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Sage the Barista Touch review: Manual espresso excellence made easy

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
999
inc VAT

Hugely customisable and incredibly capable, the Barista Touch wants to teach everyone how to make perfect coffee at home

Pros 
Approachable and easy to understand
Produces consistently great coffee
Encourages you to experiment
Cons 
Pricier than fully-manual machines
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Our first response when we heard that Sage was adding a touchscreen to its latest manual espresso machines was unprintable. A touchscreen? On a "proper" espresso machine? You're kidding, right? The reality, however, is that the touchscreen is anything but a novelty.

Instead, Sage has created an entirely new middle ground between fully-automatic bean-to-cup and classic manual espresso machines. The Barista Touch still wants to take you from coffee bean to cup – but it also wants to teach you how to create the building blocks of a truly great cup of coffee in the process.

Sage Barista Touch review: Price and competition

At £999, the Barista Touch is not cheap. Although the fully-manual Barista Express (£600), looks pretty similar, it's worth remembering that the Touch isn't just dramatically easier to use – it also has a completely different water boiler which heats up in just three seconds. If you're aren't confident enough to take the plunge with a fully-manual machine, then that premium may be well worth paying. 

Not expensive enough for you? Then the Barista's big brother, the Oracle Touch (£1,899 - click to read our full review), takes the touchscreen formula even further. The Oracle Touch packs in two boilers in contrast to the Barista Touch's one, and this means that it can extract coffee and froth milk at the same time. The other big difference is that the Oracle automatically grinds the perfect amount of coffee and tamps it down into the portafilter for you - this is a big boon for beginners, but also for more seasoned baristas who simply want a quick, consistently good espresso hit. It also has adjustable brewing temperature, which will appeal to those wanting to experiment with getting the most from their coffee, and uses larger 58mm portafilters which arguably eke a little more flavour from every cup. 

If you are willing to put a little more effort into the whole coffee-making process, however, then this kind of money can also buy you one of Sage's functionally-superior models. The £1,199 Dual Boiler (click to read our full review) dispenses with the coffee grinder and touchscreen, but it's the de-facto benchmark for home espresso machines. Look further up Sage's range and the £1,699 Oracle and £1,999 Oracle Touch take what makes the Dual Boiler so great and add an integrated coffee grinder that both grinds and tamps the coffee automatically alongside dual-boiler designs, uprated internals and – for the priciest model – a touchscreen. 

Can't be bothered with any of this faff? Then take a look at our guide to the best coffee machines below. There you'll find plenty of fully-automatic bean-to-cup and coffee pod machines which will provide good, if not the best, coffee – but with the absolute minimum of hassle. 

READ NEXT: Our guide to buying the best coffee machines

Sage Barista Touch review: Design and Features

Visually, the Barista Touch looks much like its namesake, the £600 Barista Express. Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of Sage’s chiselled, stainless-steel look, then you’re not going to be disappointed. Close your eyes and imagine a miniaturised professional-class espresso machine and the image in your mind will be very close to this.

All the essentials are present. There’s the same 250g bean hopper on the top of the machine with a handy cup warming area next to it, and the feature list ticks pretty much every box, too. Out back you’ve got a two-litre water tank replete with an integrated water filter; there’s an integrated conical burr grinder (the best type); and the fact that the coffee tamper clips magnetically alongside the grinding cradle, portafilter, and steam wand is a nice touch, too.

Sage has also upgraded the boiler with its latest ThermoJet technology, which is ready to brew coffee or produce hot water in three seconds flat. If you were thinking a semi-manual machine meant you weren’t going to be able to make a ‘quick’ coffee, then think again.

Rummage around the box, and you’ll also find a 480ml metal milk jug, a test strip for checking your water hardness, a cleaning kit, and Sage’s handy Razor tool, which makes it easy to get a perfectly tamped puck of coffee in the portafilter time after time. The only thing you’ll need to have already is a coffee cup. And some coffee beans.

Sage Barista Touch review: Ease of use

Sage has taken its fully-manual Barista Express and stripped off the barrage of buttons and dials along the front fascia. In their place there's now a single power button and a sizable touchscreen. The result is far less intimidating for beginners: all you need to do is reach out, scroll through the available drinks – espresso, long black, latte, flat white and cappuccino – and tap whichever takes your fancy.

Choose one, and three icons appear on-screen: Grind, Brew and, where relevant, Milk. Below each icon, you’ll see the default settings for each stage. Tap these, and you can tweak the settings to your heart’s content.

As ever, the first step is to grind the beans. Reach around the side of the machine and you can adjust the grind size (it's the only setting you can’t adjust with the touchscreen) and you can also adjust how many seconds it grinds for. Place the portafilter into the grinding cradle, and a single tap of the grind button deposits the ground coffee where you need it. Push the portafilter inwards, however, and you can manually stop the grinding process whenever you like – you can even control the grind completely manually by simply pressing the portafilter in to start and stop the process.

With that done, you only need to tamp down the coffee and reach for the Razor tool. Place this into the portafilter, give it a twist while holding the filter at an angle, and it’ll leave exactly the right amount of coffee for a perfect extraction. It’s more effort than a regular bean-to-cup machine, sure, but there’s zero guesswork involved.

It's a similar system for producing steamed milk: the Touch doesn't add frothed milk automatically like most other expensive coffee machines but using the milk wand is much simpler and more reliable than on most manual espresso machines. Simply fill the supplied jug with milk and place it under the wand, and a single button press produces hot milk with a near-perfect microfoam.

Not hot enough? You can adjust the temperature manually. Not frothy enough? Yep, you can adjust that too. Purists may not like the lack of fully manual, hands-on control, but for everyone else it’s a fine compromise and it gets it right every time.

And this is the beauty of the Barista Touch. Not only does it produce reliable results every time, but it also makes it easy to tweak and experiment to find the perfect settings for each type of drink, different coffee beans and different tastes. Adjust any one of the settings in the preset drink types, and you can save the results to an icon on the homescreen so you can reproduce your favourite coffee 'recipe' over and over again. It’s quite brilliant.

Sage Barista Touch review: Coffee quality

As ever, we tested the Sage Barista Touch using Square Mile Coffee Roasters’ Red Brick espresso blend. Thanks to an afternoon spent in the company of Square Mile’s experts – and its reference £14,000 espresso machine – we have a pretty good idea of what an espresso and a decent cappuccino should both look and taste like.

To make things even tougher, in this instance the Barista Touch also found itself going up against a whole group of machines from £200 manual espresso models right up to luxurious £1,500 bean-to-cup rivals.

Despite some cynicism about its touchscreen it’s fair to say that the Barista Touch impressed everyone who used it. Where other machines required a fair amount of tweaking to get an acceptable result – indeed, we routinely had to take some time to experiment with dosing, grind size and extraction levels to get the best out of other brands's machines – the Sage produced top quality espresso at its default settings, with only a couple of tweaks needed to fine-tune the grind size.

After a little more experimentation, that very good espresso improved to consistently excellent. With just the right balance of bitter, acid and sweet notes, alongside a lovely consistency, the Barista Touch produces better espresso than many coffee shops we’ve been to. And, crucially, it makes far, far better coffee than even markedly more expensive bean-to-cup machines.

If milk-based coffee is more your thing, the Barista Touch won’t disappoint. Simply fill the milk jug between the minimum and maximum markings, place it under the steam wand, and press the button. The result is beautifully light, flowing microfoam that is just the right consistency for producing a great latte or cappuccino. If you ever fancied trying your hand at latte art, but struggle to get the milk consistency just so, then this is your chance. Even if you can’t be bothered with those kind of details, the result is simply delicious coffee.

Buy the Sage Barista Touch now from John Lewis

Sage Barista Touch review: Verdict

The Barista Touch isn’t just another manual espresso machine with knobs on. On the contrary, it carves out its very own niche. It isn't a machine for people that crave absolute control over every aspect of the coffee-making process. If that’s what you want, and you’re looking at spending the best part of £1,000, then as we've already mentioned, Sage’s fully-manual machines are a much better bet.

What the Barista Touch is, however, is the first manual espresso machine that encourages you to experiment, explore and learn about the coffee-making process, while rarely failing to brew a simply fantastic cup of coffee. If you crave barista-class coffee in your kitchen and want to know how professional baristas do it, then the Barista Touch is the tutor you’ve been looking for. It's simply brilliant.

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