For anyone who’s battled forlornly with a manual espresso machine, the Oracle Touch is a revelation.
Let’s be honest, the manual espresso process is not particularly straightforward. You need to grind a precise amount of coffee beans to an optimal fineness; tamp that coffee down into the machine’s portafilter with a consistent, even pressure; and ensure enough water passes through those coffee grounds at the optimum rate to draw all the desired flavours into the cup. There’s a lot to get right, not to mention steaming the milk correctly, and if you miss the mark you won’t be getting the optimum flavour out of your premium coffee beans.
The Oracle Touch is the helping hand many of us need. Simply place the portafilter in the jaws of the grinder, and the Oracle automatically grinds the perfect amount of coffee and tamps it down when it’s finished. Twist the portafilter into the grouphead, tap the onscreen icon for the drink you want and the Oracle will deliver coffee directly into your cup. All that remains for you is to tweak the fineness of the grind and how long to pass water through the coffee in order to eke out every last drop of flavour.
Unlike cheaper machines, the Oracle Touch has dual boilers, meaning you can extract coffee and heat milk at the same time. Set the coffee going and you can pop the Oracle’s steam wand into a jug of milk, press the button and it will heat and froth your milk to near-perfection while your coffee is brewing alongside. Combine the two and voila! A devilishly fine cup of coffee awaits.
Indeed, there is no bean-to-cup machine we’ve found that can compete with the sheer depth of flavour or the flexibility of a good manual espresso machine. The Oracle Touch’s appeal is that it takes both the guesswork and some of the work out of the equation and allows even absolute beginners to produce a very fine array of coffees. The downside? It’s not as flexible as fully manual machines and, once you’ve got the hang of things, you may begin to crave more control.
Features and design
Apart from the gleaming 4in touchscreen, the Oracle Touch looks every bit the classic Sage machine. You can take your pick from classic stainless steel or matte black finishes, and whichever you choose, the Oracle Touch exudes that air of solidity and understated style we’ve come to expect of the brand.
It’s quite a tall, chunky machine, standing 46cm high, 46cm deep and 55cm wide, but it’s not so oversized it won’t fit neatly on the countertop, or squeeze underneath a kitchen cupboard. In any case, we suspect most people won’t want to hide a £1,899 coffee machine away in the corner.
Not least because it does look rather lovely. The touchscreen is bright and colourful and the design and graphics are as pleasingly stylish as the Oracle Touch’s physical exterior. All the cutely-styled little coffee icons are labelled clearly and the interface is pretty easy to understand without having to pore through the instruction booklet – and, moreover, tapping the ‘i’ symbol gives you a helping hand when you need it, so you’ll mostly be able to leave the manual in the drawer.
Otherwise, it couldn’t be much simpler. Tap the type of drink you want – you can choose from espresso, long black, latte, flat white, cappuccino or plain hot milk – and the next page gives a very basic overview of the three-stage coffee-making process, split into Grind, Brew and Milk. Not happy with the standard drinks? Fine. You can customise your own and save it with your own name and selected icon.
The physical design is sensible, too. There’s a 280g bean hopper up top and a wide tray alongside for warming your coffee cups. The machine gets lovely and hot pretty quickly, too, so everything from the cups on top to the portafilter are all warmed and ready to brew in a few minutes.
This is key for getting consistent and hot results time after time. You also get a weighty-feeling 58mm portafilter (Sage’s cheaper models use smaller 54mm ones) which means you can swap in a 58mm portafilter from any number of professional-class machines. There’s a decent-sized 480ml stainless steel milk jug included in the box, too. All you need to add is coffee beans. And milk, depending on your tastes.
The drip tray spans the width of the machine and slots home with a firm thunk and can handle a surprisingly large amount of water before the warning sign floats upwards and requests you empty it. Behind the tray, a small storage area allows you to store the supplied filter baskets and any small tools you might use regularly. Sage includes unpressurised single-wall baskets in both single and double-shot sizes.
The large 2.5 litre water tank feels sturdy and slots home with a reassuringly large latch but it is a pain to remove. As it’s at the rear of the machine, most kitchen layouts will require you to spin the machine around 90 degrees to access it. Thankfully, though, you can also fill the tank by pouring water through a small funnel in the top edge of the machine – you only need to swing the machine around when you want to empty old water, change the water filter or give the whole lot a clean. Not sure how much water is left? Look just above the drip tray, and a large gauge shows you how much water is remaining.
If you don’t like the idea of struggling to turn a heavy coffee machine around every time you need to remove the water tank, then don’t worry, Sage isn’t keen on the idea either. Underneath the drip tray, a plastic dial allows you to deploy wheels under the machine. Turn the dial, and the wheels make it possible to easily spin the Oracle around without lifting it or dragging it across the countertop.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the Oracle Touch makes very, very good coffee – and consistently, too. The combination of a full-sized 58mm portafilter and the superbly accurate temperature regulation produces superb coffee time after time, and there's noticeably more depth to the flavour than you'll get from cheaper machines such as the Sage Barista Pro (£699). If you want to eke every subtlety from your single origin coffee beans, then this machine gets closer to exotic professional machines than most.
One thing it isn’t, however, is entirely automatic. It’s up to you to ensure the coffee is extracted at the right speed – as in not spurting forth nor dripping slowly – and to do that you need to adjust the grind size to fine-tune the results. It’s also essential to adjust the brewing time to eke the most flavour from the coffee. Sometimes just a second or two longer or shorter can make a big difference to the overall flavour.
Getting the ratio of ground coffee to brewed coffee is easiest with a small set of digital scales – as a ballpark figure, you should generally aim for a ratio of grams of espresso in the cup to ground coffee of around 2:1), but we managed to get very drinkable results just by eyeballing the process and using familiar espresso cups. This made it easier to gauge how much coffee was being produced with every extraction.
There’s plenty of adjustment range on the grinder control, so while it defaults to a setting of 30, you can dial it down lower (finer) if the coffee is coming through too quickly or raise it as high as 45 if it’s coming through too slowly. Different coffee beans require quite radically different grind sizes and you’ll also need to decrease the grind size as beans do age after roasting, so it’s good to have a decent range of adjustability. The only downside is that you can’t just nudge the dial a fraction up or down to subtly adjust the grind; it moves only in increments of 1, so there isn’t the fine adjustability you get with a high-end standalone grinder like the Mahlkonig Vario (£399).
The automatic milk texturing works very well indeed, though. It’s a feature we’ve seen before on far cheaper models in Sage’s range such as the Bambino Plus (£299), but here it’s been dramatically refined. Where the cheaper models rely on a temperature sensor embedded in the drip tray – hence it being essential to position the milk jug just so – the Oracle Touch’s thick steam wand has a thermometer hidden in its tip.
You can choose the amount of froth you want from the on-screen slider but you won’t have to fiddle with this very much to get great results. It’s tricky to manually steam milk into a silky, melted-marshmallow microfoam – the kind that produces perfect latte art – but here you just press a button and the Oracle does the rest.
It’s at this point, however, that some people may begin to crave more control. You can use the steam wand manually but, in truth, it’s not designed for it. Where machines with fully manual wands move smoothly in an infinitely-adjustable 360-degree arc, thus allowing you to position them in the jug just so, the Oracle’s simply moves back and forth. And since you need to long-press the milk button on-screen to enable the manual mode, then tap to start steaming and tap again to stop, the whole process lacks the tactile hands-on feel of a tap or dial for opening and closing the steam valve.
Inveterate coffee tweakers will be pleased to see that you can fine-tune the brew temperature from 86c to 96c in one-degree increments – something Sage proudly claims the Oracle can maintain with +/-1℃ accuracy. However, you can’t tweak the amount of coffee used for each shot. You can have a 22g double or an 11g single, and that’s it. I’ve read online you can subtly tweak the dose by taking the automatic tamping hardware to pieces and reassembling it but this isn’t exactly the last word in on-the-fly adjustability.
Price and competition
The glaring issue here is that the Oracle Touch costs £1,899 and this kind of money buys you any number of very serious coffee machines. Regardless of whether you’re thinking of fully-automated bean-to-cup machines or completely manual semi-professional models which wouldn’t be out of home in a shabby Shoreditch coffee bistro, a couple of grand will buy you some truly lovely coffee machines.
If you’d prefer to simply press a button for your morning coffee, then you really should be looking at fully automatic bean-to-cup machines. You can get fine results from the rather excellent Melitta Caffeo Barista TS Smart (£850). it makes a mean coffee but, be in no doubt, but it is still a far cry from what you can create with the Oracle Touch.
By now, I think you’ll have a pretty good idea if the Oracle Touch is for you. In short, if you want to get the absolute most from top-quality coffee beans but simply don’t have the patience or knowledge to handle a fully manual machine, then the Oracle Touch is in a league of its own.
It produces vastly better coffee than any bean-to-cup machine I’ve tested – at any price – and it produces as good a coffee as we’ve had from any consumer-class manual espresso machine. Just don’t blame me if it makes you end up craving a fully manual upgrade somewhere down the line. Once you realise how good manual espresso can be, therr will be no going back.