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Awarded best assisted-manual machine during testing, Sage's the Barista Express Impress offers a lot in the way of usability and performance for the price.
There was a real sense of excitement when unpacking the large, stylish box containing the Barista Express Impress. Though very well packaged to protect the machine, it was disappointing to see so much polystyrene and plastic. However, there were gasps of delight once we got past this, lifting the machine from its non-recyclable nest. This is a striking-looking, sturdy product that does not have a vast footprint, so it sits comfortably on a worktop.
For those used to a bean-to-cup machine, most of the clear layout of the controls will be familiar; however, as this model has several new innovative features reading the instruction manual is recommended. Again, for a beginner, this is a must.
The book is well-written, sequential, and has photographs and illustrations covering every stage of set up and operation. In addition, there's an excellent section on getting the right grind and how to adjust this for the perfect extraction, texturing milk with the steam wand, using the hot water outlet, and even changing the water temperature for different beans.
Both beginners and those used to this style of espresso machine will find operating the Barista Impress clear and straightforward as most of it is intuitive. However, we needed a few attempts to get the new intelligent dosing system off-pat and used up quite a few beans in the process.
Sage calls this their new Impress™ Puck System, which ensures that each dose of ground coffee into the filter basket is calculated on the previous grind – you know it is perfect when the green light illuminates. Of course, this amount does change when you change beans, so it will need to be recalculated, but all this involves is adding the new beans to the hopper and grinding for your chosen size of coffee (one or two cup sizes) using either the automatic or manual mode.
This is followed by the assisted tamping from the side lever, which applies the correct pressure and twists it at a precise seven degrees, polishing the surface while removing any excess grinds and producing authentic barista coffee. Initially, we referred back to the manual frequently, but this is much easier than it sounds, and very soon we were making the perfect espresso precisely the way we wanted it every time.
In addition, we were impressed by the large water tank on the back of the machine with a clever, sturdy carrying handle which folds neatly away. Cleaning is easy as the innovative dosing system is very clean to use, and the drip tray has a neat little flag that appears once it needs emptying.
Unequivocally, the Barista Express Impress delivers a great espresso once the grind is set up to go with the coffee which arrives like dripping honey, split evenly into the cups with a super crema and a great, strong aroma. The assisted tamping also makes a tight puck that knocks easily from the portafilter.
The machine has a steam wand and a hot water outlet for those who like an Americano or less strong espresso. Both heat up surprisingly quickly for a small machine; the wand blasts out a good cloud of steam, and the milk stretches well.
Sage Barista Express Impress comes with a two-year warranty, less than some machines of a similar price. It is an incredibly sturdy machine and feels well designed and engineered (both done in Australia, though it is made in China). Customer service, though, is here in the UK.
Though this is not the cheapest, it is one impressive machine that delivers in bucket loads. Yes, it has lots of bells and whistles, but they are not there for show; they work to produce outstanding coffee.
We love that even though there is a level of automation at play here, we were able to not only produce great coffee but fine-tune it to a character that we prefer, not unlike a pro barista. After familiarisation with the machine, we turned it over to a complete (but coffee-loving) novice who, in a couple of tries, was producing excellent espresso and latte, proving the machine's ease of use even for a beginner.
Full product specifications:
Serial number: SES 876 BSS
Dimensions: 33 x 38 x 41cm
Bean hopper: 250g
Capacity of the water tank at the back: 2 litres
Extra components: 25 precision grind settings, preset single or double shot, auto dose correct for the next grind, hot water, adjustable brew temperature, adjustable volumetric shot control
Manufacturer warranty: two years