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Sage Bambino

Sage Bambino SES450BSS review: A little bundle of espresso-making joy

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
330
inc VAT

A compact, stylish and easy to use coffee machine that’s perfect for espresso beginners – it’s just a tad on the pricey side, though

Pros 
Compact design
Easy to use
Makes a decent espresso
Cons 
Bit pricey
Steaming can be messy
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Sage’s newest addition to its family of coffee machines isn’t big, expensive or packed full of fancy features; the Bambino is a compact, easy to use espresso machine that isn’t extravagant in any way. It’s moderately affordable, very cute to look at and Sage promises that it can deliver “third wave speciality coffee”. In other words, Sage thinks that this little machine is capable of turning your kitchen into a one-stop coffee shop.

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Sage Bambino review: What do you get for the money?

At first glance, you might not be able to tell the Bambino apart from its slightly bigger sibling, the Bambino Plus (click here to read our full review). In fact, they look so similar that even Sage’s own UK and US websites can’t tell them apart: at the time of writing, both sites mistakenly list them as having the same dimensions, which most definitely is not the case.

The Bambino Plus is hardly a big machine, but the Bambino is smaller still, measuring a mere 16cm wide, 26cm tall and 32cm deep. That makes it about 3cm narrower and around 5cm less tall – perfect for squeezing into the tightest of spots in compact kitchens.

As ever, Sage throws in a helpful selection of basic accessories as standard. You get a 480ml stainless steel milk jug, a light plastic tamper and both pressurised (dual wall) and unpressurised (single wall) baskets for single and double shots.

The 1.4l water tank pulls off to the rear, or you can just remove the lid and top it up with a jug or bottled water as you see fit. A water filter is included in the box, too, and this will last for around three months with regular use.

Sage Bambino review: What’s the coffee machine like to use?

There are now only four buttons on the front, one fewer than the Bambino Plus. You can press the single or double shot buttons to power the machine on, and the two buttons alongside select the steam or hot water functions. You don’t get the automatic milk texturing features from the Plus, though, hence the missing button.

The first thing to note about the Bambino is that – like Sage’s other ThermoJet-equipped machines – it’s astonishingly fast to get to brewing temperature. Sage claims that it gets to temperature in 3 seconds and that’s entirely true – by the time you’ve powered the machine on, it’s ready to pour espresso. There’s no waiting around for steam, either: press the button, and after a few immediate spits of water, steam comes gushing through.

This is great news for people who hate waiting around, but it does have some downsides. Here, you press the button and the steam wand immediately starts to spit hot water out as steam builds up inside. If you don’t want the water in your milk – and you don’t – then you need to aim the wand at the hole in the drip tray, wait for the steam to start spraying through, press the button again to stop the flow and then press it again once the steam wand is safely in your milk jug.

Annoyingly, as the flow of steam takes some time to subside after you’ve pressed the button, taking the wand out of the jug too soon can result in milk being splashed everywhere. This is mostly due to the fact that the Bambino doesn't have a solenoid valve - a feature found on the pricier Bambino Plus - which allows built up steam and water to vent directly into the drip tray. You'll also notice the lack of a solenoid valve when making coffee, as you'll find that the portafilter tends to drip at the end of each shot; the coffee puck can often be soggy and wet when you come to knock it into the bin. None of this is a deal breaker – many cheap espresso machines are similarly messy due to their lack of a solenoid valve – but it’s worth knowing.

And if I’m going to be really picky, then the 54mm portafilter does feel rather insubstantial, too. It’s not as hefty as the portafilter included with Sage’s pricier 54mm machines such as the Barista Pro, for instance, and this means that it doesn’t retain heat – which helps ensure that your espresso is nice and hot – as well as it could do. It does work fine: the filter baskets fit in nice and snugly and it locks in place tightly, too, but it just feels a bit cheap. My advice would be to purchase a bottomless 54mm portafilter as a nice little upgrade somewhere down the line.

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Sage Bambino review: Does it make good coffee?

Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to fiddle about, the Bambino makes it easy to brew up espresso. The near-instantaneous heat up times make it easy to get the settings to your liking, and as the steam wand takes just a few seconds to deliver either hot water or steam, it’s amazingly quick and easy to whip up long blacks, flat whites and cappuccinos. For such a compact machine, the Bambino makes light work of brewing multiple coffees back to back.

If you’re using pre-ground coffee that’s not particularly fresh – like the packets you’ll find on most supermarket shelves – then you’re best off using the pressurised baskets. These are far more forgiving of coffee freshness and grind size, and make it possible to get more consistent results without the faff.

If you’re using good, fresh coffee beans and you have a decent grinder, you’ll get the most flavourful results from the unpressurised baskets. You’ll need to customise the single and double shot buttons in order to get the ratio of ground coffee to brewed espresso just so, but that’s par for the course – alternatively, you can hold down either button and the Bambino will keep pouring until you press the button again.

With the double shot unpressurised baskets, Sage recommends a dosage of between 18g and 22g – I started with around 19 grams of ground coffee and aimed for shots around the 38-40ml mark which is a fairly standard 1:2 ratio. From my experience, that’s a tad on the high side: it wasn’t until I dialled down the dosage to nearer 17 grams and went for a slightly coarser grind that the Bambino really started to deliver the goods.

With that little bit of tweaking done, results were uniformly good, but not mind-blowing. My go-to Gaggia Classic certainly eked more flavour from my various single origin coffees, and while the Bambino wasn’t a million miles away, it was prone to choking to a slow drip when I even slightly upped the dosage or ground a mite too finely. By comparison, the Gaggia Classic is far more forgiving.

READ NEXT: These are the best Nespresso machines to buy right now

Sage Bambino review: Should you buy it?

The Bambino is a nice little espresso machine, but the £329 RRP puts it a little too close to some very capable rivals. If you want a machine that will allow you to develop your barista skills and dabble with future upgrades, then it’s well worth spending around £100 more on the Gaggia Classic – it’s chunkier and somewhat less user-friendly, but it’s a vastly more versatile and capable machine. And if you want something that's easier to use, then you should definitely consider spending a little more on the Bambino Plus. 

If, however, you’re short on space and like the idea of a hassle-free manual espresso machine, then the Bambino makes a very good case for itself. It’s compact, stylish, easy to use and the sheer speed at which it brews coffee and delivers steam and hot water makes it easy to whip up coffees in fairly rapid succession. If you really can't stretch to the Bambino Plus, the Sage Bambino will be a little bundle of joy.

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