Breville Oracle is Not a Super-Automatic
The price tag of the Breville BES980XL Oracle is within the range of super-automatic espresso machines, yet the Oracle is just a semiautomatic machine. Well, not exactly a semiautomatic either, but this is where it got me. You’ll see why in a bit.
Breville’s marketing team was inspired when they named its high-end espresso machine “Oracle”. Yes, this machine has all the brewing answers espresso lovers were looking for. It seems a bit steep for a machine that doesn’t qualify as a super-automatic. I tell you though it’s totally worth the price. It has so many controls and adjustments of the brewing process; it is clearly one of the most feature-rich espresso machines on the market. This is the first machine that can be used as an automatic or a semiautomatic. With so many ways to tweak a shot, is the dream of the espresso geek.
Breville BES980XL Oracle Overview
So what’s so great about BES980XL, and why so many of us are willing to pay for an espresso machine that is not even a super automatic? Why should you choose the Oracle and not a fully automated one like Jura Ena, or the Gaggia Titanium?
Firstly, choosing to design this machine as an automatic only, and let you do some of the work, is a great advantage.
Secondly, with super-automatics, the grinding chamber and the brewing chamber communicate. They are built as a single unit, and grinds travel from the grinding chamber into the brewing side. All this is inside the machine, and with this design, it is not uncommon that coffee grounds get spilled, and accumulate in hidden areas.
Finally, a super-automatic design also means a few more plastic pieces that are prone to breaking. In fact, this is one of the two reasons I don’t like super-automatics.
The Breville BES980XL Oracle is the result of years of designing, testing the market, and improving on the product. Its precursors, the Dual Boiler BES920XL, and the BES900XL had paved the way. The two previous machines gave the design team important information on what to change and tweak to make Oracle the perfect espresso machine for home use. But don’t take our word for it, just read ahead and see for yourself if our awe is justified or not. And let’s face it, the thing it is expensive, is it really worth the price? I’ll give you all the details and let you be the judge.
Here is where we get really excited; Breville Oracle is literally a technological wonder. All the features are designed around improving the overall experience and pulling amazing shots.
This is one of the expensive features of the machine. The dual boiler design allows you to brew and steam milk at the same time. Maybe of equal importance, having two boilers can help to ensure temperature stability during brewing. A constant temperature will help you achieve shot consistency every time. The two boilers are made with stainless steel. The temperature on the two boilers is controlled separately, which improves the precision of the brewing temperature.
The machine has one pump for the espresso and one for the steam. This ensures a constant pressure while pulling shots, which is a very precise operation. Many high-end espresso machines have only one pump. This means that even with two boilers, you can’t really do both, pulling shots and steaming milk. Sure having two boilers helps a lot with cutting the time between steaming and brewing. Breville fixes this problem by incorporating a second pump designated for steaming only.
The pre-infusion function pushes hot water at a low pressure, to allow uniform grounds saturation. This will avoid channeling, a common problem when pulling shots. The factory settings are 7 seconds with 60% of the normal pressure. You can play with these settings to compensate for various beans’ density and roast.
The shot clock is a nice feature that allows you to know how long a shot has been pulled. This is particularly useful when you tweak your shot. You will probably need this when you change the beans when you first start to use the Oracle, or if you want to experiment.
Temperature Control and PID
The temperature control is very important when preparing an espresso or a cappuccino. Breville’s triple heat system is a patent-pending innovation that addresses this. Triple heat means that instead of using one heating element for steaming, brewing, and brew-head, we have three separate heating systems. Each of the systems works separately because they need different temperatures. Here is how they implemented the triple heat system. BES980XL has two PID controllers. The two controllers maintain the exact temperature needed. One of the PID controls the temperature in the brewing boiler, and the other one maintains the perfect temperature in the group head. The PID for the brewing boiler is not that unusual for an espresso machine. The unusual decision to add a PID on the group head to actively regulate the temperature during brewing is pretty amazing. As home baristas, we all struggle to bring that group head to the right temperature and it’s always a guesswork. Pull blanks, leave the machine on longer, and other tips and tricks we learn on forums. Oracle fixes this with their PID on the grouphead. WOW!
You can adjust the brewing temperature using the digital controls with a +/- 2°F precision. This gives the home barista the option to tweak the shot to compensate for bean’s origin and roast.
The steam boiler also has a temperature control function. This time is not a PID but just a thermistor. This makes sense, since a PID here is not necessary, and it would have only increased the price, complicated the design.
The cup warmer has its own heating element and doesn’t rely on heat from the boilers, as most machine in its class. This allows temperature stability, regardless if the boiler is used or not.
The Oracle can be adjusted to pull adjustable volume shots. This allows you to adjust your shot from a ristretto to a lungo and even a café crema. If that’s not enough, maybe the ability to program that volume into a preferred beverage would convince you. What that means is that you can tweak your coffee to perfection. Once the perfection is met, you can save that into a profile, and the machine will pull that shot consistently. No human error, no miscalculations. Your morning starts with the press of a button.
You can also program the duration of a shot. Oracle has many options to program and automate brewing parameters, and this one is very handy. By controlling the shot duration, we can pull shots with a very high precision. The shot clock is another way to modify the coffee strength and volume. The default shot volume is set at 30 seconds for a double espresso.
Just to recap, the volume can be adjusted in two ways:
- by time (the default)
- by volume of water pushed through the puck
The milk frother can be used both manually if you are an expert, or you can just let the machine do it automatically for you. The steaming wand has a temperature probe, for perfect heating. With the probe, you can ensure you are not overheating the milk. The steaming wand tip is specially designed with 4 holes for a perfect milk texture.
One of the key advantages to the Oracle is the built-in grinder. The grinder can be adjusted between 40 different fineness settings with a locking mechanism that allows you to grind directly into your portafilter. Based on your preferences you can adjust the total dosage of coffee ground to customize your shots. The Oracle’s grinder is also equipped with an adjustable automatic tamping system that will tamp and level of your coffee grounds to keep extraction parameters. The bean hopper on the Oracle holds up to 8oz of whole bean coffee. The hopper can be completely removed and features a bean stopper, allowing you to take it off even when there are still beans inside.
Built-In Grinder and Automatic Tamping and Coffee Dosage
The built-in grinder is one of the strengths of the Oracle. The grinder is probably one of the best built-in grinders in the industry. The grinder can be adjusted to 40 settings. And that is 40 settings for espresso range. You can automate the process and grind directly into your portafilter.
You can also use the automatic tamping feature, which ensures consistent pressure every time. Unless you are a trained barista, this is very convenient. Yeah, you could probably use a calibrated tamper, but you still have to buy it. Check my page about perfect tamping.
One of my favorite features is the coffee dosage. When using a semiautomatic, you always need to adjust the dosage, when you change coffee beans. This is because not all the beans are the same. You also need to change the grind size. The perfect pressure in the puck is a combination between these elements:
- The grind size
- The tamping pressure
- The amount of coffee grounds in the puck
- The coffee bean variety, origin, and roast
For this reason, when we change the beans we have to adjust the other variables in order to maintain a good extraction. We have an entire guide about how to pull the perfect espresso shot. The important info in this context is that we always try to maintain a constant tamping pressure, and we change the other parameters. This is why I am so excited about the automatic tamping.
Removable Bean Hopper
The bean hopper holds up to 8oz of beans which plenty for a domestic espresso machine. The hopper can be completely removed for cleaning. This is also convenient if you need to change the beans before finishing the last batch. The bean stopper allows you to remove the hopper even when there are still beans inside.
Best Price for Breville BES980XL Oracle
Fully Automatic but NOT a Super Automatic
When you look at the price tag, you automatically think: “This is a super-automatic”. It is not a super automatic and this was done by intent. The team at Breville created this machine for the espresso enthusiast. Yes, it is very close to a super-automatic, and with a minimum of effort and cost, they could have made it a one-button-push coffee machine. The machine as is though is so much better. You need to manually move the portafilter from the holder into the brewing head. Here are a few reasons why this was a smart decision:
- A super automatic grinds, tamps, and brews in the same place. The chute for dumping grounds runs right beside the brewing unit. This adds complexity to the machine and creates problems such as stale coffee in the brewing unit.
- A super automatic contrary to some expert voices CAN be tweaked to pull a perfect shot. However, changing the beans with a super-auto is very complicated, because you don’t have access to the shot. You can’t inspect it visually to see the puck. With the Oracle, you see the puck when you transfer the portafilter. Any changes in the puck’s height will be immediately detected.
- Often times, the advanced home barista will adjust the tamping pressure to compensate for other parameters. For those who like to tweak their shot to perfection, you have the option to tamp manually, if you wish.