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Sunbeam Barista Max review: An almost perfect first coffee machine
If you're looking to start making espresso at home, Sunbeam's Barista Max has everything you could possibly want.
The Sunbeam Barista Max has everything you could hope for in a first coffee machine. It's not without caveats, but the process of discovery and learning how to navigate those shortcomings is often intertwined with your own journey into the world of home coffee machines in a way that's hard to hate.
When it comes to coffee machines, there's no single best way to get your morning fix.
For many, pod coffee is going to be the more practical way to go about things. It's fast, reliable and it doesn't ask too much on the part of the user. However, for those who want to brew something a little closer to their local barista, home coffee machines like the Sunbeam Barista Max are a compelling alternative.
If you've never before taken the leap into brewing your own espresso coffee, it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, the Sunbeam Barista Max is a newbie-friendly, but nevertheless comprehensive, solution to this intimidating problem.
How much does Sunbeam Barista Max cost in Australia?
The Sunbeam Barista Max has a recommended retail price of $849 in Australia, but is frequently found for far less.
While the Sunbeam Barista Max will cost you more than a typical pod-based alternative, it's still relatively affordable by the standards of automatic coffee machines and it's old enough that you can count on a there being a decent discount on offer from local retailers depending on the time of year.
Sunbeam Barista Max: Design and features
If you close your eyes and try to imagine what an entry-level home espresso machine might looks like, chances are whatever you imagine looks pretty similar to the Sunbeam Barista Max.
Both in the larger silhouette and the finer details, Sunbeam's machine leans into your expectations for what this caliber of home espresso hardware should look and feel like. It's not quite Fischer-Price, but it definitely feels like the Sunbeam Barista Max is built to be approachable to newbies. It's clearly a coffee machine for coffee-drinkers who want start learning to make home espresso as well as drinking it.
Naturally, this means that setup is super easy. The various pieces comprising the machine snap together with Lego-like simplicity. In terms of the overall layout, the left-hand side of the device houses a tap-and-go grinder set, while the right hand contains the espresso pump and a milk frothing wand.
Last but not least, there's a 2.8-liter water reservoir sits at the back. This is relatively easy to detach and fill up as needed, though there did sometimes end up being some spillage in the process.
Across the board, Sunbeam have opted to keep things simple, tactile and intuitive wherever possible. Even if more demanding enthusiasts might chafe at the rounded corners and big buttons, the blunt-force streamlining here helps get the job done.
However, one unfortunate drawback of this specific approach to the category is that the Sunbeam Barista Max ends up being a bit more bulky than some of the other options. That included grinder does add a lot of value, but it also adds to the physical space that the unit takes up (and the price) to a degree that's sometimes hard to overlook.
Sunbeam Barista Max: Performance and maintenance
I've been using the Sunbeam Barista Max for over twelve months, so it never takes me more than about two minutes to put together a latte in a pinch. This process is easy to learn, and practice makes perfect.
Fill up the grinder, top up the group handle, slide it into the pumping station and away you go. If you want a single shot, you hit the button with a single espresso on it. Feeling like a double? Just hit the double button.
Brave enough to pull a shot manually? All you need to do is tap the marked key.
One of the best things about the Sunbeam Barista Max is that the all-in-one sensibilities that it brings don't just cover the basics. They also extend to the accessories included with the machine. Extras like an included milk mug, tamper and a two sets of filters serve to solidify Sunbeam's pitch for itself as the perfect option for those who want to everything out of the box.
Although the Sunbeam Barista Max does a great job of giving you what you need to get started with home espresso, I can't help but wish it had a few more of the perks and conveniences seen elsewhere.
For instance, there's the grinder. While it's easy to throw in some beans, load up the group handle, the details after that can be pretty tedious to pin down. Finding the right fineness for your grinds is a fun problem to solve. Finding the right amount of grinds to load into the group handle isn't. It's trial-and-error in the most tedious way possible.
It ended up being time-consuming enough that one of my first post-Sunbeam Barista Max purchases was a dedicated grinder with more nuanced settings.
Another area where I consistently encountered trouble was maintenance. The fact that the Sunbeam Barista Max is as easy to put together as it is never leaves any doubt as to how to take it apart for cleaning. Unfortunately, this process often ended up creating a lot more mess than I'd expect.
Detaching the water tank typically left a few puddles on my bench-top. Emptying used coffee grinds always saw filters fly out of the group handle. Cleaning out the spillage tray, which you do need to do relatively often, always ended in disaster and a lot more cleaning.
Learning to live with that mess might be part of learning to make espresso, but it's hard not to wish for a version of this product with a little less of it.
Home espresso machines: manual vs automatic
The big question
If you're looking at investing in a coffee machine for home use, the question of whether to go automatic or manual is one of the most significant choices you'll be making. While both approaches brew espresso the same way and typically share elements like a portafilter, boiler and group head, the way that they apply the pressure used to extract coffee.
Manual espresso machines rely on the user to directly and physically apply this pressure via a mechanism like a handle. While this process can allow for a more hands-on brewing method, it can also be tiring and tedious. For that reason, automatic coffee machines like the Sunbeam Barista Max are a favored option. The chemical process that's occurring with these machines is more or less the same as their manual counterpart. However, rather than rely on a person to apply the pressure needed to extract espresso, they simply do this via other means.
Is Sunbeam Barista Max worth buying?
Even if it's not quite hobby-grade, the Sunbeam Barista Max does a great job of making the process of making espresso at home simple to learn while also giving you plenty of room to experiment and develop your technique.
After about twelve months with it, I started to yearn for something a little more advanced and more aware of its shortcomings, but I probably wouldn't have reached that point if it weren't for the Sunbeam Barista Max. It does everything you need it to do well, and it includes everything you need to get started at a decent price.
The Sunbeam Barista Max is a solid way to whet your appetite for both home espresso tech and the craft that goes along with it.
How does the Sunbeam Barista Max compare?
The table below breaks down how the Sunbeam Barista Max compares to a few of the other coffee machines we've reviewed.
How we review coffee machines
The short answer: by making (and drinking) a lot of coffee. The longer one: We spend some serious time not just using the coffee machines we review, but also thinking about the type of users they're for. We don't just read and regurgitate a spec-sheet. We take stock of what the landscape looks like, and how machines like the Sunbeam Barista Max fit into it.
Even if there are clear differences between home espresso machines like this one and cheaper pod-based options, those differences can be bridged by a thorough assessment of how successful both approaches when it comes to solving the problem of delivering the quality homemade coffee possible with as little effort as possible.
Sunbeam Barista Max FAQ
As with any home appliance, the life of a coffee machine like the Sunbeam Barista Max is going to very based on how well you take care of it and how often you use it.
Still, all things being equal, you should expect to get between two and three years of regular usage.
Putting together a classic espresso or late with the Sunbeam Barista Max isn't too complicated, just follow these steps.
- Check that the bean hopper is full of beans and the reservoir at the back of the machine has enough water in it
- Power on the Sunbeam Barista Max
- Warm your cup using the hot water function on the foam wand
- Select the right grind setting
- Pick your filter basket of choice and insert it into the group handle
- Push group handle into tap-and-go grinder and fill with fresh grinds
- Tamp down grinds and wipe away excess
- Insert group handle into the group head and turn to the right to lock it in
- Press either the 1 cup, 2 cup or manual button and extract coffee
- While this is happening, fill milk jug to the marked line
- Turn foaming wand to steam setting and let it warm up. Once the light stops flashing, you're ready to go.
- Place steam wand in milk mug, turn the dial and create frothy milk as required.
- Pour frothy milk into coffee extract.
- Clean foaming wand with a damp cloth.
- Drink delicious coffee.
Cleaning the bean hopper on the Sunbeam Barista Max is fairly straightforward. After removing and emptying the bean hopper, simply wash the bean hopper and its lid in warm soapy water, then rinse and dry.
Do not attempt to wash the grinder blades directly or via a dishwasher.