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10 best bean-to-cup coffee machines for cafe-quality drinks at home

From cold brew to cappuccinos, take the grind out of your morning brew

Jon Axworthy
Thursday 23 December 2021 11:51
<p>Our top picks simplify the coffee making ritual without compromising on the quality of the espresso  </p>

Our top picks simplify the coffee making ritual without compromising on the quality of the espresso

The connection between the humble coffee bean and the shot of espresso in your cup has significantly shortened with the advent of bean-to-cup machines. These machines are rapidly gaining in popularity thanks to the fact that they can deliver fresh ground espresso, and a range of other preparations, at the touch of a button (or three), without you having to separately grind the beans and then extract the espresso using a stovetop or other machine.

The popularity surge might also have something to do with the fact that they have an eco-advantage over the current crop of capsule coffee machines, because they side-step the thorny issue of all those plastic pods that are produced and need recycling, and the coffee grounds that are produced from the machines can easily be composted or used in the garden.

So, what were we looking for in our edit of the very best bean-to-cup machines? Well, we love our coffee, but not at the expense of losing most of the counter space in our kitchen – bean-to-cup machines can be quite unruly (although this year’s crop is significantly downsized) so we were looking for designs that packed all their tech into as small a footprint as possible. Similarly, because the machines are permanently on display, we were looking for a nice aesthetic that would fit in with a range of kitchen styles.

The easier they were to use, the higher they rated, because the last thing we want to do when we’re struggling to come around in the morning is to contend with a control panel that would confuse a Nasa specialist – but if it’s filling up a water tank and pushing a couple of buttons, we can definitely handle that.

Of course, the machines also needed to reflect the so-called “third wave coffee” revolution where espresso is now drunk in a dizzying number of ways, so we wanted the ability to produce different preparations to suit a wide range of tastes and customisation options. And, obviously, we wanted quality espresso, the kind that we would be happy to be served in a coffee shop.

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How we tested

All the machines were in use in a household of coffee lovers, all with different favourites when it came to the drinks themselves, from espresso doppio purists to latte macchiato maniacs. We went through the entire menu of each machine so that we could see how consistent the quality of the coffee was, whether that was espresso, specialty coffees with milk, or longer coffees, like americanos.

​The best bean-to-cup coffee machines for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Smeg automatic coffee machine: £679.95,
  • Best all-rounder – Siemens EQ.9 plus connect: £1,699,
  • Best for milky coffees – DeLonghi magnifica evo: £549.99,
  • Best double shots – Dualit bean to go machine: £499,
  • Best for cold coffee – Jura z10: £1,999,
  • Best for looks – Sage barista touch: £899.95,
  • Best for cappuccinos – DeLonghi Dinamica automatic coffee machine: £449,
  • Best for early risers – Gaggia cadorna barista plus: £669,
  • Best for milk-based coffee – Gaggia magenta milk: £599,
  • Best for dinner parties – Miele CM 5310 silence: £949,

Smeg automatic coffee machine

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

This machine was in our good books even before we’d plugged it in thanks to its fifties styling and compact nature, which meant that it didn’t crowd out the counter top. The water tank and hopper were easy to access and fill, with a very responsive adjustment dial to fine tune your grounds, according to taste.

It simply couldn’t be easier to use – powered with a single push it’s heated and ready to use in under thirty seconds, after which you’re just another button away from ristretto, espresso, light ristretto, light espresso or a longer coffees. The milk frother wand also gives you the option to easily knock up cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos, all of which were smooth and delicious.

The grinder is a little noisy in use, but very efficient so you don’t have to endure the high-pitched whizzing sound for long, and the espresso nozzle is adjustable (rather than the drip tray) sliding up and down, according to the size of your mug or cup.

In terms of keeping the machine clean, we never had to lift a finger because the Smeg sorts itself out, running a self-clean cycle before and after each drink preparation. With a removable brewing unit and tank for easy cleaning, all we had to do was empty the grounds when we were directed to by the machine’s alarm. Finally, the coffee the Smeg produced was amongst the best on test, consistently turning out rich espressos topped with a silky crema.

Read the full Smeg automatic coffee machine review

Siemens EQ.9 plus connect

Best: All-rounder

Rating: 10/10

Well-designed, the height of the EQ.9 allows its technology to be contained in a smaller footprint. There’s also a clear, colour touchscreen which allows for 12 different preparations in total with double espressos prepared by the machine in two separate shots, so there’s not a hint of bitterness.

Once you’ve decided on your drink you can further fine tune its values, and the choice here is bewildering, with 16 different levels of coffee strength ranging from very mild to TripleShot strong. The ratio of milk to coffee can also be tweaked, which we particularly liked, because it meant that we could make a drink smoother, or even cooler, so that we could drink it straight away.

Two cups of the same drink can also be produced at once thanks to the double extraction feature and dual spouts. The automation also extends to cleaning and maintaining the integrated milk system, while the brewing unit is easy to get out, rinse and replace. The machine is fully connected too, so you can start the coffee making process from your bed via the Home Connect app on your phone, so that you can have your drink ready and waiting for you when you shuffle down to the kitchen in the morning.

All this and we haven’t come to the ED.9’s biggest selling point – the fact that it has dual hoppers, which is where the beans are stored for grinding. One of the drawbacks of an automatic machine is catering for multiple users, who either like different types, or roasts, of bean or prefer decaffeinated. Using one bean hopper can cause flavour profiles to become muddled with leftover grounds from a previous load, or a decaf drink to become tainted with full-caff beans.

However, the EQ.9’s dual hoppers can be filled with different bean loads so that the user can simply select which one they want their drink to be made from. This is the only machine on the market that we found was able to do this, which is why it gets full marks from us.

DeLonghi magnifica evo

Best: For milky coffees

Rating: 9/10

This is a heavyweight machine, but if you have space you won’t be disappointed because it comes with a high level of customisation that means you can tailor your drink all the way down to the aroma level. There are seven preparations: espresso, coffee, long coffee, doppio+, Americano, long black and over ice, all selected via a bright, upward-facing, colour display with actual icons of the coffee that you’re making, so there’s no room for error.

Nicely designed with the hopper on top and the water tank to the side, we never had any issues with the hopper getting jammed, which was a concern on some of the other machines we tried and were rewarded with shots of espresso that were consistently rich with plenty of depth and good crema. There’s further customisation with a temperature setting, which was really useful if we were running late and wanted a slightly cooler coffee that we wouldn’t have to wait around to drink. The aroma of the coffee is also at your fingertips with the machine allowing you to choose between mild, medium and strong.

What we also really enjoyed about the evo was the LatteCrema system, which textures the milk according to the drink you’re making. All you have to do is add your milk, according to the scale on the carafe, so you know you have the optimum quantity for the recipe, the system then uses all the milk and layers it into the coffee at the right time and at the right temperature, so you don’t have to worry about frothing in a separate jug.

Dualit bean to go machine

Best: Double shots

Rating: 8/10

If you like to give your system a real caffeine jolt in the morning (or any time of the day, for that matter) then you probably won’t settle for anything less than a double shot of espresso. The Dualit machine has five grind settings and extracts a strong, smooth double that was one of the best that we tasted. This was probably thanks to the machine’s ability to grind and extract twice, rather than doing the process once and then drawing out a double shot into the cup, which can result in bitter-tasting coffee.

The espresso was rich, full of flavour and aroma and there are another two preparations (espresso and lungo) in the Dualit’s armoury, so you won’t be short of quality drinks. Quick to start up, there is also a speed mode, which forgoes the pre-brewing process that moistens the ground beans in the infuser before full extraction; however we didn’t notice any discernible drop in quality when we used it. Finally, the machine auto-flushes and the removable parts make for easy cleaning.

Jura z10

Best: For cold coffee

Rating: 10/10

Bean to cup machines aren’t always the best-looking pieces of kit, but this machine matches its high price tag with high performance, nice aesthetics and quality components. Encased in aluminium with a 4.3in touch screen, which displays the preparations, this is a lovely product to look at (even the water tank looks nice) and although it’s big you won’t begrudge it taking over your countertop.

It’s also a lovely product to use, with the touchscreen interface presenting the numerous options and the dual spout delivering the espresso, for doubles and other speciality black coffees, as well as a full range of coffees with milk from flat whites to latte macchiato.

However, it’s the ability of the z10 to make cold brew coffee that makes it stand out from the crowd, using the espresso method where cold water is slowly forced through the grounds. We tried cold brew espresso and cold brew tonic, which were refreshing and fruity.

With such an array of preparations you’d think you’d spend more time telling the machine what to do than drinking. However, the z10 has its own barista brain, so rather than the manual adjustments that have to be made to the grinders on most machines it’s electronically controlled and adjusts from very fine to very coarse and everywhere in between, according to your choice of beverage.

This machine really does it all and requires minimal setup or effort, which explains the price tag, but it’s also a glimpse of where super automatics are headed.

Sage barista touch

Best: For looks

Rating: 9/10

For anyone who thinks that one touch machines take the fun out of espresso making, but still like the ease of bean to cup, then the touch will meet you halfway. After you select your coffee from the touchscreen, rather than prepare the drink straight into your cup, the machine will deliver the grounds into the portafilter, so you can physically switch it to the group head to extract the espresso. This hybrid approach takes the hassle out of the laborious stage of coffee making (the grinding), but lets you get hands on with the fun part – seeing the espresso pour into your cup.

Very customisable, the opportunity to tweak the brew temperature and grind size is there, and when you find a combination that suits you the preferences can be saved and named, so it’s just a matter of pushing the button the next time you’re at the machine. This was the fastest machine on test in terms of warming up and being ready to brew, so coffee in a hurry isn’t an issue.

The extracted espresso was rich and flavourful and the machine had no problems making a range of beans sing. If speciality milk coffee drinks are more your thing, then there’s plenty of room for a large jug, which is placed on a sensor under the automatic steam wand to texture and then heat the milk, producing foam that was creamy and light.

DeLonghi Dinamica automatic coffee machine

Best: For cappuccinos

Rating: 8/10

This mid-range machine won’t break the bank, but will provide you with excellent espresso, as well as longer coffees at the touch of a button. The quality of the drinks on offer was consistent, and two cups of the same drink can be made at the same time, with a choice of espresso, espresso lungo, Americano, short coffee and double espresso.

On the manufacturer’s presets we found that the espresso was a little weak (obviously, a personal preference). However, the aroma setting allows you to customise further and all it took was a couple of pushes on the keypad for the machine to start serving up espresso with thicker crema and more body. So, it will probably take a couple of preparations for you to dial in on your perfect drink.

There is also a temperature setting for hotter or cooler drinks and the machine’s black casing offset with chrome detailing means that it won’t be a kitchen eyesore. The milk system is geared particularly for cappuccino lovers, thanks to the rich, dense froth that is produced by the wand.

Gaggia cadorna barista plus

Best: For early risers

Rating: 9/10

This could be the ideal machine for early risers who don’t want to wait to get themselves caffeinated until the rest of the house wakes up. The barista plus makes pre-programmed ristretto, espresso, espresso lungo, coffee and Americano and has the brains to store four further user profiles, if you want a brew a little more tuned to your coffee needs. And it does all this almost silently, with the grinder, brew unit and pump all going about their business quietly.

The customisation was excellent on this and with each drink you’re able to adjust the intensity using the “optiaroma” function, which means you can tweak the quantity of ground coffee per cup, choosing between five different doses. It was easy to get the most out of your beans with a 10-setting grinder adjustment, and for darker roasts we found that a higher setting of ten really maximised the flavour.

Further personalisation is available with three temperature levels, the coffee length and the quantity of milk. If you opt for a coffee or an Americano, you can also adjust the quantity of water that will end up in your cup. Milk texturing was also very straightforward with the specially shaped steam wand, and we didn’t have to keep angling the jug in all manner of directions to perfect the froth, which is a drawback of other machines on the market.

There is also a bypass doser with a measured scoop, so that if you do want a cup of decaf you can get an untainted brew by just adding the required amount of grounds. Each time we were treated to quality espresso with a crema layer which was clearly defined, rich and flavourful, while longer coffees were strong and didn’t taste watery and insipid.

Gaggia magenta milk

Best: For milk-based coffee

Rating: 9/10

As the name suggests this machine is designed with milk in mind, and it features Gaggia’s proprietary “cappincup” system whereby all you have to do is pour the cold milk in the nicely designed glass carafe, (which you can keep topped up in the fridge), according to the dosage needed and the machine will do the rest. With a cappuccino selected we were treated to a smooth blend of textured milk and espresso, and it worked equally well when we selected café au lait.

Scrolling through the three screens on the interactive menu will give you the chance to broaden your options to espresso, cappuccino, espresso lungo, Americano and ristretto, and with each you can customise coffee length, temperature, and aroma strength. There are also five settings available to adjust the grinders so you can give your drink more or less body, depending on what you’d prefer. There was lots of body in the espressos with a crema layer that was clearly defined and rich, while the flavour profile of our beans came through in every cup.

Miele CM 5310 silence

Best: For dinner parties

Rating: 9/10

Espresso, ristretto, coffee, cappuccino, latte machiatto, latte and a long coffee are all selected through a very clear display. We liked the fact that the milk tube is neatly stored away in the internals of the machine and can be simply dropped straight into a milk bottle.

With the machine able to grind between 6-14g of coffee you can choose how strong you want your coffee to be, as well as the length of the drink itself. The espresso itself was strong, with crema that was a good colour, and with lots of body and no bitterness.

The dual spout gives you the ability to make two portions of a drink, either in one large cup if you want a stronger coffee or in two separate cups. There’s even a handy coffee pot option too, where several cups can be made automatically one after the other (up to six cups), which is perfect if you want to fill a pot for lots of guests to enjoy at once.

Bean-to-cup coffee machine FAQs

What is a bean-to-cup coffee machine?

It grinds whole coffee beans on demand to produce a range of espresso-based drinks at the touch of a button. Grinding on demand allows the maximum flavour, aroma and freshness of the bean to be preserved, resulting in a superior cup of coffee that showcases the crema of the coffee – the natural “creamy” textured layer – sometimes lost in pod-based coffee machines or in manual brewing. Some of the more advanced bean-to-cup machines allow you to save your personal coffee preferences and can even be controlled via apps or your own home tech networks.

How do they work?

Most bean-to-cup machines feature an in-built hopper and burr to grind whole coffee beans finely (though the grind is generally adjustable), which hot water is then pumped through at pressure to deliver a freshly brewed shot of espresso.

Some machines also have milk components inbuilt or as an add on, which may heat, steam and froth milk automatically for cappuccino, latte, macchiato or other drinks, while others require you to prepare any milk yourself.

What features to look for?

Consider how many of your household will use the machine; is it worth paying extra for multi-cup functionality, or multi-profile coffee memory, for example.

Consider space – some machines require a certain amount of breathing room so may not be suitable for small kitchens or underneath low cupboards.

What type of coffee do you tend to drink? If you’ll be consuming a few milky coffees a day then make sure the machine you’re considering has a milk storage solution you are happy with and that the cleaning required seems doable. If you rarely drink coffee with milk, you may find it makes financial sense to stick to a pure coffee machine.

Are bean-to-cup coffee machines easy to clean?

​Yes and no. Each machine is different so do research using online videos and tutorials for any you have your eye on. Pure coffee machines are very easy to clean, requiring you to manually clear the coffee grinds from a removable panel, empty the drip tray and usually run a descaling or cleaning programme when prompted. Machines comprising milk pipes, tanks and steamers mean some more manual cleaning is required and more often, though some machines do have automatic programmes for this too.

How should you store beans to keep them fresh?

Coffee beans lose their freshness quickly. Buy them in appropriate quantities and keep them in an airtight container to preserve maximum aroma. Add the least amount of beans required to your machine before each use to prevent oils evaporating and to allow you the full enjoyment of the beans.

The verdict: Bean-to-cup coffee machines

The whole point of bean to cups is to simplify the coffee making ritual without compromising on the quality of the espresso. The Smeg automatic coffee machine does this superbly, and it means you can get rid of all your espresso paraphernalia and in its place have a stylish, simple and super functional machine that will keep you caffeinated all day long.

More coffee recommendations:

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