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Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista review: An automatic espresso machine that makes lattes almost robotically

Priced at $200, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista brews coffee and steams milk for lattes and other drinks almost entirely by itself.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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5 min read

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The Mr. Coffee Barista doesn't have over-the-top style but blends in well. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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6.6

Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista

The Good

The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista automatically pulls shots of espresso, steams milk, and creates cafe-style coffee drinks at the push of a button. The coffee maker also has a removable milk reservoir that's refrigerator-friendly for easy storage.

The Bad

Like many entry-level home espresso machines, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista has trouble brewing at consistent temperatures and coaxing pleasant flavors from lightly roasted beans. The machine also gets clogged easily by very finely ground coffee.

The Bottom Line

Making lattes and other cafe-style drinks is hard work, and the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista successfully automates much of the process, but consistently pulling straight shots of quality espresso is out of this machine's reach.

There's a good reason why you often pay through the nose for lattes, cappuccinos and other cafe-style drinks at your local java joint. Combining steamed milk with concentrated espresso coffee, these fancy beverages are made to order and are labor-intensive compared with ordinary pots of drip coffee. For a reasonable $200, however, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista will tackle much of this tricky process and with tasty results.

The kitchen gadget automatically pulls espresso shots on command and even combines them with freshly frothed milk right inside your cup to make cafe favorites with minimum effort. Of course, this coffee maker is no super-automatic espresso machine that handles everything including grinding and weighing beans. A contraption like that will easily set you back thousands of dollars. Neither can the Cafe Barista deliver straight espresso quality to match those premium brewers or more sensible options such as the $300 De'Longhi Dedica. Still, if you seek a frugal way to sip real espresso-based drinks without having to do much work then the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista will satisfy.

Design

I doubt when shoppers hear the name "Mr. Coffee," images of luxurious materials or unconventional industrial designs come to mind. Neither will it draw the eye like the chrome-plated and decidedly European-looking De'Longhi Dedica. That said, this machine is attractive enough to blend in with the backsplashes of modern kitchen counters.

Measuring 12.4 inches tall by 10.4 inches wide and 8.9 inches deep, the Cafe Barista is quite compact, even for pint-size drip coffee brewers such as the Bonavita BV1900TS . As far as a pump espresso device goes, however, this is a sizable appliance. It's slightly larger than the less capable (and cheaper) Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker ($90). Side-by-side with the De'Longhi Dedica, the Cafe Barista plainly dwarfs the smaller machine.

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The milk reservoir is removable and even can sit in the fridge. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

One reason for the Barista's increased girth is its special reservoir for milk. Not only is the tank removable, it features a built-in wand for steaming when attached to the brewer and can be stored in the fridge for the next time you need it.

Like most home espresso contraptions, the Cafe Barista comes with a portafilter for both brewing shots and loading the machine with grounds. It's essentially a metal filter attached to a sturdy handle that you must lock tightly into place under the Cafe Barista's brew head. Mr. Coffee also includes two filter baskets to choose from, for single and double shots.

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Before you brew you must fill the portafilter with ground coffee. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Below the brew head are a pair of sliding drip trays you can position to accommodate either large or small glasses and cups. You can remove both for emptying and cleaning, but unlike the De'Longhi Dedica, they lack a handy float to warn you when they're full.

Push-button cafe

Controls for Cafe Barista are relatively simple, but they're more complex than your basic manual espresso machines. Aside from the power switch located on the lower-right edge of the device, there's a control panel that features three buttons stacked vertically (Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte). To the left of each key are indicators for automatic drink-making modes while on the right you'll find labels for manual functions.

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There are just a few buttons to automate many brewing functions. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Pressing the "Espresso" button once commands the Cafe Barista to brew a single shot, while hitting it twice queues up a double. Holding the key down for three seconds kicks the machine into custom-brewing mode where it will continue to push water through the filter until you press it again. The other buttons marked "Cappuccino" and "Latte" operate the same way, except that a long press initiates functions for manual frothing or cleaning (the steaming wand), respectively.

There's a dial on the milk frother, too, which allows you to adjust the foam level in the milk you steam. The low end of the froth spectrum is for making lattes, while the opposite is meant for cappuccinos.

Performance

In terms of pulling shots of straight espresso, the Cafe Barista's and its vibration pump mechanism delivered mixed results. I was able to brew shots with the machine that had some of the flavor I was after. One shot in particular tasted nicely intense, with even a few chocolate notes (Costco House Blend, medium-fine burr grind).

To determine just how concentrated my espresso was, I used a Refractometer to measure the percentage of total dissolved solids (TDS) in solution. Readings for this specific shot came in with a TDS percentage of 10.1 percent. It's a decent result for espresso, but to achieve an ideal extract percentage of 20 percent, this TDS figure should be closer to 14 percent.

Unfortunately, this was the highest TDS result I logged from the Cafe Barista with my Costco test beans. Other shots, pulled back to back, varied greatly in potency, with TDS percentages running from the high of 10.1 to 8.8 then down to 6.8 percent. Bear in mind that these results were achieved using the large double-shot basket, which holds 0.4 ounce (11.3 grams) of grounds, and by pulling between 1.2 and 1.4 ounces (35.5 to 41.4ml) of water through the portafilter. Going with the recommended basket sizes yielded espresso with very weak flavor.

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Espresso had just as much chance of being weak, under-extracted or not bad. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

By comparison, the De'Longhi Dedica managed to squeeze TDS percentages of 15 to 16 percent from the same Costco roast. I could also taste much more in the espresso, with plenty of complexity, depth, smoke and chocolate.

The Cafe Barista fared worse when brewing lightly roasted beans. While my Quills Blacksmith Espresso coffee was freshly roasted, the machine failed to coax the complex flavors I know it contains if handled correctly. Instead of the notes of pear and fruity acidity balanced by sweetness I can usually taste, the shots were overwhelmingly sour.

I suspect the Cafe Barista suffers from the same problems that separate other lower-cost espresso makers from pricier models, namely a lack of consistent brewing temperature and pressure. Indeed, temperatures within the portafilter swung wildly between shots during a brew cycle, from as low as 198 degrees Fahrenheit (92.2 degrees Centigrade) to as high as 207 degrees F (97.2 C). And while I can't yet measure pressure within the machine, since brewing with very fine grounds completely clogs its portafilter, I'd bet it isn't very high.

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Cafe drinks tasted a lot better than straight espresso. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

In the Cafe Barista's defense, much if not all of its poor coffee flavor was masked by its steamed milk. It also produced drinkable frothed milk and coffee mixtures in just a few minutes.

Conclusion

In the luxurious world of espresso machines, a little cash does not go a long way. Still, if all you require is a potent coffee drink mellowed by sweet steamed milk, and for a price that's not in the stratosphere, then the $200 Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista should be on your short list. This is especially true if you have no desire to get your hands dirty frothing milk or pulling shots manually.

Spending an extra $100 for a better machine such as the $300 De'Longhi Dedica , however, will pay off. Not only is the Dedica the superior espresso brewer, it's smaller and more stylish, and it steams milk faster.

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6.6

Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista

Score Breakdown

Performance 6Design 7Features 7Maintenance 7
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