Bean-to-cup coffee machines can deliver barista-quality coffee from your own kitchen. For some people, coffee is the only way to start their day, not just because of the caffeine, but also the aromatic and bitter flavours that can be equally important as a stimulus.
Coffee shops are busy places, as any high street will prove. As coffee machines become ever more refined with new innovations to recreate that coffee shop quality, bean-to-cup machines are about as good as it gets at home. With so many machines available, there will be a coffee machine out there for you depending on your needs.
This guide aims to offer insight into bean-to-cup coffee machines and some useful background knowledge of what to look for when thinking of purchasing a bean-to-cup machine.
What is a Bean to Cup Coffee Machine?
‘Bean to cup’ describes the process of how coffee is ground, pressed and brewed fresh in one single process – it’s the best way to ensure the freshest cup of coffee available.
Firstly, espresso coffee uses pressurised water which is forced through a puck of ground coffee to produce an intense, fuller flavoured coffee known as a shot. This ‘shot’ can be consumed on its own or used to make other coffee drinks, such as a latte or a cappuccino.
A typical Bean to Cup machine will include an integrated grinder along with the brewing unit as well as a filter. Once ground, coffee beans will quickly start to dry out and therefore lose some flavour. The bean-to-cup process minimises this loss allowing the coffee lover to enjoy more flavour and aroma.
Do bean to cup machines make good coffee?
The quality of the coffee is about as good as it gets when it comes to home brewing. The beans are ground individually for each cup, so you can’t get it any fresher.
They can produce a wide variety of drinks to a high level and come with a multitude of different functions and features, allowing you to get your coffee just the way you like it.
There are even bean-to-cup machines that can save your perfect blend and recreate it every time.
What should I look for in a bean to cup coffee machine?
With so many options and varying price brackets, it’s important to consider which model would suit you best. You can, depending on your preferences, spend anything between £200 and £2000 on one of these machines.
Think about what you want from your machine and do your research. Not only can they deliver quality coffee, but you can get various different features and innovations to enhance your experience; but they may come at a price.
Most bean-to-cup coffee machines tend to have a built-in steam pipe to froth the milk, allowing quick access to a latte or cappuccino. Many people enjoy the benefits of the preset feature, allowing the same perfect flavour all the time. Just make sure you are going to really use the features you will inevitably pay a higher price for.
From coffee machines that can be controlled by a smartphone with the ability to have the perfect coffee waiting for you when you walk through the door, there are machines just as capable of producing the same drink for far less money, but maybe with a little more input into the process, with additional extras such as steaming wands and milk frothers to create the same effect.
All bean-to-cup coffee makers share the same fundamental model of having a compartment or ‘hopper’ that will store the whole coffee beans and a grinder that will provide you with the amount of fresh ground coffee to make your perfect cup.
Things to consider when buying a bean to cup coffee machine
Ease of Use
Even though the process involved seems much more involved than using a pod or sachet machine, bean-to-cup coffee machines are surprisingly easy to use.
You can buy a decent automatic machine that will do virtually everything for you, or you can get a manual machine that will allow you to be more involved with the process depending on your choice.
There are machines with pre-set programmes to get you out of the house as early as possible in the morning, and some can even self-clean. There are also great machines that do the basics but come with optional extras to allow you an experiment or to make a coffee to suit your mood.
It is important to get a machine with the right capacity to suit your needs. A machine that is servicing an office or more communal environment will need sufficient capacity to meet your demands without keeping people waiting.
A machine that will be sited in a kitchen however, will need far less capacity (depending on how much coffee you drink!). An average-sized home-based machine will have a tank capacity of 1.5litres-2 litres with a standard coffee cup holding around 400ml and an espresso cup around 100ml-150ml.
The capacity of most commercial bean-to-cup machines ranges from around 30 cups a day up to around 200 at the upper end of the scale. The capacity of some of the smaller cheaper models can produce a great cup of coffee, but leave you waiting a couple of minutes for another. Do your research on the capacity you will require based on your needs to avoid disappointment.
The speed of a freshly prepared cup will vary from model to model, but most machines can produce a basic cup of coffee in, at most, 30-45 seconds with a cappuccino taking longer (around 90 seconds).
There are dual action machines that can produce two cups simultaneously and pre-set options available that mean you can get your coffee at the touch of a button, if speed is of the essence. Commercial machines can produce up to 100 cups per hour in some cases, to keep even the busiest offices satisfied. The need for quick, convenient coffee makes the pre-set functions a strong selling point.
Coffee Bean Availability
There is no shortage of high street and online retailers to cater for the demand for fresh coffee beans. There are two main types of beans more widely available for these machines. Arabica beans are beans grown at higher altitudes with a sweeter and fruitier flavour than Robusta beans that are grown at lower altitudes, giving less acidity and a more intense and woody flavour.
The arabica bean is considered the superior bean by many due to its more complex flavours and aromas and, hence, will be a more expensive option. There is no harm in trying both types of beans and deciding which is for you. Within these two types of beans, there are varying levels of quality.
Don’t forget that coffee is technically a fruit and, as such, will lose freshness over time to buy the right amount of coffee based upon your requirements.
There is no denying the importance of aesthetics in any decision involving enhancing your kitchen area. Bean-to-cup coffee machines tend to be larger than other types of coffee machines. Think about what space you have available for your new machine.
Some machines can look imposing with their size and level of sophistication but many bean-to-cup machine manufacturers recognise the importance of aesthetics in any decision, and there are plenty of machines that have been built with this in mind; meaning a much-reduced countertop footprint whilst still offering great functionality.
There are a variety of different styles and finishes to the machines available with brushed and stainless options, and pastel shades so you should be able to factor in your aesthetic needs and still get a machine that more than meets your requirements.
What to consider when buying a bean to cup coffee machine
Firstly, consider your requirements for the coffee machine. If you enjoy coffee, choosing the right machine that suits your needs is really important. Working out your budget and your ongoing costs are vitally important too.
How many coffee beans you will use
Once you have an idea of the type of machine you require, there are some finer considerations to refine your choice even further. For instance, how expensive are the beans you will be using and how many of these beans will you require per cup?
A rough guide is around 100-120 cups of coffee per 1kg of coffee beans, equaling around 4 cups of coffee per day.
How expensive the coffee beans are
As mentioned above, the beans can vary in price in relation to their type and quality. But over the lifespan of your machine, despite seeming more involved and expensive initially, bean-to-cup machines work out cheaper in the long run as buying beans is much cheaper per cup than a pod machine.
A kilo of fresh arabica beans will typically be around the £10 mark and are available from various online retailers. These beans are also available in most supermarkets at a similar price.
In the UK, we are lucky to have competition driving quality up and keeping prices reasonable with a huge number of small-batch coffee roasters to cater for every taste.
How important coffee quality is to you
Whilst most machines can make a decent enough espresso, in some cases, that’s all they can do. As the level of sophistication increases, allowing you more options and flexibility, so does the price.
There is no point paying out for features you will not use whilst, similarly, it is important to get a machine that can meet your needs. Some busy families need a fast and convenient cuppa to get out of the door and on their way, whilst others will enjoy a more relaxed cup to be savoured at a slower rate, giving them the option to experiment and be more involved in the process.
Some machines can meet all of these needs. The main thing essential for a good coffee are good beans.
Types of bean to cup coffee machines
Espresso-only Bean to Cup Coffee Machines
If you only need espresso coffee at the touch of a button, then bean-to-cup is the machine for you. Espresso-only machines allow you to hone your barista skills to get the coffee you like and, for many people, this is all part of the experience.
You can buy handy tools such as steaming wands and additional milk frothers to enhance your coffee experience depending on your needs and wants.
Bean to Cup Coffee Machine with Milk Frother
An automated bean-to-cup coffee machine can come with features such as automatic milk frothers and self-cleaning functions to further decrease your need to get involved with the day-to-day production of your coffee.
But the main strength of these machines is definitely convenience, allowing a decent coffee delivered just the way you like it in as short a time as possible. A real box ticker in this day and age.
The advantages of this machine is there is no need to buy a separate tool to froth your coffee, this machine at the touch of a button will deliver a frothy coffee in the matter of minutes.
Automatic Bean to Cup Coffee Machine
If your requirements from your machine are speed and convenience, automated bean-to-cup coffee machines do tick a lot of boxes. These machines take the faff out of getting your perfect coffee exactly when you need it without the need to get too involved.
By automatically shutting off the water once the shot of coffee has been poured, these machines are really popular with people new to espresso machines.
Bean to Cup Filter Coffee Machine
A filter coffee machine will prepare a large jug of coffee from the ground beans using a pour-over and filter method, and the jug of coffee is kept hot on a hot plate to give you instant access to hot coffee.
A filter coffee machine using bean-to-cup technology will typically allow the user to adjust strength settings to tweak the process to suit their needs. Programmable timers also allow another degree of convenience to the process.
The option to alter flow rates, brew temperatures and bloom times allows the user the ability to get the most out of their beans. These machines come with a washable filter, but various disposable paper filters are available for convenience.
So it’s clear that there are a bewildering amount of machines to choose from and assessing your needs and wants, combined with a little research, should allow you to get the bean-to-cup coffee machine that is right for you and your pocket.
Different machines excel in different areas. Below are a few examples of bean-to-cup coffee machines that are well-rated in different areas.
Top rated Bean to Cup Coffee Machines machines
Best for top specifications
A coffee machine highly regarded in this area and continually at the top of many people’s lists is the Sage Barista Pro Machine. Combining ease of use with many desirable features, this machine is a popular choice and can be found from various online retailers. It scores highly on every review site.
Also scoring highly overall is the De’Longhi Caffe Corso ESAM2800. This machine also scores highly for the functionality it offers, combined with ease of use.
Both these machines will come with multiple one-touch pre-programme options, boast a wide range of settings, manual milk frother and self cleaning programmes allowing the user to personalise their coffee to meet their individual preferences.
Best for price
Consistently mentioned across a number of review sites is the Cooks Professional 15 Bar espresso machine. A great machine that is also affordable; it has a decent capacity (1.2l) and multiple options with a steaming wand to make not only espresso but also lattes, cappuccino, and even hot chocolate. A great value model for the cost-conscious.
Best for aesthetics
The Swan Retro Pump espresso machine comes in a variety of colours and pastel shades to give that true retro look and feel whilst also being able to compliment most kitchen décor.
It also scores highly for ease of use, practicality and price making it a great option for first-time buyers with aesthetics on their mind. However, aesthetics is quite subjective and there are many very stylish machines out there to suit a variety of tastes.
The machines that tend to score highly in the reviews for aesthetics and design do tend to be more compact, enabling them to fit into most kitchens without being too imposing. The bean-to-cup coffee machine makers are onto this with De’Longhi, Sage, Gaggia, and Smeg all getting in on the act producing small, compact machines that are loaded with options and features to offer great functionality too.
The De’Longhi ESAM4200 is a compact machine that is also loaded with extras. It has a huge range of features and is real value for money also, but be careful not to let aesthetics be your only consideration.
Best for good quality coffee
The De’Longhi Magnifica constantly rates highly regarding coffee quality as does the Sage Barista range. It is possible to spend up to £2000.00 on a bean-to-cup machine, with the Sage Oracle Touch scoring the highest for coffee quality but retailing at the higher end, you would surely expect nothing less!
Some machines can provide fantastic quality coffee without all the optional extras and therefore, the cost. The main component in creating good quality coffee is the burr grinder. This allows you to get consistency and quality in your grinds.
Most bean-to-cup machines will have a burr grinder and after that, you can be as involved in the process as you like. Convenience comes at a price and some people find the extra involvement in the process extremely gratifying.