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Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
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- Dual stainless steel boilers and dual Italian pumps for simultaneous espresso extraction and steaming
- Over-Pressure Valve (OPV) limits extraction pressure
- Electronic PID temperature control for precise water temperature
- Backlit LCD displays brew temperature, shot clock or time
- Includes water hardness test strip, descale alert and LCD assisted descale procedure
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This item Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
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The Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler offers commercial features and performance, in a domestic footprint. Espresso perfection requires precision temperature and pressure control, consistently, every time. At the heart of this machine is its dual stainless steel boiler heating system. The espresso boiler, for the espresso shot, is PID temperature controlled, while a separate steam boiler offers instant and powerful steam on demand. So you can extract your shot at the right temperature, delivering optimal flavor, while simultaneously steaming your milk to cafe quality. What's more, there is another element in the group head, ensuring the entire system maintains a consistent temperature. The Dual Boiler also features an Over Pressure Valve (OPV) which limits the maximum pressure throughout the extraction, preventing bitter flavors in the shot. It also offers a true low pressure pre-infusion, which gradually increases the pressure to gently expand the grinds for an even extraction. But there's much more to this machine for the coffee geek. Brew temperature and pre-infusion pressure and duration are all programmable. At the same time we've kept it simple with user-friendly features. An optional Auto Start setting preheats the machine at a programmed time; a top-fill 84 oz. (2.5L) water tank ensures easy access; and the dedicated hot water outlet makes it faster to preheat cups and prepare an Americano. There is also a shot clock and pressure gauge to help you improve your barista skills over time. The new Dual Boiler now includes a descaling function for cleaning at home, a Razor Dosing Tool for precision dosing and consistent extraction, plus a 2 year limited warranty. All you'll need are some freshly ground beans and a bit of practice to rival the best cafe.
Made in China
Top Customer Reviews
So here's the first point - this machine, the 920xl, is a slightly upgraded version of the 900xl. Breville has added the ability to drain the boiler for shipping and at-home descaling to this version, plus a few minor other tweaks. Therefore, the reviews on the 900xl are still applicable, with the exception that you can now descale locally. There are a ton more reviews there, which you may want to check out since this is basically the same machine.
Pros: Great machine in this price range, great espresso, pretty easy to use, pretty consistent, GREAT features, good customer service.
Cons: Some components a little cheap. This is the BIGGEST DRAWBACK...read more about it in the construction section below. And it's a BIG machine with a high counter clearance. It's also a bit of a power hog.
Why only three stars? I'd go 3 1/2, but the tendency for these machines to fail for me is a pretty big ding. I don't mind some maintenance costs once it's out of warranty, but I don't want a $1200 paperweight.
So here's my top complaint, and it applies to most everything Breville builds. The engineering is well thought-out, but it's not the highest quality. It's not exactly cheap, but I'm not convinced that Breville builds things to last.
To be more specific, my first 900xl lasted about a year and then the pump slowly lost power so that the machines maxed out at five bars. Not good. I called Breville, and their customer service was AWESOME. I got a rep within two minutes, and they swapped the machines out. No worries.
When the 920 came out, I upgraded. Then a few months later, a plastic piece around the group head failed, chipping so that the machine could no longer maintain pressure, and sprayed hot water and grounds everywhere. To be as specific as possible, the portafilter has the two metal notches that slide into the group head to lock it into place. There is a black plastic/rubber piece that sits between the metal group head and portafilter. This cracked and shed a small, 2 mm section, rendering the machine unusable. Again Breville shipped out a replacement asap. That one encountered a similar problem and they send a third, which is working fine.
So here's my dilemma - I love this machine and its features. However, I feel like Breville has opted for cheaper internal parts and components to keep this thing in this price range. I am not sure that any of these units are going to be in operation in ten years. For my next espresso machine, I will definitely do some research and see if I can find a solidly-constructed alternative that might feature fewer nifty perks, but which might last much longer. I'm not a fan of large applianced failing once a year, then having to go into the shop.
That said, Breville says that the 920xl resolves some of these issues - a new portafilter design and a few other changes probably speak to their experience with the 900xl's. For example, they new include "THE RAZOR" (cue dramatic sting music), a gold-colored metal piece you run over the loaded portafilter in order to ensure your dose isn't too large. Since the group head still seems to include the cheapy plastic, THE RAZOR (dum dum DUM) should help users extend the life of the machine by not putting undo pressure on that piece.
Okay, so that covers all the "bad news" with this machine, which represents to me the worst drawback. For those still interested in this machine, which is indeed an espresso powerhouse, let's move on to other features.
I find the Breville easy to use, generally, and it makes great espresso. I think coffee snobs might say more, but anyone wanting espresso that looks and tastes just like "what I had in Italy" should really move up to $3000 machines (or move to Italy). In this price range, the Breville reigns as a machine that can consistently put out shots that are 95% as good as those Italian cafe espressos.
In general, we've found that this machine handles about 80% of the roasts we've tried well. This probably has more to do with the coffee than the machine, and this 4/5th figure is not at all a complaint...some roasts are just going to brew better. The "rejected" roasts might be a new blend we try from Kuma Coffee or a local roaster, and then find the crema is a little thin or the flavor flat. When this has happened, moving to another roast has always been successful. When trying a new roast, I can usually find the right dose/grind/tamp in three tries, and once this is established the Breville will almost always hit the 9-9.5 bar "sweet spot." And this is important - unlike some machines, I find the Breville to be more consistent. If you pay attention to what you're doing, it's going to pull a good shot every morning.
I like the steam wand; it produces nicely textured milk. And I can get a nice foam on 1% and soy milk, which I think is an accomplishment. The steam is a "drier" steam, so that the machine doesn't dump a lot of water into your milk.
The steaming does run a little slower than some machines, which some reviewers complain about. For me personally, because this is a dual boiler I find I can start the steaming while I tamp and grind, and it doesn't really slow me down. It's probably about a minute to steam milk from fridge to 150 degree micro foam.
I've owned several Breville appliances, and I find that one of the most unique aspects to their design process is that they really think a machine through. This holds true in the Breville Dual Boiler 920XL, and the features combined make this a fun little machine to own. You can read Breville's advertising for comprehensive info, but these are the features that I personally appreciate when I'm making espresso:
Dual boiler: you really can pull shots and steam simultaneously, and when I'm making after dinner espressos/cappuccinos/lattes for a dinner party the Breville brews and steams as fast as I can grind and tamp, ha.
Large water reservoir with rear and top loading.
Programming features: I use the auto-on timer every day and it's great. I also use the programmable shot volume and adjustable brew temperature.
Hot water spout: I didn't think it would be as big a deal as it is, but at dinner parties I turn the Breville on and my guests pour their own hot tea all night.
Others: the magnetic tamper is a great feature, and I absolutely rely on the locking wheel rolling feature, which makes cleaning the machine and counter ten times easier.
Size and power consumption
This section doesn't contain complaints so much as an FYI to potential buyers. First, the Breville 920xl takes up a fair bit of counter space. It's also quite tall for an espresso machine. Make sure to measure before buying, ESPECIALLY if you want to take advantage of heating cups on top of the unit. You'll need a lot of clearance. That said, the height has advantages. A full-size mug easily fits under the portafilter during brewing, so I can pull a shot right into the drinking cup and then add milk for a cappuccino or espresso. This is kinda nice, since you lose crema if you pour a shot from a shot glass into a mug (or at least I do).
The Breville is also a power hog...something I find to be true of every Breville appliance. The product info says 1700 watts...which is quite a lot. This isn't a concern so much in terms of total power consumption for me - I turn it on, use it and turn it off, and the fact that it heats so quickly probably saves energy in the long run. And it does have a power save "sleep mode." However, if I turn my 920xl on at the same time I'm using my Breville Smart Toaster Oven (also awesome), I KNOW I'm risking a blown breaker, ha.
Compared to other Breville espresso machines
Personally, I think this is the best in the Breville espresso line. I do not like the lower end models, and find the better quality and features of the 920xl to be totally worthwhile.
Oddly, I also prefer the 920xl to the Breville Oracle Dual Boiler, just out summer 2014. The Oracle adds some nifty features - in-machine grinding and auto-tamping, a nifty high-tech wonder-steaming wand and some other stuff. I went to use the Oracle a couple of times to see if I wanted to upgrade, and I don't find it worth the extra money, honestly. I felt like the in-machine grind and tamp helped make the process cleaner, without the inevitable coffee ground mess, but I also felt like I lost a lot of control. There's no way to adjust the dose, so you get what you get. However, if I learn that the Oracle is somehow constructed with better parts than the 920xl, I'd take another look at it.
If you've read this far, I hope the review helped. The Breville 920xl is a great (not so) little machine, capable of pulling great shots and performing pretty consistently. I've used my 900 and 920 to pull about six shots a day for years (not all for me, ha) and it's a fun, efficient machine to use.
You bottom-line pros are that it makes great espresso via a powerful dual boiler, and then all the features. This sets it apart in this price range. The only true con is that I'm not sure it's built to last, so if you're a buyer who'd rather have a machine that last years and years with fewer features, you might look elsewhere.
1. It checks your water hardness during set up-very helpful
2. The temperature gauge is handy.
3. The portafilter and tamper are virtually the same as the single boiler
4. I love the water chamber-it's filled from the front instead of the annoyingly awkward back chamber that you had to remove and then try to carefully reposition with the single boiler. There is a light on the water chamber which you can see in the front so that you know your water level at a glance.
5. The steamer wand. This is the game changer for me. No more annoying clanking warm up sound like the single boiler. Once the entire machine is at 200 degrees, the steamer works automatically with no build up of pressure needed. Release a bit of the water into the grate, shut it off, then turn on again in your milk. Work on that whirlpool swirl and slowly pull the wand up as you go. Try not to agitate the top of the milk so that it bubbles. You want a slow, even rise of foam and no air in the milk. The proper foam for my latte makes or breaks my coffee experience so this is a super important upgrade for me.
6. My espresso shots have been mostly excellent. If I don't get a good one, it's my fault. We have the Breville Dose Control Pro Coffee Bean Grinder which is an excellent grinder to use with this machine. I've found the setting for my favorite coffee, so at this point, the quality of my coffee is based on the amount of coffee and my tamping. I need to get more accurate at these factors, but I'm getting there.
Above all, I no longer care very much if I am unable to get to Portland for my beloved amazing coffee from the many coffee shops we love. I am making a level of latte at home that is satisfying for a coffee lover. I am very happy with the four years of use with my single boiler Breville-it was what I could afford at the time. If you have the means to get the double boiler, though, there really is no contest.