October 30, 2006

Review: Breville ESP8XL Café Roma Espresso Machine Review

Breville Cafe Roma Espresso Machine

The beautiful Breville Café Roma ESP8XL Espresso Machine is a sure footed espresso machine that is able to stand tall on any countertop with its beautiful stainless steel housing. Its rock solid construction makes even a Hummer H2 blush at the idea of taking it on. I mean this thing is build like a tank; thick solid stainless steel houses a lot of highly functional components that turn out a very respectable cup of espresso. While it may be built like a tank, the Breville Cafe Roma doesn’t look like a tank, and was right at home sitting on our counter for this review.

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The Basics on the Breville Café Roma
Let’s get this out of the way up front. Like many other respectable espresso machines, the Breville Café Roma is a pump driven espresso machine with a 15 bar pump that delivers plenty of pressure through its heater to a portafilter that uses any of the three included inserts (single, double and ESE Pod). There is a clear marking on the pod adapter so you won’t mistake it for the single basket.

While Breville shies away from using the term ESE, it is designed to accept “Espresso Pods”. Presumably, by not using the trademarked term ESE, they don’t need to pay the licensing fees. Either way, if you’re asking “Does the Breville Café Roma use ESE Espresso pods?” The answer is “Yes.” They try to make this clear on the packaging that the pod filter adapter comes in.

The unit has a decent sized water reservoir (40+ ounces) that can be accessed through a flip up door on the rear right. The housing has a window in it to let you see the water level in the reservoir. My experience though was that when this sits under a cabinet overhang, it’s hard to get enough light on the thing to actually see the water level. No big deal, because the reservoir is big enough for a lot of espresso. You won’t need to fill this up all that often. When you drop it in, it seats itself with firm feedback that assures you that the tank is in place.

The steam wand is off to the right side in front of the water sight glass window. The wand is stationary, and does not rotate or move. Breville sends it through with a rubber tipped adapter that is great for frothing milk for a cappuccino, but not so good for a latte’s steamed milk. If you want a nice frothy cappuccino, keep the tip. If you want a latte, pull it off; it slides right off.

brevilleplug.jpg Finally, to illustrate a little bit more about how Breville is interested in both functional and aesthetic design, I give you their simple plug. They could have settled for a plain old style plug, but they elevated the plug to a statement of art, combined with obvious functional benefits that are just perfect.

Making the Espresso and Cappuccino on the Café Roma
The controls on the Café Roma are simple if not elegant. A single rocker switch in the center of the front panel turns the heater on. Heating the Café Roma to temperature takes a little longer than some other machines I have used, about 2 minutes total, whereas I have seen some heat in as little as 1 minute. If you stand there and stare at it, it will seem like a long time, but if you are getting cups and grinding espresso or grabbing a pod, it doesn’t take that long.

After the heating light goes out, you are ready to brew. I dropped in the pod adapter into the portafilter, put in a pod, and I pre-wet the pod to seat it and kind of pre-infuseCafeRomaBrew.jpg it so that it’s ready to extract and won’t allow the brew water to channel around it making for a weak cup. The portafilter seats nicely into the machine with a firm tug and you seat it snugly. By turning the control knob to the brew symbol, the pump starts and in about 40 seconds you have your espresso. The crèma is not as finely aerated as I have seen on other machines, and the espresso tends to gob out, versus flowing, but nonetheless, the taste is very good. At the end of the brew you will need to turn the knob back to the standby position to stop the pump. BrevilleCup.jpg In an interesting touch, the machine gives a small gasp of steam discharging it into the drip tray that sometimes envelops the cup in a fleeting steam cloud as if to say; “I present you an espresso.”

Frothing vs. Steaming Milk on the Breville Café Roma
The Café Roma comes with a rubber attachment on the end of the steam wand. This has holes in it that allow you to froth to your heart’s content. It heats the milk while pumping in so much air; you may just overflow the frothing pitcher that is included in the set before the milk gets truly hot. It is dead easy to froth milk, so if you want a cappuccino type drink with mounds of frothed milk, it’s as easy as falling off a log.

Steaming milk with the Breville Café Roma is not hard either, but pull the rubber tip off and stuff it in a drawer. The simple wand that is left over is long enough to hit a decent amount of milk in the milk pitcher, but not luxuriously long. It does the job, and you can steam the milk with plenty of power to get it good and hot.

Either way you want it, to turn the steaming wand on, simply turn the selector to the left and the pump will start immediately metering the water to the heating element that creates steam almost right away. A few times, I got about 5 milliliters of hot water before the steam started, but this is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to wait forever for the temperature to come up to steaming temps, like some other models that are around.

What’s in the Café Roma Box?
BrevilleCafeRoma.jpgThe Café Roma comes with a lot and all that you need to start out with a basic espresso set-up. It’s great that they include all of the extra materials for you to create espressos at home.
The only other thing that you might want is a thermometer if you are going to steam milk. Anyway, here’s what’s in the box:

  • Café Roma Pump Driven Espresso Machine in Stainless Steel
  • Scoop and Tamp
  • 2 Demitasse cups and saucers – stainless steel
  • 1 Frothing pitcher
  • 3 Portafilter inserts (single, double and ESE Pod)
  • 1 Portafilter
  • Instructions

    The demitasse cups are double walled and should be pre-heated in some way, or else the cup will suck all the heat out of your espresso. I found that the machine’s cup warmer got plenty hot after about 10-15 minutes. An easy warm-up during dinner for an after dinner drink. The alternative is to just hit the cup with a little steam that is readily available to warm it up more quickly.

    Review Summary Breville ESP8XL Café Roma Espresso Machine

    I think that Breville did their design work well with the Café Roma, and made a beautiful machine that is highly functional. The stainless steel is beautiful and shiny, with some nice design touches that make it stand out smartly on a countertop. The machine is versatile, with 3 filter baskets that allow for pod and ground coffee use. The only complaint would be that the crèma on the espresso has some larger bubbles that I am used to, but this is a small issue. The wand tip that froths the milk and aerates it beyond belief is a great thing if you like frothed milk, but an easy thing to avoid if you really just want steamed milk. With the power of the machine behind its almost instantly available steam, you won’t want for steam as you go on to create your perfect espresso drink.

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    Posted by Scott Martin at October 30, 2006 8:15 AM
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