If you want the power of a manual espresso machine in a package that doesn’t take up much space, the Sage The Bambino Plus is a great choice. This small machine is capable of pouring an excellent espresso, using pre-ground or freshly-ground coffee. It also offers manual and automatic milk frothing, letting you choose between a more hands-on approach and convenience. The Bambino Plus is a touch expensive, but worth it if you’re after full manual control.
- Excellent espresso
- Manual or automatic milk frothing
- A touch expensive
- Can’t adjust espresso temperature
- Review Price: £379
- Manual espresso machine
- 195 x 320 x 310mm
- Milk frothing (automatic or manual)
- 1.9l water tank
There’s been a dearth of good manual espresso machines, with the focus shifting to either pod machines or bean-to-cup models. It’s refreshing to see the Sage The Bambino Plus, then, which is a compact espresso machine with some neat professional features.
Rugged build quality and excellent results make this a top machine for those who want high-quality espresso manually, but don’t have room for a larger machine.
Build and features – Excellent and rugged-feeling coffee machine
- High quality, durable stainless steel construction
- Plenty of accessories included in the box
- The water reservoir is easy to remove, though the tamper is a little stiff with the group holder at first
- Programmed and manual settings are available so you can get your coffee just how you like it
- No hot water option so you may need a kettle on hand
- Easy-to-use manual is included to help you with this easy-to-use machine
Sage is well known for its high-quality appliances, and this espresso machine is no different. The tough-feeling stainless-steel finish has all of the hallmarks of a quality product. The Bambino Plus is also nice and small at 195 x 320 x 310mm, so it won’t take up much room on your kitchen counter.
Sage provides all of the accessories you need in the box. There’s a group handle that takes the provided 54mm filter baskets: single or double espresso. You get two of each: single-walled and double-walled. The difference is that single-walled filters are designed to be used with beans that you grind yourself, while double-walled filters are for pre-ground beans.
This effectively means that you can use the Sage The Bambino Plus with a high-end grinder, capable of producing the finest of grinds. If you have a cheaper grinder, or buy pre-ground, then you can still use the double-walled filter, which adds to the flexibility.
Once you’ve got coffee into the filter, there’s a provided tamper. There’s no room on the coffee machine to store this, so you’ll need to find somewhere to keep it. The group handle locks into position, although it was extremely stiff to begin with, only loosening after a few uses; you’ll need to use a bit of brute force for the first week or so. There’s a 130mm gap under the spouts, so you should be able to slot in everything from espresso cups to larger latte glasses.
A 1.9l water tank can be found round the back, which takes the provided water filter. This reservoir is easy to remove and replace.
Sage has kept things simple at the front, with buttons to dispense single and double shots of espresso. These are pre-programmed, but you can override the defaults to set the amount of coffee you want.
When setting manually, you can set the pre-infusion time and the shot delivery time. Pre-infusion time is when the machine doses the coffee with a small amount of water, letting it soak in. This helps the grinds expand and ensures even extraction. The dispensing time is when the coffee machine actually pushes hot water through the coffee and defines the final shot volume.
The control is time-based, not measurement-based, so expect some variation in final shot size as you use different beans, tamp pressure and even grind size.
There’s no control to dispense hot water from the machine, so if you’re making a long black or an Americano, you’ll need to use water from a kettle. My guide to the best kettles has some models that let you choose the temperature, as you don’t want to add boiling water to coffee for fear of ruining it. There are clearly marked controls for steam delivery, too.
There’s a thin manual in the box, which quickly walks you through everything you need to know, showing how easy this coffee machine is to use.
- High quality espresso only takes around 25 seconds, and flow is exactly as you’d want
- You may find the coffee a touch cooler and the taste a tad more bitter compared to some top-of-the-range professional machines
- Overall, taste is excellent and there’s a fine bubble-free crema on the espresso
With its single-walled baskets, the Sage The Bambino Plus proved that it could take a fine grind from a high-end coffee grinder: the same one that I use with my Sage The Dual Boiler. The only slight issue is that the design of the group handle meant that it wouldn’t fit under the grinder. I had to first dispense the coffee grounds into a cup and then transfer to the filter basket.
Even so, a quick tamp later and The Bambino Plus was soon dispensing high-quality espresso at just the right flow, taking around 25 seconds to complete the pour on standard settings, which seemed about right giving the eventual volume of espresso.
There’s nothing to complain about in terms of the finished product. The crema was nice and oily, with a fine texture without bubbles, and it lasted for a couple of minutes after pouring. I measured the espresso temperature at 55ºC, which is just a little on the cool side.
Taste was spot on, with my Fairtrade Peruvian beans (roasted two days before) delivering a smooth and rich-tasting shot. Overall flavour was perhaps a touch more bitter than the same beans used on the high-end Dual Boiler, but that’s a pro-level coffee machine that costs far more.
Effectively, with the right beans and grind size, The Bambino Plus can hold its own against the best.
Milk drink quality
- Manual or automatic options are available for milk frothing
- Frothed milk has fine micro-bubbles and a glossy shine
- The frothing wand is automatically purged afterwards
There’s an automated frothing system on this coffee machine, where you can set the milk temperature and foam amount. You don’t have to use this system and can froth manually by pulling the steamer wand forwards. My preference is to do the latter, although the automatic system is handy if you want to quickly froth milk – or if you’re just learning.
Steam is delivered at a constant velocity with a slight delay between starting and stopping. Even so, I could get the jug at a good angle to swirl the milk, creating neat milk with fine micro-bubbles and a silky-smooth appearance.
Once you’ve finished with milk and push the steamer wand back, The Bambino Plus automatically purges the wand and lowers the temperature of the machine back down to espresso levels.
- There’s a detachable drip tray, and it’s easy to rinse and wipe down this machine after use
- Flashing lights indicate when upkeep is needed (although a digital screen would have been preferable)
Once you’ve made a coffee you should run some water through the showerhead to rinse out any coffee grounds that have become stuck. A wipe with a damp cloth wouldn’t go amiss, either. The relatively small drip tray will need emptying regularly, and can be washed with warm soapy water.
After 200 extractions, the Sage The Bambino Plus will flash the 1 Cup and 2 Cup buttons to show you that you need to use the cleaning mode with an espresso cleaning tablet. When it’s time to descale, the 1 Cup and Steam buttons flash, and you then need to follow the descaling instructions in the manual.
It’s nice to have such warnings, but a small LCD screen that indicates exactly what needs to be done would be a neater solution – and you wouldn’t need to turn to the manual to decipher what those flashing lights mean.
Although the steam wand purges automatically, you can remove the tip and wash this in the sink. Sage also provides a handy tool to unclog the spout should it become crusted with milk.
If you’re looking for a manual machine that you can pair with your own grinder or even pre-ground beans, the Sage The Bambino Plus is an excellent choice. This model is simple to use and lets you choose from manual or automatic milk frothing, giving you control when you need it and simplicity when you don’t.
With professional-level filter baskets, The Bambino Plus is capable of delivering some excellent shots of espresso, matching far more expensive machines. If you want a high-quality manual espresso machine that doesn’t take up much room, this is it, but check out my other top coffee machines if you’re after something else.