Bean-to-cup coffee machines can cost anything from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, but our tests show that paying out more doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll get better coffee.
Bean-to-cup coffee machines are the luxury items of the coffee machine world. They grind beans fresh for each cup of coffee, just like your local coffee shop would, and many are highly automated, so you can get a perfectly frothed latte at the touch of a button.
But are they really worth spending thousands on?
We’ve tested a wide range of coffee machines, from the very cheapest pod machines to the fanciest bean-to-cup models, and found that you don’t need to spend big to get great coffee. We’ve found Best Buy machines that impressed our specialist blind-tasting panel at every price point.
However, bean-to-cup machines do have their advantages versus other types, and you’ll want to consider things such as running costs, too, as these can affect how much you spend in the long run.
Read on to find out more about how the different types compare, or head straight to our round-up of the best coffee machines for our top picks.
Why buy a bean-to-cup coffee machine?
Bean-to-cup coffee machines are similar to pod machines in that they do the hard work of prepping your coffee for you, saving you time and (hopefully) producing barista-standard results at the touch of a button.
The built-in grinder means you can have fresh coffee on demand, without the need for a separate grinder. Most models will also have either a steam pipe for manual frothing or, on the pricier options, an automatic milk frother for a one-step solution.
Premium models will also allow you to save multiple user profiles and customise your favourite coffee options, so you’ll never have to remind them that you like your morning espresso extra-strong again.
Coffee machines – upfront vs running costs
There’s no denying that bean-to-cup coffee machines can be far more expensive to buy than other types of machine.
Prices start from around £250 but, on average, bean-to-cup machines cost more than three times as much as ground coffee machines, and almost six times as much as the average pod machine.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as coffee pods tend to be more expensive per drink, and tie you in to buying a specific brand – limiting your drink options.
Over time, bean-to-cup machines can actually work out cheaper.
For more advice on choosing between the different types of coffee machine, including the key things to consider and how the costs stack up, see our full coffee machine buying guide.
Do bean-to-cup coffee machines make better coffee?
Not necessarily. The best models we’ve tested do make top-quality coffee, but there are some duds out there too.
On average bean-to-cup machines don’t fare any better than other types of machine in our taste tests, but the very best models will be a cut above.
They aren’t always the priciest options though. A couple of good value bean-to-cup machines we’ve tested have out-performed models costing more than four times as much.
See our top five best bean-to-cup coffee machines for our pick of the best options for every budget – and the ones to avoid.
Three bean-to-cup machines for every budget
1. No-frills coffee – Beko CEG5301X, £249
- Adjustable grinder to choose your strength
- Simple touch controls
- Memory function records your favourite settings
This Beko is one of the cheapest bean-to-cup machines we’ve tested, at just £249.
It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles you’d find on a pricier model, but the adjustable grinder does allow you to tweak the strength of your coffee and the touch controls are very simple to use.
If you’re a fan of a milky brew, you’ll need to buy a separate milk frother, as this coffee machine can only produce espressos. If you just want a freshly made coffee, though, this compact and stylish machine is a tempting prospect.
Read our full Beko CEG5301X coffee machine review to find out if it’s one we recommend.
Best milk frothers – our top picks, including cheap options for less than £40
2. For aspiring aficionados – Sage The Barista Pro SES878BSS, £549
- Steam wand for manual frothing
- Lets you control the coffee making
- Easy-to-read LCD control panel
If you want a more hands-on experience, this Sage offering could be perfect. With a built-in coffee grinder and semi-manual system, it’s best-suited to those who like the idea of crafting their coffee, rather than just pressing a button and running.
There are loads of settings to play with, including customising the grind level, strength, size and temperature of each drink to suit individual tastes.
See how this coffee machine fared in our rigorous lab tests in the full Sage The Barista Pro SES878BSS review.
3. Effortless luxury – Melitta Barista Smart TS F85/0-101, £749
- Automatic milk frother
- Can be controlled from your phone
- Auto cleaning
If you want to go all out, this Melitta model could be a real contender. It’s pricey, but not as expensive as some highly automated models, and comes with a whole host of extras to make the perfect brew with no coffee expertise required.
With 21 different drink recipes pre-programmed into this machine, you may find yourself spoiled for choice, plus you can save your favourite options so you can find them quickly.
The smartphone app lets you fine-tune your coffee preferences and keeps you up to date with advice and maintenance. A dual bean hopper means you have two types of coffee beans on the go at the same time.
Does this bean-to-cup machine produce delicious espressos and cappuccinos? Read our full Melitta Barista Smart TS F85/-101 review to find out.
Five handy bean-to-cup machine features to look out for
If you decide to take the plunge and splash out on a bean-to-cup coffee machine, here are some extra features to consider:
1. Auto milk-frothing and cleaning
Cheaper bean-to-cup machines tend to come with a steam wand for frothing milk. You’ll still need to measure out and froth the milk, then add it to your coffee.
Pricier models will automate this process for you, sucking the milk into the machine and dispensing froth directly into your drink. Many also have an auto-clean feature, saving you the fiddly (and sometimes unpleasant) job of cleaning the milk pipes.
2. Colour touchscreen
Colour touchscreens make it quick and easy to select your chosen hot drink, usually from an extensive menu.
They can also be useful for diagnosing potential issues, as well as guiding you through how to clean and descale the machine correctly – this is an important step to ensure your machine continues to churn out tasty coffees and doesn’t get jammed up.
3. Dual bean hopper
This is a split compartment so you can have two types of coffee bean on the go at once.
It’s ideal if you prefer caffeinated in the morning and decaf in the evening, or even if you just like to have the choice of different types.
Otherwise you’ll need to clean out the bean hopper if you want to switch coffees before one lot of beans runs out.
4. Save preferences
Some machines (usually the more expensive ones) allow you to store personalised drinks for multiple users at once.
This saves you the hassle of manually inputting custom orders every time you offer to make a round of drinks, which is particularly useful if you’ve got fussy friends or family.
5. Control via smartphone
Connecting your coffee machine to your smartphone means you can get reminders and troubleshooting for cleaning and descaling your machine.
You can also use some apps to set up user profiles to make it easier to quickly call up your favourite drink, without having to cycle through lots of menu options.