Good quality on the exterior...if only this quality and choice of parts sunk into the interior.
Positive Product Points
Easy to use out of the box (after prepping from instructions in manual) Excellent fit and finish (on the outside) Good manual with clear instructions on use
Negative Product Points
Portafilter too small No brass anywhere to be seen Pressurized portafilter Absurdly small portafilter size (portafilter size doesn't necessarily equate to poor shot quality but hard to find right sized tamper)
I purchased the Breville 800ESXL after my (what I thought at the time) trusty beginner Hamilton Beach espresso machine died on me. The main influence of my purchase, but the ultimate downfall, was based on the looks and finish of the machine. I thought that if it looked really good on the outside it must be good on the inside. Never was I more wrong.
While this machine may be good for the occasional espresso drinker who wants to save on $4 drinks (even then there are better machines at lower prices) it is not a good machine if you want to make a good espresso shot or want to develop your barista skills. After first setting up the machine and allowing cold water to fill up the boiler per the instructions in the manual I waited for the machine to heat up. First I was surprised at how fast the machine heated, yet later I was to learn that the very reason for this fast heat up time is also a bad thing. After grinding the beans, removing the portafilter, filling and tamping it I locked it into the grouphead. After putting a preheated shot glass underneath I pressed the brew button and expected to be greeted with a nice reddish crema issuing from the spouts. What I got instead was a lightning fast 10 second shot with all blonde crema that fastly dispursed into a thin bodied espresso shot. Mind you this was with fresh roast, three day of rest beans and an Ascaso 1D grinder set to an initial (undialed in) grind. Of course with an undialed grinder I wasn't expecting a "god shot" but at least a decent crema especially with fresh roast beans. Shot after shot I was getting the same results. After adjusting the grind courser with same tamp I eventually, very easily choked the machine.
The reason for these fast blonding shots and eventual choking of the machine is made evident in the fact the filter basket is a pressurized one. I realized this after checking the basket for clogged holes...and boy does it clog fast since the bottom of the basket is double walled with a single pinpoint exit hole in the bottom. This is what creates the backpressure in the grouphead and basically aeriates the shot into a "fake crema". Unfortunately, Breville does not offer unpressurized baskets and the only option is to get the Krups baskets. These "fake crema" shots will never help anyone venturing into espresso develop their skills since an indicator of a good tasting shot is the development of the crema and its color. With a constantly fake crema made by the pressurized basket the user will never know if their beans are not fresh, grind is too coarse/fine, or distribution is not right. Only other indicator would be shot time and that is not enough to judge by.
Another reason anyone looking for good espresso shots won't find them in the 800ESXL (even with endless tinkering) is the fact the boiler (thermoblock), grouphead and portafilter have NO brass whatsoever. I would expect this as manditory (at least the portafilter) in a machine in this price range. Many Gaggia models half the price of this machine have brass in them as well as a standard sized 58mm portafilter which equates to more material and better stability (the 800ESXL has a very small portafilter). This is the reason for such fast heat up times. The other reason, which I found out later, is that the machine uses a thermoblock for both brewing and steaming. This further decreases the temp stability of the machine even if it makes it more convenient for switching between brewing and steaming.
After adjusting my grind endlessly (and this is with a stepless grinder) and even trying to temp surf via the boiler light my shots still weren't coming out like I would expect from a $400 machine. Eventually I returned the machine promptly out of frustration and got the Ascaso Steel Duo Professional. While this machine is easily more than double the price of the Breville I've been happier than ever with the quality of the machine and know it's quality has to do more with the inside. Also, as mentioned earlier, at even half the price of the 800ESXL there are better machines that pull better shots (with the right grinder). In fact the Ascaso Steel Uno or Rancilio Silvia is $130 more and a similar single boiler machine but has much better internals and lifespan (parts from gaskets to boiler can be ordered even after warranty).
Bottom line: While this machine may look good on the outside it is evident that more money was put into exterior design than quality interior parts. Basically the interior was the same as my lowly $80 Hamilton Beach and even that had an unpressurized basket AND 58mm size portafilter. This proves that in this case, beauty is ONLY skin deep.
This was purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond for the standard MSRP. Great store with great selection and I had no problems with the return (except the customer service employee had to hear my rant on the price to quality ratio of the machine).