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There are a lot of cool things out there that make us wonder — do they really work? In our I Tried It series, we set out to use them in the real world and have determined that, in fact, they really do.
The Product on Trial
Stefan Vazharov, an espresso connoisseur
Why the Bambino?
The compact Bambino espresso machine by Breville — an appliance maker with an excellent track record of making great products — captivated my attention by promising high-quality espresso shots at an agreeable price. As an espresso connoisseur living with an expensive but underwhelming automatic machine for more than a year, I was eager for an upgrade.
As I searched for a machine that would improve the quality of my multiple daily shots without occupying most of my NYC apartment's tiny kitchen counter, I came across the Bambino — and when I got offered the opportunity to test it out, I agreed without any hesitation.
Measuring only 6 inches wide, 12 inches high, and less than 14 inches deep, the Bambino is smaller than an automatic espresso machine. Its compact footprint allowed me to squeeze in a Breville Smart Grinder Pro behind it and still reclaim much-need counter space. Its stainless steel finish also helps it look like a more premium product.
The retail package of the Breville Bambino is impressive, especially considering how affordable the product is. You'll get a quartet of filter baskets (single- and double-wall), a tamper, a high-quality metal jug for frothing milk, and a handy tool for cleaning the steaming wand. A useful pack of powder for descaling the machine is also included.
Setting up the Bambino is a fast and intuitive process, even if you're a first-time espresso machine user. The product has booklets to guide you through the entire process.
You can also use the excellent BILT app (available for iOS and Android) to get in-depth knowledge about operating the machine, including instructions for setting it up and first-time use and tips for texturing milk and cleaning the product. After testing it out, I recommend the app over the booklets because it's a bit more interactive and straightforward.
Performance-wise, the first thing that impressed me about the Bambino is that it only takes 3 seconds to heat up and get ready to make espresso shots. Breville accomplished this by fitting the machine with a proprietary heating system dubbed ThermoJet.
The startup times of much pricier manual espresso machines I owned over the years measured in minutes and included a cacophony of huffing, puffing, and crackling noises — even my automatic espresso machine took longer to start up!
What's the Espresso Like?
Before I dive into the quality of the Bambino's shots, you should know that espresso has been my obsession since the mid-2000s. I drink several a day, and, save for infrequent macchiato occasions, I never add milk to my beverage. Sweeteners have always been a “no” for me, too. As a result, I am (and always will be) very particular about my espresso's look, smell, taste, and texture.
On a scale from 1 to 10, with the latter being a $4 shot from a commercial-grade espresso machine at my local coffee shop, I'd give the Breville Bambino a solid 8. I put the product through its paces for over a month, making well over 100 shots with good taste and excellent crema.
Being a longtime espresso nerd, I scrutinized the Bambino's specs. I discovered two crucial factors behind its stellar performance, starting with a 54-millimeter portafilter — an industry standard with a long history of excellence. Another major contributor is an espresso extraction process pressure of 9 bars — the ideal setting for a perfect shot.
While evaluating the machine, I used freshly ground beans from Lavazza, illy, and Joe Coffee. Each shot had a pleasant aroma and subtle sweetness that showcased the beans' unique character and freshness in different ways, and a velvety texture that I'm yet to experience from an automatic espresso machine.
The Bambino is also quite proficient at foaming milk, given its price tag. I successfully made a few macchiatos and more than a dozen lattes during weeks of testing.
The Closing Argument
Whether you're looking to get into espresso snobbery like me or are simply seeking to replace an old machine without breaking the bank, the Bambino is one of the best machines worth your attention. I'd also pick this affordable Breville offering over a pricier automatic espresso machine because it will pull better shots. And, trust me, the additional steps needed to make your java are worth the extra effort.
I've been combing through espresso machines for years, and I can't think of a better one in its price range. Spending $500 — enough to get you a solid semi-automatic or entry-level automatic espresso machine — will get you the Bambino and a grinder.
If foaming milk is a priority for you, consider spending extra on the Breville Bambino Plus espresso maker. As its additional moniker suggests, it can provide you with perfectly textured foam with the press of a button.
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