The Breville Oracle Touch is a wonderful machine, but it is not perfect by any means. Find out more here!
Verdict: The Breville Oracle Touch is a wonderful machine, but it is not perfect by any means. Fortunately, its quirks and weaknesses should be acceptable to most, while delivering great café drinks in an easier and cleaner way than traditional manual machines.
Initial impressions. It is heavy! At about 35lbs, it is the heaviest machine we own in the kitchen. You will need help to unpack it, or follow the instructions on the box, which show how to remove the machine from the box without risking damage to the machine. It is beautiful! All stainless less, minus a few minimal areas of plastic. The included accessories (portafilter, milk jug, single basket, double basket, cleaning brushes, tools, and cleaning supplies) convey quality and forethought from the manufacture. The machine also comes with a nice cheat-sheet to help refine your espresso brewing.
Setup. Setup is guided by an easy to understand quick-start pamphlet. After moving the machine to its permanent location, presoak your water filter, install your water filter, fill the water tank (preferably with filtered water), turn on your machine, test your water hardness, input the results into the machine’s touchscreen, start grinding coffee, and brew espresso!
Touchscreen. The touchscreen works well, and provides access to ample customization and easy to access settings that normally would be somewhat tedious to access through analog buttons. In addition to basic café drinks (espresso, americano, latte, and cappuccino), you can modify any of these drinks to your preference and store it as a new drink under any name you choose. The touchscreen also makes conducting maintenance on the machine very easy. Just select what you want to do (cleaning cycle, descale, etc.) and the machine will show you step-by-step direction with color pictures! Oh, you can also set it to auto wake up so it is ready for you when you get to the kitchen to make your coffee!
Grinder. The conical burr grinder sits just below a generous hopper with an airtight cover. The hopper can easily be removed to swap out beans and to access the conical burrs for cleaning. The grinder performs well for the most part, with grind adjustment reflecting as you would expect during extraction. There is an additional setting in the conical burrs to adjust the mechanical setup (finer or coarser) of the grind.
Tamp Fan. One of the best features of this machine is the ability to grind directly into a portafilter, then having the machine stop the grinder automatically once a certain dose is reached, and then automatically tamp your coffee dose for you… all with no mess! While this is a fantastic idea, it is not always consistent. Some issues encountered are wavy tamps (not often, but happens every once in a while) and under/over dosing, which then leads to a bad coffee extraction. It looks as though the tamp fan doses by pressure and sometimes it is not quite accurate, so instead of giving you 20g of ground coffee, it gives you 20.5g, or 21g, or 19.4g, etc. This can be aggravating because your espresso shot will be over-extracted or under-extracted, and thus wasting (expensive) coffee. The machine is consistent for the most part, but again, it is not perfect. The tamp fan can also be adjusted to dose from 18g to 22g when using the double basket. I recommend sticking with 20g; in my experimentation, consistency has not been great on the low and high end of the 18-22g range.
Brewing. The brew group seems to be very good. Temperature has been stable, and pressure seems to be adequate and consistent. The Oracle Touch will also pre-infuse the coffee to maximize consistent flow of your extraction. Contrary to what is noted on many websites, this machine does NOT have a volumetric option. If you are using fresh coffee, and you weight your shot to achieve good brew ratios, then you can get absolutely wonderful espressos and other café-quality drinks, minus the occasional under or over dosing from the tamp fan.
Steam wand. The other amazing feature of this machine is the steam wand. The fact that it will steam your milk to your desired temperature, and to the desired froth level, all automatically at the touch of one button, while you are focused on brewing your perfect espresso shot is amazing! The froth milk quality is good enough for decent latte art… believe me, I make some every day! The wand is easy to clean, works amazingly well, and saves time and effort.
Internals. The Oracle Touch is a dual boiler machine, so you can brew and steam at the same time, without losing capacity. I brew four drinks in less than 10 minutes every morning, and I never have to wait for the machine to recover. The boilers are stainless steel, and both are PID controlled for accurate temperature.
Ease of use. For our family situation, we wanted a machine that I could experiment with, and that my wife and teen daughter could use without too much trouble to get great café-quality drinks. This machine allows for this. I can try different types of coffees, experiment with brew ratios with a scale, make different drinks, practice latte art, etc. When my wife wants coffee, it involves literally pressing three buttons total, moving the portafilter from the grinder to the group head, and letting the steam wand froth your milk. It is incredibly easy, making great coffee drinks accessible to everyone in your family.
Things I like:
– Consistent enough grinder, and consistent tamping
– Automatic steam wand works really well, including for latte art, but requires regular maintenance to maintain performance
– Removable bean hopper makes swapping beans easy (but I recommend buying tweezers with rubber tips to pick the beans left on the burrs)
– Thus far, the machine has been easy to service based on well-thought out engineering: cleaning the grinder, cleaning the tamp fan, adjusting the tamp fan, washing the hopper, removing the shower screen, changing the water filter, etc.
– Top notch accessories: portafilter and milk jug are high quality, and the tools provided are perfect for routine maintenance
– Big water tank! Requires a refill only every 10 coffees or so. It’s particularly convenient
– Big bean hopper too! That is good and bad… Good because you don’t have to refill it often, especially if your machine is under 18” cabinets like ours. Bad because if you fill the hopper to the top, the beans will likely go stale before you can use them all
– It actually fits under 18” cabinets (see picture)
– Plenty of customization features
– Easy water refill opening on the front; makes refilling it very easy!
Things I don’t like:
– The shower screen touches the puck in the filter basket. I am not sure why that is. I have also lowered the tamp fan to reduce the dose in the filter basket, but there is still a screen imprint in the puck after brewing. I think this is bad because (1) it may cause sanitary issues over time with coffee grounds getting stuck inside the shower screen, and (2) there is no space at all between the shower screen and the puck (headspace), which maximizes a more even extraction and more consistent shots. My shots are decent, so perhaps headspace is not a critical issue… BUT, if you believe in the importance of headspace, you will not get it with this machine
– The Oracle Touch tries to make brewing really easy by stopping a shot at a specific time. That’s fine if you are weighing your shots, so that you can adjust the grind setting to get the proper yield in a given time. But without a scale, you are just shooting in the dark because different beans (and roasts) require different grind settings. Also, temperature, humidity, and freshness of the beans require grind settings adjustment. So brewing to 25 seconds, or 30s, or for any other time, will yield DRASTICALLY different results at any given time
– Low clearance if using the spouted portafilter. A regular coffee cup will fit, but you will need to buy low profile mugs if brewing with a scale, or tilt a travel mug sideways to brew directly into it. I recommend buying the bottomless portafilter to gain more space for different cups
– Full seven minutes start-up time; this is not a problem if you use the auto-start feature
– Original Breville cleaning products (steam wand cleaner, cleaning tablets, water filter, and descale solution) are expensive, and sold out most of the time (??)
– The machine doesn’t like oily beans, but neither do we, so it’s fine. Oily beans tend to not flow well from the hopper to the grinder
– The metal everywhere is beautiful but perhaps a plastic bumper or insert on the front of the drip tray would eliminate permanent dings, which undoubtedly happen when the portafilter falls or hits the tray by accident
– The hot water button is hard to press on the screen because it is too small, or maybe I have too big fingers. But this is software, so please make the hot water button on the screen a little bigger
– A volumetric feature, like the one on the original Oracle, would be really nice
– My biggest frustrations with this machine are the inconsistencies in the dosage from the tamp fan. I’ve been pretty surprised with the consistency of the tamping BUT I have been less impressed with the consistency of the dose. I’ve seen my machine produce 3 doses right at 20 (19.8, 20.0, 20.1), and then one at 21.1?? An extra gram will really change a shot because it adds much more resistance for the water to get through, especially in a basket of 18g to 22g. Same situation if the tamp fan underdoses; you will have a fast shot. This is tricky because I think most users assume a consistent dose, but it’s not always the case. If this could be fixed, this machine would yield perfect espressos, every time!
– Another issue with the tamp fan is that if you want to dose higher for a specific type of coffee or roast because you don’t want to grind finer but need to slow extraction, you can’t do that without removing the tamp fan, then adjusting the tamp fan with an Allen wrench, then testing the dose with a scale, then finally being able to dose higher to get a better tasting shot, say for a dark roast
– While the grinder is pretty consistent, I think that sometimes the conical burrs shift a little depending on heat. So, your first grind could behave differently than your third grind in the same session, and differently later that day depending on ambient temperature. Specifically, I have noticed that my grind setting will shift “automatically” overnight or later that day. In other words, I will leave the machine at 20, and when I turn it on again, it is at 19 or 21. I have concluded that the machine reflects the actually spacing of the burrs depending on the effect of heat or cold. I’ve also read that conical burr grinders can produce different size grinds because it starts loaded so the first few beans are ground at a different velocity than other beans that enter the hopper when the burrs are already spinning. I don’t buy that as a factor though because most grinders start with beans sitting on the burrs and it doesn’t seem to be a problem
– Storing beans in the hopper make them go stale faster. Also, I have noticed that after the machine is on for some time, if I remove the hopper, the beans that are sitting on the burrs are very warm, whereas the rest of the beans in the hopper are not, so I wonder if they behave differently when ground if they are warm vs cool. This could be why my first shot is always a little different than the rest. I use the auto start set for 20 minutes before I plan to use the machine, so maybe the beans sitting on the burrs get too hot.
Overall, this is a fantastic machine that will yield many wonderful espressos and other coffee drinks. However, like any other automatic or super-automatic machine, you will need to manage the “art” of brewing espresso and understanding the basic process of good espresso. If you don’t know what you are doing, you will certainly get something every time you use it, but it will not always be great, especially if you are a coffee snob. If you are not too picky, you may never even notice a bad shot mixed into a latte. This machine is probably not for the obsessive coffee brewer or expert barista, but once you understand the quirks of this machine AND brew with a scale, you can get good to excellent results almost every time. The Breville Oracle Touch machine was not my preferred machine, but it is the machine that everyone can use to make enjoyable drinks… so ultimately, it is the perfect machine for us right now.