Early results from our 2018 Spiller & Tait Survey of In-home Coffee (which closes on 30th April 2018) suggest that bean-to-cup espresso machines are not only one of the most popular devices for making fresh coffee at home these days, second only to the cafetière. But, for those that don’t yet own one, they are also one of the most wished-for devices due to their convenience, ability to make consistently great-tasting fresh coffee, and for the wide range of coffee drinks that they can produce.
These ultra-convenient machines produce high-quality coffee from freshly ground whole beans in less time than it takes to boil a kettle and with no barista-level skill set required. Not only that, bean-to-cup coffee machines also produce an unmistakably fresh flavour, which simply cannot be matched by capsule coffee or instant coffee grounds. If you’ve never tried coffee from bean-to-cup machines, we recommend you do.
The high purchase prices (many machines are priced between £1000 and £2000), and counter-top space limitations, tend to deter coffee lovers from acquiring a bean-to-cup machine for office or home. Therefore, in an attempt to help make their dreams come true, we’ve decided to review three of the best bean-to-cup machines which won’t break the bank, and which also make consistently great tasting coffee.
The machines we’ve reviewed are all priced below £1000 and offer great functionality and reliability, without taking up too much counter space. Although none of these machines are small, we think they will all look good in any kitchen, or office. We’ve focused on the key features of each machine, rather than a comprehensive review of every aspect. All prices quoted were available as of the date of this article and Spiller & Tait is not affiliated with any of these machine producers or retailers. For more details on any of these machines, there are plenty of thorough reviews available online.
Pros: strong grinder; impressive flavour and crema; excellent build quality; great price for the quality
Cons: countertop space requirements (largest of the three)
The Barista Express is a fully automated coffee machine from Sage by Heston Blumenthal that consistently produces an excellent cup of coffee every time. It has been featured in many reviews, including the Channel 5 Gadget show, and is consistently rated the best espresso machine. It is a favourite in taste tests, often beating models from other manufacturers costing well over £3000.
A 250gm bean hopper has an integrated stainless steel conical burr grinder that allows you to grind your own beans with 18 grind settings available (from fine to coarse), and you can adjust the dose to your individual taste (pre-ground coffee can also be used). A thermacoil heating system quickly heats the water which is stored in the removable 2L water tank and an even extraction is achieved thanks to a low pressure pre-infusion from the 15 bar pump. The Razor dosing tool and on-board tamper help you achieve the correct dosing for your shot!
Instant hot water is at hand for long black coffees, but, if a cappuccino or latte is your preference, there is also a powerful milk frothing arm to texture and heat your milk in the stainless steel frothing jug that comes with the machine. This steam wand has the ideal pressure to draw in the air and create thousands of tiny bubbles, which turns milk into a silky smooth micro-foam that is perfect for creative "latte art”. Other features include a 6 cup warming plate, dry puck feature (water is removed from the coffee grounds in the filter basket for easy disposal), drip-tray full indicator, cleaning-cycle indicator, water filter located in the water tank and cleaning kit which is located in the integral storage tray.
All of these features are integrated into an extremely elegant design and, although half the price of the company’s Dual Boiler range, the Barista Express retains the same high build quality and looks. Its stainless steel finish (available in Black or Silver) is both stylish and practical and will look good in a traditional or contemporary kitchen.
Dimensions: H35cm x W37cm x D38cm
Sage 2 year repair or replacement guarantee.
£549.99 from johnlewis.com
Pros: low price; easy to use; a good milk frothing arm for a machine at this price
Cons: slow cup warming; calibrating the grinder takes time
If you’re new to the espresso bean-to-cup market and want a starter machine, this is probably a very good choice. The next best machines typically start at £500.00, like the Sage by Heston Blumenthal mentioned above.
In our opinion, there really is no such thing as a good, cheap, espresso bean-to-cup machine. But this is as close as it gets, especially for one which includes a milk steaming arm and offers so much versatility in terms of the wide range of drinks which can be made. In short, the De’Longhi Magnifica ESAM4200 is a fully-automated bean-to-cup coffee machine that offers an impressive array of features for the dedicated coffee enthusiast.
De’Longhi are skilled at combining quality with simplicity and a wide range of features, and that makes it attractive to all but the most experienced of home baristas. If speed and expense are of the essence, you can use pre-ground coffee with the ESAM4200, but, as you might expect, you can start from scratch and use fresh coffee beans to get the best results, ground to order. Water pressure is important when it comes to coffee perfection, and this machine delivers. The professional grade 15 bar pump will give you the pressure you need in the coffee brewing process to get that cup to match the professionals in your favourite café.
The De’Longhi simplicity can’t get any better, with one press functions to make your coffee. From coffee beans to hot mug, the pre-configured one touch cycles will give you consistent performance. The ESAM4200 manual provides detailed information about each of the pre-sets, and how to go beyond them if you’re feeling adventurous! While the steaming arm may not be the best, it’s still above average compared to other machines with a similar price tag.
Dimensions: H28.5cm x W37.5cm x D36 cm
De’Longhi’s standard two year guarantee.
£299.99 from amazon.co.uk
Cons: highest price; need to replace the water filter regularly
This machine is by no means just about the looks. The stunning piano black design is paired with an innovative pulse extraction process and multi-level precision grinder to pack maximum flavour into every cup. The 15 bar pressure works by pressing water through the coffee grounds in small bursts, forcing it around each ground to give a great tasting coffee.
The 1.9L reservoir machine also has a built-in Claris smart water filter to create the purest possible espresso, and an indicator will alert you when it needs replacing. And it only filters water as needed to minimise wastage. There are pre-set functions for rinsing the machine and its integrated foam frother, as well as descaling the body, which makes this design easy to keep clean, too.
You can personalise this machine by programming it with up to 12 different coffee types - all easily accessible at the touch of a button. You can also tailor the settings and choose from up to eight coffee strengths depending on your preference. If you're short on time or have guests waiting for an after-dinner pick-me-up, you can also make two coffees at a time.
The E60 is ideal for those who like to make their favourite coffee quickly, with the buttons for the espresso, coffee, cappuccino and milk foam functions all positioned on the front for maximum convenience. This model can even prepare two coffees simultaneously and, thanks to the colour display, operating the machine is incredibly easy.
Dimensions: H35.1cm x W28cm x D35.1cm
Two year guarantee from John Lewis.
£795.95 from johnlewis.com
Once you’re all set up with your new machine, the next decision is which beans to choose. All Spiller & Tait blends work well in these devices, but, to aid your decision, follow this link for our recommendation of the best beans for espresso machines.
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