Reviewing kitchen gadgets has allowed me to build up quite the curated shopping list for my own home. Featuring on my shopping list (you know, in case I win the lottery) is a cream KitchenAid mixer, a SMEG fridge, a Dualit toaster, and the most recent addition is the Sage Barista Express Impress.
The latest release from the home-coffee titans, the Sage Barista Express Impress has a real mouthful of a name, and that’s because it’s an iteration of one of the brand’s oldest and most enduringly popular machines, the Sage Barista Express. The difference? It’s got a brand new in-built tamping arm and an updated grinding dosage system.
The Express Impress looks pretty similar to the original model, and I’d know because my parents’ machine must be one of the hardest-working Barista Express machines in the country. Despite its similar looks, I can confirm that the Sage Barista Express Impress is a total game-changer. Gone are messy grounds all over the kitchen counter, with a chute-style insert that makes sure every last ground ends up in the portafilter, and an in-built tamper that means you won’t need to wipe up after yourself. In my book, this jumps straight up into the ranks of the best coffee machines you can buy.
Sage Barista Express Impress: getting started
- Name: Sage Barista Express Impress
- RRP: £729.95
- Dimensions: 33cm x 38cm x 41cm
- Noise: We measured 86dB
- Capacity: 250g Bean Hopper, 2L Water Tank
- Wattage: 1850 Watts
- Warranty: 2 Year Repair, Replace or Refund Guarantee
- Included: 54mm stainless steel portafilter, 480ml stainless steel milk jug, 1 & 2 cup single and dual wall filter baskets, water filter holder with filter, Razor™ precision trimming tool, cleaning accessories
- grind settings: 25
- Options: Single or double shot, hot water, steam
- Adjustable features? Yes, brew temperature and volumetric shot control
- Colours: Stainless steel, Black stainless steel, Sea salt, Black truffle
Millie Fender is Head of Reviews for the Future Homes sites, including Ideal Home, Real Homes, Homes & Gardens, and TopTenReviews. She’s tested dozens of coffee machines, and gone from thinking she’s not a coffee-lover to realizing that she just wasn’t making it right!
Millie got a sneak peek of the new Sage Barista Express Impress at Sage HQ, but after an introductory demo it was time to test it from her own kitchen. Sage loaned her the machine for a month, meaning she was really able to put it through its paces ahead of writing this review. She also included a selection of beans from Caravan Coffee Roasters, Fireheart Coffee Roasters, and many more specialist blends to really see how well this machine is able to bring out the flavor of a great bean.
I received the Sage Barista Express Impress in stainless steel, but it also comes in two black shades as well as a white option, called Sea Salt. The box it came in was large and hefty. While it does come packaged in non-recyclable polystyrene, there was at least no excessive packaging, and the machine itself is mostly plastic-free and constructed of sturdy stainless steel. It’s also backed for two-years at Sage’s discretion.
Included with the Sage Barista Express Impress you’ll get a portafilter, which feels delightfully sturdy, and four single and dual wall filter baskets, in one and two-shot measurements.
Sage also includes its signature Razor tool, which is used to scrape coffee from the top of your portafilter to reach the perfect even level before tamping. There’s a removable water container at the back of the machine, which comes with a water filter that needs replacing every few months. It’s easy to neglect the replacement of these filters, but if like me you live in an area with very hard water, this will damage any coffee machine that isn’t protected by a filter, so it’s good that this is accounted for in the build of the Sage Barista Express Impress.
The bean container fits 250 grams, which is the average size of a specialty bag of beans. It has a silicone-sealed lid that should work to keep your beans fresh and fragrant ahead of grinding. Waste water goes into the removable drip tray, and it has a warning that pops up when it’s time to empty.
How does the Sage Barista Express Impress work?
My first impression of the Sage Barista Express Impress was that it’s an attractive espresso machine that doesn’t try too hard to shake off the traditions of its predecessor. There are still two main buttons on the right-hand side to choose either a single or double shot of espresso, and a switch on this side to run hot water (great for turning your espresso into an americano) or set the steam wand running.
All the change is on the left-hand side, which now features a dial to control manual does, a button to toggle filter size, a button to start grinding, and a handle that you pull down to tamp your coffee. The pressure this handle applies is consistent, so the only margin for error when setting up your shot is ground size and volume.
The ideal grind size will depend on the beans you’re using, so if (like me) you switch out your beans pretty regularly, you won’t find yourself pulling the perfect shot every time. If you keep the machine on Auto mode (which honestly, I’d recommend) the machine will automatically adjust the amount it dispenses based on the last time you used the machine to hit the perfect point each time.
The light-up panel next to the dose button will show how close you are to having a perfect puck for your coffee. It lights up when you pull down on the tamping arm, which then gauges the amount of pressure it’s meeting to assess how full the filter is. Too low, and you can press the grind button again to dispense a little more until you hit that green central line. Too high, and you can use your Razor tool to trim a little coffee off the top.
When you do tamp, you should do it a couple of times to shake off any coffee excess from the grinder. This was the advice I got at Sage HQ, and while it’s a small complaint I didn’t love the few rogue coffee grounds that sat on top of every puck I tamped. However, the Impress setting does a good job of applying even pressure across the grounds, bringing them down into a uniformly condensed level. Short of investing in some additional high-tech coffee gear, this is one of the best ways to achieve consistent espresso and still have a barista-style machine as opposed to one of the best bean-to-cup coffee machines.
Does it make good coffee?
10/10, would drink this coffee again. It did take some getting used to, which meant I had a few disappointing shots in the beginning that dripped and flowed through my puck far too fast. When I got accustomed to the perfect grind size for my beans I was able to hit the right pressure level and was left with a well-balanced, creamy espresso.
You can tell when you hit the right point from looking at the pressure dial on the front of the machine. The pointer should rise up through the pre-infusion stage, and end up in that darkened espresso range throughout the rest of the shot.
Using the steaming wand
The steam wand is switched on using the dial at the right side of the machine. After letting it heat up for a few seconds, you need to turn it off and then insert the tip of the wand just under the top layer of your milk before turning it back on.
I liked that the Sage Barista Express Impress comes with a milk jug, although it’s a shame it’s not the Sage Temp Control Milk Jug that shows you the temperature of your milk to prevent you from burning it.
I’ve got quite a lot of experience in texturing milk, but because I’m left-handed this can be tricky if a machine doesn’t have a flexible wand. The Sage Barista Express Impress does, and it’s easy to adjust it to just about any angle using the handle attached. If you are new to steaming milk, this will be a great machine to get you started on making your own lattes and cappuccinos.
Cleaning the Sage Barista Express Impress
Sage has thorough cleaning instructions available online, and there are lights that tell you when it’s time to clean the system using a descaling tablet. In terms of daily mess, the Sage Barista Express Impress is a world away from the Barista Express. I would often be left with grounds all over the kitchen counter when using it at my parents’ house, as well as a lot of spills that would sit on top of the drip tray. With the Sage Barista Express Impress, none of this is an issue, and I didn’t once have to wipe down my kitchen counters to remove rogue coffee grounds. There are a lot of reasons to like this machine, but the mess-free element of the Impress system has to be right up there.
Should you buy the Sage Barista Express Impress?
It’s a big yes from me. If I had the money to spend £730 on a coffee machine, I’d spend it on the Sage Barista Express Impress. Of course, that’s a big if, especially right now when you might not be in the perfect place to make this kind of investment. For the same money you could also get Sage’s Barista Pro, which doesn’t have a tamping system but does come with touchscreen controls for a smarter effect.
I also reviewed the Sage Bambino, which is the brand’s cheapest espresso machine at around £320 at the time of writing. If you don’t mind using pre-ground coffee, that’s a good call. It’s also nice and neat, with the classic Sage style. Without an integrated grinder though, you could find yourself spending around the £500 mark to get the right setup if you opted for a standalone espresso machine.