The Breville Hemisphere Control multitasks almost as much as you do.
I have a Breville coffee grinder at home and in the CNET Appliance's Toaster Oven Extravaganza, the Breville Smart Oven was a top performer. As such, I had very high expectations for the $199 Breville Hemisphere Control Blender, expectations which were not ill-placed. It is a fantastic blender and went above and beyond in terms of performance.
We reviewed seven blenders in what I like to call the Great CNET Blender Bonanza. (Admit it. It's catchy.) Each model brought something to the table, some more than others. Even compared with the big guys like Ninja, Blendtec, and VitaMix, however, the Breville held its own and, in the end, won a positive vote.
It has the horsepower to handle heavy-duty tasks like grinding whole almonds into flour and then processing that flour into almond butter, no additives or oil required, but it also can handle delicate tasks like whipping cream. I genuinely believe that this blender could replace, at least in some instances, your hand mixer and food processor, making it an ideal choice for people who appreciate an appliance that multitasks as much as they do.
Its versatility and multitasking ability might not be what you need. Before we go any further down this path, you must to assess for yourself what, exactly, you require from a blender. Blenders like the Breville are wasted on me.
Why is a fantastic blender ever a waste? I use blenders to make beverages. End of list. In college, I used my blender exclusively for margaritas. Now I make smoothies in order to perpetuate the ruse that I am a health nut. I make them often, certainly, but they still don't justify an appliance as multi-faceted as the Breville. Not everyone will need all of its food-processing potential.
If you're looking for a frozen beverage mixer, you can get a fine product in the $39 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender (Model 56206 -- there are two with that name). It made good smoothies, mixed well, and performed above our expectations. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a high-end blender that has plenty of functionality, smart design, and excellent performance, the Breville is an excellent choice.
The Breville Hemisphere Control is a 750-watt blender that measures 16.5 inches tall and leaves a footprints that is 7 inches wide and 8 inches deep at the broadest points. Depending on the height of your upper cabinets, this blender may or may not fit under them for countertop storage. That said, it is fairly average in terms of size, given other blenders on the market. What matters about this blender most, however, isn't so much its size as its power. While not the most powerful blender on the market, especially compared with the 1,560-watt Blendtec Designer Series Wildside Blender or 1,500-watt Ninja Ultima Blender, the Breville has plenty of power to perform well. In our tests, it often took the Breville longer to blend than the higher-powered models, but it still produced excellent results.
The user interface is clearly understood and the presets are useful, with options like snow (for finely crushed ice), mix, blend, liquify, and puree. There is also a smoothie button that will activate a minute-long timer and pulse-blending sequence. I didn't find the timer to be necessary, but you might think it a helpful feature.
While the timer wasn't so useful for me, the LCD window that displays it was. This indicator counts up for speed settings and down for presets, to give you complete control when using the blender.
The Breville features a 48-ounce round jug made of BPA-free plastic. This is not the largest pitcher available to lower-powered blenders. For example, the KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender has a 60-ounce pitcher, also BPA-free. The Breville's pitcher is marked with measurement lines that, while standard for the category, stand out because they are especially easy to read. This is due to their red coloring, which creates a lot of contrast, no matter what you put into the pitcher.
The design element I appreciate most about the Breville's jug, though, is its hemispherical shape, the appliance's namesake. The bottom of the jug is rounded in such a way as to prevent food from getting stuck in corners or nooks, ensuring that the blender's contents mix evenly without too much intervention from you. The Breville's outward appearance most closely resembles the Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender. Even still, the Breville, though similar in appearance, is vastly superior in both performance and usability.
You can't talk about the blender's pitcher without also talking about the blades. This is another area where Breville instituted some fantastic design choices. For example, there are multiple types of blades in the blender. You'll find sharp, serrated central blades that do the bulk of the processing. You'll also find contoured blades that hug as closely to the hemisphere shape as possible, preventing food from clinging to the bottom of the pitcher. This is a nice touch that saves you from having to pause the appliance every 5 seconds to scrape the sides and bottom.
Breville includes some nifty, though not necessary, bonuses to the design, such as loops in both the lid and the power cord that make for easy grabbing. The Breville also has an on/off switch, which lets you turn the blender off without unplugging it, a feature that might be appealing if you intend to make the unit a permanent fixture on your countertop.
Blenders aren't especially known for high-tech features. To my knowledge, no one has invested in developing a Bluetooth blender. Why would they? Blend my smoothies, make my piña coladas, and I shall leave thee be, blender, and not criticize thy lack of whimsy. That said, blenders like the Breville have some great user interface features that make the whole blending experience more intuitive.
I know that blending was never that hard to begin with, but I can appreciate a blender that makes an easy task even easier to perform. This convenience comes in the form of presets. Perhaps my favorite Breville preset is the smoothie button, which, over the course of a minute, pulses and blends the contents into a uniform and perfectly drinkable smoothie. The only thing that could make that process easier would be if the blender filled itself.
Other presets like "snow" and "puree" highlight the Breville's versatility. If you were so inclined, you could make some pretty awesome snowballs on that snow setting. Yes, I tested it. Yes, they get good loft. And, yes, they will explode upon impact (see video). I imagine it can make snow cones as well.
The Breville Hemisphere Control is easy to use due to its control panel, which is clear, concise, and offers specific preset options. There's no tricky locking mechanism on the pitcher, which just lifts off the base. In addition, the loops on both the plug and lid offer ease-of-use that is certainly convenient but may be even more useful for those with arthritis in their hands.
When we discussed how to evaluate usability, cleaning was a primary concern. Cleaning blenders used to be a huge pain. My old blender, for example, had a base piece that screwed on, a rubber seal, the blade piece itself, the pitcher, the outer lid, and the inner lid, all of which needed to be hand washed separately. Breville wants to make life easier for you. The blade and pitcher are integrated and inseparable. This might make cleaning a little more difficult if you try to do it the old fashioned way with a sponge, but Breville recommends a much easier cleaning method. Simply fill the pitcher a third of the way with warm, soapy water, and then run the blender on low speed for 5 to 10 seconds. Rinse and let dry.
When shopping for a blender, or any appliance for that matter, performance most likely tops the list in terms of what you care about. If performance is your priority, the Breville will not disappoint.
We devised a series of blending tests, some of which simulate real usage scenarios and some which assessed the functional limits of each blender. Preliminary tests included crushing ice as well as making smoothies, pesto, and pancake batter. More rigorous tests were, in many cases, more revealing and involved milling whole almonds into almond flour, turning that almond flour into almond butter, making whipped cream, and determining whether or not a blender could grate/shred/blend an entire 8-ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese.
Blender smoothie consistency
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Blendtec Designer Series Wildside Blender
Breville Hemisphere Control Blender
KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender
Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender
Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender
The Breville offers a couple of options for ice crushing, both of which worked well. The ice crush preset will give you perfectly acceptable frozen drink ice. The snow preset will give you fine, snow-cone-quality crushed ice. So whether you're making margaritas or snowballs, the Breville gets the job done.
The Breville breezed through smoothies as well. The smoothie preset does a great job of pulverizing the ingredients uniformly and mixing them evenly, without heating them up. I appreciated the convenience of a smoothie preset that, while not at all necessary, proved to be one of the little design touches that made the Breville so easy to use.
Pesto was an elegant solution to test many questions we had about not only a blender's ability to handle leafy greens, but also its ability to process foods with different sizes and shapes into a uniform blend without the assistance of a lot of liquid. The Breville performed well. After 15 pulses, it turned a single batch of ingredients (spinach, garlic cloves, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, and olive oil) into a uniform pesto. It was chunkier than the pestos made in the Ninja or Vitamix 7500, but I was still impressed with the Breville's ability to blend those ingredients without my intervention. I didn't scrape the bowl at all in between pulses.
We made pancake batter in the blenders to answer two questions. First, would the shape of the pitcher or location and height of the blades leaves dry ingredients wedged in corners, against the pitcher, or under the blades? Second, could the blenders mix a powdered ingredient with a liquid until it became a smooth batter? The Breville performed well in this test. Once, I had to take a spatula and scrape the sides of the pitcher where some of the batter had gotten stuck, but the end result was perfectly smooth pancake batter.
Whipping cream tested the blenders' abilities to handle a delicate operation. It was a bit of a finesse test, but all of the blenders were able to make whipped cream in less than a minute. This could be a real time saver, especially if you're used to using a hand mixer. This isn't a common use for a blender by any stretch, but showed the versatility of many blenders, especially the Breville, which made fluffy, delicious whipped cream in 30 seconds.
From here, the tests got more rigorous, especially for the smaller blenders. The Ninja and Blendtec both claimed to be able to make almond butter. We wanted to take the test a step further or, to be technically correct, backwards, and make almond flour as well. We pulsed two cups of raw almonds in each blender until they were milled into flour. Some blenders, like the Cuisinart, couldn't finish the task completely. The Breville made great, uniformly ground almond flour in 20 pulses.
To make almond butter, you process this almond flour, no additives required, until the oils release and the mixture becomes almond butter. Our recipe suggested that, in a food processor, this process can take ten minutes. That time frame became our benchmark: if the blender could make almond butter and it could do it in less than ten minutes, we'd call it a success. We weren't surprised that the high-end Blendtec, Vitamix, and Ninja blenders succeeded. We were impressed, however, that the KitchenAid and the Breville could. Though it required a little coaxing in the form of frequent pitcher scraping, within 10 minutes, the Breville produced smooth almond butter that tasted better than many store-bought brands we've tried.
Finally, we performed the torture test. If you've been following our reviews, you know that, for many of our appliances, we devise a test to see how well they can perform when pushed to the limits. For blenders, it was dropping an eight-ounce block of cold, sharp cheddar cheese into the pitcher, turning the blender on high, and seeing whether it could grate or pulverize the block of cheese. The Breville passed the test with ease, reducing the block to finely chopped pieces of cheese that would be great melted on top of a casserole. The Breville really distinguished itself on this test . Most of the blenders could handle the cheese, but they would either heat up and, therefore, melt the cheese, or create something we described as "cheese snow," which doesn't look as good as it sounds. The Breville, however, produced cheese crumbles which seemed the most usable to us after the fact, with no melting or distortion.
The Breville's performance was outstanding and is, therefore, one of our top recommendations.
Care and maintenance
The Breville Hemisphere Control Blender comes standard with one-year limited warranty. You can buy a replacement pitcher, inner lid, or outer lid on the product's Web page. A one-year warranty is fairly standard for the category, but Breville's site lists authorized service centers that, presumably, could repair your blender should the need arise.
If you plan to use your blender for nothing more than smoothies or frozen beverages, you don't have to spend the money for a $199 Breville blender and could save those pennies and purchase a Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart for $39. If, however, you're looking for a blender that will offer a lot of bang for your buck in the form of versatility in addition to doing the work of at least one other small appliance, then you would do well to look at the Breville as a smart addition to your kitchen lineup.