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The Oracle is a bean-to-cup coffee machine from a range of kitchen appliances by Heston Blumenthal, one of the few celebrity chefs happy to use liquid nitrogen as part of the cooking process. However, there’s no celebrity fluffiness to this coffee station.
Priced at a daunting £1,599, the Oracle takes a different approach to most bean-to-cup machines in this price bracket. Rather than leaving you to simply press a button, you operate The Oracle in much the same way as a manual espresso machine.
What it takes care of are all those bits that require a little more expertise. Dosing, tamping and frothing up milk are all automated, for instance. The result is a machine that delivers coffee of the highest quality, every time, and without making you feel as though you’re at the mercy of a coffee computer. By merging smart technology with a mechanical feel, using the Oracle is very satisfying experience indeed.
SEE ALSO: 13 Best Espresso and Coffee Machines
The Oracle's design is closer to the manual espresso machines you see in high-street coffee chains. This is because, unlike machines such as the Philips Saeco HD8751, the grinding and brewing processes don’t take place in a single unit.
Instead, they’re separate.
The Oracle uses an espresso machine-style grounds holder that has two homes in the machine: one sits under the grinder and the other is under the actual water output. If you want a coffee machine that will make you a latte with the press of a single button, the Oracle isn't for you.
The Oracle is for people who have an interest in the coffee-making process. And although this may at first make this machine appear a little "simple" in comparison to more hi-tech designs, the Oracle benefits from some very smart design features.
First, the machine's large water reservoir sits at the rear of the machine, but a flip-up flap means that you can refill it without moving the machine at all.
Need to move the Oracle around? Removing the drip tray reveals a big round dial which, when turned, results in wheels popping out of the base. This enables you to move the unit around the kitchen-top with no more than finger pressure. Very thoughtful design.
It won’t suit all kitchen designs, though. Wall-hanging cupboards in our test kitchen proved to be a problem. Since the bean loader sits on top of the machine, a good bit of free space is needed above the Oracle in order to refill the bean tray comfortably.
Although those handy wheels on the bottom go some way towards providing a workaround – you could wheel it to somewhere along the worktop where there's more space – it isn't an ideal solution. The Oracle works best with plenty of space above.
Build quality is as we’d hope for in a machine at this price. The Oracle is housed in aluminium and steel, with only some of the interior parts – hidden by the drip tray – made of plain grey plastic. With its excess of buttons, knobs and holder ports the style isn't minimalist, but it looks impressive nonetheless.
Sage by Heston Blumenthal's The Oracle gives you the feel of a manual espresso machine, while automating the functions that require a bit of expertise. To explain, we’ll take you through the process of making a cup of coffee.
First, you slide the coffee holder into the "socket" on the left. This sits below the grinder; the dial on the left side of the Oracle controls how fine or coarse the grind is. To kick off the grinding process, you turn the coffee holder to the right. While this could just as easily have been a button press on the Oracle’s front, it wouldn't have offered a true experience of using a manual espresso machine.
After 20 seconds or so, you’ll perfectly tampered coffee grounds. Remove the coffee holder and put it into the port next door.
Using the buttons on the front of the Oracle, you make your selection from single/dual-shot espressos, a long coffee or just hot water. Here we appreciate the two separate outputs: one that puts water through the coffee arm and a separate output for hot water whose stream falls just behind. Many espresso machines don't have the facility to output hot water, or do so from the steam arm.
This dual-system approach give the Oracle the ability to handle making drinks in a very intuitive way. In other words, you don’t have to head to the milk frother to make an Americano.
Now to the final part: adding the milk. And here the Oracle offers features specific to such a top-end model.
The milk frother is automated. A control by the side of it lets you produce a latte-style foam or a more frothy cappuccino style milk – or something in between. Just as important is the fact this it removes the need for good technique, by cutting off the steam output before the milk is scalded. Crucial to this are the digital thermometers that control the heating of both the coffee and milk components of the Oracle. Read-outs for both are visible on displays on the front panel, giving you that extra sense of involvement.
On the whole, you get the barista vibe without needing barista-grade experience.
A steel milk jug is included and, since it uses a dual-boiler system, milk can be prepared at the same time you're preparing the coffee. If you don't want frother automation then the manual mode outputs a consistent stream of milk for a more traditional approach.
The results from the Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Oracle are fantastic. Careful temperature control and the flexible grinder lead to perfect taste every single time. Long coffees are strong and rich by default, while the frother brings out a sweetness in the milk that wouldn't be possible if doing it manually.
Being able to create delicate microfoam with zero effort is a massive plus point. And since it ends up in a jug rather than plumbed into the cup, you can even have a crack at some latte "art" if you’re really looking to impress.
This isn't really a machine for singletons, looking for a quick coffee fix every morning, mind. The amount of coffee served from the grinder is at a rough 22g double measure. So if you like your coffee relatively weak, the Oracle will get through your beans more quickly than you’d probably like.
Its drinks are also far more intense and punchy than those delivered by most other machines we’ve tried in this class. It’s an automated machine that feels like it is made for real coffee enthusiasts – something of a rarity.
If anything, it's a bit obsessive. The Sage manual encourages you not to use pre-ground coffee, although there's no reason you can't. We tried it, and the Oracle didn’t suddenly shut down. However, you need to be more careful about tamping the grounds to achieve the crema you’ll get more or less as standard when using beans.
The Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Oracle coffee machine is an excellent appliance – one that gives you the feel of a manual espresso device with the option for automated control of the more fiddly bits of the coffee-making process.
Many bean-to-cup machines feel as though they’re made for those who value convenience over coffee quality, but the Oracle is different. Even calling it a bean-to-cup machine feels like a misrepresentation; in the main it's a manual espresso machine with a separate grinder attached.
You could save some money by buying Sage’s Dual Boiler espresso machine along with a separate grinder, but the Oracle is a far neater solution.
SEE ALSO: Miele CM6300 Coffee Machine
A superb bean-to-cup machine that's been made with the real coffee enthusiast in mind.