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the first look - breville dual boiler
Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 17, 2011
First Look rating: 9.0
feedback: (291) comments | read | write
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Breville has been making espresso machines for some time now. The Australia-based company has a good chunk of the domestic home machine market in Australia, where nearly 100% of the coffee consumed in the home and at cafes is espresso based. Where in the US, when you go into a Walmart you see a long row of drip coffee makers, in Australia when you go into a megamart, all you see is a long line of espresso machines.

Breville's main competitor in the Australian marketplace is Sunbeam - same brand logo as the Sunbeam we know in North America, but not the same company. Sunbeam Australia is a fairly dynamic, upscale company producing some really good (and bordering on great) espresso machines. They have hired a former World Barista Champion in the past (Paul Bassett) to help design machines. Their overall lineup is pretty solid, and a difficult target for other companies to match.

Breville set sights on not only matching the best espresso machine that Sunbeam had to offer, but exceeding it and becoming the new standard against which other machines are measured. In the past, Breville would design machines using a lot of existing parts from off the shelf suppliers or from existing machines in other markets. More recently, Breville has being doing complete, from the ground up design and engineering on their newest machines, including the BES860 and BES400 models.

This new project, for the Breville Dual Boiler, the BES900 or BES900XL model, is a complete in house design as well, but with some new twists; Breville hired a noted Australian coffee guru (Phil McKnight, cafe owner, ABC judge) to be part of the design team. The goal was to design an espresso machine that would blow away expectations the typical home espresso enthusiast would have about big-brand appliance makers. The goal was to set a new standard.

Breville also consulted with other notable espresso experts in Australia, including two former Australian barista champs, Scottie Callaghan and Hazel de los Reyes during the project. They paid attention to many of the things enthusiasts were saying in forums and internet communities revolving around coffee and espresso. They developed prototypes using sometimes new, sometimes proven, sometimes cutting edge technologies to produce a better shot of espresso. They looked at everything, from PID, to boiler sizes, to thermoblocks, to grouphead designs, to materials used in the portafilter, and eventually came up with an intriguing formula.

That formula produced the Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine. And it should be available for sale in select markets by July, 2011, and in all markets Breville sells machines by the end of summer. The pricing is still a bit fluid, but it looks like a RRP of $1,499 in Australia (includes consumption tax, may sell for less) and rumour has it a MSRP of $1,299 in the US, not including taxes.

That is a tough pricepoint, especially for a big brand company. For true CoffeeGeeks, $1300 might seem to be reasonable depending on the spec list (perhaps even cheap); but for many consumers, this price is probably higher than what they paid for their refrigerator. So the question is, is this machine worth the price? Does it exceed this price in terms of value vs. what it costs? We'll save that determination for our Detailed Review, but for this First Look, we'll let you be the judge.

First Impressions

At very first glance, the Breville Dual Boiler looks like any other recent Breville espresso machine, only bigger. In fact, it has the same steal plating (brushed steel) that Breville's new line of "Smart" Ovens (tabletop ovens) have. Same button designs too. In other words, the machine has a very modern soft steel look with a lot of rounded edges while still remaining very angular, and it definitely looks like a Breville appliance.

It's only when you give it a second glance, do you see there's a lot of little special things going on with this machine.

The Breville Dual Boiler is a big espresso machine, but not too big. It fits under most kitchen cupboards with some room to spare, even if you have valances under the cupboards. The machine measures 38.5cm front to back along the base of the machine, and is 37.5cm wide in front, tapering to 33cm wide at the back.

The machine is almost entirely covered by metal panels of varying shades of grey. It does seem varying because the metal plates (attached to a composite plastic skeleton) are all brushed steel and pick up light differently at different angles. The front control panel is a lighter colour of metal, and the only main part of the outer skin that isn't metal -- the top cup tray -- is a soft grey. Even though the cup tray on top is not metal, it's a very hard and smooth material (we weren't able to determine if it was plastic or some composite),and it is very solid. The top cup warming tray is made of painted cast aluminum. It also looks like it will hold a fair amount of cups.

The side profile is the now-classic slanted C shape many modern espresso machines have. The grouphead area juts out prominently over the drip tray, creating a lot of mass floating above the area your cups will be when pulling a shot.

Around back, more steel plate with the Breville name prominently bevelled, and a removable water bin that holds up to 2.4 litres. You look at that and think, oh, that's going to be a problem refilling! It's at the back of the machine, which will probably be butted up against the wall! But there's good news: Breville has engineered not one, but two designs into this machine that make filling the reservoir a breeze. In fact, moving the machine, as heavy as it is, is a breeze too. Read on!

On the main control panel in front, you see four circular buttons: three on the right, one on the left. The left one is the power button (but also has other functions). The three on the right are Manual, 1 Cup, and 2 Cup. Yes, this is an automatic machine (though you can brew manually with it, and again, with some tricks - more on that later).

Immediately to the right of the power switch is a display window with four buttons underneath reading menu, up, down, and exit. This is where you set all of the controls and functions of the machine, as well as see a lot of active readouts. These buttons also work in conjunction with the Power button to give you more control and programming options.

And of course, dead centre on the front of the Breville Dual Boiler is a big white pressure dial with a red indicator arm. You can't miss it. Unlike many machines that have a built in pressure gauge, this one actually matters, as I'll explain later on in this First Look.

Below the gauge are two indicator lights: one for hot water, one for steam. They light up whenever you engage hot water, or start using the steam wand. The four circular dials on the machine also light up when the machine is on, and they selectively dim or light depending on how you are operating the machine.

Overall, the machine is a stunning example of modernist smooth lines and ample metal to soothe the wants of most modern kitchen designers.

(ed note: the following is a late addition to this First Look) In the back of my mind while I was checking this machine out was all the testing the Breville engineers did on this machine to make sure it would last a long time. For instance, they put a series of machines through a major torture test: they simulated brewing 15,000 cappuccinos with this machine. How? They put the machines through a test cycle: run hot water for a set time (simulating heating a cup); run the grouphead for 30 seconds with a Scace-like restrictor plate in the portafilter; then they ran the steam for the amount of time it would take to do about 150-200ml of milk up to 60C. And they did this 15,000 times. On several machines. Anything that ran into difficulties would get diagnosed and fixed. Then they'd test it again. They also tested other components, like inserting and removing the portafilter, thousands and thousands of times.

This is why Breville is confident in offering something that doesn't exist in the specialty espresso industry: a two year (in Australia for now, US TBA) warranty. Buy it on certain VISA cards or from certain vendors, and you can easily double that warranty time. The 'bulletproof' Silvia has a 1 year warranty, and only from the vendor you bought it from. Breville's is 2 years, and service is much more widespread.

Not too shabby.

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Breville Dual Boiler
The machine from the right side. Very clean, soft lines (most lines have subtle curves). Note the hot water wand, and the steam arm lever.
Breville Dual Boiler
From the left side. Again, very clean, soft lines. Note the built in (removable) tamper, and the side knob for hot water.
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Breville Controls
The front controls - Power, display window with four buttons below, gauge, water and steam indicators, and three brewing buttons.
The details
The buttons have a really good micro-rib design that keeps your fingers gripped on them. All the fit and finish is very tight.
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The gauge
Very easy to read, very quick to respond, a good addition to the machine.
Big drip tray
Well designed drip tray. Companies like La Marzocco could learn serious lessons here. And I bet this tray cover doesn't cost $300 to replace.
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Hot water
Hot water knob with microswitch. Can control the flow of water as well.
Infinite position steam lever
The excellently designed steam lever knob.
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Built in (removable tamper)
The tamper is held in place by magnets.
Steam wand
Excellent steam wand (no froth aider tricks); in the background, you can see the "Empty Me" indicator when the drip tray is full.

What the Breville Dual Boiler Is

Time to get into the real meat of what this machine is about. I struggled with how to present all this information because, to be honest, there's a lot going on with the Breville Dual Boiler. It's probably best to break it down into sections. Let's start with what you can't see normally.

What's Inside

The Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine is what the name implies - an espresso machine with two boilers. But it is much more than that. The primary brewing boiler is a 400ml stainless steel boiler (with a 700W element) sitting above the machine's grouphead. The boiler isn't directly connected to the grouphead to provide grouphead heat - in this machine, the grouphead has its own heating system, as we'll get to in a moment.

The brew boiler has an embedded element and is fed water not from the reservoir, but from a heat exchanger situated in the machine's other boiler - a 1litre heat exchanger boiler (with a 900W element) serving the steam wand (as well as preheating the water for the brewing boiler. This 1litre boiler is vertically stacked towards the back-right of the machine and is also stainless steel. There is no insulating wrapping around either boilers, but in operation, the machines never seem to get excessively hot, though the cuptray above does get nice and toasty.

Can you say GS/3? I can, because the GS/3 uses the same design of HX feeding a brew boiler (although its boilers are horizontal). The Kees van der Westen Speedster espresso machine does the same thing, as do several other top of the line commercial espresso machines. And it is a good system, resulting in very stable temperature controls, even if you don't use PID controllers.

And here's where Breville's next trick is. It features not one, but two PID controllers. One is working on the brew boiler, and the second one isn't where you'd expect it: it is on the grouphead, not the steam boiler. The steam boiler is controlled via a thermostat thermister control (which is more precise than a thermostat).

This machine also has two pumps. One is your standard 15bar vibe pump (a Ukla or similar), but the other one is a less than 3bar pump exclusively used to feed the steam boiler. That means no pressure problems at the grouphead should the auto-fill decide to trigger for the heat exchanger boiler while you are pulling a shot. That's something the GS/3 can't do - it has to disengage HX boiler filling while shot pulling is taking place, because it only has one pump. The Dual Boiler from Breville has two.

As mentioned before in this article, the grouphead on the Breville is actively heated. There is a 100W element connected to it that is controlled by the machine's second PID. Presumably this is done to provide as precise control as possible in the grouphead for maintaining ideal, stable brewing temperatures. Breville's engineering team says the grouphead's heat up time is extremely quick, bringing it up to temperature stable conditions rapidly and maintaining it there. The actively heated grouphead also helps in temperature stability, since it's not reliant on an outside heating source (ie, saturated group, or attached to the boiler) but instead has its own temperature controlled heating system.

The Breville Dual Boiler has all the other usual things a high end home machine has, including an OPV (overpressure) valve, a 3 way solenoid valve for back pressure release, all the necessary temperature probes, pop off safety valves and more.

One of the most impressive things to me is that Breville designed this machine to perform exceptionally well for the parts of the world that rely on 110V or 100V, 15A service. The entire draw of the machine at maximum operation is around 1800W. This goes for the 220V Australian models and the 110V North American models. The wattage breakdown is a bit different for the two markets however (probably because Americans love their big lattes!): Australian and New Zealand models break down like this: 900W for the steam boiler; 700W for the brew boiler; 100W for the grouphead heater; 100W for the electronics, pump and LED lights and other power draws on the machine. North American models have slightly different wattages for the boilers: 1000W for the steam boiler, and 600W for the brew boiler.

Corrected: Both N. American and Australian models have nearly identical boiler sizes and wattages: Brew boiler is 300ml 600W, PID controlled. The Steam boiler is 950ml, 1000W, and thermister controlled. The grouphead's element is 100W in N. American models, 200W in Australian models, but Breville is only "pushing" 100W through it in both models. it is also PID controlled.

Very savvy design. Who said you can't design a dual boiler machine for North American power requirements?

Cutout display
Breville had several cutout displays at their open house. Here is the entire machine with various cutouts showing all the technology inside.
Grouphead and brew boiler
This cutout shows details in the grouphead design and the brew boiler above it. There are also two PIDs involved - one for the brew boiler, one to keep the grouphead temperature specific.
Steam boiler
The steam boiler cutout shows the heating coil at the bottom, and the heat exchanger tube up top that feeds the brew boiler. This is thermostat controlled.

Portafilter

Everyone's making a big deal about La Marzocco going to a full stainless steel system, including the portafilter design. Well, Breville opted for a stainless steel (and substantial) portafilter design too (the handle is of course hard plastic like most portafilters).

This is no baby portafilter -- it's virtually indistinguishable from a normal commercial model. It is a full 58mm filter basket sized portafilter with a nice spout design. The walls of the portafilter are pleasingly thick. It weighs in at 507g with the double basket inside. It is a breeze to clean, it retains lots of thermal capacity, and unlike brass filters, won't slowly (I mean really slowly, like in 100 years) poison you.

There is a plastic insert inside the portafilter, but it can be easily removed. I did so the day we got our test unit. I'm not quite sure why it is in the interior of the portafilter in the first place, but I suspect it is related to the rubber-gasket blind filter thingie the machine ships with.

The spout is also a pretty good design. It is a three part affair: a rubber grommet, a collar, and the spout. This system allows you to rotate the spouts if you want, but othewise, they stay in place. The spouts themselves have an interesting, wide and flat cavity design.

These new Breville portafilters cannot hold a triple basket, however. These new Breville portafilters will work with some triple baskets, though my testing showed one that wouldn't fit, one that fit too tightly to allow unimpeded flow from the basket (a VST 22g), and a few that fit just fine. YMMV, but Breville has tested several triples and all fit for them.

The portafilter does fit (albeit snuggly for one or two) any double basket, including the new VST/La Marzocco precision baskets (15 and 18g sizes). The machine comes with five inserts for the portafilter: a single basket, a double basket, single and double pressurized filter baskets (Breville calls them "double wall"), and the aforementioned rubber insert that acts like a blind filter, designed to use cleaning tablets. You can use a blind filter if you like (though I am not sure how a blind filter will work with the machine's programmed cleaning mode).

Breville also informed us that they may be selling several after-sale options for this machine down the road, including a factory-cut, chopped and polished portafilter.

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Stainless steel portafilter
The substantial (500+g) portafilter included with the machine has all the hallmarks of a commercial portafilter design
Grouphead
The grouphead is interesting - actively heated, and has a dual rubber / silicone seal system that makes inserting and removing the portafilter a snap. I never had a single leaking problem with this sealing design.
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Grouphead
The "lock" position is straight out, but you can pull the handle even tighter. Doesn't matter though - the double seal system keeps things leak free.
Spout design
The spout is a three part deal (gasket, not pictured, is on the bottom of the portafilter. It also has a wide, flat flow channel.

Steam Wand and Steam Control

Being a dual boiler machine, this Breville has on demand steam. The wand itself is nicely engineered and satisfyingly bulky. The wand has full range of motion, left to right, front to back, and even swivels, so you can have the want pointing to the front of the machine or to the side or anywhere in between. The movement is stiff, but still fairly fluid - it takes a smidge of effort to rotate and move the wand but it isn't so stiff that it stutters during moving.

On the wand itself is a big rubberized circular grip that takes away any real worry about hurting / burning your hands while operating. The grip is really soft and pliant too.

The bulbous end of the wand features a three hole tip. Breville also includes a very cool multi-tool for cleaning the wand or even unscrewing the tip so you can give it a complete cleaning.

The wand design itself is pretty brilliant, but doesn't hold a candle to how you access steam. I will editorialise here again, but I feel confident in saying Breville has the best steam control system I've ever used on a home machine, and I'm including the GS/3 again in that comparison. It even rivals many commercial systems. Here's why and how.

On the right side of the machine there's a lever attached to a dial. That is the steam lever. Tilt it up and you get steam. Tilt it up more, and you get more steam. It will sit in any position along its movement plane without any problems. If you want 1/4 steam, you can get it. If you want 1/2 power steam, no problem. If you want 42/57ths steam power, again no problem. It moves smoothly, it moves easily without much drag, and it feels rock solid. There's also a microswitch that is connected the lever: it's purpose is multifold. It communicates to the machine's brain when the steam wand is activated but it also does things like inform the machine upon powerup if the lever is engaged, preventing any problems with water drips or unexpected steam. It is one of the better engineered parts of this machine.

This lever system is so good, I wish La Marzocco would license the technology from Breville and put it on the GS/3 somehow.

Steam power itself? I've been told it is very good, and reasonably quick - as quick as most machines with 1 litre boiler. Unfortunately, our prototype had a known issue with steam delivery (a problem with an internal gasket), so steam power on our test unit was noticeably diminished. I will say even with the prototype underpowered, I was able to build absolutely perfect microfoam the very first time I used it, steaming 150ml of milk in a 350ml jug. I can't say that with most machines I've tested.

I've been informed that shipping models of this machine will not have the defect present in this prototype, so we'll have to revisit how fast steaming is once we get our shipping machine.

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Steam Arm
Similar in some ways to other Breville steam arms, but unlike some of their machines a) no froth aider, and b) pretty substantial.
Ball and socket
The full movement range connection for the steam arm.
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Off position
Lever in off position.
Midway position
The lever is infinitely positionable. You can control the steam power, and it is very easy to move up or down and finesse the steam.
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Full on position
Here is the full on position of the steam lever
Water wand
The water wand is a three hole affair to to help defuse the flow of pretty hot water.

Other Niceties on the Breville Dual Boiler

There's a lot of other really cool things on this machine that show some serious engineering savvy and attention to even the smallest details a home espresso enthusiast might desire or appreciate.

  • Tamper. I'm hard on espresso machine companies for their sucky tampers. La Marzocco gives you a plastic one (albeit thick); Rancilio gives you a cheesy, chintzy thin plastic one with rough edges. The only company that gives you a fantastic tamper is Kees van der Westen, but you'll pay ten large or more for one of his machines. Well, Breville certainly doesn't quite match the quality of the KvdW tampers, but the tamper they do include with the Dual Boiler is fairly innovated and definitely usable. It is a plastic thing with a steel plate base, 58mm. That on its own isn't so special. What is special is how the tamper stores when not in use - it actually slots into the machine, in the grouphead underhang area and stays in place with magnets! So you can have the more traditional "tamper built into the machine" thing that some users like, or remove it and tamp away. Nice! (thought it'd be nicer if it were more substantial, like all metal, or a metal piston with a wood handle and metal cap for the magnet).

  • Hidden Accessories Tray. Inside the machine is a little tray that can hold spare filters, small tools (including some cool ones that come with the machine) cleaning tablets and more. How do you access it? If you pull out the drip tray anything faster than "dead slow", it comes sliding out about 6cm with the tray then automatically disengages, sitting in the now exposed foot of the machine. Very cool.

  • Hot Water Tap. The hot water knob on the left of the machine has a microswitch that communicates with the Breville's main CPU about its status. Water comes from the brewing boiler, but because the brew boiler is given 80C water via the steam boiler's heat exchanger, there's little worry about excessive temperature drops from the brew boiler even if you're dispensing 150ml or more of hot water.

  • Cord Storage. I know I'm not supposed to completely editorialize what I am writing here but I can't help it: this machine has the best cord storage system I've ever seen on an espresso machine (or grinder for that matter). There's a cavity inside the back left of the machine and the flat cord just snakes up into this space via a well-placed and nice looking cutout. It doesn't take much effort at all to fit the entire cord inside.

  • Drip Tray Design. I've already talked about several things the drip tray does (helps pull out the accessories drawer) but there's even more. There's a very clear visual indicator when the tray is approaching full - a wide "empty me" sign slowly starts to pop up. No guesswork there. There's also another neat feature - it has a spill area helping you to pour out the contents better: the waste water will flow out of this spill area first if you tip it in that direction. The tray cover is also quite nice, with no water pooling effects. Compared to the La Marzocco GS/3 with its horribly designed drip tray cover, this is heaven. The tray also has a very big surface area, covering 33cm wide by 12.5cm deep - very luxurious. Lastly, the drip tray interacts in a very unique way with the water reservoir; but I'll detail that more later on in this First Look.

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Built in, removable tamper
The tamper is positioned in the machine the way many built in tampers are; but this one is removable.
Magnets
The magnets that hold the tamper in place.
Drip tray details - overflow catcher
The overflow catcher (for both the solenoid release, and for overfilling the reservoir).
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Secret compartment
There's a secret compartment inside the machine's base. It gets pulled out a bit when you pull out the drip tray.
Drip tray details
Here the drip tray is partially pulled out, and just "released" the tool storage tray.
Also a pour spout
This is also designed as a pour spout when emptying the drip tray.
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Cord storage
Here, the cord is almost completely stored inside the machine.
Cord storage
Here, approximately half the cord is pulled out. There's still a lot more.
Complex reservoir
Here's the reservoir removed from the machine. I talk a lot more about this later in the First Look.

Operating the Breville Dual Boiler.

There's a lot for the owner to do on this machine once it is turned on. You can set things like brewing temperature, pre-infusion, pre-infusion strength, automatic shot timings, run an automatic cleaning, and much more. Or you can just power it up and use Breville's default settings. The machine ships with the temperature default set to 93C, the pre-infusion time at 5 seconds at 60% pump strength, and the shot volumes at 30ml for the single (approx.) and 60ml for the double (again, approx.).

I've already given a lot away about some of the features this machine has, in that last paragraph. Would you like some more detail? You wouldn't be a CoffeeGeek if you didn't. :)

Programmable Pre-infusion

This machine has programmable pre-infusion, and has two ways to control it: time of pre-infusion, and strength of pre-infusion. Time's is fairly easy to understand: you set how long you want pre-infusion to take place. Do you want 2 seconds? 5? 8 seconds? 15 seconds? No problem with this machine.

You can also set the relative strength of the water flow during pre-infusion. Breville does this by reducing the power to the pump, and you can control that power. You can have 50% power (really low pressure pre-infusion, or up to 65% or higher (around 2.5bar or so, perhaps higher, we haven't tested this yet).

You can shut off all pre-infusion and also dynamically choose to do a pre-infusion shot, or do one without, depending on how you press brewing buttons. Again, this is some pretty cool stuff from Breville's engineers, and here's an example of how it works:

Let's say you have pre-infusion set for 6 seconds, 60% power. Press the manual brew button and that's what you get - 6 seconds of pre-infuse, and then continuous brew until you press the manual button again. Press the 2 cup button and you get 6 seconds pre-infuse, then the machine goes up to full power, brewing out until approximately 60ml (or whatever you programmed the two cup button to brew) comes out.

But... let's say you don't want pre-infusion. If you don't you can get a "no pre-infusion"shot on the fly just by pressing and holding either the 1 or 2 cup button. The machine will go to full pump strength right away and brew as long as you hold the button. Let go of the button, and the pump stops, the 3 way solenoid engages, back pressure is released, and your shot brew is done, sans pre-infusion.

Say you want a longer pre-infusion for one time only: well, again no problem: just press and hold the manual brew button for as long as you want pre-infusion to take place. Release it, and the machine goes up to full pump power, 9bar. Press again to end the shot.

The manual button also works this way if you have pre-infusion disabled in the menu system - pressing and holding it will do the last-set pre-infusion pressure until you release the button, then it goes to full pump pressure. Pretty nifty.

This is also where the gauge up front comes into play and, like I said early on in this First Look, is so much more relevant on this machine than it is on most home espresso machines with a pressure gauge. First, the response time from this gauge is quick -- very quick. It's also very accurate. I ran a Scace II measuring device on the machine and the pressure measured in the portafilter was very close to the gauge's reading. This is a first for me, especially in the lack of lag time. Quite impressive stuff, and the gauge is this accurate because of where the pressure is measured (as close to the dispersion screen as is possible with engineering).

Programmable Temperature

The Breville Dual Boiler has PID-controlled temperature for both the brewing boiler and the grouphead's active heating system. That means if you want to have 94C temperatures, you get that, or at least very close. Again with the Scace measuring device, I saw the machine was within about 1C of the programmed setting, sometimes as close as 0.5C by the time you're 15 seconds into the shot. More importantly, the temperatures held very steady once they got to your programmed setting. I didn't do a lot of Scace testing, but the amount I did showed excellent performance for a home machine.

There is a downside though. The settings are only in 1C jumps - you can't do 0.5C, or 0.3C. You can change over to Fahrenheit, but temperatures are limited to 2F jumps with one exception. I could go from 198F to 199F, but the next jumps were 201F, 203F and so on. Also 196F, 194F etc. We would have liked to see more precise control, perhaps down to 1F or 0.5C or even finer.

Other Operational Features

The Breville Dual Boiler has the usual accoutrements of a machine of this calibre: OPV valve for overpressure (it feeds back to the reservoir); 3 way solenoid release valve for backpressure release as soon as the shot is done; auto-fill sensors to keep the boilers happy and full; and microswitches for hot water and for the steam lever to let the machine know its doing various tasks that won't interfere with other tasks.

Here are various states and programming features of the display panel and just for kicks, readouts from the pressure gauge, as if there weren't enough photos in this First Look :)

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Programming - 1 Cup
Programming - 2 Cup
Programming - Brew Temperature (C)
Programming - Auto Start Time
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Programming - Auto Clean Cycle
Program - Clock
Programming - Machine Audible Beep Volume
Programming - Celsius or Fahrenheit
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Set for 201F
You can set the machine for Fahrenheit or Celsius. But in F, it jumps 2F, except for one situation.
199F
Here, it went from 201F to 199F... but:
198F
It will drop down only one degree to 198F, then continue jumping 2F.
Glow
The panel is bright, but not as bright as the button outlines. I wished the panel light stayed on longer.
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Operating: Temperature Display
Operating: Shot timer
Preinfusion Program
Here, preinfusion is set for 8 seconds.
Preinfusion Program
Here, the pump pressure (PP) is st to 65% for pre-infusion.
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Gauge - starting brew
Here, 5 seconds in, the gauge is showing the preinfusion amount just starting to climb.
Preinfusion on Gauge
Still climbing very slowly.
Preinfusion on Gauge
Gauge - quick reading
Here, only 2 seconds later on the shot time, the gauge has jumped up to full pump pressure. It happens in less than a second.

Some of the other features deserve a few more words.

  • You can program the 1 and 2 cup buttons for specific volumes. I believe it is volumetric and not timed but have not confirmed this.

  • The machine has a power save mode built in. If not used for an hour, it goes dormant - keeping the steam boiler relatively hot (you can hear it gurgle boil every once in a while) but the brew boiler goes down to about 140F in standby. If you don't use the machine for 4 hours, it powers off (you can disable the complete power off mode if you choose). It takes about 2 minutes for the brew boiler to get back up to temperature during power save. Almost any control will wake it up - the brew switches, hot water dial or steam lever. However, it takes the portafilter a lot longer to fully heat up: about 4 minutes or more.

  • The machine can display temperatures in either Fahrenheit or Celsius.

  • The machine can be programmed to turn on every day at a specific time. It has a 24 hour clock built in. The auto-fill features help this.

  • The machine has a very smart brain with too many details to cover here, but we'll provide one example: say the reservoir is near its lowest point before the machine shuts down waiting to be refilled... not quite there, but within 20, 30mls. If you're brewing a shot and the reservoir indicator trips the CPU to say "refill me", unlike most machines, the Breville won't stop your shot: it'll continue making the shot until either the auto shot button reaches its preprogrammed volume, or you have hit the manual brew button to end the shot. Then the machine will go into standby waiting for more water. Other machines just shut down, mid shot, including vaunted machines like the La Marzocco GS/3. Big kudos to Breville for this little engineering trick.

  • This machine is by far the most "grippy" home espresso machine I've ever used, when describing how it sits still on the counter. It has some pretty substantial rubber feet (more like rubber racetrack patterns) on the bottom that keep it pretty much glued in place, even if you're manhandling the portafilter. But there's another trick with the way this machine sits on the counter, and I talk about that more next.

Water Reservoir

I rarely give water reservoirs their own category in a Detailed Review, much less in a First Look, but Breville's design of the water reservoir deserves it.

First, the reservoir can be entirely removed from the back of the machine through a nifty lift and pull out handle system built right into its base. Removing it is dead simple. The machine also comes with an extra long lasting filtration system that easily engages into the removed reservoir.

Putting the reservoir back into place is easy too: it won't slide all the way in, but most of the way in. You put it into its final seating position with a satisfying lift and close of the handle at its base. You can even hear a subtle soft click as the reservoir fully engages into the machine and is locked into place.

So how do you fill the reservoir if it is at the back of the machine and the machine is heavy and has very (I mean very) grippable rubber feet sitting on the counter? Well, there's two ways to do it.

First, and the way most people will fill the reservoir, is via the top of the machine, in front of the cup tray. There's a soft-touch, damped release lid that once pressed, slowly rises showing a place to pour water into. You can fill the entire reservoir from here.

How do you know how full the reservoir is? Here's another of the Breville's tricks: the reservoir container has a lot f shapes and angles to it and one of those shapes is a cutout of sorts that slots right into the front of the machine, below the grouphead. The water level can be seen here. "But that area under the grouphead overhang is dark and makes it hard to see how much water is inside!" you might be saying. Well, Breville thought of that too: there's a LED lighting diode inside the machine, above the reservoir right where that cutout display is. It reflects off the surface of the water as you fill the reservoir, showing exactly how much water you're pouring in.

And what if you still overfill it from the top? No problem - the engineers thought of that too. If you overfill the reservoir, Breville designed the shape of it in such a way that any overfill automatically gets poured into the machine's drip tray! Genius! The only way you could possibly spill any water while filling this machine from the top is if you poured in so much water not only have you filled the reservoir, but overfilled the drip tray too.

There's also a second way to fill the water reservoir, and its another bit of genius by the engineers. If you remove the machine's drip tray, you'll see a big knob underneath it. Turn it from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock and the front of the machine rises just a bit... and now the machine is sitting on three rubberized roller wheels. The back two wheels are unidirectional, but the front wheel (right under that knob you just turned) is on a 360 degree swivel. All of a sudden, the machine is rolling around your counter, giving you super easy access to the sides and back.

I've never seen this before on an espresso machine (not to say it doesn't exist); and I found it brilliant.

Click for larger image Click for larger image
Reservoir Handle
The reservoir in back removes when you flip up the wide handle at the bottom
Reservoir complexity
The reservoir is actually quite complex in design. it needs to have a filter, have a level sensor, spill overfill to the drip tray, slot into the front of the machine, stay secure, and a lot more.
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Fill Tank indicator
The machine has sensors to detect low water levels. But the machine will not stop the current brewing if the sensor trips the CPU to put up this warning. That's good design.
Ample cup tray
The large and hot cup tray on top has a door mechanism in the front.
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Soft touch, soft lift lid
The lid opens smoothly to reveal another place to fill the reservoir.
Fill the reservoir from front
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Filter assembly
The filter assembly - Breville recommends replacing every 2 months. A charcoal activated filter system.
Max indicator, overflow
Here you can see the max indicator cutout that slots into the front of the machine. To the left of it and slightly blurred, you can see how they handle overfilling - that square drain goes to the drip tray.
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Lift knob under drip tray
Here is the knob turned to lift the machine so it can roll around. This is the lift position. The tray cannot slot into place when it is in this position.
Rotating foot
This is the rotating foot that the knob lifts or lowers. It swivels 360 degrees allowing you to rotate the machine as well as move it forward and backward.
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Rear wheels
These are the rear wheels. They are recessed very slightly so when the machine is level, they barely touch the counter top; but when the steering knob is lowered, these engage as well.
LED-lit water reservoir
The water reservoir is lit by an internal LED, which makes the water level very visible under most operating circumstances.

Wrapup

Click for larger image

This is one of the longest First Looks ever done on CoffeeGeek and the reason is simple. This is a feature packed, impressive machine from Breville, a company known for more general-public espresso machines and small appliances.

It is important to note this First Look is based on a prototype model. In the interest of full disclosure, we had some issues with our test machine: the pump was not reaching a full 9bar pressure (it would max out at around 8.5bar on the gauge and on the Scace II; barely hitting 9bar with a blind filter in place); the pump was excessively noisy; and everyone who used the machine felt the steam was underpowered (Breville explained there was a known (and addressed in the production model) defect in our steam arm system that reduced steam power). Testers also didn't like the Power Save mode since it affected grouphead temperatures and resulted in some minor annoying waits.

This is a hand assembled and tweaked prototype of what will eventually be the shipping production model. I fully expect things like proper pump pressure (indeed, Breville's online videos showing the pressure gauge showed it easily reaching over 9bar) and better overall noise issues to be under control. I also expect the steam power issues we had to not be a concern in the production model. There also could be some final changes in the firmware of the machine to improve some features - my vote is include control settings for power-save, including the option to disable it.

What was impressive was just how much engineering savvy has gone into this machine. Seemingly little things like the rubber grip for the steam wand, to bigger things like the innovative steam wand lever control and even the secret compartment and the way you can raise the machine and roll it around the counter.

Shots on this machine were quite good as well. Even with the slightly reduced pump pressure, this machine was producing great shots, and being able to manipulate preinfusion time and strength, plus control temperatures to 2F / 1C (with a 0.5C/1F accuracy level) lead to lots of experimenting opportunities and the ability to see nuance differences in shots pulled with very small changes in pre-infusion or temperatures.

I'm not ready to write a "bottom line" or give this product a score; that will have to wait for a production model test. There are also no shot pulling photos or videos of the machine in operation included here because again, this is a First Look, and it is a prototype model.

But I feel confident in saying this is a first class espresso machine with a feature set a Rancilio Silvia or Ascaso Steel Duo could only dream of having - and that especially includes the warranty. In some cases, the machine approaches what the GS/3 is capable of, and even in few cases (ie how steam is activated), it exceeds the user experience of the GS/3.

Hot water on demand. Steam on demand. HX boiler feeding a brew boiler. Hefty stainless steel 58mm portafilter. Innovative steam control. Smart refilling options. Smart drip tray design. Smart cord storage. Heck, smart brain inside. And a lot more. That is the Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine.

First Look rating: 9.0
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: May 17, 2011
feedback: (291) comments | read | write
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