The best gadgets for caffeine-rush hour
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Sage Oracle Touch coffee machine
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. 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.
Sage Oracle Touch, £2,000, sageappliances.com
Jura Ena 8 coffee machine
A couple of years ago, I had Jura’s £2,595 Z8 bean-to-cup coffee machine as a house guest. It offered buyers near-professional coffee-making in the home, but it’s big, and in a house with just one or two people it’s possibly a bit over the top.
I still love Jura, though, so I keep an eye on its brightly lit shop by Baker Street station. Which is where I fell in love with this new Jura, the Ena 8, which is really more suitable for a home. The all-important flat white it produces, I was told by the man at Jura, is a simplified version (whatever that means) of the Z8’s, but it’s still way better than the one most coffee shops offer.
What else is there to love about the Ena 8? In the Swiss-est way, Jura has ironed out every tiny design irritation earlier machines had – even the quirky user interface is almost perfect now. And the whole thing looks like a chemistry lab.
Jura Ena 8, £975, uk.jura.com
Ember travel mug
First Ember created a ceramic app-controlled receptacle that could be set from a phone to keep tea or coffee at a pre-set temperature for up to an hour as you sipped it. Then it moved on to this bigger (355cc against 295) travel mug ideal for those of us who like to have a supply of a good brew from their home machine or favourite coffee shop at a constant perfect drinking temperature on the move.
The steel-lined Ember Travel Mug’s technology, now in its second generation, is equally brilliant but quite different, with a hidden-until-lit touch display to set the required temperature. The mug also has a screw-on 360° leak-proof lid.
Ember Travel Mug, £180, ember.com
Barisieur “coffeesmade” machine
This is a rhetorical question, but how many design projects conceived in a student bedroom can have made it into Nieman Marcus or The Conran Shop?
In 2014, Josh Renouf was in his final year of product design at Nottingham Trent University: one of his projects was to plan a product that would be aesthetically pleasing and fill a niche in the market. Young Renouf was intrigued by the resurgence of retro kit, such as record decks, and must be one of the few millennials with knowledge of the teasmade. You usually need to be at least 40 to be familiar with the idea of a combined alarm clock and tea maker.
Researching his retro-tech project, Renouf found that Swan was the only brand still selling traditional teasmades, so he set out to create a radically different machine for the 21st century, primarily to make coffee (though it also works with loose-leaf tea). Result: the Barisieur, for which the university awarded him best product award. News of the Barisieur spread and Renouf started receiving over 100 emails a day from people wanting to know when they could buy one. Fox News in the US picked up on it and he was all set for a golden future – except that the machine existed in plan only. But with $800,000 raised from crowdfunding, Renouf brought the slightly Professor Branestawm-ish but fabulous Barisieur to life. It’s an inspired piece of design, with abilities your grandmother’s teasmade did not have. The water is heated by induction and makes one cup of either filter coffee or tea. The milk is kept in what may be the world’s smallest fridge, the technology being a Peltier cooler – an unusual thermocouple that cools rather than heats. The clock digits dim when the bedroom lights go down. And there’s a USB charger port for your phone.
This is worldbeating bonkers British tech and I love it.
Barisieur, £345, comes in white or black, barisieur.com