It seems to me, that the holy grail for all domestic espresso machines is the ability to make espresso coffee as good or even better than a commercial coffee shop. A tough task indeed but a task made easier when coffee machine manufacturers take their inspiration from commercial coffee machines. This is certainly the case with Breville and their wonderful BES920XL espresso machine.
The secret to amazing espresso drinks, brewed just the way you like them, is having the ability to fine-tune the brewing process. The Breville BES920XL has this in spades! For starters, it is a dual-boiler with PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) control. I will explain why this is such a great feature later in the review, but just know that this puts it on a level playing field with commercial espresso machines.
Of course, the true test of how good an espresso coffee machine is, is how good the espresso it makes actually is. I am pleased to say that with a good quality coffee bean, ground by a quality burr grinder, the Breville BES920XL makes exceptional coffee. There is a learning curve to master this machine but if you know a thing or two about espresso-making, you will be up and running very quickly.
Breville BES920 XL Pros & Cons
|Makes incredible espresso||No burr grinder|
|Dual boiler with PID||Questionable build quality in the group head|
|Tons of fine-tuning control over your espresso making|
|Nice and smooth lever for good, consistent steam|
|Auto-on feature for warming machine up at a certain time|
|Boiler drain feature for transportation|
|Auto-Fill feature – automatically fills boiler with water to prevent burn out|
|3-way valve relieves pressure in the group head after extraction, nice solid puck|
|Sleek and beautiful design|
Breville BES920XL Design and Specifications
The BES920XL really is a beautiful and sleek looking espresso machine. With its brushed stainless steel finish and black plastic flashes, it can grace any kitchen. It certainly has the wow factor when you look at it. It comes with a two-year warranty instead of the single year you got with the BES900XL.
This machine is an updated version of the excellent Breville BES900XL and they are both sometimes referred to as the “Breville Dual Boiler” espresso machines or BDB for short. Yes, as I alluded to earlier, it is a dual boiler machine with PID control, but what exactly does this mean?
I am pleased you asked, there is one boiler for the group head espresso brewing part and a separate boiler for the steam function. The reason this is a good thing is that it makes it possible to both brew the coffee and steam the milk simultaneously. The real kicker though is that you can independently set the optimal boiler temperature for each function for a consistent brew and steam each and every time. With a single boiler, it can be very difficult and cumbersome to reach this optimal temperature consistently.
The PID part or Proportional-Integral-Derivative refers to a very nerdy algorithm that is used to maintain this optimal temperature each and every time you use the Breville BES920XL. Machines that do not have a PID controller tend to be quite inconsistent with regard to water and steam temperatures. I could go into a more detailed description of PID but I can already sense that your eyes are clouding over, so I shall continue with the review instead. All you need to know is that a dual boiler with PID control is a very good thing with regard to making consistently wonderful espresso!
Dimensions: 16W X 15D X 15H inches (41W X 38D X 38H cm)
Weight: 30lb (13.6kg)
Cup Clearance: 4in (10cm)
Brew Boiler: 10oz (0.30L) 700 Watts
Steam Boiler: 32oz (0.95L) 900 Watts
Reservoir Tank: 84oz (2.50 Litres)
Case: Plastic with Metal Finish
Breville BES920XL Performance & Functionality
The truth of the pudding is in the eating and in this case, the truth of the BES920XL is in how good the espresso is. Well, after a few goes and some half-decent ground coffee beans, the truth is, this machine really does make delicious espresso each and every time. There is a bit of work to get you there though, but it is well worth the effort.
The predecessor to this machine was the BES900 and although an excellent machine in itself, the BES920XL has addressed some of the shortcomings from its older brother. The biggest drawback for me was the inability to descale the BES900 at home. It had to be sent back to Breville or a specialist to be able to descale. Not great if you live in a hard water area or were not meticulous with your maintenance. The BES920XL can be descaled at home, which is a great addition!
A lot of the other Breville models come with an included (and excellent) burr grinder. Sadly the BES920XL does not have a burr grinder, so you need to invest in a separate grinder to grind your coffee beans. Maybe not a big deal for some people but for others, it will be. I guess this is a compromise to allow for the extra space needed for dual boilers without turning it into an enormous beast of a machine.
Breville are masters at taking existing espresso makers and enhancing them with some really solid new features. A great feature of the BES920XL is the automatic shot timer, which displays a timer countdown on the backlit digital display for the shot duration, this can be set based on extraction time or volume of coffee. It also allows for really fine control over many functions in the brewing process. You have control over the shot temperature ranging between 190° to 205°F. The beauty of the dual boiler with PID control means you can also set the optimal steam temperature as well and never suffer from fade between shots and steam. The steam temperature ranges between 265° to 285°F.
The real beauty of the BES920XL is its programmability. Once you have found all the correct settings for your perfect espresso drink or other beverage. All these settings like shot time, brew temp, steam temp, pre-infusion settings and other things can be saved as program and just dialled in. Whenever you fancy a cup of your favorite beverage, you can feel very confident that with one click of a button you will get exactly what you want. How many coffee shops can you say that about?
The machine also has an OPV valve which releases excess pressure if it were to build up. This is a good thing because it ensures that the pressure at the brew head is always optimal. It also houses a 3-way solenoid valve so that at the end of the brewing phase, any pent up pressure within the system is released. This results in a nice solid used coffee puck in the portafilter for easy disposal/recycling.
The steam wand is a on a ball joint which allows the wand to moved easily around into the right position for your steaming. The tip has 3 holes for the steam to be released and a nice lever action to control the steam which is very welcome in comparison to the normal switch type control. It really does have the feel of a quality Italian commercial espresso machine.
The auto-start feature is nice but probably not essential in the armory of features it boasts. Essentially, it allows you to set start time for your coffee machine. It could be useful for your morning starts to ensure your Breville is ready and waiting for you at optimal temperatures.
The Breville has a decent cup warmer on top of the machine as well, which is important, for well… Keeping your cups warm.
Breville BES920XL User Interface
The user interface for the BES920XL is a delightful, if not small blue backlit LCD display plus a few buttons and knobs for entering in your coffee mangling settings.
At first glance, it can feel quite intimidating to operate, especially in comparison to some other automatic espresso machine, like the Jura E8 for example. However, after a delve into the manual and some trial and error, it didn’t take long to get up to speed.
There are numerous menu options and settings that are hidden inside the menu structure but to make changes, you simply press the menu button, use the up and down arrow buttons to make selections. You also have buttons for manual, single or double shots which of course are all programmable as well. The manual button is not programmable but does allow for control over a unique beverage that you want to make at any time of your choosing.
I love the analogue pressure gauge in the center of the machine which shows the pressure at pre-infusion and during the extraction as well. It is a nice touch to have this.
Breville BES920XL Build Quality
Breville coffee makers are renowned for their excellent build quality and the BES920XL is no exception to this. It is both solid and very attractive to look at. Made from stainless steel with plastic flashes.
It is a reasonably heavy machine, due in part to the dual boilers I suspect. Weighing in at 30lb, it really is a sturdy piece of kit.
The 84oz water tank is large enough to not need filling up every 5 minutes. It is top fill and also removable if need be.
The machine actually has small retractable castor wheels at the bottom. This makes moving around your worktops very easy. This is particularly useful if you place the Breville in a location under a cupboard where you might need to move the machine to access the water tank for example.
The dual boiler is a real selling point for the Breville BES920XL. The quality of the resulting brews from having independent boilers is top-notch.
Breville BES920XL Maintenance
Before you start using the Breville, you need to do a water test to measure the hardness of your water. The BES920XL has a test strip included with the machine which is handy. Once you know the water hardness you simply enter this into the machine via its menu options. There is also a water filter cartridge which you need to insert into the water tank. A system flush needs to be performed initially as well just to ensure the machine is completely clean and ready to go.
After approximately 200 shots of espresso, a warning will be displayed in the LCD saying CLEAN ME! You then need to follow the instructions in the manual to perform a cleaning cycle on the group head.
Periodically you will also have to descale the Breville. This is a big advance on its predecessor, the BES900 as that required you to send it off to an authorized repair shop to descale! Thankfully, the BES920XL is much more straightforward, and dare I say easy to descale. It has two screws at the front panel of the machine to aid with descaling. These help to rinse through the water left in the system.
Apart from this, the BES920XL just needs the usual wiping off the steam wand after use. They also recommend a regular clear water backflush which involves placing a cleaning dish into the portafilter and allowing water to clean the portafilter and group head. This just removes residual coffee grounds from the group head.
Breville BES920XL Accessories
As you can see in the picture, the Breville comes with a lot of accessories to help you get started. A nice milk jug for all your steaming needs and four filters for both fresh ground coffee and some coffee pods.
It also includes a filter and other cleaning products to enable maintenance of the machine.
A decent tamp is also included that sits nicely under the machines housing magnetically.
Who Is The Breville BES920XL For?
A word of caution, this is not a machine for the “push a button and get a decent brew” type people. This is a machine for the “domestic wannabe baristas” out there. It is well worth the perseverance though and is definitely well suited to people who prefer a lot of control over their espresso drink and lattes.
One downside is that it doesn’t have a burr grinder included in the machine but there are many on the market like this one for example.
Breville BES920XL FAQ
Q1. How long should a Breville coffee machine last?
A1. The BES920XL should last a minimum of 10 years and probably a lot longer with regular maintenance. Breville is well known for its good, quality build.
Q2. Is Breville made in China?
A2. No, Breville is not a Chinese company. It is an Australian company that does outsource some of its manufacturing to China though.
Q3. Does the Breville BES920XL make regular coffee?
A3. No, it makes coffee under pressure which means it makes amazing espresso but not pour-over or regular filter coffee.
Q4. Why is my Breville espresso bitter?
A4. Almost certainly this is due to the water temperature in the brew head. Too hot and this can produce bitter notes, too cool and it becomes sour. Thankfully, the BES920XL has fine control over water temperature.
Breville BES920XL Verdict
I love the espresso that the BES920XL makes. It does take some effort to get to the perfection stage but the sky is the limit with this machine because of all the amazing control you have at your fingertips with regard to perfecting your brew. It is well built, sturdy, and also beautiful to look at. I would love to have a burr grinder included with it but that’s not the end of the world.
The steam wand is excellent and the dual boiler comes into its own when performing your latte art skills. All in all I thoroughly recommend the Breville BES920XL.