For anyone who derives more pleasure from drinking a freshly brewed cup of coffee than the process of making it, speedy bean-to-cup coffee machines are the perfect coffee gadgets.
They take the effort-factor away, offering automation at every stage from the grinding of whole beans to dosing, tamping and brewing. A broad range of settings to tailor your coffee are usually on offer. Some can even be connected to wirelessly and controlled via smart home devices or a smartphone app, so you don’t even have to be in the kitchen to set a cup to brew.
The technology behind this type of offering means these machines are usually large and pricey. But don’t be intimidated. We’ve broken down the differences between bean-to-cup machines vs espresso machines. We walk you through what to look for and share our tried-and-tested top picks of the best bean-to-cup coffee machines below.
For more coffee reviews, check out our full guide to the best coffee machines featuring picks of the best espresso machines and the best coffee pod machines. Or for a little inspiration, discover the best coffee subscriptions and the best gifts for coffee lovers. Make your own homemade coffee syrup using our step-by-step recipe and discover more advice and buyer’s guides on everything from the top British gins to the best English vineyard breaks in our reviews section.
What’s the difference between bean-to-cup coffee machines and espresso machines?
Traditional semi-automatic espresso machines encourage the building of basic barista skills and require a more hands-on approach to loading portafilters and using pre-ground coffee.
In contrast, the best bean to cup coffee machines are fully automated, freshly grinding whole beans to bring you a cup of coffee at the touch of a button, with opportunities to personalise the cups. The outlay cost with a bean-to-cup machine will be higher but balanced by the time and effort saved to achieve a great cup every time.
How to choose the best bean-to-cup espresso machine
Within the bean-to-cup world there are a couple of machine types, but all share the fundamental element of having a bean compartment and grinder.
Top tip: store your coffee beans in an airtight container and only top up the hopper with what you need. This will keep the beans’ flavour fresher and give you better flexibility over switching up the beans.
- Bean-to-cup espresso machines: these focus on producing espresso; short shots of intense coffee brewed under pressure. This forms the fundamental element to many coffee house classics.
- Bean-to- cup coffee machines: in addition to making espresso, these could include filter systems for making drip coffee and can come with glass carafes, measuring coffee in cups rather than single and double espressos.
- Manual bean-to-cup: this type combines automation with a hands-on experience, leaving the fun bits for you to do. For example, loading and locking the portafilter and frothing the milk.
- Automatic bean-to-cup: quite simply, once you’ve selected the drink you want, the machine does the rest.
What to look for from a bean-to-cup coffee machine
Adjustable grind level: the grind size of coffee affects the coffee’s flavour and intensity, so can be changed to best suit the type you like best. For example, espressos fare best with finely ground coffee, whereas filter coffee requires a medium-coarse grind.
Duo-drip trays: this not only means that cups and mugs of different sizes can be accommodated, but that traditional espresso cups are supported to catch the liquid without splashes; therefore protecting the important crema layer.
Milk frother: not all bean-to-cup coffee machines offer an integrated milk frother system, so if you like milky coffee classics best, look out for automatic frother systems or a milk steamer wand. If you want to get a separate one, we’ve tried and tested the best milk frothers here.
Ground coffee option: if you run out of whole beans but have a bag of ground coffee to hand, having ground-coffee adaptability comes in very handy.
Efficient grinders: whether ceramic or burr, bean grinders should be quick and efficient, so even when they’re loud, the noise is short-lived. Looking for a separate grinder to get the best results for your beans? Try our tried and tested coffee grinders.
Intuitive interface: when there are so many elements of an espresso to adjust, simple functions and settings should be easy to navigate and keep experimenting fun.
Programmable drink options: once you’ve found the perfect combination of grind-size, brew temperature and aroma intensity for your taste, it’s great to be able to save presets so your favourite coffee can be returned to easily.
Dual bean compartments: some machines offer containers for different bean intensities to be kept. Usually it’s for dark and light roast beans, but if you’ve a family member who only drinks decaf, one space can be utilised for those.
Best bean-to-cup machines at a glance
Best bean-to-cup coffee machine for contemporary style: Smeg BCC02 bean-to-cup coffee machine, £679.95
Best bean-to-cup espresso machine: Sage Oracle Touch espresso machine £1,995.95
Best smart bean-to-cup coffee machine: Smarter Coffee Machine £179
Best mid-range bean-to-cup coffee machine: Delonghi La Specialista Maestro bean-to-cup coffee machine £999.99
Best bean-to-cup machine for adjustable aroma intensity: Gaggia Magenta Plus £599
Best affordable bean-to-cup espresso machine: Breville Barista Max £299
Best bean-to-cup coffee machines to buy in 2021
Score: 5/5 stars
Best bean-to-cup for contemporary style
Known for its large white goods and statement kitchen staples, Smeg has a strong reputation for making efficient and stylish appliances, like its ECF01 espresso machine. The brand’s first-ever bean-to-cup coffee machine doesn’t deviate from this, carrying the same iconic design and curved lines without dominating kitchen space. It’s the smallest bean-to-cup on test, simply offering four control buttons and eight selectable functions, a steam wand rather than an internal milk tank, and a dial for adjusting the grind level from its coffee bean store. The steam wand angles outwards for use in mugs, cups or glass jugs. The coffee produced is packed with flavour. We want one in our own kitchens. Read our full review of the Smeg BCC02 bean-to-cup coffee machine.
Score: 5/5 stars
Best smart bean-to-cup coffee machine
This is not an espresso machine, it works in large four-cup quantities minimum and brews its cups through a reusable filter. The quantity equates to 500ml and therefore, two large mugs of coffee. The design is sleek, modern and deceptively simple, offering control over start, bean/filter and coffee strength by button.
The USP of this model lies in the modernity of its technology, being smart-home compatible with devices like Amazon Alexa and can be controlled via the Smart 3.0 app. The design is also customizable: the machine arrived with three interchangeable front panels in black, white and grey.
Score: 5/5 stars
Best bean-to-cup espresso machine
This Sage is a premium example of a manual bean-to-cup coffee machine which combines automated pre-sets with sophisticated personalisation features. There are 11 total pre-sets on offer, plus the option to save your own tailored coffee presets for ease. Depending on the filter basket you’ve loaded, this machine automatically grinds and doses the coffee.
The grind and dose of coffee are adjustable per drink, as is milk froth temperature and level. A stainless steel jug is provided for this. Whilst it is an investment price, this machine fulfils the fundamental requirements of producing a great cup every time, whilst giving you room to personalise the coffee. Read our full Sage Oracle Touch espresso machine review.
Score: 4/5 stars
Best bean-to-cup machine for adjustable aroma intensity
The Gaggia Magenta is an elegant, statement machine complete with a professional milk steamer wand and 250g bean hopper capacity. Within its espresso function, the coffee temperature, quantity and grind-sizes were all adjustable.
The two-cup setting split the espresso slightly unevenly between the two cups but quality-wise, the espresso is richly flavourful and topped with silky crema. There’s a professional-grade milk steam wand with a 45-degree range of movement. It also arrives with a 500g bag of Gaggia Intenso coffee beans which is a nice touch to get you started. Read our full Gaggia Magenta Plus review.
Score: 5/5 stars
Best mid-range bean-to-cup coffee machine
This De’Longhi is incredibly suave, designed with elegance and in mind of counter-top storage. It packs 19-bars of pressure into its stainless steel outer.
The coffee grinding is all done automatically depending on the filter basket you load and it also offers ‘smart tamping’ to help you achieve even compression of the grounds. A real stand-out was its pre-infusion capabilities, which varies depending on the coffee function selected and density of its coffee dose. The result was a short and darkly moreish coffee shot adorned with flavourful crema. Read our full De’Longhi La Specialista Maestro review.
Score: 4.5/5 stars
Best affordable bean-to-cup espresso machine
The price-point of this Breville means it sits at the more affordable end of the spectrum when it comes to bean-to-cup espresso machines. It’s also one of the most compact, requiring little set up beyond the attachment of its bean hopper.
Most of the trimmings of a professional barista espresso machine accompany it, with a stainless steel milk jug included, along with a multitude of cleaning tools. The effective milk steaming wand is easy to use. All in all, it’s excellent value for money. Read our full Breville Barista Max review.
How we tested bean-to-cup coffee machines
All the bean-to-cup coffee machines featured in this review were the best performing appliances from a longlist of 10. All were tested in controlled conditions using whole roasted Columbian coffee beans, and scored out of five against standardised criterion, including:
Performance: the flavour, aroma and temperature of the coffee needed to be enjoyable, so every coffee and espresso function was tested to assess this. Bitterness, acidity or weakness were scored down.
Value for money: performance and versatility play into this one. These appliances may be one of the largest investments you make for your kitchen, so the price must feel right.
Ease of use: all were scored from unboxing, so they had to be simple to unpack with easy-to-follow instructions. When the variety of settings is so broad, intuitive controls make the experience fun. Everything from milk-wand range of motion to adjustable drip trays and access for refilling the water tank and bean hoppers were considered.
Convenience: is one of the biggest selling points for buying a bean-to-cup espresso machine, so excessive complication affected scoring.
Quantity of materials: flimsy build-materials don’t warrant a high price tag and make things difficult to clean. They also affect the longevity of an appliance’s life.
Design and aesthetic for keeping on the countertop: bean-to-cup machines are generally very deep and broad, so a good design plays into this.
The average scores out of five decided each product’s overall star rating. The additional criteria played into our decision making.
- Variety of functions
- Kitchen footprint
- Ease of cleaning
- Advanced features