Breville/Sage Bambino Plus

When I first started on my home espresso journey, I had an ancient hand-me-down Krups1, but it made awful coffee2. I donated that to a charity shop, as I thought my Aeropress3 and its “espresso-style coffee” was sufficient. Then I added a Fellow Prismo to the mix to add a bit more pressure (and cleanliness), but this still wasn’t espresso. Then my eye got caught by the Flair Classic, which was much better at making espresso but also much fussier. So I started investigating a bunch of home espresso machines, and I decided I wanted the Breville Bambino Plus… but it was pretty much impossible to buy.

After trying to buy it from a few different places, and trying to order a few other machines, I eventually settled on the Gaggia Classic Pro, which I used fairly happily for about a year and a half.

But there were still a bunch of things I didn’t like about it, such as the lack of preinfusion, a difficult-to-use steam wand, and a water tank design that made it way too easy for fruit flies to reenact Hotel California4. So, last November, when the Bambino went on a pretty deep (20%) discount for Black Friday (and when I was already spending large amounts of money getting my kitchen remodeled anyway), I decided to take the plunge and get the machine I’d wanted in the first place.

(Note: In some countries, Breville is known as Sage. For the most part I will be referring to them as Breville.)


My experience with the Gaggia gave me a pretty good feel for properly grinding and brewing espresso, as well as what equipment and upgrades to care about. I definitely appreciated having a bottomless portafilter (as that makes grind and tamp diagnosis way easier), high-quality baskets, a calibrated tamper, and a tamping station. So I knew I’d want to get some upgrades, although I still decided to use the stock parts for an out-of-box experience5.

Out-of-box experience


The included tamper is okay, but not great. The default portafilter and baskets, similarly, are okay, but not great. They’re definitely good enough for someone just getting started in espresso or who isn’t too picky, but I am neither of those things.

Fortunately, my bottomless portafilter arrived soon after the Bambino, which made it much easier for me to start dialing in shots right away, even when using the factory basket.

The Bambino Plus user interface is pretty nice. There are two buttons for extraction (single and double shot), and three buttons for steaming (two small ones for selecting the temperature and foam amount, and one large one for starting and stopping the steam wand).


This also brings us to the main difference between the Plus and the non-Plus version: the Plus version has an automated steam wand (guided by a sensor that pokes through the drip tray), while the non-Plus wand is totally manual. The Plus also has a larger water tank (64 fl.oz rather than 47), and comes with a slightly nicer (but still not great) tamper. Also, you can buy the Plus in a selection of colors.6

Update: After posting this review I was informed that there’s another difference between the Plus and regular model, namely that the regular model doesn’t have a solenoid, which affects the preinfusion process. Because preinfusion is so important, for that reason alone I’d strongly recommend the Plus version.

Both machines are quite nice, but I went with the Plus specifically to get the automated steam wand.


One minor downside is that the Bambino does not come with an ESE-compatible basket. I tried extracting a few ESE shots using the included pressurized single-cup filter and it came out okay, but it wouldn’t be my preference. But the only reason I even had ESE pods in the first place was as a personal benchmark for the Gaggia. As far as I can tell there are no specifically-ESE-compatible baskets for 54mm Breville machines.

Shot process


In any case, the Bambino comes pre-calibrated with two shot sizes, which are supposedly volumetric, but I couldn’t get any meaningful consistency out of it. So I quickly found that the best way to operate it was in fully manual mode, including manual preinfusion.

Different people have different tastes for preinfusion. Personally, I hold down the button until coffee starts to drip out, as that indicates that the puck is as preinfused as it’s going to get. In any case, after you’ve preinfused, let go of the button, and then press it again to stop the shot when you reach your intended shot size.

My preference is to extract by weight, and to go to around a 1:2 in:out ratio (for example, a 40g shot for 20g of coffee). For lighter roasts I prefer 1:2.5 (20g in → 50g out) or even as high as 1:3. Of course, these ratios are just starting points, and should be adjusted to taste whenever you dial in your beans.



Honestly, everything that comes with the Bambino is pretty good! But me being me, I just had to upgrade all of the accessories. Here’s what I got, in what I feel is the order of most important to least (keeping in mind that none of these are actually vital):

I also already had the following accessories:

The tamping mat doesn’t make for a very good experience with a bottomless portafilter, although it’s nice for being a place to keep my tamp, funnel, and tamping station. There are many tamping stations on the market, but none of them were quite right for me, so I ended up designing my own and printing it in PETG with a TPU bottom grip surface. (Note that this tamping station is sized very specifically for my portafilter, though; using it with another portafilter will probably require some adjustments.)

My overall shot process is currently:

  1. Weigh 20 grams of espresso, and give it a couple of spritzes of water
  2. Grind it into my grinder’s catch cup
  3. Put the portafilter and dosing funnel into the tamping station, and pour the ground coffee in
  4. WDT to declump and level
  5. Tamp, and turn during removal to keep the top nice and smooth
  6. Place a filter paper on top (this supposedly helps with diffusion, but I mostly do it to keep the puck from sticking to the group head)
  7. Extract!

Milk drinks


Historically I’ve preferred straight espresso shots, but with the Bambino I’m making milk drinks a lot more often, since precise milk steaming is so easy to do.

The temperature and foam indicators are definitely calibrated for dairy milk. When using plant-based milks, I find that oat milk benefits from being one click lower on temperature. I do not recommend using soy milk with the automated steam process; in my experience it curdles even at the lowest temperature setting, resulting in a clumpy, bitter drink. (I have not tried manual steaming so I cannot say whether this issue is avoidable in that case.)

After foaming I like to immediately use a microfiber cloth or dish towel to wipe off the wand, possibly with a couple of spritzes from my RDT spritz bottle to help the residue come off.

The Bambino Plus will also automatically flush the steam wand when you restore it to its downward position. Make sure the drip tray is still in place before you do that. I’ve had issues with the drip tray being pulled out ever so slightly, causing the wand flush to spray milky water all over my countertop.


The Bambino has automatic self-clean cycles, with both backflush and descaling cycles. The machine keeps track of when these self-cleans need to take place. I haven’t had to do this yet, but Breville sells overpriced descaling and backflush solutions for this purpose. But don’t buy these! You can use Cafiza tablets for the backflush (and get 100 for the same price as 8 Breville tablets) and any number of generic descaling solutions for the descaling. To descale on the cheap, just fill your tank with water to the “descale” line and add a tablespoon or two of powdered citric acid.

A note on grinders

My current grinder is a Sette 270 (with a single-dose hopper mod). It’s okay but not my top choice for a grinder right now. If I were to buy a grinder today I’d probably go with either the Turin DF64 ($375) or the Option-O Lagom Mini ($374).

However, Fellow have announced that they’re set to release an espresso-focused grinder, the Fellow Opus, which has a lot of people excited. From the details so far, I’m excited too, and I’ll almost certainly buy one when they come out, especially if it’s at the expected price of around $200.

Breville also makes a number of espresso machines with built-in grinders, and if all you want is an all-in-one unit, it’s worth considering them. However, it does mean that if you ever want to upgrade your grinder (or espresso machine!) you’re stuck with either a lot of extra counter space usage or having to upgrade both parts simultaneously. That said, the Barista Express costs less (and takes up slightly less countertop space) than the Bambino and a separate grinder (although it doesn’t have the automatic milk steaming function).

Key takeaways


The Bambino is a really nice, easy-to-operate, affordable espresso machine. It doesn’t give you the most amazing control over your shot, and it doesn’t support profiling or adjustable pressure. But for someone who wants tasty espresso without a lot of work, and possibly wants to make milk drinks without needing to cosplay as a Starbucks employee, it works really well.

At a normal price of $500 it’s one of the better values in home espresso machines normally, and at the $400 I paid (before tax and the $190 in entirely optional accessories), it’s an absolute bargain.

I have now had this brewer for just over two months, and I have made much more espresso in that time than ever before. It is a joy to use, rather than a chore, and lets me enjoy my coffee without having to stress out about every little detail.

Could I make better espresso with a different brewer? Probably! But would I?


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