It always surprises me how many specialised tasks we think we can do. All children, of course, believe they know how to drive a car from years of watching parents at the wheel, and most seem to have a good idea how to shoot a handgun from seeing it I don’t know where.
This osmotic semi-learning method works for adults, too. From decades of watching skilled baristas make coffee, for example, at some level I think I could kind of get the hang of it – you put the ground coffee into the portafilter thingy (the little bowl with the long handle), you tamp the grounds down flat and then, with a rather flamboyant twisting motion, you clunk it into the espresso machine, while steaming the milk in a particular way that involves rhythmically raising and lowering the steel jug up and down. Then you do the latte-art thing, which, as anybody can see, is dead easy.
The home bean-to-cup coffee machines I have tested reduce this impressive rigmarole to one button press, and the coffee is often superb. But this magnificent machine from Australia (joint world coffee capital along with New Zealand and, of course, Italy) gives you the chance to do most of the sexy barista stuff yourself. The Oracle Touch is at the top of the Sage Appliances coffee-machine hierarchy, and like its juicing cousin, the Sage Bluicer I introduced in March, is built to Bentley standards.
My loan machine arrived at the beginning of the lockdown when there was time to study it a bit, and by day three I was producing a fantastic flat white – even better than with the high-end home machines I have tried to date. Making coffee almost like a grown-up may not be everyone’s cup of, er, tea, but I found it deeply satisfying.
Compared to a professional machine, the Oracle Touch is still automated in significant ways: it predetermines the grind, the brew time, the target milk temperature and more, but, just like a proper coffee geek, you can manually override all the settings. Latte art was still beyond me at the time of writing. I will have spent some time on YouTube working on this core life skill by the time you read this.