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Easily set up the Barista Express to make the BEST coffee (Sage/Breville)

  • 14 min read
How to set up and make good coffee with the Barista Express

So, you just bought yourself an expensive coffee machine? Yes, the Barista Express is an expensive machine; but arguably the best for the price. 

Now you want to be able to pour yourself or your friends the perfect cup of coffee? Or you just want to know if you’ve been doing it right so far?

Well you’ve come to the right place; we, here at Caffin8 Coffee, have been using the Barista Express for the past few years and have a tip or two to teach you. So here goes; no BS, no jargon.. just the perfect coffee.

To make the perfect coffee with the Sage/Breville Barista Express you only need to do two things. You need to tune the extraction of the coffee to make an Espresso and (if you want milky coffee) you need to heat the milk correctly.

Both of these things require a little setting up of the machine and a couple of techniques, which I’ll break out into two sections below. 

Fortunately, we have also simplified the process, and once you know how to do it, you’ll be able to make a perfect coffee every time:

Use these links if you want to jump to a specific section. I recommend reading everything though:

Make the perfect Espresso with the Barista Express
- Setting up the grind on the Barista Express
- Using the Barista Express tamper
- Choosing which of the 4 filter baskets that come with the Barista Express to use
- Extracting the perfect Espresso on the Barista Express
- Programing the extraction time on the Barista Express (ONLY IF YOU NEED TO)

Make Latte, Cappuccino or Flat White milk with the Barista Express
- Heating / Frothing the milk with the Barista Express steam wand
- Pouring the milk correctly and making Latte art using the Barista Express

This might seem like a daunting list of things you need to learn, but remember, once you’ve set up your machine correctly for your coffee, you can leave it as it is. 

AND If you change your coffee beans, it’s easy to adjust once you know how.

The image below should help you identify the correct part of your coffee machine if we used a word you’re not familiar with:

Barista Express labelled

 

Make the perfect Espresso with the Barista Express

Lets face it - you’ve probably already made an Espresso or two with your Sage/Breville Barista Express by blindly grinding some beans and hitting some buttons (I did the same). 

But now you want to know if you're doing it correctly and getting the most from your coffee machine. After all, you bought a great machine, so it’s probably worth getting it set up properly.

All you really need to make the perfect Espresso with any coffee machine is 2 things:

  • About 16 grams of ground beans (makes a double-shot)
  • An extraction (pour) that takes about 20 seconds at high pressure to complete

These two things are affected by a number of variables that are really easy to dial-in and get correct on the Sage/Breville Barista Express machines.

The perfect Espresso should look like this:

Perfect espresso - Side and top view - With Crema

Let’s dive in to each of the settings

Setting up the grind on the Barista Express

Pouring/Extracting a perfect Espresso all starts with getting the grind correct. The coffee grind is responsible for adjusting the pressure that is needed to force water through the coffee. 

You’ll know when you have this right (in part), by the pressure reading on the ‘clock-like’ gauge at the top of your Barista Express.

The Sage/Breville Barista Express has 3 adjustment you can make to your grind:

  • Grind size wheel (course > fine)
  • Dosage amount (how much it grinds)
  • Dosage size (single or double)

To start with, the most important thing you can do to get your grind right is buy FRESH coffee. If you purchased your coffee from a supermarket it’s likely that those beans aren’t fresh.

They’ll sit in a distribution warehouse for weeks before sitting on the supermarket shelves for a few more. Does it say when the beans were roasted on the side of the pack? If not, it's probably not fresh.

Most smaller coffee roasteries, roast their beans in small batches which means they roast them closer to when they expect to sell them. Some even roast the beans the moment their customer places an order, like us! 

That is what we do; when you purchase beans from us, we roast them the same (or next) working day and post them straight to you. I recommend our Daily Drinker coffee blend as a great place to start. You can order itHERE.

Now let’s get that grind size set correctly:

On the Barista Express there is an adjustment wheel for your grind on the top left side of the machine. The number positioned in the center of the wheel demonstrates how course or fine the grind is set to. The higher the number the finer the grind, the lower the number the courser the grind.

Setting the grind size on a Barista Express

The more the coffee is ground, the “finer” the coffee particles will be when they land in the filter basket. 

When the coffee machine is pushing water into the coffee beans, the finer that grind is, the harder it needs to work to push the water through. It’s this pressure that extracts (or pulls) the oils from the beans to create an espresso.

The aim here is to set the grind to be fine enough to build pressure, but not so fine that it has to work overly hard. This will over extract the coffee and put unnecessary pressure on your coffee machines internal parts.

Grind size for the Barista Express (Course, Medium and Fine)

To set the wheel correctly, adjust the wheel until you achieve a grind that looks like the above “just right”. A good place to start is in the middle (position 5). If you have our Daily Drinker coffee, I find that the perfect setting is position 5.

Grind a small amount at a time by pressing the portafilter into the grinder area for a few seconds (rather than pushing and releasing, which will dispense a full dose). The trick here is to not waste too much coffee whilst setting the grind correctly.

Found the perfect grind size? Perfect, let's set the correct dosage amount.

Set the correct dose amount:

The dose adjustment knob on the front of the Barista Express will set the amount of coffee the machine will grind when pressing the portafilter into the grinder. To start the coffee grinding automatically you need to press the portafilter in and release straight away.

TIP: You can stop the grinder from grinding mid-way by pressing the portafilter back in again.

You can manually grind coffee by pressing and holding the portafilter in; however this relies on ‘eye-balling’ the coffee as it’s grinding. Also, why do this when your Barista Express has the fancy feature of auto-dispensing the correct amount?

The aim here is to have your coffee machine dispense about 16grams of coffee (For a double shot). You need about 8grams for a single shot.

To set the amount your machine will grind, all you need to do is grab some standard kitchen scales and place your empty portafilter on it and set it to zero.

A good place to start with the grind dose knob on the Barista Express is the position with the arrow pointing directly up (12 o’clock). This is the perfect setting for our Daily Drinker coffee blend. (Available here if you are interested)

Now push the portafilter into the grind area and allow the machine to dispense your coffee. Once it’s done place the portafilter onto your scales and see how much coffee the machine has ground.

Is it roughly 16grams? When I say roughly, a gram above or below is probably going to be fine.

If there is too much coffee, all you need to do is adjust the dose knob on the front of the Barista Express to a lower number. If there is too little coffee, then just adjust the wheel the other way.

Setting the dosage size is easy:

You have two choices on the Barista Express - single or double. The single will produce a single shot espresso and the double will produce (yep, you guessed it) a double.

I like a strong coffee so I stick to the double, using 16 grams of coffee and the corresponding double filter basket. However I have more on choosing the correct filter basket a little later in this article.


Now that you think you have the grind set correctly let’s move on toTAMPING THE COFFEE:

Using the Barista Express tamper

Tamping the coffee is simply ‘coffee speak’ for compacting the ground coffee into the filter basket. When you go to a coffee shop you’ll often hear them forcefully compress the coffee with a loud double-click. This is because they are using a device that presses the coffee to the correct compression.

Don’t worry though, you don’t need any fancy devices to get a great compression from your ground coffee beans. You just need the standard coffee tamper that the Sage/Breville Barista Express comes with.

The trick here is to have a flat and level “bed” (this is some more coffee-speak; for the top surface of ground coffee you see after pressing the coffee grinds down, i.e the top of the coffee).

All you need to do here is rest the edge of the portafilter against your counter top (if you want to protect your counter or the portafilter against scratches and damage you can get a “tamping matt” from Amazon for a few pennies,

Here’s a link to one if you are interested: Amazon Link - Coffee Tamping Mats

Tamping the coffee on the edge of a work surface

Next, press your tamper into the portafilter keeping the flat surface of the tamper parallel to the floor. Press with a good amount of force. You’re not looking to break anything, you just want to ensure that the coffee is really compact into the filter.

What you’ll find if you’ve not tamped the coffee beans well, is that the Barista Express will find it hard to get to the correct pressure when extracting.

Choosing which of the 4 filter baskets that come with the Barista Express to use

The Sage/Breville Barista Express comes with 4 filter baskets. It’s really simple to choose the correct basket for your coffee but it’s really important to select the right one.

Barista Express filter baskets lined up side-by-side

Firstly, you need to decide if you are making a single or a double espresso. The choice is yours and really this is just preference. 

If you’ve been following the guide above and have been grinding 16grams of coffee. You’ll be making a double espresso.

If you are looking to recreate your favorite coffee shop drink, then you will very likely want to choose a double size basket. The double filter baskets for the Barista Express are the two larger baskets.

Now you’ve chosen your size (single or double), you need to choose the filter wall (single or double). Stay with me here:

Double Wall:

The double wall filter basket is used to help extract the coffee oils from more stubborn coffee. Generally this is coffee that is either pre-ground or coffee that isn’t fresh (if the beans are from a supermarket or they’re fresh beans that you’ve had in the cupboard for a few months).

The purpose of the double wall is that when the water is being pushed through the coffee and subsequently through the filter, the water then needs to pass a second set of holes. In turn this creates more pressure which helps force the flavour out of the coffee.

You do not need to use the double wall basket if you have fresh coffee, it will just create unnecessary pressure on the coffee machine and over extract the coffee beans.

Single Wall:

As the name suggests, the single walled basket for your Barista Express has only one wall.

This basket type is what your favorite coffee shop will likely be using. The reason coffee shops use single wall filters is largely because they will be using fresh coffee.

The single wall basket allows the coffee to pass through without restricting the flavour from flowing through. 

If you have fresh coffee, your grind is set correctly and the coffee tampered down well, this basket type will allow the coffee to do the work and create THE PERFECT ESPRESSO.

Extracting the perfect Espresso on the Barista Express

This is where the magic happens. At the point of extracting the coffee you’ll get to check that you have everything set correctly. Hopefully by the end of this step you will have a coffee with a beautiful crema (the creamy lighter colour that sits on top of a great espresso).

At this point you are looking for the pressure bar at the top of the Barista Express machine (pictured below), to be pointing anywhere from 12 - 1 o'clock. It will take a few seconds to reach full pressure.

Good pressure for the Barista Express - Strong Pressure

...And you want it to take around 25 seconds to finish dispensing. 

Leave the “program” button alone for now. The machine should be set almost perfectly from the box.

If you’ve already had a little experiment with the programing of your extraction, then you can reset it by pressing and holding the program button until you hear 3 beeps.

Did your machine reach the top of the pressure bar, taking 25 second to finish pouring? If so you’ve made it - congratulations, you’ve now poured the perfect espresso!

If you didn’t quite achieve either of these two important things, don’t worry, here’s what you need to do:

If your Barista Express isn’t reaching the correct pressure and is pouring too quickly:

Reduce your grind size (make it a little finer) by increasing up by one number on the grind size wheel on the side of the machine. 

You may need to adjust the dose amount (likely needing to increase the amount) if the grinder no longer dispenses the 16 grams you need.

Tamp the coffee (with good pressure) and try again. If you still don’t have enough pressure reduce the grind size by one number again.

If your Barista Express is using too much pressure and taking a long time to pour:

Increase your grind size (making it more coarse) by dropping down by one number on the grind size wheel on the side of the machine. 

Remember, you may need to adjust the dose amount if the grinder dispenses more than 16 grams.

Tamp the coffee (with good pressure) and try again. If you still have too much pressure, then simply increase the grind size and try again.

Programming the extraction time on the Barista Express (ONLY IF YOU NEED TO)

If you are still struggling with reaching a 25 second pour and your pressure appears to be just right, then you can reprogram the extraction by setting everything up as you have above. 

Then before pressing the button to start your extraction, you press the program button. As the coffee is pouring (by pressing the 2cup button) you time 25 seconds and then press the button again.

You should not have to reprogram your machine. Of the 4 people I know with a Barista Express, they make great coffee without having to adjust the timing. The first thing I’d personally try is a different coffee bean before I adjust the program settings.

Now you’ve made the perfect Espresso on your Barista Express, it’s time to move onto turning that into a “long” coffee. You can either add water (and a dash of milk) to make an Americano, or you can use our tips below to make a milky coffee.

Make Latte, Cappuccino or Flat White milk with the Barista Express

Getting the milk just right on the Barista Express can take a bit of practice (ok, maybe a lot!). I still struggle sometimes, after having made probably 1000’s of coffees with my machine. In fact, my partner humours me when I make her a cappuccino by guessing the uniqiue “artwork“ that I’ve left on top.

However, with a little practice, applying these few top tips below you could be the next world wide Barista champion... or at least make your pals a pretty great Flat White.

Heating / Frothing the milk with the Barista Express steam wand

The first step to frothing the milk properly is choosing a suitable milk. The easiest coffee to froth into a silky smooth foam is full-fat (blue top) milk. The hardest being skimmed (red top) milk. 

Non-dairy milks can be even harder to foam correctly; I’ll be writing another article on this soon, so be sure to sign up to our mailing list to receive an email as soon as that has been written. A sign up box is at the bottom of our homepage.

You also want to ensure your milk is cold. So leave it in the fridge until you are ready to start frothing!

If you are using the standard jug that comes with the Sage/Breville Barista Express then you will need to froth your milk for one drink at a time. I find the best place to fill the jug up to, is just below the little dimple where the spout starts to form (see below).

Where to fill the milk in the Barista Express jug

If you find that you are going to be making more than one cup of coffee most of the time you use your machine, then you may want to buy a slightly larger jug, probably around 900ml like the one in the link AVAILABLE HERE.

Before you start frothing your milk, you want to preheat your steam wand. To do this point the steam wand into the hole in the drip tray and turn the wand on by turning the dial on the right side of the machine towards you (or the front of the machine depending where you stand).

Pointing steam wand into drip tray

At first, water comes out the end of the wand (this is why you are going to point it into the drip tray). As soon as it starts to produce consistent steam turn it back off.

Now quickly point the wand straight down into the milk within the jug. You want a very slight angle but nothing too severe.

Now depending on the type of drink you want to make will depend how you want to position the height of the wand:

To make a latte with the Barista Express:

  • Keep the wand about 1cm from the bottom
  • Turn the wand on
  • Keep one hand on the jug (careful not to burn yourself)
  • Slowly, lower the jug until the wand is about 2cm from the top of the milk
  • When the jug becomes too hot to comfortably keep your hand there, the milk is done

To make a Cappuccino with the Barista Express:

  • Start with the wand about 1cm from the bottom
  • Turn the wand on
  • Keep one hand on the jug (careful not to burn yourself)
  • Slowly lower the jug until the tip of the wand is sat just on top of the milk
  • Don’t raise it so high that the milk spits and hisses
  • You’ll notice that the milk starts to swirl like a little milky tornado
  • The milk will expand as the air mixes into it
  • Let the milk expand until it has roughly doubled in volume 
  • If the jug doesn’t feel hot enough, simply bury the wand back into the milk until the jug becomes too hot to comfortably keep your hand on it 

To make a Flat White with the Barista Express:

A flat white is an interesting one. It means different things to different people. Some people/coffee shops make the milk like a small latte with heavy/silky milk. Others make it more like a cappuccino with airy and light milk.

Either way, you’ll want to start with slightly less milk than you would with a Latte or a Cappuccino. Then simply follow the same tips as above depending if you want yours more like a Cappuccino or a Latte.

 

So now you have your milk perfectly prepared and you are ready to make the best coffee you’ve ever tasted, you just need to pour the milk properly...

Pouring the milk correctly and making Latte art using the Barista Express

To start here you want to make sure any larger air bubbles are popped and the milk hasn’t separated too much. To do this, tap your jug firmly on your work surface twice and then carefully swirl the milk in the jug (trying not to spill any).

The pour you make will depend on the coffee you are making:

To pour cappuccino milk:

  • Tilt your cup slightly, holding it from the bottom
  • Slowly pour the milk until the cup is 50% full
  • At this point you need to pour slightly faster
  • This should take the frothier milk from the top giving you that nice foamy top

To pour Latte milk and make Latte art:

  • Tilt your cup slightly, holding it from the bottom
  • Pour quickly and directly so the milk pushes through the Espresso
  • The trick here is to ensure the milk mixes well with the Espresso
  • This will ensure you have a nice dark base to make the art with
  • Pour until the cup is 80% full
  • Now reduce the tilt of the cup and shake the milk as it pours
  • Starting from the rim of the cup work towards the middle
  • With any luck you now have milk that looks like the below

Now I’d be lying if I said the below picture of latte art was created by me. However, I thought I’d leave you with an aspirational image of how great your latte art will be...

Latte art using the Barista Express

Now that you’ve made an excellent coffee and you're satisfied with the investment you made (your coffee machine), then I would suggest you learn how to clean it properly in order to protect it. Thankfully, I’ve written an article about how to properly clean the Sage/Breville Barista Express. You can find it HERE