Breville Barista Pro Review and Introduction to Espresso

 

If you want to dive into the world of home espresso, the learning curve can be steep, but some of the consumer grade appliances made by Breville can help make it easier. I originally wanted to purchase a no frills espresso machine like the Gaggia Classic Pro or Rancilio Silvia that come highly recommended as starter machines, but require much more manual operation. However, I was able to find a great deal on a Breville Barista Pro, which is the upgrade model to the very popular Breville Barista Express. You are able to program your shot volume for easy repeatability in these machines, which cannot be done on the Gaggia or Rancilio that I just mentioned, also these Breville machines heat up much faster and can be used in under a minute after turning on, the other machines recommend up to 20 minutes on time before espresso can be made. An important thing to note is that Nespresso, despite its name, is not actually espresso, neither is AeroPress. Only an espresso machine, electric or lever, can generate enough pressure to make proper espresso

These Breville machines have a built in grinder with similar performance to that of the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. The Pro adds faster heating technology, stepless grind adjustment, a better steam wand, an LCD interface with shot timer and some other small changes such as an angled hot water spout. The Pro loses the pressure gauge that was so prominent in the Express model. If you want to add automatic milk steaming and a touch screen interface the Breville Barista Touch offers those features.

Basics of Making Espresso: 

If you know nothing about making espresso, but are willing to make a little bit of a mess and put in some effort these are great options for home espresso. As always you will want to get yourself a scale, some quality coffee and I’ll list some “nice to have” accessories at the bottom of this post. 

Espresso recipes are stated as grams of coffee in, liquid/crema out, in how many seconds. A good starting point is 18 grams of ground coffee in, 36 grams of liquid out in around 30 seconds. You will want to adjust your grind size coarser to help the shot pull faster and finer to slow down the shot. This process is referred to as dialing in your shot, which can also entail pre-infusion, pressure, temperature and other variables. However, to start off, just use the default settings and focusing on the grams in, grams out in how many seconds. If you’re buying specialty coffee, sometimes your roaster may be able to help you dial in your shot. 

As all grinders have some degree of coffee retention so it is recommended that you purge the coffee stuck in your grinder when adjust your grind size. In my test of a completely empty Pro model, the grinder retained 3.6 grams of coffee, which is pretty high. If you don’t purge you will end up with a shot pulled from a mix of two different grind sizes.

The portafilter and basket is what you will dose your coffee grounds into, the preparation of the puck and tamping is an important step. You can get really advanced with puck rakes, distribution tools and fancy tamps. An improperly prepared coffee puck can lead to channeling where the water finds the path of least resistance and forms a channel in your coffee which can lead to unpleasant flavors. The easiest way to diagnose this is to use a bottomless portafilter

If you plan on drinking the espresso straight, dialing in the shot correctly is very important, however if you mainly plan on making milk based drinks some of the smaller changes may not be noticeable as you are diluting your espresso with milk. 

Steps to making Espresso with Breville Espresso Machines:

  1. Pull a blank/empty shot into your portafilter, just run a single shot through to warm up your portafilter and basket. Use a clean rag to wipe clean/dry. Your machine will come with regular and pressurized baskets, for best results use the regular/non-pressurized double basket as pressurized baskets are better for pre-ground or unevenly ground coffee.
  2. The built-in grinder offers time based grinding, however I prefer to single-dose my coffee by starting with an empty hopper and adding 18 grams of pre-weighed coffee in for grinding. You may need to account for grinder retention so check the weight of the coffee coming out as well. I keep a small whiteboard by my machine that shows the empty portafilter weight and the weight + 18 grams. Remember to purge a few grams of coffee if changing grind size or different coffee.
  3. Give your coffee grounds a small spray of water from a spray bottle to help control static.
  4. Grind your coffee into your portafilter and prepare your puck. Tamp your grounds evenly and consistently. I’ve listed some tools below that can help with this.
  5. Place a scale and cup under the portafilter and select the custom shot option for your machine, the manual for the pro is linked here. Tare the scale and pull the shot until you get 36 grams of liquid out. You want this to happen in about 30 seconds, the Pro has a shot timer built in, if you are using the Express you will need to use a scale with a timer or time it yourself. 
  6. Adjust grind setting as needed to modulate taste, like I said, a good starting point is to aim for 30 seconds. There are many options with coffee recipes with different ratios and variables, but this is just our starting point for new home baristas. Try to only change one variable at a time. 
  7. Once your shot in pulled, stir, not swirl, with a spoon and taste. As you begin to refine and dial in your shots you can explore different shot ratios. Ristretto and Lungo shots are different ratios and you can also explore different temperatures and dose sizes. This process will get easier with practice. 
  8. Once you have dialed in you coffee and programmed your shot volume, you can press the shot button and let it run for future shots. However, you need to make sure you have consistent puck preparation for best results. You will need to dial in your espresso every time you get a new bag of coffee, sometimes even with the same type and brand of coffee. 
  9. If you are making a milk based drink, there are lots of videos online that will show you how to steam milk, I’ll link some below that I found helpful. This just takes practice, but I also found that having a thermometer helps with this process. Make sure to clean and purge your steam wand after every use. 
  10. Knock out your used coffee puck and do a quick purge of your machine with a blank shot without the portafilter and basket and wipe your portafilter clean. 
  11. Follow instructions on how to clean and maintain your machine. It’s best to use soft water to prevent scaling. I use Cafiza for weekly back flushing and a Dezcal for descaling. Grindz is a good product for cleaning the grinder since this one is a little harder to get in and clean than standalone grinders. 

Conclusion:

If you’re looking for an all in one package with a small form factor to get into home espresso it will be hard to find anything better than these options from Breville. I personally think the Breville Barista Pro is the best option since I like steaming my own milk and like the LCD interface. 

I really wish the built in grinder was better, the retention is really high and it’s quite difficult to clean. I’ve ended up purchasing a 1Zpresso J-Max hand grinder to really refine my coffee grind size for espresso (this is an excellent grinder if you’re willing to put in the work of hand grinding). There a lot of options for standalone grinders, but if that’s your plan you should look at buying a dedicated espresso machine without a grinder like the Breville Dual Boiler and pair it with an Eureka Specialita or similar stepless espresso focused grinder. As the name suggests the Dual Boiler has two boilers and allows you to steam and make espresso simultaneously. These other products don’t allow you to do that, you have to pull you shot first then steam your milk. The Dual Boiler also has the advantage of using a 58mm portafilter, which is the industry standard size, whereas the Express, Pro and Touch use a smaller 54mm portafilter. 

Overall, I’m happy with the purchase and would recommend the Breville Barista Pro to people wanting to make home espresso, especially if they will primarily make milk based drinks. For the difference in price I believe the Pro is worth it over the Breville Barista Express. The Breville Barista Touch is harder to justify its price increase unless you want automatic milk steaming and the touch screen interface. 

One of the disadvantages to a Breville machine is that replacement parts are hard to find outside of the warranty period. If you look up parts for the Rancilio or Gaggia you can find pretty much every single part and keep the machine going for decades. A Breville machine will eventually need to be thrown out once support ends and you cannot locate parts anymore. I talk a little about super-automatic espresso machines here, but the coffee/espresso they produce tends to be lower quality than using a semi-automatic primarily due to grinder limitations on those machines.

Milk Steaming Videos:

Puck Preparation Accessories:

Other Accessories:

Manual for the Breville Barista Pro or Sage BES878 in the U.K.

Fellow Ode Brew Grinder Review

Fellow is known for making great looking and functional coffee products, their Stagg kettle is extremely popular. The Fellow Ode was a highly anticipated grinder because it offers large 64mm flat burrs, when most home appliance coffee grinders use conical burrs typically around 40mm in size. Flat burrs are usually found on larger prosumer and commercial grinders and are generally thought to offer a more consistent grind. Also the Ode is designed for single dosing, of which I am a huge fan. Single dosing means you measure your coffee by weight before each brew, so the Ode doesn’t have a traditional bean hopper that can store a lot of coffee, but has a small one that can only hold about 80 grams of coffee since you aren’t storing coffee in there. 

Let’s see how the Ode compares to the last two grinders (click here for full review) that we tested. I ran this test using 30 grams of light roasted coffee:

Fellow Ode:

  • Grind Time: 8.87 seconds
  • Grind Retention: .5 grams
  • Decibels: 79

Baratza Encore:

  • Grind Time: 19.49 seconds
  • Grind Retention: .5 grams
  • Decibels: 80

Oxo Conical Burr:

  • Grind Time: 9.16 seconds
  • Grind Retention: 1.6 grams
  • Decibels: 84

The Ode feels very solid and sturdy, it has a lower profile design than the other two. It also offers an automatic shut off feature that detects when there is no more coffee in the grinder. I think my unit may have been defective in that the power button kept getting stuck and the unit also made a quiet buzzing noise with vibration even when it wasn’t in operation, this appears to be a known issue with Fellow, one which there is no fix at this time. The position seems to be, don’t worry about it.. It isn’t the way it was designed, but it won’t waste power and won’t affect performance. Not sure I am really ok with accepting that as an answer. This is the first version of this grinder so I hope they address some of these issues in future releases, they plan to release a new grounds last this year that will be compatible with this version.

The Ode generates a fair amount of static, of the three grinders it had the most static. This could be addressed by using the Ross Droplet Technique (RDT), where you wet the handle end of a spoon and stir the beans before grinding or using a small spray bottle and lightly mist the beans before grinding. Don’t overdo it though and use too much water, you don’t want to drench the beans and get your grinder burrs wet. 

The Ode has a very premium look and feel, but also comes in at a premium price point. The results of the Ode are great as well, in blind taste tests it produced great coffee like the Oxo or Encore, but the Ode produced just a little bit more clarity from the cup. However, for me, I could only detect this in blind testing, when I was switching between the different grinders between brews the resulting cups all tasted similar with no one standing out as better or worse.

You can totally geek out on coffee grinders and spend a lot of money. Due to the pretty common size of the flat burr grinder you can upgrade the burrs for better performance. Fellow sells the upgraded SSP burrs on their website which will give you better results. This will allow you to grind a lot finer as well. I did find the range of grind size on the Ode to fall firmly within the brew grind range, which is exactly as it is advertised, so this isn’t a negative, but just know that the range of the grind size on the other two machines is much wider, however none of these grinders will provide good results for use with espresso.

Compared to the other grinders, the Ode will require tools if you need to clean it or calibrate it. Just a phillips screwdriver for most things, but cleaning does require a little more legwork than with the Oxo or Encore. This isn’t uncommon for flat burr grinders though, and there is the option to use grinder tablets to clean as well, but you won’t get it as clean as you would with disassembly.

If you like the design of the Fellow Ode and only plan to use it for brew grinding, I would definitely consider this as your home brewer. I really like the form factor, function and how small the unit is compared to traditional burr grinders with larger hoppers. I think with the following and support of this grinder, there will be more cool options and upgrades coming down the pipeline. While there have been some issues with these grinders, like the issues I had on the unit, they are known for having great customer support and should help you with resolving any issues you have.

You can access the manual for the Ode here.

Baratza Encore vs. Oxo Conical Burr Grinder – Review & Comparison

When I was shopping for an entry level burr grinder, the most recommended one was the Baratza Encore. Over and over again this grinder was recommended for people starting off with brewed coffee. The Oxo Conical Burr Grinder was not as popular of a choice, but had some solid reviews and recommendations. For me, it came down to these two and I ended up getting the Oxo. You should really avoid starting off with a blade grinder as they chop the coffee beans into uneven bits like a food processor, where a burr grinder will provide much better results as the beans pass between two burrs at a set distance apart which offer much better evenness and taste profile.

I got my hands on a Baratza Encore and wanted to test the two side by side and see how they performed. Here are the results from some basic tests between the two. I ran this test using 30 grams of light roasted coffee:

Baratza Encore:

  • Grind Time: 19.49 seconds
  • Grind Retention: .5 grams
  • Decibels: 80

Oxo Conical Burr Grinder:

  • Grind Time: 9.16 seconds
  • Grind Retention: 1.6 grams
  • Decibels: 84

In summary, the Oxo was a lot faster with grinding but retained more coffee. The decibel levels were pretty close, but the Oxo is and definitely sounds louder than. The Encore seemed to make a lower churn noise versus a higher pitched whirring noise from the Oxo which never bothered me in the mornings until I heard the Encore. Grind retention is an issue with my Oxo, I usually have to shake the machine around and give it a smack or two then hit the grind button again for a couple seconds and this can get the grind retention down to about .4 grams. Grind retention on the Encore is great, though it tends to popcorn with single dosing. Popcorning is when some coffee beans aren’t entering the burrs and pop around before going through the burrs. Grind retention was tested by giving a grinder a thorough cleaning with a brush and compressed air then seeing the difference between the starting and ending weight. Retention between grinds will be less than starting off with a clean grinder. To address stale grounds left in your grinder between brews you can use a few grams of coffee to purge the grinder of old grounds and discard. Low grind retention is a feature on much more expensive grinders, but the Encore performs very well for an entry level grinder.

I single dose my coffee, meaning every time I make coffee I measure the beans by weight and only put those in the hopper and grind until empty, for this reason I don’t care as much about the grinder operation. The Oxo has a timer function for grinder and the button turns the grinder on and off, I usually just leave it at the max time and use the button to operate it. The Encore only has a pulse button and on/off switch, so you can either press and hold the pulse button or just turn it on and off as needed. I recommend you single dose unless your grinder has a built in scale, single dosing keeps your beans fresher as they aren’t sitting in the hopper which is not air tight and also often not UV tinted.

There is the option to upgrade the Encore to the M2 burr from the higher priced Baratza Virtuoso+ that will double the grind speed on the Encore. They are compatible and easy to change out.

It is really important for any grinder, but especially so with the Encore, to dial in your grind size. If you were to do a search of what grind setting to use for pour over on the Encore, most results say around 14, but every grinder is different, even between the exact same models, I found my ideal pour over grind setting on this Encore to be closer to 10. It was around to a 6-7 on the Oxo, which was closer to what the search results said. I use these just as a starting point and refine as I go. Keeping grinding finer until you start to taste bitterness and then adjust back coarser to hit that sweet spot for grind and extraction.

I don’t have a sieve to test the grind size distribution, however, I went off something more important which is flavor. The flavor profile between the two was too close to tell the difference for me, I did notice a little more clumping and static from the Encore though. There are a couple of tricks you can try to reduce static, you can wet the handle of a spoon and give the beans a quick stir before grinding or take a small spray bottle and lightly spray the grounds with some water before grinding. The Oxo is a pretty clean grinder where chaff and grounds stay mostly within the grounds bin. 

One thing that makes the Baratza very attractive is the availability of parts and post purchase support. Oxo also has great support however you cannot buy replacement parts as easily, you will need to go through their customer support for your issues. For Bartaza you can go online and buy any replacement or upgrade part easily as Baratza doesn’t want you to throw any machine away, but rather wants to see you repair/maintain it for longevity. Also due to the popularity there is a lot of information and support you can find online. 

Neither of these grinders will be ideal for making espresso and performs best when used for brewed/filter coffee. Learn more about brew methods here

To me, there is no clear winner between these two grinders as they are both great choices. The Baratza definitely feels more solid and sturdy, it comes in at a higher price point and grinds slower, but that is something you could address through a burr upgrade.

The Oxo comes in at a lower price point, grinds faster but is louder with more retention. Oxo has great post purchase support as well, but replacement parts are harder to come by with no available upgrades. I recommend the Oxo as a great entry level grinder if you are on a budget, I also took a look at the Cuisinart DMB-8 Grinder for a value grinder, but it felt so cheap and I didn’t like the operation so I really can’t recommend going any lower than the Oxo Conical Burr Grinder. The Baratza Encore is also a great value with a slightly higher price point and you know you can buy it for life.

Next I will take a look at how a conical burr grinder like these compares to a flat burr grinder like the Fellow Ode. Click here for the full review.

Oxo Conical Burr Grinder Manual

Baratza Encore Manual

How to Make Better Coffee. 10 Easy Steps to Improve Your Coffee.

While doing research for my posts I noticed that a lot of people have the right equipment to make great coffee, but aren’t following the right process to make great coffee. If your process works for you, then keep it, but if you think you have room for improvement, here are some suggestions:

  1. Buy better coffee, but better doesn’t mean more expensive. Great coffee doesn’t need to cost a lot, it just needs more thoughtfully sourced. For less than the price of coffee pods, you can get amazing specialty coffee. Read our full guide on buying coffee and also our guide on green/specialty coffee. Fresh and locally roasted whole bean coffee consumed 3-18 days (generally) post roast will have peak flavor. That doesn’t mean coffee is undrinkable after that, but I would not buy coffee that is over one month post roast. If your coffee doesn’t have a roast date and only a “best by” date, then don’t buy it. For this reason I don’t recommend buying coffee online unless it is from a specialty roaster with recent roast dates, otherwise you could be getting coffee that is months old. Explore light and medium roast coffee as that is where most of the origin flavor will come out, the darker you roast coffee the more they all start to taste the same. If you have the time, roasting your own coffee can be the most economical (and fun) way to get fresh specialty coffee, learn how here.
  2. Brew with quality water. Brewed coffee only has two ingredients being water and coffee, so make sure you are using good quality water. I use tap water for my coffee, at a minimum I recommend you run your water through a pitcher filter. You can get a decent under sink filter for pretty cheap also. What I use is this under sink filter which connects directly to my faucet. The filtration is good, and I don’t suffer a reduction in flow rate like you do with the other types of under sink filters and reverse osmosis system, these systems will do a better job with filtration, but have limitations such as using more water or having to have a second faucet with low flow rate. If you live in an area with hard water, it might be worth considering a water softener for your home, it will help with more than just better coffee, but help with soap scum and washer and dishwasher efficiency. If you really want to get crazy you can buy distilled water and add these Third Wave Water mineral packets for what they claim to be the optimal blend for coffee, I haven’t tried this as I really don’t like buying bottled water other than for emergency use.
  3. Measure your coffee by weight. This one is huge, I wish coffee companies would stop recommending using scoops and cups to measure coffee. See our coffee recipe charts for information on how to dose coffee and check out our post on why we should measure by weight. Also check out our recommended kitchen scales.
  4. Grind your coffee as close to your brew time as possible, preferably right before you brew. Coffee needs to be ground in an even and consistent manner for best results, blade grinders do a bad job at this so it is recommended that you get a burr grinder. I have a friend with a good coffee maker and a good burr grinder and was buying whole bean coffee and grinding the entire bag at once for the week, this is not recommended. For this reason, do not buy pre-ground coffee as it starts to become stale right after grinding. Now, the other day I had to wake up at 4am, so I ground my coffee the night before and put it in the coffee maker with a dry filter paper and scheduled a 4am brew so I didn’t have to wait for it.
  5. Adjust your grind size. Not all brewing methods use the same grind size, not all coffee types use the same grind size. Even between the same exact model, two grinders may not produce the same grind size. You could be using the same brew method with the same coffee beans and need to use a different grind size due to the size of the brew. For example with pour over, everything else being the same if you are brewing a smaller batch you should grind finer, and if you are brewing a larger batch you should grind coarser. These may just be one step difference in either direction, but the recommendation is keep grinding finer until the bitterness starts to come through, then adjust it back coarser for optimal extraction. If your coffee is coming out too weak or sour, that likely means you are grinding too coarse and should grind finer. For most brew methods, grind adjustment should be your primary method for modulating taste, not adjusting the ratio or other factors.
  6. If you are using filter paper, rinse it with hot water first. This can be hot tap water if you don’t have a water warmer or extra water from your kettle. You’ll get better results from bleached/white filters papers than the natural/brown ones. The brown ones are compostable which is good, but the white ones have less paper taste and are are bleached using a process called oxygen bleaching and are safe to use. Many coffee makers come with reusable screen filters, however I find that using paper filters has the best results, if you are worried about waste you can also try a cloth filter. As I mentioned above, only rinse the filter if you are going to brew right away, if you are setting an auto brew then leave the filter dry. This will also help to pre-warm your brewer which many people suggest.
  7. Use the right brew temperature. Another huge one. For a home coffee brewer, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) recommends a brew temperature between 197.6F and 204.8F or 92C and 96C. For methods like pour over, French Press, AeroPress and Clever Dripper, we recommend you use water that is fresh off the boil. You can save yourself money on buying a kettle without variable temperature and just use water fresh off the boil. If you are using a coffee maker, you can try to measure your brew temperature as close to the source as possible with a probe thermometer. Water loses temperature very fast, when I was testing coffee makers sometime I would think something was off with the temperature because I would run a brew without coffee or filter into the carafe, and by the time I tested the water after a brew it was 15-20F colder than what I measured when it was coming out of the filter basket. I would say, if your coffee maker is putting out water more than a few degrees lower than 190F, may be time to consider a new brewer. We have reviewed many brewers, both SCA and non-SCA certified, check out our recommendations here
  8. Stir, not swirl, before drinking. I know it sounds like a cheesy James Bond quote, but it does make a difference. Coffee tends to stratify during the brewing process. Swirling doesn’t work as well as stirring with a spoon or stick to eliminate the stratification. Some coffee makers like the Ninja or Moccamaster have a brew straw or tube in the carafe to prevent stratification, but most don’t.
  9. Try the coffee black first. Especially with fresh roasted specialty coffee, drink it black before adding milk, dairy alternative or sugar. You may be amazed by some of the notes and aromas you will get. Also, if your coffee is too hot you may not be able to taste it properly. Coffee may taste better between 122F and 129F or 50C to 54C, so try to drink it as it cools a little. If you are fancy you can get an Ember Mug to keep your coffee at an ideal temperature, or worst case you can microwave your coffee to reheat it. A thermos is a great way to keep coffee warm, but I know some people don’t like the feel of drinking from a thermos vs a mug. We don’t recommend keeping your coffee on a hot plate as it will cook your coffee and the taste will suffer, for this reason we recommend a good thermal carafe or that you transfer your coffee off a hot plate within 20 minutes.
  10. Take good care of your equipment. With the exception of grinder burrs (just use a dry brush for these and never wet them), you can hand wash most of your coffee equipment, such as your carafe, filter basket, french press and pour over drippers with mild soap and water. Clean your grinder regularly, use a dry brush and/or an air blower to clean out all the grounds and burrs. If you are using super dark and oily coffee (which we don’t recommend), you can try grinder cleaning tablets. Make sure to descale your coffee maker regularly with white vinegar or descaling solution. I like to keep the filter basket holder and shower head on my coffee maker open to promote faster drying. Even your Moka Pot should be hand washed with mild soap and water, many people believe you should not wash these with soap similar to what people said about cast iron skillets. Never place aluminum, like a Moka Pot, in the dishwasher because dishwasher soap is different than regular dish soap and will cause aluminum to oxidize and damage/discolor it. Random fact, for those of you who were taught to never use soap on a cast iron skillet, the guidance is now that it is ok to use soap and water with a cast iron skillet. Don’t believe me, see for yourself.

One last tip – Take notes. I know this sounds crazy to some people, but use your phone or take down some notes on the coffee and what you thought. Did I like this roast level? Did I like this origin? Should I adjust the grind the next time I brew this coffee? Only change one variable at a time to dial in your best brew, for example don’t change your grind size and change the ratio at the same time. Coffee is very personal and there is no right answer to what is the best coffee. I tend to really like coffee from Africa and Central America. Someone else could really like coffee from Indonesia and South America, so try different kinds and keep notes as to what you like. 

  • See our guide on how to pick the best brew method here.
  • See our coffee recipe charts here.
  • Check out all our recommendations here.

Best Multi-Serve Brewer – Ninja Specialty

The Ninja CM401 Specialty Coffee Maker is one of the few home brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) that has the option to brew different servings sizes without changing the amount of water in the machine. These machines are called Multi-Serve machines as most coffee machines will brew until the water tank is empty, so if you put in 24 ounces of water you cannot then choose to brew 16 ounces unless you pour some water out. The version we tested had a glass carafe, the Ninja CM407 is the thermal carafe version. We previously reviewed the Braun MultiServe (review) as another SCA approved brewer, however we recommend the Ninja as the best Multi-Serve.

There is a lot to like in the Ninja, it is SCA certified, the filter basket can stand on its own, the brew straw in the carafe, the shower head dripper and a removable water tank. Multi-Serve brewers usually have a manual drip stop and will allow you to brew directly into a cup or any other vessel in contrast to other brewers that use the carafe lid to operate the auto-drip stop so you can’t brew into anything else. The brewer also has pre-infusion process like the bloom process in pour over which is a nice feature. The filter basket swings out which is a nice feature as I like to leave mine open after a brew to allow it to dry faster, with models that open on top it can get in the way of your cabinets.

The machine has pretty big footprint, but I like the open back design that allows you to see through the machine. Brew temperatures were in line with SCA requirements and final brew temperatures were around 170F and water temperature taken while brewing was 196-199F.

The Ninja is a capable machine and I really like the results with making hot coffee in the classic mode. I was not as interested in all the extras such as the built-in frother, specialty setting or other modes. One thing I found frustrating was the manual, because they only say how much coffee you should expect in the final brew on the different modes. We should measure coffee by weight and not with scoops and the manual did not make it clear how much water is used for each serving size. This is the information we need to determine how much coffee to use, I’ve done the legwork for you below.

I suspect Ninja is trying to make this brewer for the mass market and simplifying it by recommending scoops for coffee measurement, but I would have liked to see some more useful information in the manual for an SCA certified brewer presuming they were interested in more discerning consumers.

One thing I like about the Ninja is that you can turn off the hot plate, change the time it stays on and even change the temperature of the plate in the settings (unlike with the Braun). I turned the hot plate off completely and use mine with a Zojirushi 1L Vacuum Carafe with half pot brews as it is too small for a full carafe brew. This is a good option since manufacturer thermal carafes don’t have the same build quality as the Zojirushi. If you want to brew a full carafe, you need to use the included carafe. The cup clearance is high enough to fit my Contigo 20 ounce (just barely) and Zojirushi 16 ounce travel mugs where they would not fit under the Braun.

Below is a recipe chart based off a combination of what was in the manual, what I measured as water output (without any coffee) and the markings on the water tank. The amounts may be off by 1-2 fluid ounces. Overall, I felt the serving selection could have been labeled much more clearly, also since when is a half carafe 68% of a full carafe?

*The Specialty mode is meant to make concentrated coffee for espresso-like drinks. Depending on your coffee, grind size, filter and brew mode the half and full brews may overflow. If this happens you can try to hot rinse your filter first, use a coarser grind or try to rich brew mode.

I used a measuring cup and tested the brew sizes without any coffee or filter to see how much water was used and below is what I found. I don’t know if this there is just some variation, but it didn’t match up precisely with what was in the manual or the markings on the water tank. I used the larger numbers on the chart above to ensure that you were not under-dosing your coffee so this may require some tweaking.

  • Cup – 11 oz.
  • XL Cup – 12.5 oz.
  • Travel – 16 oz.
  • XL Multi 20 oz.
  • Half – 32.5 oz.
  • Full – 48 oz.

The Over Ice mode reduces the amount of water used to 40% to account for about 60% of ice. The Rich mode increases the brew time with a slower drip and per the manual will result in less coffee output. With larger brew sizes make sure to wipe the shower head as some grounds can splash up onto it.

Overall I really liked this brewer and the one I tested has found a new home on my kitchen counter, so I use pour over for most days and use the CM401 for when I need to schedule an early morning brew or larger brew sizes. We also tested the Ninja Programmable Brewer and recommend that as the best value brewer, it is not SCA certified and doesn’t have multiple serving size options, but it is a great value brewer.

What’s the Best Coffee Brewing Method?

We have posts on the most common brew methods for making coffee already, so we wanted to help you find the best brew method. This will depend on your lifestyle and be an individualized decision, but here are some pointers on how to pick the method that suits you the best.

Immersion vs. Percolation

Immersion methods, such as the French Press, AeroPress and Clever Dripper (the last two also use a filter), tend to be much more forgiving than percolation methods. Testing has been done with varying grind sizes with immersion methods, like the French Press, and they were all drinkable. If you use the wrong grind size on a percolation method, like a pour over, the result could be undrinkable. Cold brew is another immersion method that is easy to make in large batches.

Percolation methods, such as the pour over method or using a drip coffee maker are less forgiving than the immersion methods because water is passing through the grounds/filter once instead of being immersed in water for a set period of time.

One of the most important variables in making coffee is the grind size, that is why we always recommend grinding your own coffee by weight with a burr grinder so you can adjust the grind size to get the optimal extraction. With immersion methods like the French Press, the recommended ratio is 60-75 grams of coffee per liter, so you can adjust the ratio to taste. This is because at a certain point you get diminishing returns with coffee extraction with immersion/steeping in hot water. If you wait longer you won’t extract more coffee taste, so you need to add more coffee.

With the percolation methods the recommendation is to grind finer until you taste bitterness then adjust the grind back coarser a little to ensure optimal extraction. If your coffee is sour or weak, keep adjusting finer until you can dial in your right grind size. Make sure you are using clean fresh water fresh off the boil and quality coffee. With percolation we try not to change the coffee to water ratio, only the grind size to modulate our coffee taste. This is because we only get one chance with percolation for the water to pass through the grounds, so we need to ensure we have the right grind size, grind evenness and surface area of the coffee for the coffee to extract properly. Even the thickness, speed and shape of the filter can impact this because we need to make sure the draw down time is not too long or short know how it impacts our extraction. Overall, percolation needs a little more effort to dial everything in, but I believe it has better results for the extra effort.

For 1-2 servings of coffee

I consider a serving to be about 12 oz since that is a typical large coffee mug with some room left in it. My usual brew size is 700 ml to make two servings.

If you want less than 12 ounces, we recommend using the AeroPress which can make about 6-7 oz of coffee. It is easy to use and has great results and also easy to travel with or bring to the office. It makes some of the best tasting coffee, but the brew size can be limiting. The AeroPress comes with paper filters, but can also be used with metal filters.

For about 12-14 ounces, try the Clever Dripper, this is also an immersion brewer with a filter that is easy to use and makes great coffee. It combines the best of a French Press and filter coffee, I find the coffee to be somewhat muted using this method compared to an AeroPress.

Pour over is a great method that can make up to about 27 ounces of coffee for two full mugs. This is the method I use most mornings and requires some more attention, but I believe it has the best results if done correctly. Most people use paper filters with this method, but you can also find reusable metal and cloth filters.

French Press is a method that can make small or large brew sizes depending on the size of your vessel. Some people don’t like French press as all the oils are retained due to the absence of a filter which results in a different taste and texture from filtered coffee. This is a personal preference if you prefer having the oils in the coffee or prefer filtered coffee. Using permanent metal filters instead of paper filters on the other methods discussed here will also allow the natural oils in coffee to stay in the brew.

For 3-4 servings of coffee

For these brew sizes your best bet is to use a larger French Press for immersion or a coffee maker for percolation. Once you find the right grind size, a good coffee brewer with proper brew temperatures will make you a great cup of coffee. Many coffee makers come with metal filters, but I prefer using paper filters for a cleaner cup. Check out our coffee brewer recommendations here.

You can also make cold brew in large batches in the refrigerator. The cold brew process makes the coffee less acidic, but you may also miss some of the notes in the coffee compared to a hot brew.

What about Espresso?

If you’re interested in espresso and more home barista stuff, we touch upon it here, but haven’t done a series on espresso as it is a real commitment and essentially a whole new hobby. AeroPress and Moka Pot can get you some espresso-like results, especially if you’re making milk based drinks, but it isn’t the same as using an espresso machine due to the pressure levels required to make true espresso.

Best Dairy Alternative for Brewed Coffee

We got a request for a post about the best dairy alternative for brewed coffee. We didn’t look at dairy replacements for espresso-based drinks, because some of those have added gums, emulsifiers and fats that help with steaming, frothing and latte art. If you have issues with the milk alternatives curdling, you may need to try the “creamer” version of these plant milks. Another tip is not to pour the milk into the coffee until it cools a little.

When brewing specialty coffee, we always recommend to at least try the coffee black first, and if you really need to then you can add milk. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, some people just like a little milk in their coffee, so what are the best options? Another way to avoid curdling is to add the milk in first and slowly add the coffee, for those of you committed to drinking coffee with milk.

First thing is why do you want a dairy alternative? Is it for sustainability & environmental reasons? Lactose intolerance? Trying to lower calories? Are you going vegan? Allergies? That will help you pick from the options below.

Second, we only wanted look at options that were unsweetened and would not change the flavor of the coffee. For example, we did not look at hazelnut, coconut or hemp milk because that has natural flavoring and we wanted something as similar to milk as possible in taste and texture. There is lots of information out there about the sustainability and water usage of these alternatives, feel free to check those out, but essentially all of them have less environmental impact than the production of cow’s milk.

Third, it had to be easy to find. Things we could find at our local supermarket or available for delivery with Amazon Prime/Fresh.

Soy milk, almond milk and rice milk have been around for a while, none really serve as a good milk replacement for brewed coffee. They are too watery and tend to curdle unless you buy the creamer version. Also, from a taste and texture perspective, we don’t find them to be suitable alternatives to cow’s milk. If you’re looking for protein, cow’s milk and soy milk offer the best choice.

The two we recommend are oat milk and cashew milk for options that best mimic the taste and texture of adding cow’s milk to brewed coffee. Oat milk is thick, rich and tastes the most like dairy, if you are worried about calories go for the cashew milk which is a little more watery.

You can also try macadamia milk as a third and slightly harder to find option, it adds more of its own flavor and sweetness than the other two and is a little more watery.

There are links below to the specific products we looked at.

As you can see oat milk has about as many calories as 2% cow’s milk, but less than whole milk. Highest in calories and fat of the alternatives.


Cashew milk has far less calories and fat than oat milk or cow’s milk.


Here is the nutritional information for macadamia milk. It is in between oat and cashew milk for calories and fat.


The following are for reference/comparison:

Here is the nutritional information for whole milk.


Here is the nutritional information for 2% milk.


Here is the nutritional information for 1% milk.


Here is the nutritional information for unsweetened soy milk.


Here is the nutritional information for almond milk.

Best Value Coffee Brewer – Ninja Programmable

The Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer is available at many retailers and is a great option if you are looking for the best value in a coffee maker. It makes great coffee and has strong set of features. While this model is not certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), some of the machines in the Ninja line are and they may have carried some of the capabilities into this machine. Check out the Ninja CM407 for an SCA certified MultiServe brewer with thermal carafe that can make different serving sizes easily (see our full review of the CM401). We also reviewed the Cuisinart PerfecTemp with a similar price price and the Ninja performed much better.

The machine isn’t the best looking machine out there, but it is thoughtfully designed. Some of the great features are the removeable water compartment, showerhead dripper, drip stop basket holder, programmable auto-on and brew straw to prevent coffee stratification. I wish it came with a thermal carafe option, but at this price point it is a great value. You cannot brew into anything other than the supplied carafe due to the machine design, so an after market carafe or brewing into a mug is not an option.

One reason why you always hear me talk about measuring coffee by weight and milliliters is that there is no standard cup size on these machines. This machine comes with a 60 ounce or 12 cup carafe, which if you do the math would mean they define a “cup” as 5 ounces, but if you test that with a measuring cup the markings on the water compartment aren’t exact. How I measure coffee is use a measuring cup with milliliter markings for water and refer to my chart below to determine how many grams of coffee to use with how much water. I grind the beans fresh each time before brewing, but you can grind the night before if you want to program it for auto start.

One of the main requirements to earn SCA certification is the brew temperature and this machine brews at the ideal temperature. With a final brew temperature of 185F (with hot plate off) for a 700 ml brew, this brew temperature is on par if not better with the SCA certified brewers we have tested. For comparison, a pour over made with fresh off the boil water is about a 178F final brew temperature. I also like that you can turn off the hot plate so you don’t cook your coffee and also set the auto off time for the hot plate. Not have the option for a thermal carafe isn’t a deal breaker, as long as you transfer your coffee within about 20 minutes you should be ok leaving it on the hot plate. I turn the hot plate off all together and make sure to transfer my coffee to a thermos or mug soon after the brew is done, which has an audible alert or there is an auto drip stop when you remove the carafe.

The machine uses #4 cone filters which are easy to find. For the cost, features and brew quality this machine is our pick for best value coffee brewer, with such great results you’re paying for design and build quality/warranty on the higher priced brewers. Check out all our recommendations here.

You can download the Ninja CE241 manual here.

Why Do I Blog? Why Coffee?

I’ve been asked that question a lot after launching my blog to a larger audience. For me this is really a passion project, I am quite fascinated with coffee for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that coffee is just so complex. There are so many factors to consider. You could take really great green coffee and mess it up during the roast. You could take great roasted coffee and mess it up during the grinding or brewing process. So many factors and so many variables make it a crazy network of interconnecting rabbit holes, and who doesn’t love a good rabbit hole?

My goal in starting this project was simple, I wanted to improve people’s coffee experience and provide them the information and resources to do so with value and convenience in mind. What I found is that every time I searched for something about coffee I was inundated with ads, two ads in between each paragraph, header ads, footer ads, sidebar ads and don’t forget the pop up asking if you want to enable notifications.

The information in those ad riddled posts were often way too basic or not what I would consider accessible to most people. I wanted to create something that was easy to read and short where it needed to be and detailed where it needed to be, if that makes any sense.

As I started really getting into coffee I was talking to friends and family about how they consumed coffee and heard a variety of answers. One theme that I saw recurring was that people who were very deliberate and thoughtful about their choices as consumers (myself included prior to this), were not at all discerning in their selection of coffee. They saw coffee as just something to be consumed in the morning for a caffeine kick. You know the people I’m talking about, they research things, they care about sustainability, they buy organic food, they know all the good restaurants and can explain to you the different varieties of wine or beer, but when it came time for coffee, they had a Keurig machine or sometimes the upgrade of a Nespresso.

Nobody I spoke to bought coffee from a local roaster or focused on specialty coffee or single origin. A few people bought Blue Bottle, Peet’s or Stumptown coffee, but that was it. When I asked most people what kind of coffee they liked, the answer 9 times out of 10 was either “medium” or “dark.” What really started this whole project was me trying to convince my wife that we were overpaying for Keurig and Nespresso, and that for less money we could be making much better coffee.

My passion project is really an outreach and information campaign to let people know that much better coffee has a low barrier to entry, especially if you’re already paying for pods. Many people are under the impression that they need to spend a thousand dollars on a super-automatic coffee machine to get better coffee, the opposite is actually true as most pros would agree the coffee from those machines is worse than what you can make with a regular espresso machine or pour over due to the lack of adjustments.

The idea I am sharing is that, any fresh, whole bean coffee, ground and brewed using any method will be better than the coffee in pods at a lower cost, now if your lifestyle or needs are such that pods are the only option, that’s fine, I just wanted to let people that better coffee is within reach for minimal investment.

The truth is that large coffee chains, like Starbucks, have conditioned us to think that super dark roasted, bitter, awful coffee is bold or strong and what coffee should taste like. For those who want a better coffee experience, I want to be a resource to get you there.

Specialty coffee is amazing, the notes and aromas that come from freshly roasted coffee is something I look forward to every morning. I usually only drink one cup of coffee a day and I look forward to the next day’s cup. Even though I test different coffee machines, I still go to my pour over most mornings and find the process therapeutic.

Let me know what kind of posts you would like to see in future posts.

How to Make [Non-Muddy] Coffee with a French Press

The French Press gets a bad reputation for being difficult to clean and making muddy coffee, but it’s a great immersion brewer that is low cost and easy to use if you do it right. We tested the OXO Brew French Press with GroundsLifter with our brew method and recommend it. If you look at recipes for French Press, you will find a lot that say different things, we have tried many of them and found this combination of different methods to be our favorite. This method will give you a nice clean cup and is easy to clean up.

Here is what you will need:

Here are the instructions:

  1. Boil the water in your kettle.
  2. While your water is warming, using the recipe sheet and on the resources page, grind your coffee by weight to a medium ground. The recipe sheet is based off of 60 grams of coffee per liter of water, however for French Press you can go as high as 75 grams of coffee per liter of water. For our example we use 42 grams for 700 ml of water. You can adjust to ratio between 1:13 to 1:17.
  3. Pour the ground coffee into the French Press.
  4. Start your timer and add 2-3x the weight of the coffee in boiling water, swirl and stir to ensure all the grounds are saturated then wait for 30-45 seconds.
  5. Swirl again and allow the brew to steep for a total of 4:00.
  6. At the end of 4:00 all of the particles should have fallen to the bottom, place the lid on the French Press and plunge only to the surface of the brew. You don’t want to plunge all the way down as it will stir up all the coffee.
  7. Gently pour the coffee trying not to cause the grounds at the bottom to stir up, between pours you may need to plunge down just to the surface again for faster flow.
  8. Do not wash coffee grounds down your drain, you can throw them in the trash or use them for compost. If you don’t have the OXO, then pour the grounds into a sieve/strainer then discard or compost them.

If you’re looking for an immersion brew method with a filter, check out the Clever Dripper or AeroPress.