Breville Bijou Espresso Machine (VCF149) full review
If you want to make high-quality coffee at home and you don't mind taking the time to learn, this appliance is one to consider. Small-scale and fun, Breville's Bijou Espresso Machine makes a cracking espresso and lovely frothy milk.
Design & appearance
- Stainless steel body
- 1.5 litre tank
- Makes 1-2 espressos at a time
Inside the box, there's a 15-bar pump espresso machine, a portafilter, a scoop and tamper, a manual, and two double wall filter baskets – a 1-cup and a 2-cup measure.
The machine itself has a stainless-steel body with a transparent 1.5 litre tank at the back. The power cable is 70cm, so you don’t need to place the appliance directly in front of a plug point. Standing just over 29cm high, 20cm wide and 28cm deep, it’s a neat appliance that doesn’t take up much space on your counter.
At the front, the machine has a three-button row – one for power, one for brew and one for steam – and a dial. Below the portafilter socket, there's a black plastic drip tray with a stainless-steel grid cover, which is easy to take out and replace.
Performance and use
- No pre-set dispensing volumes
- Not tall enough for a latte glass
- Cool-down needed after steaming milk
After unboxing the machine, you'll need to wash the tank and run 400 ml of water through the machine to clean it. You can pull out the tank to fill it from the tap – it slips easily back into place – or use a jug while the tank is in situ.
When you turn the machine on, there's a wait for it to heat up. We found that it takes about six minutes from a very cold start. You'll know it's ready when the brew button indicator light stops pulsing.
Once you’ve run the cleaning process, you can make your first coffee.
Choose your filter basket depending on how much coffee you want to make, and then pop it into the portafilter by aligning the basket bump with the portafilter notch – this caught us out initially until we re-read the instructions.
Use the supplied scoop to measure your coffee into the basket, flip the scoop round and tamp the coffee with the other end, making sure to apply pressure. Then twist the portafilter into place on the machine. There's a bit of a knack to this, and we found it to be a bit stiff at first.
Put your cup underneath the portafilter and turn the control dial to brew; the machine will then start to dispense coffee with soft puffs of steam. When you have the required amount, just turn the dial back to standby.
As you'll note from the process described, this is not one-button coffee brewing. And unless you have barista training, getting to grips with the machine can constitute a steep learning curve. We had to do a fair amount of experimentation. But this means it's an ideal purchase for coffee hobbyists on the lookout for their first home espresso machine.
An average espresso shot is 30ml but this is difficult to gauge by eye and we wildly over-dispensed the first few times. Eventually, we ended up using a glass with the correct level marked on the side until we got a good idea of what 30ml looked like in a cup.
The need for a trial and error period is due to the Bijou’s manual dispense dial. This Breville model has no pre-set dispense volume function, which means it's not the right machine for people who want to press a button or two to get their morning brew.
On the plus side, the manual dispense gives you the ability to easily customise coffee strength in a way that an automatic appliance may not.
Once we got our dispense volumes right, the result was impressive: a Guinness-like espresso with a lovely crema on top, a great scent, and a deep rich taste.
You can, however, only make one or two cups at a time, and the Bijou doesn’t have the height for tall latte glasses. If you want to make four espressos, lattes, or cappuccinos, preparation becomes a multistep process.
Breville suggests you make the coffees first and then steam your milk afterwards. The steaming process makes the appliance too hot to then brew appropriately, so you need to plan a little if you want to serve a coffee with steamed milk to more than two people.
Alternatively, you can release the heat through the cool down cycle by pressing the brew button, putting a jug under the steam wand, and turning the dial to steam. It takes about 40 seconds, you turn the dial to standby again, and the appliance is then ready to make another round of espressos.
When you need to tap out your coffee grounds, there's a clip to go over the basket so the filter doesn't fall out.
- Steep learning curve to get good results
- Steam wand too low to allow a pint of milk to be steamed
Fill your milk jug about a third or half full. As the Bijou is so compact, the steam wand doesn’t have the height to allow you to steam a pint of milk at once.
You can use any type of cold milk – rice, almond, oat, coconut – but full fat milk works best. Soy milk is much harder to work with, as both high temperatures and the acidity of coffee can make it curdle.
Press the steam button, insert the wand just below the surface of the milk and turn the control dial to steam. Then steam your milk to the required texture and temperature. When you've finished, turn the dial to the standby position and wipe down the wand.
This sounds straightforward, and it is once you know what you're doing, but it's another massive learning curve for newbies. Our first three attempts were utterly rubbish: we over-frothed and under-heated, over-heated and under-frothed – at one point, we accidentally ran the cool down cycle through a jug of milk.
So be aware, you'll need some practice if you are coming to milk steaming for the first time. The Bijou doesn’t spoon-feed you.
But what it does do is give you control and the opportunity to experiment and make great coffee without having to fork out hundreds of pounds or give up much-needed kitchen counter space. It’s a great appliance for a small household.
When we finally got it right the result was a smooth, velvety cappuccino that rivalled, possibly bettered, a coffee-shop coffee.
Price and availability
Espresso machines are expensive. Breville has built something affordable and high-quality here by outsourcing a lot of the fine-tuning to its user. The Bijou has an RRP of £199.99 but if you shop cannily, you should be able to get hold of one for closer to £150.
It's currently available from Amazon for £153.35. At this price, it really is very good value.
Bear in mind that the Bijou doesn’t grind beans. If you like the sound of the Bijou but want an inbuilt grinder, Breville also has a machine with one: its fantastic Barista Max Espresso Coffee machine, which we've also reviewed.
This is not an appliance for people who want a simple way to make espresso in the morning: it's not quick and it is fiddly. Nor would it suit large households with several people eager to get their coffee fast.
But we loved it. We had a lot of fun tinkering with dispensing volumes, milk frothing, and shot-to-milk ratios. We would have appreciated a Breville-supplied coffee-making guide, and maybe a little more room below the steam wand.
If space is at a premium in your household, the Bijou is a compact, budget-friendly way to get high-quality coffee.
For more coffee machine options, have a look at our round-up of the best coffee machines we've tested.
Breville Bijou Espresso Machine (VCF149): Specs
- Dimensions: 30 x 21 x 27cm
- Bar pressure: 15 bar
- Power: 1050 Watt
- With integral milk frother
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