Breville Barista Max+ VCF152 Review
A quality all-in-one manual espresso machine
Delivering everything you need in one machine, the Breville Barista Max+ VCF152 is a great coffee machine, either as a first purchase for someone keen to make coffee the proper way, or as a step up from a pod or cheap espresso machine.
The coffee machine is easy to use and capable of very good results, both for delivering excellent espresso and well-textured milk.
- Great espresso
- Good price
- Integrated grinder
- Separate steam switch would improve control
- UKRRP: £498
- TypeThis is a manual espresso machine with an integrated grinder, giving you everything you need to make coffee the ‘proper’ way.
- Drink varietyIn addition to espresso, the steamer wand lets you froth milk to make a huge variety of drinks.
Making espresso manually, using freshly ground coffee and tamping yourself, is the path to achieving the best cup of coffee. However, finding the right combination of grinder and machine can be tricky – and expensive. Not so with the Breville Barista Max+, which is a mid-range manual machine with a matched grinder built-in.
Excellent resulting coffee and good milk frothing help this machine stand out, although it does lack a pressure gauge and customisable options.
Design and Features
- Nice matte-black finish
- Large, but not too large
- Integrated grinder
Designed as an all-in-one coffee station, the Breville Barista Max+ delivers everything you need to start making coffee the barista way. Finished in a neat matte black colour, the Breville looks smart and professional.
At 407 x 347 x 322mm, it’s quite large – although since it has a grinder built-in, the overall amount of counter space it takes up doesn’t differ hugely from having separate units.
The bean hopper on top can hold up to 250g of beans, which is the same size as your average bag of roasted coffee beans. You simply twist the hopper to adjust the grind, following the clearly labelled grind size underneath: the smaller the number, the finer the grind.
As with all burr grinders, the advice is to adjust the grind only while the grinder is turned on. I started the Breville Barista Max+ just below its mid-point setting, making adjustments to achieve the right grind. Follow my guide on how to use a coffee grinder for more tips.
Breville supplies two filters in the box for single- and double-shots of espresso. It’s refreshing to see 58mm professional-sized filters here, rather than the smaller size included with entry-level machines.
With a filter installed into the group handle, you just slide the head into the plastic chute and press down on the handle. I required a little more force than expected, but once I achieved the ideal pressure, subsequent uses became easier.
To help, the screen shows you how much coffee you’ve ground, helping to get the right dosage for a single- or double-shot.
There’s a plastic tamper in the box, but this is far more rugged than the cheap one provided with the Breville Bijou. I certainly found that I could get enough force to compact the beans.
That done, the group handle needs to be locked into place. It was stiff at first, but the more the coffee machine was used, the easier it became to insert and remove the handle.
Beneath the spout there’s space for cups of up to 110mm in size. If you want to use larger, latte-style cups, you’ll need to make espresso in a smaller cup first, and then dispense it when finished.
Controls on the Breville Barista Max+ are simple to follow. There’s a dial that sets the machine to hot water (if you turn it to the left) or starts dispensing steam (a turn to the right). In hot water mode, there are three buttons to choose from: manual control, single shot and double shot.
The latter two are programmed at 30ml and 60ml dispense volumes by default, but you can press and hold the buttons for your desired volume of liquid.
Since this coffee machine has a display, it shows a live count in seconds to help you pour the right amount of coffee: I opted for 20 seconds for a single shot and 30 seconds for a double shot. Using time helps you to work out whether you’ve achieved the right ground; but a live pressure gauge, of the type that features on the WPM KD-270S, would make things even easier.
A 2.9-litre tank at the rear – which can accept a filter – ensures there will be plenty of water to make lots of coffee without having to refill it often. And, for refilling, you won’t have to lift out the tank – there’s a lift-up flap that lets you refill in-situ.
For steaming, the Breville comes with a wand. Just turn the dial to the right, and the coffee machine increases temperature and, when ready, starts to dispense steam. Before steaming milk, you should really flush out the wand of water. With a tap control, you can wait until the coffee machine is at temperature and then give a quick burst of steam; here, you don’t have that luxury. I found it best to point the wand at the drip tray, and then turn off the steamer wand as soon as fresh steam was released.
With the wand flushed, I dropped the steamer wand into the provided jug containing milk, and then turned the dial to steam mode.
Since there’s only a single thermoblock in this machine, you have to let the Breville Barista Max+ cool down before you can pour coffee again. Turning the dial from steam to hot water will automatically vent steam through the wand (again, point it towards the drip tray), cooling down the machine ready for a new shot of espresso.
- Good temperature
- Excellent espresso with the right grind
I use Peruvian Fairtrade coffee beans, which I roast myself to get consistency in my tests. It took me a few attempts to achieve the right grind and tamp for a double-shot of espresso, but that’s normal – all coffee machines and grinders require adjustment every time you change beans to get the right balance.
With the right combination, the espresso poured well: like honey running through the group handle, finishing up with a thick, oily-looking crema on top that lasted a few minutes. I found that the WPM KD-270S can produce a slightly better crema, but that machine costs almost twice as much.
The brew temperature on the Breville Barista Max+ is set at 92ºC, which produced a shot of espresso at 60.9ºC – which is just about right. If you want your drink slightly hotter, follow the instructions in the manual to increase the brew temperature.
That final shot of espresso maintained my coffee’s pronounced acidity and its strong body, preserving the acidity and hint of bitterness, while still being smooth. You have to spend more to get better results – and I’m talking fractional improvements.
- Texturises milk well
- Good combination of espresso and milk
Using the provided milk jug, I steamed full fat milk for a flat white. It makes sense to froth the milk before moving to the shot of espresso, since it needs to stand and maintain its temperature.
I found that the Breville Barista Max+ steamed well, giving me a jug of steamed milk with excellent microfoam and no larger bubbles of milk.
As the quality of the espresso is good, with that thick crema, it was possible to pour a nice-looking flat white; the coffee will hold any patterns you want to put on top. It’s certainly possible to get impressive-looking results that taste good.
- Ships with tablet holder
- Descaling and cleaning modes available
This Breville coffee machine ships with a cleaning tablet holder that clips into the group handle. When the cleaning indicator turns on, you should use a tablet and follow the instructions to run a cycle. This will help keep the espresso machine in its best working condition.
It’s also advisable to descale the Breville Barista Max+ every four to six months (depending on the hardness of your water). The manual provides clear instructions for this, and cleaning the grinder.
Otherwise, washing the drip tray regularly with soapy water and wiping down the machine with a soft, damp cloth should keep everything in order.
Should you buy it?
If you want the experience of manual espresso and want everything you need in one machine, then the Barista Max+ is hard to beat.
If you want greater control over how your espresso is made, from infusion times to more detailed pour times, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
For the money, the Breville Barista Max+ is a great coffee machine, delivering everything you need to make great espresso and steamed milk. You’ll have to spend considerably more on a better machine, and you’ll need to factor in the price of a more expensive grinder to match – which feels like the choice a more experience barista would make. For those looking to get started with making coffee the proper way, or upgrading from a cheap espresso machine or pod machine, this is a brilliant choice. If you’d rather go with something else, my guide to the best coffee machine has lots of choices.
How we test
Unlike other sites, we test every coffee machine we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Used as our main coffee machine for the review period
Tested for at least a week
We roast our own beans for regular coffee machines, so we can fairly compare each machine; pod machines are tested with a variety of compatible capsules
Depending on capabilities, we test each machine’s ability to make espresso and cappuccino
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Its bean hopper can accepts up to 250g of beans.
Yes, you can use the manual to adjust the temperature, although the default of 92ºC is pretty good.