Monday, November 27, 2017

Breville Oracle Touch



Over the past couple of years, decent home espresso machines have become far more accessible. I remember ten years ago, walking into a department store and finding the average espresso machine to be a glorified water heater, never mind a precision tool that produces excellent espresso. But now, the consumer market is finally catching up to the geeks, and household brands once overlooked in the quest for good espresso are emerging as contenders.

Take Breville's Oracle Touch, a dual boiler espresso machine with a touch screen interface. The machine comes with some bold claims, like being able to produce a consistent 9 bars of pressure and maintaining precise temperature during infusion. To be honest, I am skeptical of most marketing claims so when Breville offered to ship me out a demo machine to try (and then ship back), I figured it would be interesting to see if their boasts held water.

The machine arrived in a huge brown box, containing a solid grey machine complete with all the necessary accessories such as a stainless steel pitcher and knock box. Going through the installation steps (not much more than installing the water filter and running a few cycles), I set to work on trying it out.

The machine is an all-in-one, with a built in conical burr grinder, tamping fan (does the tamping for the user), steam wand, water reservoir (complete with water filter) and single group head. Below I managed to organize the features into bullet points to summarize intended function and my experience with each.



Grinding and Tamping

Sitting at the top of the machine is the built-in burr grinder. The bean hopper holds about a half pound of coffee beans and can be easily removed to inspect/clean the burrs. The grinder has a dial on the side of the machine in order to adjust the grind size, with 45 settings ranging between super-fine and super-coarse. To operate the grinder, the portafilter has to be inserted into the "grind outlet", a port to the left of the group head, where the portafilter receives a measured 22 grams of coffee that is then tamped down tightly by a "tamping fan."

Things that I liked:
  • The conical burr grinder seems to do a decent job of producing consistent particle sizes, with no real boulders or chunks making it into the basket. 
  • The grind setting does a solid job of changing the particle sizes, with noticeable variation in shot quality within a single number change. 
  • While initially skeptical of the 22 gram measurement, I found that the measurement was within a gram of being on target each time (I weighed the portafilter using my own scale pre and post-grind). 
  • The tamping fan, also an initial area of skepticism, seemed to tamp the coffee into a pretty tight puck each time. 

Things I didn't like:
  • Not a lot that can be done with adjusting the amount of coffee in the basket (i.e. if I wanted 22.5 or 21.9 grams).
  • While not a huge deal, the gram variation of coffee being doled out makes true consistency harder to obtain. 


Pulling Shots

After the coffee is ground and tamped into the portafilter, then comes the infusion. Breville boasts a dedicated espresso boiler with a built-in PID control as well as a heated group head to ensure even, consistent temperature. It also promises to offer the correct amount of pressure so as to keep the shots from turning out bitter or sour. Also, while the system comes with both a one cup basket and a two cup basket, I really only used the double.

Things that I liked:
  • Throughout my tinkering with grind size, the machine delivered some pretty tasty shots. Like most machines it took some time to dial in, but in pulling shots back-to-back, it proved fairly consistent. 
  • The duration of extraction is somewhat customizable in that it can be manually stopped at any point. 
  • Temperature is adjustable.
  • Drip tray has a fairly large retention and is easy to clean-up.
  • Water reservoir is quite large and even in the event of a massive dinner party, there is an opening in the front that makes it easily refillable at any point, even while pulling shots. 

Things I didn't like:
  • It was hard at times to insert and remove the portafilter. Part of this was learning the feel of the machine, but if Breville could find a way to make it smoother that would really enhance the experience in my opinion. 
  • Since the cup clearance is only 4 inches, it means one needs tiny cups. For most people this might not be a big deal, as most people enjoy drinking out of demitasses (or shot glasses). But in my case, I liked pulling into my mug so the drip tray can be removed to accommodate the larger cup. 
  • Things like pre-infusion and tamp pressure are not easily adjustable. 



Steaming Milk

The other boiler on the Oracle is dedicated just to the steam wand, a crucial feature if lattes and flat whites appear consistently on the menu. The steam temperature can be adjusted up until 170 F and works similarly to a commercial steam wand.

Things that I liked:
  • Operation was pretty simple, with the full process consisting of inserting the wand into the milk, pushing the steam button and cleaning the wand at the end of the process. 
  • The wand proved capable of producing decent microfoam. 
  • Clean-up was pretty easy, as the wand self-cleaned the tip and a wet rag took care of the rest of the wand. And again, the spill tray is easily removable and simple to clean. 
  • The included stainless steel milk pitcher proved hardy and of decent quality. 

Things I didn't like:
  • Using my own thermometer, the temperature of the milk was usually about 10 degrees cooler than the readout. Naturally this could be compensated by pushing the temperature higher on the settings, but I like my readouts to be close to exact. 


In conclusion, I liked Breville's Oracle Touch overall. While it doesn't have the customization and precision some folks would demand, it performed excellently for an all-in-one super automatic and would certainly please the average consumer. Thus, if you're in the market for a home espresso set-up that really takes the difficulty out of good espresso, try out the Breville Oracle Touch.


Note: Espresso machine was provided temporarily for testing and was returned shortly after producing this post. All opinions disclosed are based on first-hand experience and are independent of Breville and their constituents. If you liked this content, please consider giving a donation or supporting the PCB here at our Patreon so we can continue. 


4 comments:

CactusJake said...

Thanks, Bill. Great write up. I just got the Breville Barista Express- it was a bit cheaper than the Oracle Touch. For the reasons you mentioned already- precise dose weight, precise milk temperature read out, I think I would be best served staying away from the automatic machines. I like the measuring, dosing, checking, etc. involved in making espresso and espresso based drinks. Thank you!

Bill said...

Jake,

I would agree, super-autos are not a good pick if you really like to play with variables.
Thanks for the appreciation!

Eric said...

Seems like a pretty awesome machine for espresso. Being more of a latte man myself, I've heard that the milk froth this machine produces isn't quite the same kind of froth appropriate for lattes (resulting in poor lattes). Can anyone confirm this or was it possibly a user error?

Daniel said...

Great review-- this looks like a good espresso machine for the average consumer like you say. It would be great to see Breville make an espresso machine that could go fully auto or manual.