Breville makes excellent espresso machines including their mid-range “Barista” models: the Barista Pro and Barista Express. For years, the Breville Barista Express was the flagship model and a bestseller for a reason. Then, Breville launched the Barista Pro at a premium despite a very similar design. Both are automatic machines with a built-in grinder, but how do you compare the Breville Barista Pro vs Barista Express?
I’ve tested and used dozens of espresso machines over the years, and in my opinion the Breville Barista Pro is the better choice. The Thermojet heating system, LCD display, and better grind settings make the Pro the clear choice over the Express, even at the premium price.
I’ll break down each of the features in detail to understand where and why the Breville Barista Pro is better and where the Breville Barista Express has its strengths too. I’ve added personal photos after testing the Barista Pro with some tables to make comparisons easy.
The main differences between the Breville Barista Pro vs Express are the heating system, grinder, and display. The Breville Barista Pro is better in all three categories.
I’ll compare these features along with the steam wand. Then, I’ll discuss how they all translate into the value for the price.
Internal Workings & Espresso Performance
One of the most important differences between the Breville Barista Express vs Barista Pro is the heating system. Breville incorporated its newer ThermoJet heating system into the Pro model, which is a significant upgrade to the older thermocoil on the Barista Express.
I’m a coffee nerd at heart, and I can talk about the differences between thermal blocks, boilers, and heat exchangers for a while. Both of the Breville Barista models use a thermocoil system.
Thermocoils are aluminum blocks with intricate stainless steel piping inside. The water enters one end, moves through the piping system, and comes out heated on the other end. Thermocoils are common on home espresso machines, but the difference is how fast they heat water.
The Barista Pro’s newer ThermoJet system heats water to brewing temperature in three seconds. The ThermoJet design also adjusts temperatures quickly. You don’t have to wait for the machine to heat up in the morning, nor do you have to wait between brewing coffee and steaming milk. If you want an espresso machine that is ready to go within seconds of turning it on, the Pro is the obvious choice.
The Barista Express uses a thermocoil system that heats in about 30 seconds. That time beats most other espresso machines but it’s an extra 30 seconds every morning without espresso.
The one downside of the ThermoJet system is you have to run a blank shot (just water) to heat up the system. It’s imperative you run a black or you’ll first espresso will be under-extracted (to be clear, you should run a blank for both machines, and most machines frankly).
An upside of the Barista Express thermocoil system is it makes the top of the machine a cup warmer. You can leave your mugs on top of the machine and get a little warmer espresso. Granted, I prefer the espresso sooner and the blank shot warms the mug enough for me.
Both machines use a proportional–integral–derivative (PID) controller for a digital temperature control system. PID systems keep water in a precise temperature range so you get optimal extraction.
Overall, the key difference is the speed of water heating. I think the clear winner is the Breville Barista Pro, and the reviewers at Seattle Coffee Gear came to a similar conclusion:
The design principals between the two heating elements are similar, but the Pro’s heating is just… better.-Seattle Coffee Gear
The grinder is another area where the Barista Pro espresso machine is the clear winner. Both machines include an integrated conical burr grinder, but the Breville Barista Pro espresso machine gives you better control and more personalization.
One of the key factors in brewing perfect espresso is the grind size. Too fine, and your espresso shot comes out cloudly. Too coarse, and your shot ends up too weak. Both the Breville Barista Pro and the Barista Express have excellent grinders. They are both use steel conical burrs, which makes consistent grinds We always recommend a burr grinder for the best coffee.
One key difference is that the Pro’s built-in grinder gives you a wider range of grind settings compared to the Barista Express. There are 30 “steps” on the Pro compared to 16 for the Express.
The extra steps on the Pro espresso machine give you a better chance of getting the exact grind you want. Good espresso is all about “dialing it in.” Every bag of beans will need to be brewed slightly differently. Differences in the batch of beans, the age of the beans, or even the weather can call for different grind sizes. The Pro gets extra precision here.
Another key point in favor of the Breville Barista Pro is the “Pause Grind” function. The Pro lets you stop the grind at any point in the dose, which means you can distribute the coffee grounds in your portafilter before finishing up. It helps you shake the portafilter to avoid getting a big mountain of grounds that spill over when you go to tamp. It helps break up some clumps.
The Breville Barista Express still gives you good flexibility in grinding your coffee beans. The 16 grind levels cover most of the options you’d want for your optimal espresso extraction. It’s just not as exact and that means the espresso won’t be quite as good over time.
All in all, the Breville Barista Pro comes out on top. It offers a more precise range of grind settings, which lets you really dial in the ideal espresso. The Breville Pro also lets you pause in the middle of grinding, a nice convenience for me.
Design, Display, Ease of Use
The two Breville machines come out about equal in terms of design, but the display and ease of use are where they differ.
Both the Breville Barista Pro and the Barista Express are visually appealing. They both have nice, rounded edges and sleek designs. The Barista Pro comes in more colors, including the matte black design that I tested.
Each machine also benefits from excellent tooling and design from a sturdiness standpoint. They’re come in at about 20 pounds each, given the heavy steel in the body. There’s certainly enough heft to support the high-quality internal components.
The Pro has one design feature that I especially like: a removable water reservoir. You can take out that extra step of filling up a pitcher and then pouring it in the tank. That’s a pain for the Express, especially if you have it up against your kitchen backsplash. The removable water tank also means it’s easier to wash and dry.
Both machines come with the same accessories, including four filter baskets: single and dual wall for one and two-shot sizes. Also, each machine comes with a dual-spout portafilter, so you can make two separate shots (similar to most coffee shops).
The Barista Pro wins here, although they’re more similar than different. The removable water tank is the main highlight. But overall, both options will be aesthetically pleasing in the kitchen.
Display and Ease of Use
The Barista Pro has an LCD display and a digital interface, while the Breville Barista Express uses a manual display. The information you get from each display is also slightly different. The Pro’s display is better overall because it makes it easier to program your shot for the perfect espresso.
The LCD interface on the Breville Barista Pro is easier to make sense of, especially if you’re an espresso beginner. You hit the menu button, then use the dial and the shot buttons to make changes. The combination of a dial to navigate left and right and buttons are intuitive.
The Barista Express has an analog pressure gauge and a set of buttons. It is a little more traditional, and the lack of flashing numbers is a little less intimidating on first use.
On the Barista Pro, you can change the shot volume, water temperature, and pre-infusion time. On the Express, you can change shot volume and water temperature, but not the pre-infusion time. A longer pre-infusion helps wet the grounds and avoid channeling for a better-extracted shot. That said, you can do a lot by changing the grind size, shot volume, and water temperature alone with both machines, but you can dial in the Barista Pro a little more.
While the programming ability is similar, the Pro’s LCD display is easier to use. Move the dial to the right, hit the shot button, and use the dial to easily adjust the water temperature up or down. You can see the temperature setting every time the machine is on.
On the Express, you can change the temperature setting with a combination of buttons, but you have to remember the change.
The Express has an analog pressure gauge, which is a great tool to dial in grind size. If the pressure gauge reads over 12 bar with a slow flow, you’re grinding too fine. It’s a nice addition but it doesn’t make up for the Pro’s LCD display and extra programming.
The hot water outlet is another design improvement on the Breville Barista Pro vs Express. The Pro dispenses hot water right under the portafilter, while the Express hot water outlet is a little to the right and behind the portafilter. You don’t need to move the glass at all to make an Americano with the Pro.
All in all, the Pro’s LCD display beats the analog display on the Breville Express. For both machines, you can program multiple settings for the best shot.
Steam Wand and Milk Frothing
After the perfect shot, milk steaming performance is the second key issue for any espresso machine. This is another area where the Barista Pro takes the win. The new ThermoJet system speeds up steaming milk as it does for brewing perfect espresso shots.
In addition, the Pro features a four-hole steam wand configuration, compared to the single-hole wand on the Barista Express. The four-hole configuration on Barista Pro espresso machines delivers more steam throughput than the single hole. You can steam milk in about 30 seconds on the Pro versus 50 seconds for the Express.
The four-hole steam wand aerates milk better, which delivers a better microfoam and latte art. The single hole on the Express still gets an excellent microfoam, but it takes a little longer.
Both machines feature manual milk wand functions, which means you will have to learn a bit about the quirks and tricks to froth milk just right, but the four-hole setup makes it a lot faster.
Price and Value
When it comes to price by itself, the Barista Express wins, simply because it’s the cheaper machine. But if we’re talking about value, then the Barista Pro takes the title, because you get a lot more for a modestly higher price.
When the Barista Pro first came out, the price difference was much steeper, but I would argue that even at the higher price, the Pro is worth it for enhanced features. The Pro includes more robust features compared to the Express, such as the finer grind control and the ThermoJet heating system.
For a full-service espresso machine, the Barista Pro offers better value for the simple reason that it’s only about $100 more expensive. The extra $100 gets you next-generation engineering and upgrades that bring it closer to the kind of machine you’d see in a coffee shop.
If you want to save money, the Barista Express is a very solid machine. The thermocoil heating system puts it above other machines in the industry. If you don’t need to change the presets, the control system and pressure gauge make it easy to use.
For me, however, the Pro wins out in the value department. The way I look at it, I’m happy to spend an extra $100 for a coffee machine that I’ll be using for years to come. That morning espresso is the best part of the day (for me, at least) and I want it to be good. Better quality and easier use with the Barista Pro is well worth the price.
The Winner Is: The Breville Barista Pro
The Breville Barista Pro is the better espresso machine, compared to the Breville Barista Express. The Breville Pro wins out in better espresso brewing, better milk steaming, overall ease of use, and value proposition.
The high quality burr grinder on the Pro edges out the Barista Express by offering a finer, more specific scale of grind settings, for fine espresso every time. Coffee experts who want the perfect cup know that grind, water temperature, and brewing time all play key roles in espresso excellence, and the Breville Pro espresso machine performs better in all these areas.
The Breville Barista Pro is our favorite Breville espresso machine. It uses the latest Thermojet technology, has more grind settings, and includes a four-hole steam wand. The display is easy to program across multiple inputs. The perfect semi-automatic espresso machine.
The Barista Express espresso machine lacks the robust heating system and improved milk wand design of the Pro. The Pro reaches perfect brewing temperature more quickly and keeps temperature control at the forefront of everything that the espresso machine does.
The Barista Express has a 30-second heat-up time and manual steam wand. The integrated grinder has 16 settings and a simple holder for the portafilter. The display is analog and includes a pressure gauge that helps measure the grind size and extraction for the perfect espresso.
Choose the best machine for you.
The Next Step to Brewing Great Espresso
Now that you’ve settled on your semi-automatic espresso machine, check out our espresso page to learn more about different ways of making espresso and latte drinks.
If you’re interested in broader buying guide, check out the best espresso machines for beginners. Looking for a lower-priced espresso machine? See our head-to-head comparison of the Breville Bambino vs Bambino Plus.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between the Breville Barista Pro and Express?
The Breville Barista Pro has a digital LCD screen and a more advanced ThermoJet heating system. The Breville Barista Express espresso machine uses an analog display, steam gauge, and thermocoil heating system and costs $100 less than the Pro.
Which is better: the Barista Pro or Barista Express?
The Barista Pro is the better machine. The ThermoJet system, more nuanced grind sizes, and display make better espresso and is easier to use than the Barista Express.
Is the Breville Barista Pro worth the price?
The Pro is well worth the price for Breville’s best heating system, better milk steaming, and ease of use. The Barista Pro’s ThermoJet system makes excellent espresso and is easy to use at a reasonable price.