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Sage's newest bean-to-cup machine balances automation at every stage with extensive personalisation features. But is it worth the price? We tested it over the course of a month to find out.
The Sage the Oracle Touch is a serious bean-to-cup coffee machine that's sophisticated but still simple to use. It allows for full adjustability of fundamental factors like grind size and brew time, but for those pushed for time or complete beginners, it also offers fully automated presets.
Only the fun parts are left for you to do, like loading the portafilter and pouring your steamed milk. In doing so, you avoid that disconnection with the coffee-making process while being given the best possible chance to make a great cup every time. However, it might just be the most expensive investment you make for your kitchen.
Unboxing it requires two people. Thanks to a chunky footprint, it dominates a fair amount of countertop and needs to be on a heatproof surface because the base gets very hot if used to make multiple drinks, one after the other.
A separate box of accessories lifts out first, and this is where you find the mini grinds bin (a genius inclusion), 58mm full stainless steel portafilter, one and two cup single-wall filter baskets, 480ml stainless steel milk jug, steam wand spare parts, cleaning kit, water hardness test strip, water filter holder and water filter. Each component has heft and a high-quality feel. There's also no 'new product' smell.
There's only one manual which is full of practical instructions, but thanks to the machine's brushed stainless steel finish and enticing touchscreen control panel, we gave into temptation and turned it straight on. Thankfully, installing the bean hopper is intuitive with arrow guidance.
The Oracle Touch guides you automatically through the following key guides (which are also accessible from the main menu through the information icon): know your Oracle Touch, step-by-step coffee tutorial, coffee extraction, plus extra tips and techniques.
The step-by-step coffee tutorial is particularly user-friendly, combining information about what you'll need with general interesting tips. For example, we like the handy recommendation to always use coffee beans roasted within 14 days (featuring a 'roasted on' day rather than 'use-by' date) and extra information about the milk steamer functionality that explains that 'the right milk texture can enhance the flavour and mouth feel of your coffee'.
After filling the hopper with coffee beans, the process is simple. The machine takes a while to heat. Then, you select your drink from the menu and adjust the grind using a dial. Presets are automatically selected unless you change them, which is nice for beginners.
The machine auto-doses and tampers for you depending on the filter basket you're using, which is an important factor because uneven tamping (the process of compressing grounds in the portafilter) results in different quantities of coffee through the splitter if you're brewing into two cups. The grinder is loud enough to block out the radio and not particularly quick. Espresso extraction should happen within eight to 12 seconds, and flows out in even quantities. We brushed the filter edges before loading.
For anyone who knows their preferences, the manual function allows tailoring of extraction time, milk temperature and froth. You can save up to eight custom drinks in the main menu, choosing everything from the name to the latte art icon in the main drinks menu.
After use, the steamer wand auto-cleans, but will only do so when returned to a position over the steamer grate, which was a nice safety credential. Wiping the outside with a damp cloth is an important part of the cleaning process.
The hot water funnel is located behind the heated group-head (where you thread in the portafilter) and automatically dispenses water for preset drinks like an Americano. Standard mugs may have an issue catching both the coffee and water, so it's worth some trial and error if you're planning to walk away during a preset function.
The Oracle Touch has a handful of features used widely in commercial machines – these account in part for the price, but also help you achieve a good coffee each time. For example, the over pressure valve limits maximum pressure during extraction to limit the release of bitter flavours.
The core part of every drink is the espresso, and this is where the high-tech features really show. The grinder will sense the filter basket you load and intelligently measure out the coffee required. For the one-cup filter with an altered grind set to level 10 and the single-cup selected, the machine measures out 15g of ground coffee pre-brew and drew 24g of strong, rounded espresso richly topped with crema. With the two-cup filter basket, the quantity of ground coffee was doubled, as was the amount of brewed coffee (47g), split evenly between two espresso cups.
Every drink program on the machine also allows you to measure your own quantity of milk to steam.
Although they feel slightly redundant at the beginning, keeping hold of the instructions is vital for the cleaning phases, which will need to happen around every 200 shots.
Whatever your water type, the build up of limescale inside the machine is inevitable without cleaning – luckily the machine handily reminds you when to change the water filter. The full descaling process requires a hands-on approach, 60 minutes and a flat-head screwdriver, but you won't need to do this often. Descaler is sold separately on the Sage site (£13.95 for a pack of four).
Plenty of cleaning equipment is provided with the Sage the Oracle Touch: inside the accessories box are espresso machine cleaning tablets for removing coffee oils and espresso residue, a portafilter disk, sharp poker for holes and Allen keys. You're also provided with two ingenious tools for cleaning: the conical burrs inside the grinder, plus cleaner sachets for the milk steamer wand.
If you have the budget to invest in the Oracle Touch, it's the coffee equivalent of a flashy car in the garage. It has style. It's simple and satisfying to use every time. It will require some tinkering and upkeep, but most importantly, it makes great coffee.
However, if you're simply after great-tasting coffee, there are plenty of other machines that produce barista-standard cups but cost less and have a smaller footprint.
Sage the Oracle Touch automatic espresso machine specifications
Serial number: SES990BSS2G1UK1
Ground capacity: one- and two-cup
Average pressure: 15-bar
Water tank capacity: 2.5 litres
Bean hopper capacity: 280g
Dimensions: 39.2 x 37.3 x 45.4
Material: brushed stainless steel, stainless steel dual boiler
Accessories: mini grinds bin, 58mm full stainless steel portafilter, one and two cup single-wall filter baskets, 480ml stainless steel milk jug, steam wand spare parts, cleaning kit, water hardness test strip, water filter holder and water filter
Features: integrated stainless steel conical burr grinder
Settings: touch screen operation, five pre-programmed drinks, adjustable grind control, programmable milk temperature and texture, single and double shot options, hot water, pre-infusion function
This review was last updated in April 2021. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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