Breville Oracle Review | The King of Automation

In this Breville Oracle review I will show you detailed Pros & Cons of this magnificent machine. Dubbed the "King of Automation" (by me), this device includes automatic dosing, tamping, extracting, and even milk frothing. It does it with the right settings and temperature for making the perfect espresso, cappuccino/latte, and Americano. The Breville Oracle is truly the summum of home espresso machines.

While its combination of features is currently unsurpassed by any other espresso machine, it does have its flaws. Especially durability is an issue, something which is also affected by its questionable descaling process. 

The Breville Oracle BES980XL, which is the latest version, comes at a high price tag, but I believe it is definitely worth its money. Hopefully, after reading my Breville Oracle review, you feel confident enough to purchase it. 

Breville the Oracle
BES980XL

Breville Espresso Machine

To help you in your decision, I have also included two alternatives along with how they compare against the Oracle, in case you don't need all the automated features. These alternatives still allow for high-quality coffee making, however, at a lower price tag as you do some of your required steps yourself. 

Quick 1-minute breakdown


If you're in a hurry and just want to know whether or not you should purchase the Breville the Oracle BES980XL (the latest model), let me give you a quick breakdown:

  • If you're looking for an espresso machine which can make consistent, high-quality espressos with hardly any learning curve, this is your best bet. Same goes for making cappuccinos and lattes.
  • Compared to a super-automatic espresso machine, the Oracle has a much more open design. This means you can even step in and make an espresso yourself once in a while, where you take over the dosing, tamping and frothing.
  • If you just want to make great espressos and don't mind doing a bit of the work yourself, this machine is probably too expensive. You're better off with one of the alternatives mentioned below.

Features
Ease of use
Durability
Price
Average

If you're still unsure, please keep reading. Hopefully, after reading my full and detailed Breville Oracle review, you can make a solid decision. If not, just let me know in the comments, where I am happy to answer any questions.

Full Breville Espresso Machine line-up

The Breville Oracle is the most expensive, and most feature-rich member of the Breville Espresso Machine range. From the entry-level Duo-Temp Pro to almighty Oracle, there's a Breville for every budget. Below you will find a short overview of all the Pros&Cons of each device. If you want more detailed information, please read: "So, What is the Best Breville Espresso Machine?".

Breville Oracle BES980XL

the Oracle

With automated tamping and frothing, meet the world's first automated semi-auto espresso machine.

High-end

  • Fully automated
  • Consistent espressos
  • Perfect milk foam
  • Requires high budget
  • Large footprint

Price:

$$$$$

Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

Dual Boiler

The perfect machine if you want to improve your barista skills with full control and a dual boiler for excellent heating.

High-end

  • Exellent heating
  • Improves your skills
  • Competitive price
  • Build quality, could use less plastics.

Price:

$$$$

Breville Barista Express BES870XL Best Choice

Barista Express

Best choice!
Capable of making a perfect espresso, with an built-in grinder to save space and money.

Prosumer

  • Perfect price point
  • Built-in grinder
  • Small footprint
  • Single boiler/pump
  • Bit messy grinder

Price:

$$$

Breville Infuser BES840XL

the Infuser

Same as Barista Express but without grinder, in case you want/own a better grinder, but still want the same quality.

Prosumer

  • Smaller footprint than the Barista Express
  • Not much cheaper than Barista Express 

Price:

$$$

Breville Duo-Temp Pro BES810BS

Duo-Temp Pro

An entry-level espresso machine, with some of the professional features or its bigger brothers, at a very friendly price tag.

Entry-level

  • Lowest price
  • Has some of the higher-end features
  • No pressure gauge
  • No fine-tuning

Price:

$$


This article can be found under:

Brand(s): Breville
Budget: $1000+
Level: High-end
Type of coffee: Espresso, Americano, Cappuccino

First published: 2/21/2017
Last update: 2/21/2017


How did I review the Breville Oracle BES980XL?

The goal of each of the reviews on Let's Grind Some Coffee is to do an insane amount of research, so you don't have to anymore. We work with a number of talented and experienced writers, who know what they're talking about. Each writer is responsible for conducting his/her own research, so there's no miscommunication possible. When doing this review I didn't own the Breville Oracle BES980XL. For the comparison I used product reviews, customers comments, and instruction videos and manuals.

Click to learn more about our review process


An introduction to the Breville Oracle Coffee Machine

Launched in 2014, the Oracle was a true revolution. Breville managed to combine their popular Dual Boiler with a coffee grinder (with automated dosing and tamping), along with an automated milk frother. It was like a Barista Express on steroids, with an almost hands-off approach to making espresso and cappuccino/latte, and even Americanos. 

They also reduced a user to a mere bystander, only needed to move the portafilter from the grinder to the group head. And if you're making a cappuccino, you need to add the milk to the coffee. It doesn't do latte art, though. So as long as Breville hasn't figured that one out you can still leave your own signature.

Coffee 101:
What is an Americano coffee?

An Americano is basically a dilluted espresso, to make it less stronger. It consists of 2/5 espresso, and 3/5 hot water.


The Breville Oracle is the perfect espresso machine if you're looking for consistent, high-quality espressos, Americanos, and cappuccinos, without the effort normally required. This consistency is achieved by having all necessary steps automated.
Normally when making espresso you need:

  • The right dose of coffee grind, fine enough for espresso.
  • The correct tamping pressure (this is the hardest part).
  • Water extraction at the right temperature.
  • For Americano: The proper amount of water added.
  • For cappuccino: Fine enough milk foam to keep the espresso taste still noticeable, combined with hot milk to make layers.
  • For latte coffee: Same as with cappuccino, only with more hot milk/ less foam.

Coffee 101:Cappuccino or Latte?

A cappuccino consists of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk foam. A latté is also 1/3 espresso, but has more steamed milk and just a layer of milk foam.

To get all these variations right each and every time you make them is quite difficult unless you're an experienced user or barista. The Oracle does this all for you, even allowing you to adjust some settings of each type of coffee. If convenience is what you're looking for, the Breville Oracle is a perfect match. If control is more important for you, you're probably better off with one of the alternatives mentioned below.

One final note before we dive into its features: It is possible to bypass some functionality. You can use a separate grinder and tamp the coffee yourself, which is, by the way a good idea if you want to run two different beans at a time (like I do with regular beans and decaf beans). However, if that's what you want to do regularly, you might want to buy a less expensive machine. In the end, you're still paying for all the fancy automation. This machine is only worth its money when you make use of all its automation features. When doing this review, Breville's MSRP for the Oracle was $1,999.95.


Breville Oracle Features | Pros & Cons

The Breville Oracle has all the bells and whistles most high-end espresso machines are equipped with:

  • PID temperature control, along with various heat management systems like for optimal espresso temperature (195°F to 205°F). You can specify the temperature yourself for fine-tuning. It also has a clock to specify at what time you want it to warm up, and 3-beeps to let you know when it is at operating temperature.
  • Low-pressure pre-infusion, for soaking the grind a bit before extraction starts, after which pressure increases during extraction to allow for an even flow. You can specify this time as well, but you probably won't notice much of a difference.
  • Dual boilers and pumps, so you can extract and espresso while making the milk foam at the same moment (huge benefit over single boiler espresso machines).
  • Over Pressure Valve, which regulates the extraction pressure. However, overpressure should be less of a problem because of auto dosing and tamping (tamping too hard is the most likely cause of overpressure, as the water can flow through).

But, these are all features you will also find on the Breville Dual Boiler, which costs about $700 less. Let's have a look at its unique features, along with some of the flaws it unfortunately has.

Coffee 101:
PID Temperature Control?

PID temperature control allows you to specify the brew temperature of the espresso machine. Learn more:
PID Controlled Espresso Machine

Coffee 101:
What is pre-infusion?

Pre-infusion takes place a few seconds before full pressure extraction starts. By slowly building up the pressure, the grinds are better saturated, resulting in more flavor coming into the cup.

The Good

Breville Oracle Auto Dose and Tamp

Automatic dosing and tamping
This feature is what really sets the Breville Oracle apart from most espresso machines. There are other espresso machines with grinder, like Breville's own Barista Express, but that's just for grinding coffee. The Breville Oracle is the only machine which has automated tamping. You just hang the portafilter in its holder, specify how fine or coarse you want it to be, and wait for it to grind. After that, it is tamped right away.

You can specify in the settings how much pressure you want for tamping, as most beans require slightly different settings. You can even specify the number of seconds it has to tamp. I have used the word many times by now, but consistency is the key and having it tamped automatically is a big step in achieving that.

Breville Oracle Auto Frothing

Automatic frothing
This is the other feature that is unique to the Oracle, and almost as important as tamping when it comes to consistency (there it is again). With a regular steam wand, getting the right foam every time you make a cappuccino or latte isn't easy. Holding the steam jug, assessing the temperature inside, while making sure the steam wand is at the right height and place inside the jug; it all leads up to a different result every time you make a cappuccino or latte. With lots of practice you can minimize these differences, but having it automated is so much easier.

The auto function allows you to select what type of milk foam you need (cappuccino, latte, or anything in between) along with the desired temperature. It automatically stops when these parameters are met. Or, you can flip the steam lever up to select manual mode. Once you're done, clean the steam wand, and after you lower it down it even automatically purges to remove any milk residue.

Automatic Americanos
This is something I personally like myself, as I serve Americanos to guests who think an espresso is too strong but still want a delicious coffee. An Americano is basically a diluted espresso, with about 2/5 espresso and 3/5 hot water.

There's a One Touch Americano button, which adds hot water after the espresso is extracted. You can choose between the presets Small, Medium and Large. Or, you can specify up to 6 custom presets, where you can program the duration of both the espresso and hot water extraction. Nice!

Automatic cleaning
Besides the automatic cleaning of the steam wand, it also has automatic cleaning for the group head. Just insert a cleaning tablet into the basket of the portafilter, put it in the group head, and select the cleaning cycle in the menu. It cleans the shower screen of the group head, as well as back-flushing the group head itself. Cleaning the grinder requires a bit more labor, as you're not only cleaning the grinder itself but also the tamping mechanism.

The Bad

Breville Oracle descale process
Even when using the recommended water filters, there comes a time you need to descale your Breville Oracle. Unfortunately, that could be the start of your machine not working anymore. Almost all negative Breville Oracle reviews are about descaling the device. The descaling procedure has been laid out well in the manual, but involves quite a few steps, with a 20-minute timeframe.

The problem is that the device seems to get stuck during the descaling process sometimes. As it needs to go through the full procedure before the machine is actually descaled, this is quite annoying. If you're lucky you can get it to reset itself, but it might come to the point where you have to return it and get a new device under warranty. There is a work-around by posted by a user, which you can find here: Breville Oracle descaling work-around.

Coffee 101:
What is descaling?

Every espresso machine is affected by scale in the water. If not properly maintained, a machine can become clogged up due to scale build-up. Descaling is the process of removing this scale.
What is Descaling?

If possible, try to prevent the build-up of scale in the machine by using cold, filtered water. Don't use distilled water, as this interferes with the machine negatively, according to the Breville Oracle manual.Also, as these problems don't seem to affect every buyer of the machine, you could end up lucky and won't see any issues at all when descaling.

Durability
You have to remember this is a very complex machine, with a lot of moving parts, all tightly integrated. The more features you put in a machine, the more can break. Even though they generally use high-quality materials, things can break. Espresso machines operate mostly on heat and pressure, which can result in wear and tear in the longer run. To make it even worse, you are also dealing with coffee oil (which builds up gradually if you don't clean properly) and lots of water and steam (which can creep into anything without you noticing). And then you also have the built-in grind and tamper, along with coffee grinds floating around.

Now I do make it seem like making coffee is a recipe for disaster, which is of course not the case. I just want to emphasize that with this many hazards, it happens that the Oracle simply breaks. Luckily you have a 2-year limited warranty, and you might want to consider adding a few years extra to that by buying extended warranty. Also, make sure you always properly clean the device and read the manual carefully, so you should be able to enjoy this magnificent beast (34.5 pounds!) for many years to come.


Alternatives to the Breville Oracle BES980XL

Even though the Breville Oracle is a magnificent device, it does cost a lot of money. I have listed two less expensive alternatives, one of which (the Dual Boiler) being really close to the Oracle as they share many features.

Best Alternative: Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

Same espresso features, without the automation.

As I mentioned above, if you are looking for a high-end espresso machine, but don't need to the automatic-everything, there's an excellent alternative from Breville itself: The Breville Dual Boiler.

The Breville Oracle is basically a Dual Boiler with a built-in grinder and automated frothing. This means the Dual boiler has the same professional features when it comes to making espresso, like PID temperature control and pre-infusion. It can also make an Americano, but you have to turn the switch yourself. And more importantly, it has the same dual boilers (hence the name) as the Oracle so that you can extract an espresso and steam milk at the same time.

The Dual Boiler has a MSRP that is about $700 lower than the Oracle, but you're going to need a separate grinder. If you don't have one already, please have a look at our article on espresso grinders, so you can make the most our of your espresso machine.

If you want to learn more about this device, please head over to our Breville Dual Boiler review.

Budget alternative: Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Single boiler espresso machine with grinder, nothing automatic.

This is the espresso machine I bought myself, but not after drooling for many hours on the Oracle. Even though I really love the features of the Oracle, it is still a lot of money. It also isn't available in my country, which means paying a lot for shipping and customs.

I think the Barista Express is an excellent alternative to the Breville Oracle if you're on a budget, or simply don't want to spend too much money on your espresso maker. It has a single boiler instead of the Oracle's dual boiler setup, which means you can't extract espresso and prepare your milk foam at the same time.

It does come with a built-in grinder, with auto-shutoff you get the same amount of coffee grind every time. You have to tamp the grind yourself, as well as to foam your own milk.

 This does allow you to work on your barista skills, which can be fun in itself. It also has a PID for temperature control and does pre-infusion. 

So it's kind of a baby-Oracle, but it's also about a third of the cost of an Oracle. I did a (quite extensive) review, which you can read here: Breville Barista Express review.


Rounding up the Breville Oracle Review

Even though the Breville Oracle does have some flaws, I believe it is an excellent device. It's the world's first automated semi-automatic espresso machine, and it's truly a marvel of technology. It automates everything that is so important when making espresso or espresso based drinks: Consistency (this is the last time I use this word, I promise). 

On the other hand, all this automation means you don't have much to do. As you can see in the demonstration video from Seattle Coffee Gear below, the presenter (Gail) is just standing still most of the time. If that is what you like, then there's no better device than the Breville Oracle. If you want to get a bit more involved, you can't go wrong with either of the alternatives.

Jacco, Chief Grinder

Breville the Oracle
BES980XL

Breville Espresso Machine

Resources used for this review

  • Seattle Coffee Gear review on Youtube, showing all the features discussed in this Breville Oracle review.