Bean to cup coffee machines are a nice idea, put great freshly roasted coffee beans in the top, choose the coffee you want, press a button – enjoy. But if you’re considering bean to cup, there is one question I think you need to ask yourself before you take the plunge:
Do you really want a bean to cup coffee machine?
The reason for the first question, is that I think some people think that they want bean to cup, but actually don’t. The same may be true of someone thinking of purchasing a semi auto espresso machine of course, they may think this is what they want and then realise later that it was really bean to cup that they wanted. It just comes down to understanding where your priorities are when it comes to coffee, so you can make the right decision about what kind of machine to go for.
A quick way of knowing whether you’re on the right track with a BTC machine, is to ask which is more important to you – quality, or convenience. If you answer without hesitation that you rate convenience above quality, then you’re probably heading in the right direction by considering BTC. Actually you might even decide that you want a nespresso machine and compatible pods, if convenience is that high up on your list. It’s not quite Espresso, but it depends on how much you’re willing to compromise on taste for convenience.
If on the other hand, you wouldn’t be prepared to take any reduction in the potential of the quality of the coffee you’re able to make in return for the push button convenience, then Bean to cup might not be for you, and you may be better looking at a semi auto espresso machine. I say “potential” by the way because most people aren’t going to get perfect results with a manual / semi auto machine straight out of the box, there’s a learning curve especially if you’re new to using an espresso machine.
I’m not saying, that bean to cup machines can’t make good coffee. In fact I think it’s fair to say that as long as you use good coffee beans, a good BTC machine will consistently deliver good coffee cup after cup, as long as you maintain your machine. But the difference between pressing a button, and developing home barista skills and using a manual / semi auto espresso machine, is that while you’ll sometimes make good coffee, sometimes perhaps not so good especially during the learning curve, but you also have the potential to make not just good coffee, but incredible coffee! The thrill of pulling a “god shot”, meaning an almost perfect espresso, is very satisfying, when you know that the skills you have developed are at least partly responsible. With a bean to cup machine, I don’t think it’s really fair to expect to be able to fine tune enough to enable that rare perfection, you don’t have the same kind of control.
If your priority is convenience though, and you’re happy with the idea of getting an OK or good coffee every time straight out of the box, and you’re not interested in the idea of going through a learning curve starting out with probably some awful coffees, and then some OK coffee leading to good/great with the occasional incredible shot, then BTC may well be the right choice for you.
If your no1 priority is the best quality coffee possible, and you’re not happy to compromise on that in the name of convenience, then a semi automatic espresso machine would probably be the best choice in the long term. In the short term you will be making enjoyable coffees quicker with a BTC, but with a traditional semi automatic espresso machine, with a bit of a learning curve, you have the potential to be consistently making not just enjoyable coffee, but incredible coffee.
Again this is just my opinion, but from my experience there is no way to truly replicate the ability of an espresso machine and someone who has learned to properly use that machine, with a BTC machine.
For folks who’re somewhere in the middle, there is “The Oracle” by Sage by Heston Blumenthal. This is an automatic manual espresso machine, which doesn’t quite sound possible, but what it means is that a lot of the important tasks are automated, but you still use it like a semi auto espresso machine & steam and pour your own milk. They sent me this for a week to try out, which you can read about in my post my week with Sage the Oracle.
It has an in-built grinder, it grinds, doses & tamps, leaving you to simply insert the filter and extract the shot. You then need to steam and pour the milk if you’re making a Latte, flat white or Cappuccino for instance, but it does have an auto steaming function. I was very impressed by this machine, and I think it’s a great choice for someone who wants the learning curve cut as much as possible but still wants it to look like and feel like they’re at least using some skill, and to develop their own latte art skills, and have total control over the strength & amount of milk used. Price wise it’s not cheap, but it’s around the same as the higher end BTC machines.
They also do the Barista Express, which is more or less a traditional espresso machine but with an integrated grinder.
To simplify this with a list of pros and cons of bean to cup machines:
Make consistently good coffees straight out of the box.
Little or no learning curve.
Others in the home can make themselves a coffee at the touch of a button.
Consistently good but no potential for incredible. While you will be making consistently good coffee straight out of the box, depending on the quality of the machine and the coffee used, you won’t have the ability to make that “God shot” coffee that you will occasionally make while you’re learning, and that you may be able to consistently make over time, with a semi auto machine.
Removes the hobby element. If you just want to be able to press a button and get good coffee at home, then you won’t see this as a con, but if you’re wanting to develop your home Barista skills as a hobby, as I do, including developing the ability to pull great espresso shots and to make great milk based coffees, then a BTC may not be the right choice for you.
For me personally, my first experience of having an espresso machine at home was actually the Sage Oracle, which I sadly had to send back ;-). Prior to that I was brewing at home via other brewing methods, but I was only enjoying proper espresso and milk based espresso drinks at coffee shops. Using the oracle still feels like making an espresso the traditional way to a certain degree, you’re just aided toward perfection, so the learning curve is reduced. You have the ability to adjust and programme, so you do have the ability to test and tweak to increase results, and if I could have afforded the price tag at the time, I may have been tempted to go for that – but at the same time, I’d started to get the espresso making & latte art pouring bug from playing with the Oracle, and I began to like the idea of developing my home barista skills. As a result, I decided to go for a semi auto espresso machine, and the learning curve began.
Don’t underestimate that learning curve though! If you’re new to using espresso machines, I would think it’s reasonable to expect this curve to last not just hours or days, but more like weeks or months!
What it has developed into with me though isn’t just a means to an end, just making coffee for the sake of drinking it, it has become a hobby. My wife & kids put the espresso machine on for me about 20 mins before I get home, because they’re so used to the text asking them to turn it on, that it’s now become automatic ;-). The first thing I do when I get home, usually, is start making coffee, and I’m thrilled when someone wants one.
Each shot I pull, I’m hoping will be the next best shot I’ve managed to pull, and each latte art attempt has the potential to be the best yet. It may seem sad, or even weird to the uninitiated, but while some people collect stamps or race pigeons, or maybe race stamps, which would seem odd but each to their own; my hobby is making coffee. I even have cheap supermarket coffee beans in, for when I’m practicing Latte art and can’t possibly take any more caffeine, and no one else is wanting a coffee, so I pour it away (no way I’d pour away speciality coffee!). If you’d have told me a year ago that I’d be pouring coffee away and trying again because I didn’t like the way it looked, I’d have laughed at you ;-).
So now for me personally, I wouldn’t want to replace my coffee making hobby with a robot which gives me a decent coffee every time, at the touch of a button. To some people though the idea of making coffee as a hobby is crazy, the last thing on their mind, and they don’t have time for any new hobbies anyway, they simply want a robot to make them the best possible coffee, and if that’s you, then bean to cup is right up your street.
So – if you’ve decided bean to cup is for you – which machine should you go for?
Most people who decide on BTC are looking for as high quality as possible, for many people budget is an issue of course, but even then it’s a case of the best possible quality at their available budget.
Cheap bean to cup espresso machine – don’t bother!
If you’re looking for a cheap bean to cup espresso machine though, my advice would be not to bother. Making a bean to cup machine which has any chance of coming anywhere close to decent espresso, I honestly don’t believe can be done cheaply. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t forget, the machine needs to include a grinder, and even a semi decent electric grinder is going to set you back at least a couple of hundred quid. There are much cheaper bean to cup filter coffee machines, which are fine if it’s a filter machine you’re wanting.
What about Capsule Machines?
A small budget for BTC would probably be at a high range for a pod machine such as a Nespresso machine. So if it were me and I only had a budget of a couple of hundred quid for example, here’s what I would do as a compromise. I’d grab a Nespresso Machine , and speciality Nespresso compatible pods.
See the video below in which Barista Dritan Alsela makes it look far too easy to make latte art with a Nespresso and an Aeroccino, It’s not as easy as he makes it look! 😉
There are also refillable compatible Nespresso pods, so you also have the option of using your own grinder and grinding freshly roasted speciality coffee beans for brewing via a capsule machine. I’m not suggesting that Nespresso is the same as Espresso by the way, as I point out in this post, it’s a different process, it’s a cooler brew process under higher pressure with a smaller ratio of coffee to water.
I see Nespresso via compatible pods as a brewing process in its own right, and not as an Espresso machine – so if you’re set on producing real espresso, then you will need a real espresso machine.
Decided on a bean to cup machine, and have got a few hundred quid to spend?
The ESAM machines tend to be low to medium priced machines, and some of these machines such as the ESAM 4200 have huge numbers of positive reviews online, and have a really good reputation considering the relatively low price tags.
Gaggia, I talk quite a lot about thanks to my beloved Gaggia Classic. It’s a brand with a lot of history, in fact it’s thanks to Achille Gaggia and his patent number 365726, that we even have the modern Espresso machine. Yes the brand is owned by Philips, but Gaggia UK wasn’t included in the takeover, and the MD of Gaggia UK at the time, Raj Beadle, set up Caffe Shop UK in 2009 to do his best to look after his 100 plus UK staff that were facing redundancy, and you’ll see from their website they’re a good old fashioned service focused company, with several “bricks and mortar shops” as well as their website. So if you get your Gaggia from Caffe shop, the UK distributor for Gaggia, you’re buying into this history including experienced engineers on the end of the phone should you need them. If you do buy your Gaggia from Amazon, or online from any other retailer, just check where it’s actually coming from. There are retailers “grey importing” machines into the UK from Italy and other countries, at lower prices, but which probably won’t have a UK warranty. I would personally prefer to spend a few quid more for the peace of mind of knowing that I’ve bought a new machine with a valid UK warranty.
The Brera bean to cup machines appear to be the most popular Gaggia fully automatic machines, and they have decent Amazon reviews. The Naviglio and Naviglio deluxe are their lower priced BTC machines, they have a solid 5 star rating on Amazon, but it’s coming from a small number of reviews, I think because the Brera has been around longer.
The Jura machines, are a Swiss made machine which are usually at the top end of the market in terms of price tag. Some of the machines such as the one touch, do the whole thing including foaming the milk, you don’t even need to use a steam wand. While I’ve heard some very good things about some of these machines, there is also user feedback suggesting that such a super auto machine comes with some drawbacks, so I would recommend that you spend some time reading the reviews before putting your hand in your pocket.
If I were on the market for a BTC machine I think I would be torn between these machines above, but then again, I’m not ;-). I love making espresso the old fashioned way, and I’m not interested in touch button coffee, for me it takes the fun out of it, but each to their own :-).
If you’re thinking of bean to cup filter coffee machines, then see Best Bean to Cup Filter Coffee Machines 2017
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