The best home bean to cup coffee machines
Now that so many of us are working from home you may be thinking of investing in a decent coffee machine. Something that can recreate your favourite flat white, latte, cappuccino or espresso at the touch of a button.
But with some models costing as much as a foreign holiday, you want to be sure that you’re getting the right piece of kit. And the choices are endless – milk frother or no milk frother? Plumbed in or tank fed? Integrated grinder? Automatic cleaning system? Decisions, decisions.
Here is our pick of the best bean to cup machines for use in the home, covering important considerations including:
- Ease of cleaning (a must!)
- Overall performance
Bean to cup coffee machine buyers guide
Before we get into each detailed review, let’s recap some of the key considerations when looking for your coffee machine.
Integrated milk frother or manual?
This comes down to personal preference. For a start, any sort of milk option only really makes sense if you like cappuccinos, flat whites or lattes, otherwise, you can save yourself a fair bit of cash by just looking at the espresso machines (which you can easily lengthen into an americano, or even just add pouring milk too if you’re not fussed about the foam).
But assuming you do like the frothy coffee drinks, the advantage of having an integrated milk option is speed and convenience – you literally push a button and the machine makes the drink for you. Depending on the machine, you might be able to control things like the temperature or the amount of milk used, but the beauty of an integrated, automated option is that once you’ve set this up to your liking you can recreate it whenever you want, at the push of a button.
The disadvantage of this option is that the built-in frothers can sometimes be a bit on the tepid side; they pull the milk in from a chamber so it doesn’t heat as well as having the steam from a wand pushed through it (like in the manual option). Another thing to consider is the aesthetics of a milk fridge and the maintenance of it. You’ll need to keep your milk either in a built-in chiller (some models come with this) or in a slide-in/slide-out fridge compartment.
Going for a manual option means you’ll pour a bit of milk into a jug and place it under a steam wand, turning on the steam and frothing the milk yourself, ready to pour into your base of an espresso or an americano. This is generally how it’s done in cafes. The advantage of this is that you get ultimate control over the temperature and the frothiness, and if you want to, you can really perfect your technique to get microfoam and even do your own coffee art. The downside is that it’s a bit more time consuming; it’ll take probably 3-5 mins each time.
Whichever option you choose, you need to stay on top of the cleaning routine. Both steam wands and milk tubes need to be cleaned regularly, and not doing so can affect the overall lifetime of your machine as well as the ultimate taste (and hygiene) of the coffees you make.
Plumbed in or tank fed
For use in homes, we’d recommend only looking at tank fed options. The larger the tank, the more coffees you can make without having to go to the sink and fill it up. Really, unless you’re powering a small enterprise from your home office, we can’t imagine you’d need to fill it up more than once or twice a day, so it doesn’t make sense to go for the more expensive, more complicated plumbed in models for domestic use.
One thing to remember with the water tanks is the need to clean them and descale them from time to time.
Water filter or no water filter
Believe it or not, the type of water you use to make your cup of coffee can have a huge impact on the final flavour. We’ve done taste testings with hard water vs soft water, using exactly the same coffee beans and coffee production method, and the coffees can taste totally different. Lots of bean to cup machines come with their own in-built water filters, but it’s worth checking this out in the product specs. Also, if it’s not included in the box, it might be worth buying a separate water hardness testing kit, so you can calibrate your machine to account for particularly hard or soft water.
Integrated grinder or no integrated grinder
By definition, a bean to cup machine has an integrated grinder, so all the machines in this review have this feature. In our opinion, making the coffee from beans really does produce a superior, deeper flavour as only the exact right amount of coffee beans are ground every time, so there’s no loss of flavour or aroma that you might get using ground coffee (ground coffee will lose its flavour quicker than whole coffee beans).
However, some bean to cup machines also have a chamber to take ground coffee, and this can be a good “cheat” way to serve up decaf coffee, rather than having to pay a few hundred pounds more to get dual bean chambers.
Pretty much all bean to cup machines these days come with automatic cleaning programs. This means that at the end of each day, you open up a little flap, pop a cleaning tablet in, push a button and off you go. The machine will flush itself through, dumping out the rinsed water as it goes (so remember to put a beaker or something under the spout, and never a coffee cup… No one wants to drink chemicals!).
We’d strongly recommend getting the most straightforward machine you can; cleaning rituals are vital for these machines, so if you’re not super dedicated you might run into problems a year or two down the line, and getting a bean to cup machine repaired can be very expensive. Think of it as a car, its engine needs cleaning and servicing to run properly. The cleaner you keep it, the better it will run, the longer it will last and ultimately the cheaper it will work out to be.
One tip: check out the price of cleaning tablets/solutions before you buy your machine. Some cheap machines have very expensive cleaning products and vice versa. So when you’re doing your sums be sure to factor this cost into your workings, so it’s not a surprise. If you buy a machine with a milk tube, look into the specialist cleaning products you’ll need to keep it clean, as sometimes it can be cheaper just to buy replacement tubes rather than trying to clean or unclog them.
As you’d expect, the price range for a bean to cup machine varies wildly, with the cheapest costing a minimum of a couple hundred quid. Meanwhile, you could spend well over a thousand pounds for a real top of the range model, such as the Breville machine we review below.
Really though, what you’re paying for comes down to function. The more bells and whistles, the more you want to control every element of the coffee-making process, the more you’ll pay. So have a good think about a few things – how much do you really care about the science of a coffee? Are you a frustrated barista who wants to spend hours perfecting the tamp, grind, pour speed etc? Or are you more of a high street coffee drinker, just looking to make your favourite latte or cappuccino at the touch of a button? The differences in price between high-end models and an entry-level coffee machines can be over a thousand pounds, so it’s important to be really honest with yourself about how much time you’re going to want to spend making and enjoying each cup of coffee.
Generally speaking, bean to cup machines are loud. For some people, this adds to the theatre of making a cup of coffee. And it’s also unavoidable – every time you make a cup of coffee you are literally grinding up a handful of coffee beans into a fine tamp of ground coffee that the hot water is then pushed through, extracting the flavour, aroma and all-important crema. The noisy part is generally very short though, maybe 10 seconds while the coffee beans are ground up.
While some machines pride themselves on being quieter than others, in our opinion it’s a slight misnomer to be looking for a “quiet” machine. Even the quiet ones make more noise than anyone would like. So you might be spending an awful lot of money on that one feature when the same amount of money could be spent on other features that more directly affect the end result of the flavour or quality of your cup of coffee.
Having said that, for some people noise is very important, particularly if you’re chain-drinking throughout the day, or sharing a small space with other people.
If you can afford the best
Coffee machine brand
Coffee machine material
Coffee machine features
- Integrated coffee grinder
- Milk frother
- Water filter
- Removable water tank
- 2.5L, enough for around ten americanos, 15 lattes, or 40 espressi
- 40.9 x 37.3 x 45.3 cm
- 3 (single/double espresso and Americano)
- 2400 W
Breville BES980XL Review
As one reviewer says: “The last word in coffee preparation at home”.
This really is the Rolls Royce of espresso makers. If you are a coffee nerd you are going to be blown away with all the special features in the Oracle. All your preferences are programmable, so once you’ve tinkered with everything to your heart’s content you can save your settings and make the same coffee time and time again, just at the push of a button.
You can play with virtually every element of espresso-making – the grind, the tamp, the dosing… And then the temperature, the amount of water to add, the speed of the pour… If you’re steaming milk, you can create microfoam and adjust the texture to your liking.
Yes, the price tag is eye-watering and will be out of the reach of most people. But if you can afford it, and you really, really love making coffee, this bean-to-cup machine is one of the best.
Customised coffee drinks
It doesn’t get much more customisable than this. Literally everything can be adjusted then stored as your preference, so once you’ve got the tamp, the grind, the froth exactly as you like it you’ll be able to repeat it over and over again, all at the touch of a button.
This machine is a beast, so is a bit pricier to run. But hey, if you’re investing in a machine that costs over £1,000 maybe you don’t mind so much.
Something of a cult classic, the Oracle looks pretty stunning. It’s like a barista machine from the future. Of course for the price, the build is second to none, and you’ll notice the quality in every component from the steam wand to the LCD displays.
One of the only models to have a self-cleaning steam wand, the Oracle really is very special even when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Although in our opinion, if you’ve spent this much money on a coffee maker you’d expect nothing less.
Best for most people
De'Longhi Magnifica Review
It has a soft-touch control panel which also lets you fully customise your drink’s strength, volume, and even length. Fancy something a bit stronger? Try the doppio plus feature, which is like a supercharged double espresso.
One of the cheapest decently made machines on the market. The Magnifica has been around since 2007, and people who’ve had their machine for years still swear by it. It makes a very decent cup of coffee and all the drink varieties you’d expect thanks to the manual milk frother.
While the Magnifica doesn’t have the automated options that other models have, you can produce espresso or a double espresso at the touch of a button. So with the option of the manual milk frother (or simply adding hot water), you can use these espresso bases to make any of your longer coffee drinks.
Its casing is plastic (a very nice, not cheap-looking plastic), so that helps to keep the price down, but the technology inside this machine is on a par with most other De Longhi models, and we don’t think you’ll notice the difference in price in the flavour or quality of your coffee.
Customised coffee drinks
The manual milk frother is fantastic if you like to control how hot or frothy you like your milk. What you lose out on automation you gain in autonomy, and people who find automatic milk frothers produce cold drinks will prefer this setup.
Don’t be put off by the “basic” offering of two drinks at the touch of a button (espresso and double espresso); if you don’t mind frothing your own milk you can make any of your coffee shop favourites. If you’re a barista or espresso-maker purist you might prefer this extra element of control anyway.
No energy-saving features to speak of, but the 1450 wattage is relatively economical, costing around 15p an hour to run.
Although the casing is actually plastic, it doesn’t look cheap at all. At a glance, you’d assume it was made of stainless steel. The milk frother arm lends it a more authentic appearance, similar to a coffee shop style barista machine.
Like other DeLonghi bean-to-cup models, the Magnifica has an automated cleaning program; just pop in the cleaning sachet, press a button and it cleans itself – this is one of the best features in our opinion.
From time to time you might want to thoroughly wash the drip tray and the ground coffee container, both of which are safe to use in the dishwasher.
If you're on a budget
Krups Automatic Coffee Machine Review
Although it’s a German company, Krups machines are made in France and are very popular in the rest of Europe. This slightly retro-looking machine fits in the cheaper range of bean to cup machines, and if you’re after a straightforward espresso maker, this is a good buy. There is a steam nozzle to warm/froth your own milk if you want to make a latte or cappuccino, for example.
One of the perks of this machine is that it’s quiet; at 60db that should be the same noise level as conversational speech. So you shouldn’t find yourself shouting to compete with the coffee machine!
Customised coffee drinks
There are many customisable features, from the size of the coffee to the coarseness of the grind. While there is a steam nozzle, we wouldn’t recommend this machine if you mainly take milky drinks; it’s not as easy to clean as other models so this is better suited to an espresso drinker.
No energy-saving features to shout about, but fairly economical power usage at 1450 watts.
We’re reviewing the black version, but this also comes in white which looks particularly stylish. The appearance is definitely a touch retro and maybe more continental, you have a bigger view of the bean hopper which is pretty cool. Whilst there is no digital display, the icons on the front of the machine are designed to make it easy to use.
As it’s a fairly simple machine, the cleaning program is pretty straightforward, as you’d expect. Not too many parts to worry about. However, the steam nozzle does need a decent clean after each use, which could become tiresome. Some reviews mention the spout can get a bit spluttery if regular maintenance isn’t kept up.
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