The best bean to cup coffee machine makes great coffee with minimal effort on your part. Or at any rate, minimal effort other than handing over quite a lot of cash. In recent years more and more people have realised that they quite like 'real' coffee and who can blame them because instant coffee isn’t really coffee, at least not when you’ve tasted the real thing.
In a way, bean to cup coffee makers are like the high-end equivalent of the best pod coffee machine as they let you make high quality coffee with minimal inconvenience. They do this by combining an espresso maker, coffee grinder (opens in new tab) and milk frother (opens in new tab) into a single unit. Not generally a very compact unit, it has to be said, but a unit nonetheless. They're a bit like the best pod coffee machines (opens in new tab), but considerably larger and posher.
However, talk to many a coffee expert and they will tell you flat out that bean to cups are not even close to being the Best Coffee Maker (opens in new tab). They tend to favour the Best Espresso Machine (opens in new tab) or Best Pour Over Coffee Maker (opens in new tab), and some even go so far as to claim that all bean to cup coffee makers are rubbish and should be shunned. But they are wrong, because bean to cup delivery has improved immeasurably in recent years. Where some of the older machines produced weak espresso similar to those dispensed at petrol forecourts, most of today’s systems extract espressos with kick-up-the-jacksy levels of scrumptious clout.
With the cost of living crisis hiking up everyday prices, buying takeaway coffee really adds up especially if you buy more than one a week. That's why we recommend investing in a coffee machine like one of the best bean to cup machines so you can make coffee at home and save a bit of money each month.
These are the best bean to cup coffee machines, from large to… not quite so large.
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The best bean to cup coffee machines to buy in 2022
To make really great espresso, cappuccino, latte (etc) from a bean to cup coffee machine, you usually need to spend big. Delonghi's excellent La Specialista Arte turns that notion on its head, by requiring a little more input from you than is the norm with bean to cup machines.
Essentially, this is not a 'true' bean to cup machine; it is an excellent espresso machine with a grinder attached to it. You have to fill and tamp the portafilter from that grinder, very much in the way a barista in a traditional coffee shop would. On the very similar Sage/Breville Barista machines, learning this skill this can be a little messy. However, Delonghi makes it simple, with an intuitive dosing control knob to make sure you're grinding the right amount of beans every time, and the brilliantly simple Dosing and Tamping Guide – a plastic circle that sits on top of the portafilter and means no coffee can fall out as you're manually tamping.
You'll soon get used to this – we did, so it must be simple enough – and after a few online tutorials, you should be able to get the requisite hot and/or textured milk out of the steam wand. It's not as completely simple as the more fully automated machines below, but it means the Arte is far more affordable, and you can't argue with the quality of coffee produced. We've been using ours for almost a year now, and this well-built machine shows no signs of flagging, and has proved easy to maintain. Read our Delonghi La Specialista Arte review to find out more!
We used to be rather dubious about this kind of fully automated bean to cup machine but Jura in particular has really upped its game in recent years. The E8 literally makes great coffee at the press of a button – which was the idea of bean to cup machines all along. What a lot of types of coffee too; you can scroll through more than a dozen options, but handily, the machine quickly learns to display the drinks you actually use first on its screen.
The milk frother only has one setting, but as long as you like richly and densely textured cappuccino, there's nothing to complain about. Lovers of latte and café au lait may yearn for a less frothed option, however. The milk frother also requires daily cleaning involving cleaning tablets, tubes and a plastic vessel. This initially seems like a pain, but in fact it is just a matter of inserting a tube, adding the tablet and pressing a button, and we soon got used to it. The process certainly gives peace of mind that the milk system is always clean, if that is a big concern for you.
Whereas older fully-auto machines of this type were notorious for producing weak coffee, the Jura E8 knocks it out of the park every time. Considering how rapidly it gobbles up coffee beans, it should produce strongly flavoured drinks and we're glad to say that it does. It's a great machine, and pleasingly compact too – read our full Jura E8 review for the full low-down.
This fantastical device from the house of Sage (Breville in America) looks like it would be at home in a small café, but if you did use one there, you'd not need a highly-trained barista. The Oracle Touch is a development of the old Oracle, which just had boring old levers and buttons instead of a colour touchscreen.
With the Oracle Touch, you can easily make espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and more, but it's not quite as fully automated as some of the machines further down the list. That's because The Oracle Touch uses a portafilter, like on a proper espresso machine, with different sized baskets for single and double shots.
So first you grind the beans into the portafilter, then you fit it into the central spout (the 'group head', if we're being technical) to make the coffee. Meanwhile, you heat and texture the milk with the extraordinary steam wand. This looks like something you've spent months mastering, but thanks to temperature sensors in its tip, and some very freaky steam dispersing tech, all you have to do is plonk it in your little milk jug, hit go, and wait about 30 seconds.
That's the genius of The Oracle Touch. It seems like a barista-operated machine, it produces coffee like one, yet all the clever stuff – dosing, tamping, extraction, milk texturing, is done for you. Yes, unlike the other machines here, you then have to give the milk a bit of a swirl and then add it to the coffee, but that's hardly an unbearable hardship is it now?
The Oracle Touch also lets you get a bit creative, if you wish. The excellent grinder can be adjusted – using a finer grind with older or less potent beans, for instance – and there is almost limitless control over the extraction time, while you can easily set individual settings for your favourite drinks. Maintenance is also pretty easy, apart from descaling, which is a minor nightmare. That's another good reason to use filtered water, so the element doesn't fur up as fast.
I'd go so far as to say this is one of the best gadgets to hit the market in the entire history of T3. The King of the Coffee Machines.
In a nutshell – or a coffee bean shell – this Delonghi takes all that is good about the La Specialista Arte and makes it even easier to use, as you no longer need to do your own tamping or milk frothing – the machine does both for you, to a very high standard. The only caveat we would make is that tamping and milk frothing manually are really not that hard, and of course the Prestigio is more expensive than the Arte. You get what you pay for though, and it's still way cheaper than The Oracle from Sage/Breville.
Most bean-to-cup machines involve zero input from the user, all the way from grinding the beans to tamping and final extraction. However, some machines like this model from DeLonghi and both the Sage Oracle Touch and Sage Barista Touch approach the method from a different angle. Instead of being fully automated from start to finish, these machines require the user to interject a little during the process. It's hardly a chore, mind, because all it involves is moving the portafilter from the grinding mechanism to the group head before hitting the extraction button. We personally prefer this method because is provides more scope for experimentation and makes one feel more like a proper barista.
Granted, the manual with this machine is needlessly complicated and it may even encourage you to pack the whole lot up and send it back. Don’t, because in practice it’s much easier to use than the manual suggests. We would, however, have preferred a transparent water reservoir because it’s impossible to tell how much water is left without opening the lid and taking a peek.
The La Specialista is solidly built using swathes of brushed stainless steel and good quality plastics. In fact it looks just like a small version of a professional café espresso machine – you will genuinely feel like a pro barista when you use it.
To make a dynamite espresso full of richness, flavour and texture, and with a good dollop of crema, fill the grinder hopper with your favourite freshly roasted beans (try Spiller & Tait’s amazing Signature Blend (opens in new tab)) and select the finest ground setting on the dial. Now select either the single or double-shot filter, push it into the heavy-duty portafilter and turn the little ‘Grind’ knob to about half way – this selects how much ground coffee to dispense.
As soon as you lock the portafilter into the tamping head the grinder spins to life and deposits a dollop of powdered coffee into it. Next, grab hold of the amazingly tactile spring-loaded tamping handle and pull it down to the last mark, holding it there for a few seconds. Remove the portafilter, lock it into the group head and press the ‘OK’ button. Ideal extraction occurs when the pressure gauge needle hovers somewhere in the ‘Optimal Zone’. The result is like biting into a bag of coffee beans while being slapped with a stick of liquorice.
If you want a cappuccino or latte, froth some milk under the steam wand – which is supplied by a separate boiler – and pour. And if you’d prefer an Americano or a straight coffee select your choice on the right hand dial and follow the same process as above. In the pantheon of espresso makers, this machine has performed impeccably every time. Yes, we’ve read a few reports of some users’ machines leaking, but that hasn’t been the case with our test model. It’s worked perfectly every time and, in the process, has steered this writer away from capsule coffee machines (opens in new tab) – at least for the time being.
Check out the best De'Longhi coffee machine deals (opens in new tab).
By their very nature, bean to cup machines are big – much bigger than any other type of domestic coffee machine. But this one isn’t. In fact, it’s probably the smallest and most compact model on the market. And it’s got that attractive Smeg logo on it, too. Moreover, Smeg’s designers have scaled back on the company’s usual retro look and given the BCC02 a more contemporary design that should fit well in any style of kitchen.
Despite its compactness, the Smeg manages to pack in a 1.4-litre water container, a decent-sized bean hopper and a small but efficient frothing wand. The interface is comprised of just five buttons and there’s no LCD screen to distract you. Simply select from espresso (small), ristretto (very small), Americano (medium sized, with water added to bulk the drink out) and hot water. The fifth button dispenses a weaker version of the above for those without a leather palette.
The only issue some users may have with this machine is that it dispenses Italian-size shots which are really short. However, you can get around this by dispensing two espressos in quick succession. True, the magic frothing wand isn’t as hands-free as Sage’s setup but with some practice it produces a very decent head that is more silky than frothy.
The key facet with this machine is that it really is a doddle to use. In fact it’s almost as simple as any of the machines featured in our Best Coffee Capsule Machine guide. And that makes it great choice for anyone who loves espresso but doesn't want the malarky involved in getting it. The Smeg BCC02 is available in three colour details – black, taupe and red. Take your pick.
Want to know a bit more? Check out our experience-based article on what it’s like to use the Smeg BCC02 (opens in new tab).
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Arte is Delonghi's answer to the Sage/Breville Barista Touch, as this came out quite a few years before it. Coming in at around a grand, this is the smaller brother of Sage's The Oracle Touch. As such it is arguably a more universally appealing product, though it does have a few corners cut compared to the big boy.
First up there's only one boiler. The good thing about this is that it heats up even quicker than the Oracle (3 seconds), which is itself no slouch. The down side is you can't make coffee and steam milk at the same time. Which, to be honest, is not a heart-breaking deficiency.
As with the Oracle, beans are ground directly into the portafilter, but here you have to manually tamp the coffee down. You then slot the portafilter in place, select your drink via the touchscreen, and off you go.
The milk frother is possibly even better on this machine than on the Oracle, so you're not losing anything there, and there's a similar level of control over grind consistency, extraction length, shot size and more.
For a certain type of user, the Barista is an even better option than the Oracle, although I tend to think of it more as an espresso maker that has a grinder built in than a true 'bean to cup' machine.
Gaggia’s been producing espresso machines since 1938 and clearly knows a thing or two on the topic. The Velasca is at the opposite end of the luxe scale to the Sage machines, but it makes DAMN fine coffee, to coin a phrase. In fact, its espresso and lungo are as good as anything you'll find in most restaurants and coffee shops, giving a reassuringly old-fashioned, intense flavour, especially with darker roasted beans.
The buttons are big and simple, although they do seem to be made out of marshmallow. Thankfully, coffee making does not take long to master as there are only two options: espresso (or double espresso if you squidge the button twice) and lungo. You can make an Americano by adding water to an espresso, and vary the intensity of flavour by adjusting the grind. You can also dig into the menus to alter the amount of coffee ground, length of extraction and so on.
The only slight shortcoming of the Velasca is that the milk is frothed with a steam wand. Not a smart steam wand like on Sage's machines, but one like you’d find on a coffee shop machine. Granted, it’s a very effective one, but you will have to learn how to use it if you want velvety smooth, textured milk, as opposed to hot froth.
However, if you are largely after less milky beverages, or use a separate milk frother (opens in new tab), or are already a skilled milk steamer yourself, this is a cracking machine. Add easy cleaning, a low price and Gaggia’s renowned after-sales service and there's nothing to dislike here, except perhaps the rather plasticky appearance.
The elegant Barista TS Smart comes with two coffee bean hoppers – one for dark roasts and the other for lighter blends. It also has a separate container for pre-ground coffee that may seem unnecessary but is actually quite useful, since it serves as a backup for when the beans run out.
This models makes 21 different varieties of coffee – from espresso to long black – in five different strengths, from extra mild to extra strong. It also provides the wherewithal to save up to eight separate preferences so different members of the family can select their own blends without having to start from scratch. Millennials, meanwhile, will be pleased to know it can all be controlled from an app.
The Melitta’s touch-and-slide interface is a cinch to use: first select the type of bean you want, then slide the strength bar to your preferred level of oomph and choose the size of cup required. Now tap the icon that best describes your desired coffee type (espresso, latte etc) – remembering to connect the milk dispenser if having a latte of cappuccino – and retreat for 60 seconds while it does its grindy, poury thing.
Where some bean-to-cup machines seem incapable of producing a truly strong espresso (you know, the type that provokes an expression of shock followed by lip-smacking awe), this one excels, especially if the strength bar is slid all the way to the right. We sampled a number of different coffee styles and they all hit the mark.
If you enjoy sipping on a variety of different coffee styles and have a worktop big enough to house its ample proportions, then this is the machine for you.
How to buy the best bean to cup coffee machine
Most bean-to-cup machines place the entire coffee making process, from bean grinding to milk texturing, behind a towering façade of plastic, metal and chrome. You just push a button, and out comes a cappuccino, a bit like with an office Flavia machine.
In the past, bean-to-cups often also delivered drinks that tasted like they'd come out of an office Flavia. This was due to various failings in tamping (compressing the ground coffee before water is forced through it), maintaining the correct water temperature during the extraction process and some really quite appalling crimes against milk.
Today's best bean to cup machines are way better, with the best of the lot being Sage's. These use a totally different approach, with a proper portafilter like on a cafe's espresso machine, so they are less simple. But it's still hardly rocket science, and the ends justify the means.
One thing that bean to cup machines are especially good at these days is texturing milk, so they should be especially attractive to those who like lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and big mugs full of hot, stiff milk. Mmm-mm. In my view, if all you ever drink is milk-less espressos and Americanos, you'd be nuts to buy most bean to cups, but hey – it's your money.
All of these machines will happily have a go at texturing skimmed milk, soya milk, almond milk or any other milk you might want to try. The results may vary, but we're talking about natural products here, so what can one do?
Speaking of natural products, the same top tips apply here as the best 'proper' espresso machines (opens in new tab). Use filtered water from a filter jug – especially if you live in a hard water area, this will improve the flavour of your drinks and reduce the frequency with which you have to descale. A lot of these machines include a built-in water filter, but I don't think they're terribly effective on their own.
Use good quality, fresh beans, and store them in something with a screw-top lid, somewhere dry and cool – but not in the fridge. A lot of bean to cup machines have bean hoppers big enough to take an entire bag, but in general you're better off adding a smaller number of beans as you go along, then returning the rest to storage.
Milk should be cold but, despite what everyone says, I can't really detect any catastrophic difference in results between whole, semi and skimmed milk, in terms of the texture. So don't feel you have to change your usual favoured fattiness of milk, just to get tastier cappuccinos.
Finally, if you like to tinker with settings, a finer grind will generally give a stronger flavour, but you will need to increase the amount of water going through it too unless you like very small shots of coffee. If you're getting something bitter and twisted, try a coarser grind, or maybe get the cleaning and/or descaling tablets out and run a cleaning programme, where appropriate.
A friend of mine once left a coffee machine so long between descalings, it actually exploded. Yes, exploded. So I'll just end this little guide with that little mental image a-hanging. (He survived).
Coffee jargon buster
Espresso The basic coffee drink of Europe. Water is forced through compacted, ground coffee at, traditionally, although nobody knows why, 15 bars of pressure.
Double espresso Either literally two single shots of espresso, or a larger dose of coffee, with more water pushed through it, that ends up being about the same size as two shots.
Lungo Essentially an espresso, but made with a larger ratio of water to coffee, with a longer extraction. The result is probably closer to a cafetiere or pour-over coffee than most drinks that come out of an espresso machine. Not to be confused with…
Americano A shot of espresso diluted with water. Basically a post-war approximation of filter coffee (as drunk by Americans), from an espresso machine. The Europeans called it an Americano as a kind of insult really, implying that it was piss weak and only for Yanks. Lots of people like it these days, though.
Latte A shot or two of espresso with the remainder of the cup filled with warm, lightly textured milk.
Cappuccino Same as the above but the milk is more densely textured. In the UK, this is now traditionally drunk in cups approximately the size of the FA bleedin' Cup, much to the disgust of visiting Italians.
Flat white Nobody knows exactly what this is, not even the person who invented it. It's basically a stronger latte that sometimes is more like a stronger cappuccino. Often in Britain, it's a cappuccino in a vessel smaller than the FA Cup, and so stronger as the coffee is less diluted by milk. So, in other words, it's what everyone else in Europe considers a cappuccino.
Caffé Macchiato An espresso with just a splash, a soupçon, of steamed milk froth. Literally translates as 'stained coffee', which doesn't sound so tasty.
Ristretto We're getting a bit technical here, so the jargon buster must be nearly over. This is a more intensely flavoured shot of coffee, achieved by grinding the beans finer, so water takes longer to flow through it. I think that's right, anyway. I'll ask a proper barista at some point.