The Breville Oracle BES980XL :: Auto, What?May 5th, 2014 by Dennis Hopkins
The Oracle has arrived.
Over the past two weeks the team here at Clive has been testing out Breville’s new double boiler espresso machine, neatly dubbed the “Oracle.” The Oracle debuted at the SCAA last year, and Breville has finally released the machine to a few select markets in the US. We even had the opportunity to be given a demonstration by Breville’s own Phil McKnight, who helped design the machine. The Oracle shares many features of their earlier Dual Boiler (BES920) machine, with three independent heating elements and an elegant, programmable interface. The main departure stems from the addition of a built in burr grinder and an automatic steam wand that generates consistent, integrated, micro-textured foam. Due to its simplicity and ease of design, the Oracle has quickly become our go-to machine to pull a shot of espresso or make a cappuccino when we’re running off to a meeting or getting ready to ship out a ton of deliveries. Now that I’ve extolled the virtues of the beast, it’s time to look under the “hood” and take a closer look.
The Oracle’s temperature stability is generated by two stainless steel boilers, three independent heating elements, and controlled by a programmable PID. While the coffee boiler has its own heating element, it is unique in that it acts like a heat exchange by drawing pre-heated water from the steam boiler. There is also an independent heating element in the group head that insures minimal temperature fluctuations as the water moves from the boiler to the bed of coffee in the portafilter.
The most noticeable feature of the Oracle that alludes to its grinding capability is the large hopper (which can hold up to a 1/2 pound of coffee) that sits atop the machine. Breville designed a proprietary auger system that enables you to insert your portafilter and the coffee will be automatically dosed, ground, tamped, and polished. The grind setting can be adjusted and viewed via an LCD display on the front by a simple twist of the knob on the side of the machine. The result is a well-groomed, solid, puck that extracts evenly and helps to prevent channeling. Theoretically, you can adjust the dose, but we’re still working on that one. An interesting aspect of the automated tamp is that both the pressure and duration can be programmed. We’ve also just started to test how the gradation of this feature impacts the quality in the cup. We’ll report back in a future post.
Outside of locking the portafilter in the group head, all features involved with pulling shots can be both programmed or done manually. Pre-infusion time, shot yield (timed or volumetric), and temperature (coffee boiler temp) can all be programmed. They’ve even included a nifty timer on the main LCD screen while you pull your shots. We spent quite a few days pulling shots and so far they have been very consistent. For the seasoned barista who’s accustomed to pulling shots manually, there are plenty of variables you can adjust and experiment with.
For the americano enthusiast, there is a dedicated knob that enables you to pull a shot and fill your cup all with a single push of a button. This is achieved by a hot water spout that sits directly behind the group head and fills your cup with water directly after the shot has completed. You can also twist the knob to adjust the volume of water to be dispensed. If you choose to be traditional, you can of course pull your shot manually and use the hot water button (or if you want tea instead of espresso) to fill your cup.
Probably the most remarkable innovation is the ability to steam consistently beautiful, integrated, micro-textured foam. A combination of steam and pumped air ensure a silky texture that most novice baristas would lust after. It is as simple as filling your pitcher, inserting the steam wand, and pushing a lever. Both the temperature (aided by a smiley face icon when the proper temperature is selected) and foam density can be programmed. Again, you can choose to steam your milk manually, but it does such a beautiful job you would be hard pressed not to let it do the work for you. In a few tests we did get a few larger bubbles that we had to knock out, otherwise the foam is super consistent.
A few other cool features include: A reservoir that you can fill from a top panel or from back of the machine. The boilers are super easy to drain through two screws on the front of the machine. You will also receive a suite of accessories, ranging from cleaning gear to a pitcher and a knock box.
Before Breville released the Oracle, they took enormous pains to ensure that the machine would meet the expectations of their customers and withstand regular daily use. They performed nearly 15,000 use cycle tests, which if you do the math, is equivalent to ten years of making four (and a little bit more) drinks a day. They have also extended their warranty to two years, and all service inquiries go through Breville themselves.
So, is the Oracle prophetic in the delivery of exquisite espresso? We’ll report back with a more detailed analysis in a future post.