The Sunbeam Barista Max and the Breville Barista Express are two affordable, high-quality espresso machines that let you enjoy cafe-quality coffee at home.
As you will see in this comparison, there are a lot of similarities and a few key differences between these coffee machines. If you are an avid coffee drinker, the differences discussed below may make or break which espresso machine you prefer.
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Before comparing these two machines in detail, we wanted to include a quick comment on a recent addition to the Breville line-up as for many people this will replace the Barista Express as the best option for a home espresso machine.
Introducing: Breville Barista Express Impress
2022 has seen a welcome upgrade to Breville’s most popular home espresso machine.
The new Barista Express Impress comes with all the features users love about the Barista Express including an integrated burr grinder, Thermocoil heating system, and a 2L water tank.
However, there are a few important upgrades that you’ll find on the Impress that are mostly related to creating less mess and optimising the dosing and tamping process.
Assisted tamping: On the standard Express, each dose of espresso needs to be tamped manually. On the Impress, a built-in tamper helps the user achieve the perfect tamp, applying the right amount of pressure and even incorporating a twist at the end for a smooth puck, just like a barista would do it.
Intelligent dosing: Dosing the correct amount of ground coffee into the filter basket can be a challenge, even for the most experienced home barista. The Impress features technology that learns how much to dose based on the previous grind and tamp process.
More grind settings: The number of grind settings has increased from 16 to 25. This wider range better allows the user to control grind size and, consequently, coffee extraction.
Grinder, Portafilter, and Tamper
Both of these models use a conical burr grinder to grind the coffee beans. Conical burr grinders are used in some of the best coffee machines for home kitchens as they are quiet, produce little heat, and are low energy.
They also offer a high level of control to produce a balanced, rich tasting espresso. Both models let you adjust the size of the grind to suit your preferences.
When it comes to the portafilter and tamper, the Sunbeam uses a 58mm group head which is the same size that is used in professional cafes. 58mm is the traditional option and is the size most frequently seen on high-level machines. This coffee machine also comes with 1 cup and 2 cup single wall filter baskets.
The Breville uses a slightly smaller 54mm stainless steel portafilter and has an integrated tamper positioned for ease of use. It also comes with 1 cup and 2 cup single and double-wall filter baskets.
Making Grind Adjustments
The Breville has a numbered grind adjustment wheel on the side of the machine. It also has clear labelling that lets you know which way to turn the wheel to produce a finer grind and for a coarser grind.
Great coffee isn’t just about the texture of the ground beans and with the Barista Express, you can also adjust the amount being used with the dial on the front of the machine.
Changing the dose lets you customise your coffee, making this espresso machine ideal for coffee drinkers who are interested in experimenting. The downside is that it will probably take a bit of trial and error until you get the results you want.
To adjust the size of the ground coffee on the Sunbeam model, you simply twist the bean hopper. Twisting it clockwise will make the grind finer while anti-clockwise will result in a coarser grind. This reduces the number of dials on the machine giving it a cleaner overall appearance.
The bean hopper is clearly marked so you will be able to see exactly what the espresso maker is set to. The medium position is recommended so that’s the best place to start, a coarser grind produces a faster extraction while finer grind is slower and each one produces different intensity and flavour profiles.
Water Tank, Boiler, Pressure
The Barista Express has a 2L water tank while the Barista Max offers more capacity with a 2.8L water tank. This means the Max will require less frequent refills and you can enjoy more coffee between each fill.
If you live in a house of coffee drinkers or enjoy frequent cups during the day, the larger water tank capacity may be a game changer.
Both of these espresso coffee machines use PID to heat the water to the optimal temperature. The Barista Express uses a 1600W Thermocoil and has an integrated stainless steel water path that controls the hot water temperature.
It also has a pre-infusion function that helps produce a more even extraction by gently expanding grinds.
The Sunbeam uses Temp IQ Shot Control which is a 3-way system combining a single thermoblock with pre-infusion and an advanced PID controller for a consistent optimal temperature.
Both models use 15 bar pump pressure which is considered the “sweet spot” for making espressos. A great machine offers 15 pressure power as if the machine uses too much pressure the coffee will be bitter and too little pressure will result in a weak espresso.
The Express features a pressure gauge on the front of the machine so you can see exactly how much pressure is being used.
The pressure gauge can help you produce a high-quality cup of coffee as you can make adjustments to improve the pressure reading (which in turn impacts the coffee extraction).
For example, if the pressure gauge shows the pressure is too low you can improve it by making the grind finer, increasing the coffee grind amount or applying more pressure when tamping.
Both of these home coffee machines come with a built-in manual steam wand for warming and frothing milk.
These are more or less the same, they are easy to use and let you create micro foam that is perfect for your morning flat white, latte, or cappuccino.
A steam wand is a useful feature on a home machine and is something you don’t always get with home coffee machines.
Once you have used the steam wand on the Breville the machine uses its purge function to automatically adjust the water temperature to the optimal espresso temperature. This is ideal for making multiple coffees without needing to worry about temperature control.
Ease of Use
The Barista Max espresso machine makes coffee as easy as possible to make at home. It has a cleaner, more user-friendly control panel with fewer buttons and dials than the Barista Express. If you are new to semi automatic coffee machines it is one of the better options.
However, this simplicity does mean you miss out on some of the adjustment abilities you get with the Breville model.
Breville’s machine is user-friendly and helps you get the most out of your coffee. If you drink coffee every day and want a semi-automatic/ manual coffee machine that lets you customise your espresso to exactly as you like it then this is the best option.
Each coffee machine lets you make coffee for 1 cup or 2 cups. The Express lets you easily choose between a single shot or double shot and the Barista Max also has a manual shot option.
At the time of writing, both models have an RRP of $749, however, the Sunbeam is often available for cheaper. We would expect there to be a price gap between the machines due to the better build quality and customisation options on the Barista Express.
The Sunbeam model is a budget espresso machine that is great for beginners.
Size & Design
The Breville is taller but sleeker in terms of depth and width. Its specifications are 407mm h x 313mm d x 338mm w compared to Sunbeam’s model which stands at 366mm h x 396mm d x 440mm w. The Breville also weighs 2.5kg more at 12.5kg compared to Sunbeam’s 10kg espresso machine.
In addition to the size of the two, they also have different styles. The Breville looks more like a cafe-style coffee machine with its brushed stainless steel housing while the Sunbeam model has a black plastic housing that looks like it will fit right in with a modern kitchen layout.
Making your Selection
Our top pick is the Breville Barista Express as it is suitable for both beginners and experienced coffee makers.
It allows you to adjust the grind size and grind amount to suit your preferences and it is a high quality machine. It is a fast, convenient and customisable model that sits at the high-end of the home espresso machine market.
The downside to this coffee machine is that it may require patience the first time you use it but once you’ve figured out how to make the settings work for you it is excellent.
The Barista Max is easy to use, features a high-quality burr grinder and has straightforward controls.
It also has a sleek design that looks great on the kitchen counter. However, as it is made of plastic it likely won’t have the same level of durability as the Express.
If you occasionally drink coffee and you want something that is easy to use and maintain this is a great choice.