most people will be extremely happy with the ease of use and high-end performance offered by this espresso machine.

Even if you've never used an espresso machine, you'll feel like a pro after just a few minutes with the Barista Touch Impress — it truly is that simple to use. Initially, when I pulled the machine out of the box and got a look at the thick instruction tome manual, I was pretty intimidated. But the setup ended up being a breeze, as the machine's touchscreen display guides you through setup step-by-step. Once you're all set up with everything calibrated, water in the tank and beans in the hopper, you're ready to make your first coffee drink, which is as easy as pressing a few buttons on a screen.

First, you select the type of drink you want to make, all of which are represented by full-color images. You can choose from a plain espresso shot, an Americano, a latte, a cappuccino or a flat white, along with a few non-coffee drinks like tea or hot chocolate that are really just using the hot water spout and not much more. After you've selected your drink, the menu switches to three icons — again, full-color images — that you then press in order from left to right. The first icon grinds your coffee, the second pulls your espresso shot and the third either steams your milk or adds some hot water, depending on your drink (a plain espresso shot omits the third step, naturally).

There are a few manual steps in between button pushing — you need to use the tamping lever on the side of the machine to conclude the grinding process, you have to remove the portafilter from the grinder and insert it onto the group head and you'll need to place your milk pitcher under the steam wand if making a milk drink — but until we have helper robots roaming around our kitchens, this is as easy as it gets.

As I mentioned previously, I don't have a lot of time in the morning to spend making coffee. Thankfully, the Barista Touch Impress is incredibly fast. From start to finish, it literally only takes around two minutes to make a drink. When you first turn the machine on, there's about five seconds of whirring as it powers up. You're then presented with the menu screen I described in the previous section and you're good to go. Grinding takes about 30 seconds, the shot is typically a little under 30 and then it's about another half a minute to either steam your milk or receive a dose of hot water for an Americano. And that's it. There's no waiting forever for water to heat up or anything like that. Once you turn the machine on, it's basically ready to go.

Now, this machine does not boast a dual boiler system like some of Breville's larger superautomatic machines like the Oracle Touch, which means you can't pull a shot and run the steam wand simultaneously like you can on that machine. But to me, this is not a problem. The machine is so fast and requires such little recovery time between drinks (basically zero) that the extra 30 seconds required to steam your milk after pulling a shot is hardly a dealbreaker and certainly not worth the extra $1,300 of the Oracle Touch's $2,800 price tag if that was your main justification for the upgrade.

And the speed of the Barista Touch Impress does not indicate a sacrifice of quality. The espresso it brews is rich and flavorful with good crema, and the milk in my cappuccino is smooth, creamy and perfectly frothed. This machine truly produces high-quality, cafe-level espresso drinks in almost no time with almost no effort from me. It's kind of remarkable.

One minor annoyance I've found with the Barista Touch Impress is when it comes to fill the water and beans. If I may pick nits for a moment: The water tank is thin in depth but large width-wise, taking up the entire backside of the machine. It has a handle, but the handle is sort of wonky and is hard to keep the tank balanced when using it, so I tend to just grab the tank by its sides. But the combination of the tank's awkward size and its placement on the rear of the machine makes it difficult to remove and replace, especially when the machine is placed under a cabinet like mine is, and like I suspect many users' will be.

Then there's replacing the beans. This is quite simple to do, as all you have to do is remove the lid from the top of the hopper and pour in some new beans. Easy peasy. But my issue comes down to knowing when to replace the beans. Visually, it's unclear how deep into the machine the hopper goes, and I've yet to accurately predict when I'll actually run out of beans. Every time I've needed to refill the hopper, it's happened in the middle of a grinding session when the hopper literally empties itself and the screen tells me to fill it. For all the machine's bells and whistles, I wish it would warn me earlier when I was running low on beans. It does when the water tank is almost empty, so I'm sure Breville could easily find a way to work this feature in on future renditions of the Barista Touch Impress.

If you have a friend with an espresso machine, they will undoubtedly tell you that it makes a big mess. Filling a portafilter and tamping down coffee grounds manually and then trimming them until you reach the perfect height to pull a shot is messy business, and as a result, most machines are pretty much constantly surrounded by a scourge of dirt-like espresso grounds. But not this Breville. Thanks to the Impress puck system, this might just be the cleanest espresso machine on the market (along the rest of Breville's Impress lineup).

The way it works is this: On the left side of the machine, there is a tamping lever. Once you grind your coffee, with the portafilter still under the grinder, the screen will prompt you to pull this lever. Pulling it down is honestly my favorite thing about using the machine, as it's an intriguing blend of analog and digital technology. You pull the lever down and feel a little pressure until you hear an audible "beep!" telling you you've completed the tamping process. It's very satisfying, especially when the screen confirms that your puck is the perfect size with a little green checkmark. On occasion, usually, only after switching to a new grind size, the machine may tell you to add some more grounds (it measures them automatically) or remove some (you have to do this manually with a razor tool), but this is quite rare in my experience. Most of the time, the puck's size is perfect, and when I remove it from the grinder there's nary a stray ground in sight. It's quite ingenious and makes owning and using the machine very low maintenance on a day-to-day basis.

I don't believe the Breville Barista Touch Impress is ugly, it's just a bit techy for my tastes. This is entirely subjective and my own personal preference, but I find the touchscreen a little garish and think it takes away some of the romance you get from a beautiful old-school manual machine from the likes of Rocket or La Marzocco. Of course, the tradeoff in owning a machine like that — besides the fact that they cost several grand more for comparable functionality — is that they're considerably more difficult to use. Ultimately, you need to decide what's most important to you, and in this case, I would choose the brains of the Breville over the beauty of some Italian.

As odd as it feels to say this, there has never been a more exciting time for milk. Supermarkets are filled to the brim with alternative milk options, giving consumers multiple ways to get their non-dairy on. Personally, I only buy oat milk since I like the taste and since it's supposed to be the best option for the planet, so I was happy to see that the Barista Touch Impress has an oat milk setting built in. Cue Tim & Eric mind blown gif.

The steam function actually has four milk settings: dairy, oat, almond and soy. You select which one you're steaming/frothing, and the machine automatically sets the correct temperature and pressure settings for your milk of choice. It takes the guesswork out of your steamwork and is another way that this machine just makes everything about making espresso drinks as easy as possible.

As for the steam wand's operation itself, you can use the fully automated setting that knows the temperature and consistency to make the milk. I use this all the time and it creates perfect microfoam for cappuccinos and lattes, with differences between all of the milk-type drinks pretty clear. (Though I could use a little instruction on how much milk to use per drink — there are just "min" and "max" lines for guidance on the pitcher.) But if you fancy yourself a barista-in-training, you can lift the steam wand up which will automatically put it in manual mode, where you can adjust your settings and do things the old-fashioned way. In fact, the Barista Touch Impress gives you that option for most tasks: You can eschew its grind recommendations and pick your own grind setting (there are 30 to choose from), you can turn off the intelligent dosing setting to manually time your grinds, you can manually adjust your brew temperature and more. Basically, you can make the machine as hard to use as you want. But with Breville making everything so easy, why would you?

Given its status as the latest and greatest espresso machine from Breville, there's not yet a ton of direct competition for the Barista Touch Impress. Looking within Breville's catalog itself, you can go with the Barista Express Impress, which eschews the touchscreen for a more classic look but still includes the Impress tamping system. It has more of a learning curve, but at just $900, you may be willing to learn. There's also Breville's Barista Touch ($1,100). This has the touchscreen, obviously, but lacks the Impress system ... obviously. It also lacks automatic milk frothing and the alternative milk settings of the Barista Touch Impress, so it certainly comes up short in the dairy (or non-dairy) department. Looking outside of Breville, the De'Longhi La Specialista Prestigio is a solid choice, offering semi-manual performance, old-school looks and a built-in tamping system similar to Impress. Again, it's harder to master than the Barista Touch Impress (what isn't?), but a lot cheaper at $900.