Coffee & Swatches (May 15th, 2018)
If you’ve been following me on Instagram lately, you’ll notice that I’ve started to share what I’ve dubbed “coffee and swatches,” which are photos of products I’m photographing (and swatching) along with my morning latte. I’ve always hesitated to share what I might be photographing or testing to avoid feeling pressured (or like an utter failure) about when a review might be posted (I don’t always get around to reviewing what I’ve swatched or even tested due to time constraints). On the other hand, my life is pretty routine–blogging, eating, and cuddling with the dog–and that’s about it, so I liked the idea of it being an authentic post that was a bit more personal than a standard product shot but still represented my day-to-day life.
Since then, I’ve regularly received questions asking about how I make my lattes, which has led to this post. I’ll touch on my current set-up along with various systems and products I’ve used over the years (which have less of an upfront cost). What you need to know about me: I’m not your coffee expert; I am not the person who drinks straight espresso or black coffee, I am the person who likes the flavor and depth of espresso but tempered by frothy milk and something to sweeten it. (A particularly well-prepared latte I can drink without adding sweetener, sugar-free or otherwise.)
Breville Oracle Touch Espresso Machine
Favorite Espresso Machine (Current)
Breville Oracle Touch Espresso Machine ($2,499.95) was my big splurge item last fall–ostensibly a combined birthday and five-year wedding anniversary gift if we’re going to be technical!–that I’m head over heels for and meets my latte-making needs perfectly. I’m not a barista, and I don’t aspire to learn all the skills to be one, so I was looking for an espresso machine that would take out the guesswork for me and give a consistent result with minimal effort on my part. I also wanted it to be easy to use, fast, and easy to clean.
When I was doing my research, I discovered that the Oracle Touch was just about to debut, and after seeing it (and testing it) in-store, it was the definite winner. It’s a fully automatic espresso machine (also called a superautomatic), and all it involves is lightweight button-pressing and one-step where I move the portafilter from the grinder to the grouphead (where water gets passed through the portafilter). It has the bells and whistles one would expect of a fully automatic machine, like programmable drinks and pre-programmed drinks, the ability to make adjustments in the steps (like grind size, brew time, temperatures, frothing texture, and so on), can run on a schedule, etc. It has two boilers, which is key to allowing for hot espresso and hot milk to be done simultaneously.
It wouldn’t be a review from me if I didn’t still point out the cons, even if I love it overall! It has a large footprint–it fit under my cabinets just right (see below), but I do have to roll the machine out (yay for wheels–a nice touch!) out to open up the bean hopper to refill beans and have to pull it out slightly to refill with water. Speaking of the bean hopper, you can only use one type of beans at a time; some machines will have a small, separate area where you can put it different beans as a one-off, like if you wanted to brew decaf espresso. It’s not difficult to remove the hopper and ready it for different beans per se, but it’s not at all convenient.
It delivered on what I was looking for: easy to use, consistent espresso, consistent frothing (this was a bonus; originally I was trying to avoid a built-in frother), easy to clean and maintain, and fast. It’s noisier than single-serve machines, particularly since this grinds beans on-demand, but it might actually be a little faster than my single-serve machines of the past and requires less switching and catching as I can brew a double shot in one go. The steam wand self-cleans after each use exceptionally well; we use it daily and haven’t had to do a deeper clean to it since. The instructions for cleaning and the like are easy to follow and do, even for me, and it doesn’t require frequent maintenance (every few months). It produces beautiful espresso and perfectly frothed milk every time.
The price point is steep compared to a lot of espresso machines on the market, including single-serve machines like Keurig and Nespresso, but it’s actually more mid-tier when it comes to comparing against other superautomatic espresso machines by brands like Jura, Saeco, and Krups. Spending this much on something you might use once a week won’t make sense. For me, I’ve shifted my latte-drinking habit from twice daily runs to Starbucks to Nespresso to Starbucks to Nespresso and finally, I’m now at Breville’s Oracle Touch.
Breville Oracle Touch Espresso Machine
I did some rough calculations, and based on my Nespresso habit, I was spending around $135 per month on pods or $1,620 per year, so as long as this machine lasts at least a year and a half (and it certainly should!), I should break even and then eventually come out the big winner. I do think the espresso is smoother with better crema and body with Breville over Nespresso, so it’s absolutely been worth it for me.
I use Lavazza Gran Crema Espresso beans ($16.00 to $20.00 for 2.2 lbs), which is described as a medium roast with an intensity of “8 out of 10” that is “full-bodied” with “aromatic notes of baked goods with a lingering crema and round flavor.” I personally like some sweetness to my lattes, and I prefer Monin for syrups; I use the sugar-free hazelnut. I’ve used all types of milk (fat free to whole to half and half), and while frothing varies between types, they all frothed well-enough for me to get some body and texture to my lattes.
My go-to glasses are whopping, 22 oz. glass mugs (I drink just one latte a day now) that I picked up at Nordstrom years ago and cannot find them any longer online. I do like Bodum’s double-wall glasses and have used an assortment of Disney and Starbucks coffee mugs over the years. The key with any machine like this is to make sure the mug will fit in the space or to use a separate glass to catch the espresso to pour into a larger or taller mug (this is what I did with Nespresso before I found my wider, glass mugs).
Breville Oracle Touch Espresso Machine
Past Espresso Favorites
I’ve used Nespresso’s machines for years, both as my first attempt to quit an expensive Starbucks habit and later on when I decided to ditch my Starbucks single-serve system and go back to Nespresso. I’m a big fan of the brand for their customer service, reliability, variety in pod offerings, and that they allow customers to return empty pods (and they don’t have to be cleaned or separated) via pre-paid UPS envelopes for recycling as the pods are made out of aluminum.
Nespresso Pixie ($148.99 to $229.00) is available in partnership with De’Longhi or Breville, is often sold with or without a standalone frother (Aeroccino), so the price can range a bit. I have only used machines from the Original line, as the capsules are more affordable there, and my very original machine (long discontinued) is still working just fine (resides at my parents’ home). I recently passed on my Pixie to my parents to replace my original machine. While I had it for a couple of years, it worked well–fast, consistent, easy to use and clean, and reliable. I’ve never had an issue with any Nespresso product I’ve used.
I was always happy with my Nespresso system, but I was drinking two to four pods per day, and my husbands would often drink two pods, so we could be using up to six pods per day (about $4.50 in pods per day). And really? I was ready and wanting to upgrade to a full espresso machine, and I did like the idea of no longer worrying about pod usage and recycling. Now, it costs about $16/month in espresso beans instead of ~$135/month!
Nespresso Aerocinno Milk Frother ($99.00) is the only frother (they’re presently on Aeroccino3, which is the last one I used–sent that over to my parents for when I visit to get my morning lattes when traveling, haha!) I’d recommend. I have tried a few other frothers, all less expensive with lots of positive reviews on Amazon, and they all broke, rusted, or otherwise died on me within a few months. I have two Nespresso frothers (one I bought many years ago with my original Nespresso machine, and then the newer model when I went back to Nespresso), and they both continue to work years later after daily use.
This is an honorable mention for coffee makers: it’s a recommendation from my mom, who enjoys her coffee and espresso (and drinks her coffee black for as long as I’ve known her, but she’ll happily accept a latte made by a daughter!) and has gone through many coffee machines over the years highly recommends the Zojirushi Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker ($138.15). My mom isn’t someone who would splash out much on a coffee machine, and for her, this was a splurge, but she loves it. So much so that it’s the one I picked up to keep at my house for when my parents visit! One of the features she loves the most about it the durability of the carafe (which stores the coffee after it’s brewed) and how hot it remains hours and hours later. She’s so enthused with the quality of the brand that’s she subsequently picked up their travel thermos and bento/lunch jar!
One of the best places I found for researching a coffee/espresso machine was Seattle Coffee Gear, which has a lot of videos of the machines they sell, and they offered a good pro/con perspective of the machines they’ve tested, so I didn’t feel like there was a big push to this machine or that. The nice thing is that they have tried tons of machines, so you can compare their pros/cons across machines. I’ve not purchased from them; at the time, the Breville was a Williams-Sonoma exclusive, but would have done so if it was available there to begin with!