Coffee & Swatches: My Latte Favorites

Coffee & Swatchese
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
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
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.

Latte Fixings

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
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!

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“…my life is pretty routine–blogging, eating, and cuddling with the dog–and that’s about it…”

Best. Line. Ever.

(And yes, I’m a little envious.)

Ooooh… The Zojirushi thermos really got my attention. Thanks for this great informative post! I’m not in the market for an espresso machine but I am looking for a new coffee maker since my Cuisineart died after 7 years of use. It’s so easy to get lost in the entire world of internet reviews, but I trust you for makeup so it’s awesome to see your occasional suggestions for other items, too.

My mom is really pleased with the Zojirushi coffee maker + travel thermos – her style is to brew coffee in the AM and then drink it throughout the day, so having it stay hot is key!

Check out the Bonavita – “the poor man’s Technivorm”. Very highly regarded, simple design, pour-over style; if you check out the coffee-snob blogs and reviews, it’s one of the few automatic coffee makers that’s considered “worthy.” We are on our second and love it.

Zojirushi makes the best travel mugs hands down. I just use their normal thermos for my drip coffee, and nothing compares. Easy to clean, actually keeps my coffee hot all day, extremely travel friendly (could be upsidown in my purse and I wouldn’t be worried in the least). So worth it!!

A great cup of coffee is totally worth the time and expense. I love the ceremonial aspects of it. I however, am strictly a cold brew girl.

Me, too, Lesley! I just really enjoy the texture and feel of my morning latte – it is definitely part ritual for me.

As someone who lives her coffee/latte lover life vicariously through your IG posts, I truly enjoyed reading the above! I’m planning on purchasing a Nesspresso machine once I eventually move out of this apartment with it’s painfully outdated kitchen. There is absolutely NOWHERE to place (safely!) and plug in even a standard Mr. Coffee machine here. So, I’ve been using my microwave to heat my water to boiling for *instant* coffee ? The humanities!!!!
In the meantime, like I said, at least when I see that delicious, frothy latte in your posts, I can actually taste it almost! ?

Can you imagine a kitchen where you have one long countertop with NO electrical outlet? The other side of the kitchen has 3 outlets, but that’s where the fridge, stove, and my personal microwave are situated. This place is so old and lacking in modern upgrades.
Of interest, though, is that this neighborhood was built in the 50’s as vacation homes! The interior vaulted ceilings are kinda cool. I must admit.

Actually, I am the dark roast, espresso fan, by the whole pot, no cream/sugar, so this is off my radar..but fascinating. Must visit your IG more often.

If you really want to drink black coffee, skip your morning latte and wait until you have a caffeine withdrawal headache. Caffeine withdrawal makes even crappy black coffee very drinkable! Learned through unfortunate experience.

For anyone interested, Aeropress is an inexpensive way to get an espresso-like drink and it runs around $30. Alton Brown actually uses one. It’s also convenient to travel with.

And thanks for introducing Zojirushi: I also love their thermoses but had no idea they made coffee makers

We have the exact same Breville machine at work and I love it – I was quick enough to get in with a personalised drink setting so I have the perfect double shot espresso with extra hot water every morning. My office mate has a very specific flat white (she likes lots of milk froth at a particular temperature) and it’s so easy for one of us to make drinks for each other if the other one is busy, since we’re right next door to the staffroom 😀

I’m also her makeup adviser and enabler – she usually checks out whatever I’ve bought when it arrives on my desk and if she likes something, I order it for her next time. I just picked out some rose gold handled makeup brushes for her too 😉

Christine, thanks for this post! I really enjoyed reading it. I am a coffee FREAK aaannnd my mountain bike cost the equivalent of many decent used cars, so I would be the last to look askance at spending $2500 on a coffee maker ;-). We have several Breville small appliances that see daily use – it’s a great brand. I love Nespresso and have come close to buying one multiple times, but my husband’s preference for drip coffee (shout-out to our awesome Bonavita pour over machine) and my reluctance to have any more appliances on the kitchen counter are stopping me. (Full disclosure: I’ve seriously considered putting one on my bathroom vanity, ha!) Thanks for your insights re: cost, etc.

I’m a big fan of Breville, too — we have a toaster oven by Breville that we enjoy (particularly how solid it feels).

Wow I’m so jealous. Its beautiful. I bought my mom a nespresso for Christmas and it makes a pretty good cup I can’t complain. She only drinks a few times a week.

Zojirushi thermoses are the best! I’ve had coffee in them still be warm the NEXT DAY!

That’s what my mom says about them! She has some days where she’s driving home at 11PM so she still needs a lil’ bit of caffeine on the way home, lol.

A great post Christine and I think if you are going to buy a coffee maker, it’s got to be a really good one so the coffee tastes great. We have a Netpresso at home and I dislike it, although my son and husband love it.

That’s a lovely espresso machine Christine! I have a De’Longhi one but I would love to buy a real-deal Italian espresso machine sometimes in the future.

I’ve been a lover of espresso for many years (no sweetener or added flavors though), in the form of a double/triple-shot espresso macchiato in the morning. I’ve come to read and learn more about coffee grains and flavors because of this. I love medium-roast whole beans that I grind myself and I’ve fallen in love lately with the fair-trade Ethiopian coffee. Happy to know that Nespresso has a recycle program, probably in connection with the only company that recycles aluminium coffee pods, which is situated in Switzerland. National Geographic aired something about this last year; it seems that the waste from these aluminum pods is a real issue because there’s only one company doing this (the Swiss one) as the technology involved seems to be very expensive.

I know (at least in the past) one issue with single-serve pods was that they mixed materials, which made them harder to sort and recycle! For Nespresso pods, they take them back as a lot of local recycling plants (is that the right terminology?) can’t do it.

Exactly Christine! What I love about Nespresso (although I never used one of their machines or pods) is that they just started a new collaboration for reusing/recycling the aluminium from their recycled pods with Swiss pen company Caran d’Ache for the production of a limited edition pen made of that aluminium. Back in 2015 Nespresso launched their Second Life project in Switzerland in order to find ways to create new items from recycled Nespresso aluminum. In 2016, they partnered with Victorinox to produce the first Swiss army knife made from used capsules. That’s what I like to call responsible economics and a real sustainable business model.

Nice setup! I currently use a De’Longhi EC155, a wonderful birthday gift from my parents, and it’s a great little machine. Not automatic, but don’t have to use pods.

Also, currently have a bag of Lavazza Crema e Gusto that’s a medium/dark roast, and definitely enjoying it – do end up with a lovely crema! Previously used their Perfecto blend, and that definitely seemed darker. Worked well for lattes and liked it well enough by itself, but it is certainly on the bolder side of things haha. Sometimes want that, but also like having the Crema e Gusto for a less intense espresso!

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