Breville BES980XL Oracle – Espresso Machine Review

So what’s so great about BES980XL, and why is it so successful on the market? Why people choose the Oracle over fully automatic machines?

The Oracle is an automatic machine, so you will have to do some of the work, but this is actually and advantage. Almost all of the brewing variables can be adjusted on the Oracle, this means a lot of ways to tweak your shot. For those who want absolute control over the extraction process this is the perfect machine. We will review these in a bit.

breville bes980xl oracle review

Another reason is related to the way super-automatics are built. In a super-automatic, the coffee grounds need to be moved around from the grinding chamber into the brewing chamber. While this makes it convenient for the barista, it is not so great for the machine, or the shot quality, as coffee grounds get spilled, and accumulate in hidden areas. This translates into moving small quantities of stale coffee into the coffee puck, and maintenance. 

The design of a super-automatic is complex, with more moving pieces. This why super-automatics are less reliable, and more prone to breaking. 

I will conclude my overview mentioning that the BES980XL is the result of years of designing and improving. The Dual Boiler BES920XL, and the BES900XL gave the Breville design team information on how to improve the Oracle to make it the perfect home use espresso machine. But let’s take a look at the features, and see if this machine worthy of the hype. 

Breville Oracle Features

All the features of the Breville Oracle are meant to give the barista more control over the shot extraction and to improve the overall experience. If you are a barista that looks for the perfect shot, then this machine is a great option.

Pre-infusion

Oracle is equipped with a pre-infusion function to saturate the grounds with water and avoid channeling. The default pre-brew settings are 60% of the normal pressure for 7 seconds, after which the machine starts to push water at full pressure. You can change the default settings, if you need to compensate for different roast levels, or different origins.

Oracle has Dual Boilers

breville bes980xl oracle review

This is one of the prosumer features of the Oracle. The dual boiler considerably raises the cost of the machine, but it allows the barista steam milk and pull a shot at the same time.

The two stainless steel boilers are heated by separate elements and temperature controllers. This improves the brewing temperature precision, a variable that is many times overlooked. 

An espresso machine with two boilers also ensures temperature stability during brewing.

Temperature Control and PID

breville bes980xl oracle review
Images for reviewing the Breville BES980XL Oracle espresso machine.

Maybe one of the best features of this machine is the triple heat system, which is patented by Breville.

The triple heat system uses separate heating elements for the brew head, the steaming and for the espresso brewing. This ensures a better temperature control, and makes the three components independent of each other. 

Each of the components needs a different temperature, so controlling them separately improves the temperature precision. 

BES980XL has two PID controllers, one controls the temperature in the brewing boiler, and the other one controls the temperature in the group head.

There are cheaper machines with a PID for the espresso boiler, so nothing too unusual. The interesting design decision to add a PID to the group head is pretty amazing, though.

Home baristas always have a problem to bring the group head to the correct temperature. Pull blanks, leave the machine turned on, etc… Breville fixed this with a heated grouphead, and controlled with a PID.

The brewing temperature can be tweaked using the “shot temperature” function with a +/- 2°F precision. You can use this to compensate for the beans’ origin and roast.

You can also change the steam boiler temperature. Because this operation is not very sensitive, there is no need for PID. This is controlled by a thermistor.

Dual Pumps for Consistent Pressure

The machine has two pumps, one for the steam and one for pulling espresso. This dual pump system delivers consistent pressure when pulling shots.

However, the dual pump means you can steam milk and pull shots at the same time.

Milk frothing needs 260 °F, whereas espresso brewing needs 190 to 196 °F. Going from 190 °F to 260 °F takes some time, so having two boilers cuts down the time between steaming and brewing. However, many machines with two boilers are still limited to a single operation at a time, because they use one pump only. Breville fixes this by incorporating a second pump that is used for milk steaming only.

Cup Warmer

As most machine in its class, the Oracle the cup warmer has its own heating element. This means that it doesn’t rely on the heat from the boilers. This translates in temperature stability, and use of the cup warmer independent of the boiler use. Nothing out of the ordinary here, but still worth mentioning.

Advanced Automated Milk Frother

breville bes980xl oracle review
The advanced automatic milk frother helps home baristas create great frothed milk for latte art or cappuccinos

I only use the steam wand on my machine for friends and family. I like my espresso neat, but I prepare lattes and cappuccinos for my family. I love to show off my latte art skills and make beautiful drinks. I get to practice my skills so I don’t lose my hand.

The beauty with the BES980XL is that you don’t need any skills to steam milk. The automatic milk frothing will do it for you. Just place the steam wand in the milk jug and start the milk frother. 

The steam wand is an interesting take on the panarello. There is a small disadvantage with the Oracle’s steam wand. Traditional milk texturing is not possible, if that’s what you are after. 

The steam wand has a probe that measures the milk’s temperature, so you don’t scald the milk. 

If you want, a manual mode milk texturing is available, which gives you a bit more control over the process. 

Milk texturing tips from Phil McKnight from Breville

Auto Grind, Dose and Tamp

The Oracle can grind, dose and tamp for you as per your specifications, if you want to. You just lock the portafilter in the grind outlet and the Oracle will do it for you.

Built-In Grinder

Oracle’s grinder is probably one of the best built-in grinders in the industry. This is a precision conical burr grinder with 45 grind settings. You can grind directly into your portafilter, for convenience.

You can adjust the dose during the tweaking phase in order to perfect your shots. The grinder is equipped with a tamping system, that works similarly to calibrated tampers but is better. The tamping system will level the grinds, and tamp them for you for perfect consistency. What’s great about the automatic tamper is that you can adjust the force applied to the coffee grounds. So just another way you can tweak your shots. 

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.

Dialing in the grind size – the Breville guide

Removable Bean Hopper

The bean hopper holds up to 8oz and can be removed for cleaning. Also, if you need to change the coffee beans from the hopper, you can simply take off the hopper and dump the beans out. 

Automatic Tamping

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.

Coffee Dose

The coffee dose on the Breville Oracle is fixed, as it should be. There is no option to change the amount of grounds used. However, playing with some of the shot settings you can increase the dose by a gram. Check the video below, if you are interested.

Oracle Dose Adjustment teste by the team at Seattle Coffee Gear

Shot Length

The beverage size can be adjusted in two ways on the Oracle:

  • by adjusting the extraction time (the default)
  • by adjusting volume of water pushed through the coffee puck

One interesting feature of the Oracle is the adjustable shot volume. You can set the machine to pour your desired amount of water. This allow you to pull ristrettos, lungos, or normal shots. You still have to adjust the grinding for these, since this is not a super automatic, but you don’t have to use a scale to measure how much coffee you have in the cup. 

You can set the desired volume and then program that as a preferred beverage for easy selection. Programming the shot allows you to save all the variables into a beverage slot. Once you perfected your shot, you can save that into a profile, and the machine will pull that shot consistently. You can have the perfect espresso shot every morning.

If you don’t like pulling your shots by volume, which can result in over-extracted coffee, you can program the duration of a shot. This avoids pulling shots for more than 30 seconds. 

Time your Espresso – Shot Clock

shot clock

This seems like a useless feature, but it is very handy, if you have it. You can know exactly how long your shot poured without a separate timer. When you dial in your espresso the shot timer is a very helpful feature.

Changing the beans, using a different filter basket, or pulling a lungo, or a ristretto, requires dialing in your shot. The clock shot helps you time it perfectly.

The Breville Oracle Is NOT a Super Automatic

If you think that the Oracle is a super-automatic, this is not true. You will need to do some of the operations manually. This design was intentional.

The Breville team created the Oracle for the espresso enthusiast. While convenience was on their list, it was not their main goal. The goal was to make a robust machine, and to allow the barista to tweak as many extraction variables as possible. Here are some of the advantages of the BES980. 

A super automatic performs grinding, tamping and brewing in the same place. The chute for transferring the grounds from the grinder runs right beside the brewing unit. This design can lead to getting stale coffee in the brewing unit. This also means more moving pieces and complexity lowers reliability. 

Dialing in your shot with super automatic espresso machine is very complicated. While super-automatics in this range have various options to adjust the extraction, the process is complicated and most of the times machine owners just settle for average.

Where To Buy the Breville Oracle?

There are a few places where you can buy this online. If in doubt – Amazon is the safest for anyone, but there are specialized online stores that sell it, and we do recommend you check them as well. The advantage is that you can get more information from them, and they can be more helpful during the purchase and after.

Amazon
Whole Latte Love

Further Down the Rabbit Hole

Ok, there is a lot more about to learn and to explore if you are serious about your espresso. For instance you can buy a naked portafilter, so that you know exactly how well you pull your shots.

breville bes980xl oracle review
Naked portafilter for Breville BES980XL Oracle espresso machine.

If you want to connect with fellow Oracle owners, or ask technical question, or just exchange ideas, this forum dedicated to Oracle BES980XL is the place for that. Or you can ask on reddit for more general question. Most of the times is the barista and not the machine…

Conclusion

The Breville BES980XL Oracle is the result of refining and improving on previous machines such as the Dual Boiler BES920XL, and the BES900XL. The marketing and engineering teams took the experience from its predecessors to make Oracle the best espresso machine for home use. Is the Oracle worth the price and hype? If you have the budget, it is. It improves your daily coffee experience, and it allows you to make perfect espresso.