Designed to give you the best of both worlds, bean-to-cup machines allow you to access a variety of coffee beans, but without the mess of a manual machine.
These machines have a hopper to hold your beans, which are then ground on demand, tamped automatically and poured into a cup, all at the touch of a button. The used grounds are then poured into an output bin, which needs to be emptied regularly.
An espresso shot should have the right crema and be poured at the correct temperature and this machine will take care of most of this for you, but you do have some control over the final coffee.
Most bean-to-cup machines will be rated at 15bar, but the ideal espresso only requires 9bar – the additional volume is overhead, required to produce a smooth flow. Look for an intensity control to set how strong you want your espresso. This varies the amount of coffee used to pour a shot. Next, you can manually adjust the grind on the beans, which is useful if you find that the coffee is either too watery or tastes a little bitter.
Cheaper machines come with a manual milk frother, which require you to use the wand and manual controls to heat your milk. These are a little trickier to learn, but with a bit of practice you'll be pouring perfect milk drinks in no time.
As with manual models, a bean-to-cup machine with a single boiler needs to increase its temperature to make steam to froth coffee. This takes time to do, and means that the steam should be vented (automatically in most cases) to make another shot of coffee. For quicker milk drinks and more flexibility, a dual-boiler machine is best, as it can produce espresso and steam at the same time.
More expensive machines have automatic milk frothers. All you need to do is add milk to the milk container and select the type of coffee you want; the machine does all the work and pours out everything for you. Expect to pay a lot of money for a machine that can do everything.
For the convenience of beans-to-cup, expect a bit less flexibility, as you must set the machine to deliver the exact volume for your cup sizes. Look out for the size of water reservoir. You'll want at least 1L, as this will mean you need to refill the machine less often.
Beans-to-cup machines are more expensive than manual machines and don’t produce quite as good espresso. However, if you want to use real beans and don't want the mess and learning curve of a manual machine, they're the best option.
The best bean-to-cup coffee machines
1. Melitta Caffeo Barista TS: The best high-end bean-to-cup machine.
This machine produces exceptional coffee. As well as regular espresso and long drinks, the Caffeo Barista can automatically steam and pour milk for perfect cappuccinos and lattes at the touch of a button. Two bean hoppers mean you can have more than one coffee on the go, user profiles that members of your house can tweak to get coffee the way they want it and incredibly simple maintenance, this really is the king of automatic machines.
Key specs - Dimensions: 365H x 255W x 465D mm, Water capacity: 1.8L, Cup warmer?: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (automatic), Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes (five steps)
Price when reviewed: £999
2. Melitta Caffeo Varianza CSP: The best bean-to-cup coffee machine under £750
The little brother of the Caffeo Barista TS (see above), this fully automatic bean-to-cup might not quite have the same range of features or flexibility. It does, however, produce excellent espresso that's the equal to the best manual machines, and longer drinks with fluffy textured milk poured automatically. It's neat and compact, excellent value and easy to maintain. At this price, nothing else compares for quality.
Key specs - Dimensions (HxWxD): 405 x 380 x 253mm, Water capacity: 1L, Cup warmer: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (automatic), Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes (five steps)
Price when reviewed: £750
3. Gaggia Anima: The best bean-to-cup machine under £600
Gaggia's Anima doesn’t have one-touch cappuccino options, but it makes a very decent espresso lungo, and has a steam wand. The espresso isn't quite up there with the best, and needs a finer grind option from the Gaggia's in-built grinder – but the overall quality is enough to make for a fine buy.
Key specs - Dimensions 220H x 430W x 340D mm, Water capacity: 1.7L, Cup warmer: No, Milk frothing: Yes, Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes
Price when reviewed: £529
4. Gaggia Brera: A brilliant dual boiler bean-to-cup coffee machine
The Gaggia Brera looks every bit the high-end beans-to-cup machine. It pours near-perfect shots of espresso automatically, although you must manually steam milk for drinks. Fortunately, this dual-boiler machine is always ready for coffee and milk.
Key specs - Dimensions: 315H x 255W x 45D mm, Water capacity: 1.2L, Cup warmer: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (steamer wand), Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes (3 steps)
Price when reviewed: £450
5. Gaggia Naviglio: The best bean-to-cup machine under £400
Although comparatively cheap, the Naviglio produces excellent espresso and only needed slight adjustment to get the best taste. It has a manual steam wand, to froth milk.
Key specs – Dimensions: 340H x 440W x 256D mm, Water capacity: 1.5L, Cup warmer: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (steam wand), Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes (three)
Price when reviewed: £368