There is a reason that Breville has made a name for itself as a reliable supplier of at-home, barista-grade coffee equipment. The Breville BES980XL Oracle attempts to offer consumers another outstanding, all-inclusive product that delivers high-quality espresso at home.
This double boiler espresso machine does more of the work for you than traditional semi-automatic espresso machines but still gives you the option to revert to manual for a few of the settings you might like to have more control over.
Here is our overall impression of the Oracle and who we think will get the most out of this shiny piece of equipment.
super-automatic mechanism for beginner brewers
the price fairly matches its reputation in the industry
our rating, based on our sound and impartial assessment
The features are seemingly endless. This is probably the biggest selling point for the Oracle: everything you could possibly want or need for an espresso machine is included. From the small details to the high-quality heating system, this device does it all.
Unlike most espresso machines, which typically fall neatly into the manual, semi-automatic, or automatic categories, the Oracle attempts to straddle the line between a semi-automatic that requires a bit of knowledge and skill and an automatic machine that does the heavy lifting for you. This ambiguity makes the Oracle a unique machine and that versatility is reflected in the design.
Though not an exhaustive list, here are the main features you can expect to find on the Oracle:
You either love or hate the thought of a built-in grinder (see more about the grinding debate here), but Breville outdid itself with this one. Not only does the 8 oz bean hopper store and automatically grind the beans for you, but it will also automatically dose and tamp them directly into the portafilter. You get through the first several steps of pulling an espresso shot just by pressing start.
The heating system in the Oracle is made from quality stainless steel and operates using a dual boiler, meaning there is a separate heating boiler for espresso extraction and milk steaming. You can do both at the same time without waiting for the machine to reset.
Separate boilers mean separate pumps that regulate pressure for both extraction and steaming. Extraction pressure is also limited so you will get a consistently good shot.
Everything you need to program is conveniently displayed on the LCD touch-screen where you can control shot temperature and volume, tamping pressure, grind setting, pre-infusion, etc.
Like commercial machines, the Oracle gradually increases pressure during extraction in order to maintain an even coating of water over the coffee grounds. You can also watch the extraction time on the LCD display, which keeps track of the length of the shot pull.
The third element in the Oracle’s heating system is the heated group head that keeps temperature stabilized throughout the entire extraction process for a quality shot.
The customizable steaming wand lets you choose what texture you want from your steamed milk.
There is a separate hot water spout and button option for an automatic americano that will brew espresso and hot water directly into your cup.
A hidden swivel foot on the bottom of the machine makes maneuvering it around your countertop easy despite the Oracle’s size.
Overall, the Oracle is an amazing machine and earns its place among other high-end machines that produce professional-grade espresso. It is designed to be entirely intuitive, easy to program, and easy to use while giving you the quality of espresso that you expect to find from the hands of a skilled barista. Only the Oracle does not require that you have any skill at all: it does most of the work for you.
That can be great for some customers, but it is not likely to make the Oracle a popular machine among experienced baristas who know how to pull a shot and enjoy control over the extraction process. There are a few options for reverting to a more manual setting, but the Oracle is still pulling most of the weight for you.
Here is how the Oracle measures up when it comes down to actually operating the machine:
Astounding levels of programmability are what set this machine apart and allow it to compete within the realm of “professional” espresso machines while remaining an at-home appliance.
Because the Oracle is doing a lot of the work for you, adjusting the espresso shot to your liking is more about inputting settings into the touch-screen than manually fidgeting through trial and error. Besides the ability to choose between double or single shots, single or double wall portafilters, you also have the ability to set the grind size (through a separate read-out screen), temperature of the shot, length of the extraction, temperature and texture of the steaming milk, tamping pressure, etc. Essentially, you have the option to customize all of the components of a shot that you’d normally have control over with a semi-automatic only with the Oracle, you tell the machine what to do and it does it for you.
However, that comes with a drawback. One, you are limited by the number of built-in settings the Oracle provides. Two, that can make it hard to feel like you are in total control, especially if you are an experienced barista.
For example, the steaming wand will automatically gauge the temperature of the milk for you and adjust the steaming pressure accordingly. That might be useful for someone less skilled with a steaming wand, but can be annoying for those wishing to have a greater amount of control over what is happening.
You are unlikely to learn the fundamentals of espresso making if you are hoping to start with this machine. There are probably better products on the market designed to be stepping stones for a barista-in-training and this is definitely not it. You will, however, get a lot of control over your espresso despite its increased automatic functions.
In a nutshell, the Oracle is designed so that you can get a quality cup of espresso with more button pressing than any kind of skill or technique. This is great for two types of customers: those of us who know what we like in our espresso but need a little more help and those who probably have enough barista skill to get a good shot but don’t want to hassle with it every morning. It’s not so great for customers hoping to have complete autonomy over their shot. As we mentioned above, the programmability offers a lot of customization, but it builds a technologic wall between you and your espresso grounds. Fine-tuned adjustments and hacks are not possible with this machine.
Instead, everything about it is designed to be easy for you to use. The swivel foot, the grinder that doses and tamps for you, the enormous reservoir that won’t need to be refilled constantly: everything about the Oracle is there so you can get a barista-grade espresso with minimal effort. The touchscreen makes you feel like you really are in control of everything the Oracle does and gives you a sense of “home base” for operating the machine, even if that does come with some limits.
Plus, there are a number of small, built-in convenience designs that should make operating the Breville a smooth, intuitive experience. When you’re operating the Oracle, it seems like Breville is always one step ahead of you: lights illuminate the workspace, a window into the water reservoir shows you how much water is left, and the hidden swivel foot on the bottom of the machine allows you to slide the bulky contraption around without hassle. If you go too long without cleaning the drip tray, a yellow light will pop up with the words, “Empty Me!” to remind you. After you use the steaming wand, it does an automatic purge just so it doesn’t get too grimy if you forget to wipe it down. It’s all of these little features that make the Oracle the advanced but simple-to-use system that it is.
This is where the Oracle loses some of its value: for a machine that is trying to do everything at once, it is prone to breaking down. Our experience with the Oracle is that customers are pleased when it works, but even at nearly $2,000, Breville uses plastic parts and cheaper mechanisms that simply can’t match the durability of manual or traditional semi-automatic machines.
Part of this can be expected for a machine that is trying to do everything and appeal to every customer. It’s a lot to cram into one device and the combination of high-quality espresso machine parts like the double boiler with user-friendly features like an LCD touch-screen may be stretching the Oracle too thin.
Few other machines attempt as much as the Oracle does so it’s difficult to compare it to other products you’ll find on the market. Unlike the DeLonghi ECAM45760B, which sits at a similar price range, the Oracle is not a fully automatic machine and offers more to customers looking for greater control over their espresso extraction.
While the DeLonghi’s basic setup resembles the Oracle, with its built-in grinder and automatic programming options, it operates like at true super-automatic machine. You can adjust grind settings and milk options, but the machine is designed to create an espresso drink for you so you’ll find options like “latte” or “cappuccino.” You won’t find that on the Oracle, where the design concept is to walk you through the steps of traditional espresso-making, rather than making a fully-formed latte appear before your eyes. Check out a full list of super-automatic espresso machines like the DeLonghi here.
The Rocket R58 is also a dual-boiler espresso machine that produces the same quality of espresso that you’ll find with the Oracle and is available at a similar price point. Both of these machines use quality heating elements to nail consistent extraction and include additional features like PID control, pre-infusion, and the option to control and adjust pressure.
Both will give you a quality espresso. However, the R58 is much more like a traditional semi-automatic machine: you do all of the standard grinding, tamping, and dosing steps yourself. Perhaps because the R58 is not trying to do as much as the Oracle, its hand-crafted designed is built to last longer than the Oracle likely will. Still, you’ll need some skill to operate the R58 that simply isn’t required for the easy setup of the Oracle.
Truly, the Oracle is a unique machine and if you can get around potential issues with its life expectancy, it will give you a great espresso.