5 things I wish I'd known before buying a bean-to-cup coffee machine

Thinking of investing in a bean-to-cup coffee machine? There are a few things I think you'll want to know about

Sage bean-to-cup coffee machine in silver colourway
(Image credit: Sage)

If you're currently thinking, "should I buy a bean-to-cup coffee machine?", and have been perusing T3's best bean-to-cup coffee machines buying guide, then I think I can help you make up your mind if one is right for you.

This is because I've been using a bean-to-cup coffee machine for a few years now and, during that time, I've learned a few things, both good and bad, about these all-in-one coffee-making servants.

As such, here are the 5 key things I wish I'd been told before I bought a bean-to-cup coffee machine.

1. You get maximum coffee making freedom

Ok, the good news with bean-to-cup coffee machines is that they grant more freedom in how you make your coffee, what beans or grounds you use, and what drinks you can make when compared to, say, one of the best espresso machines.

Not only do bean-to-cup coffee machines allow you to choose your own beans or grounds, rather than being stuck with what is offered in pods, but as these systems also come with grinders, tampers and milk steaming wands, you can have greater control in just how your beverage of choice is made.

I have loved being able to, say, go away on a mini-break to somewhere new, spot a place that sells unique coffee beans, and then be able to buy them safe in the knowledge that I've got a machine that can process them for me and make me a variety of coffees from them.

2. But get ready to do a lot of cleaning

However, with that greater flexibility and machine complexity comes a lot more mess. Bean-to-cup coffee machines need regular (like every week) cleaning, with their drip tray emptying multiple times, spent grounds container emptied and cleaned, and milk container and wand washed after every use.

Fail to do any of this and, within weeks, you'll be faced with a filthy machine that is overflowing dirty coffee-stained water onto your kitchen top, infesting your machine's internals with mold-covered coffee grounds, and caking your milk dispenser with smelly, gone off milk residue.

And that's saying nothing about the descaling that needs to place 2 or 3 times a year either. Basically, prepare to get cleaning if you buy a bean-to-cup coffee machine.

3. Connected bean-to-cup coffee machine apps are silly

A lot of the most modern bean-to-cup coffee machines on the market today take pride in advertising how they have a connected app which, so the marketing goes, will let you remotely command your coffee bot to make your favorite beverage while you are remote, pictured often with your feet up.

But the reality is that you'll hook your app up to the machine, use it once to see it work, and then you'll never use it again. Why? Because, one, the vast majority of the time you'll need to physically go to the machine to fill it with water and milk and, two, you'll remember that the bean-to-cup machine can't bring you the drink.

4. They pay for themselves... eventually

We don't recommend anyone really buy a bean-to-cup coffee machine that rings in at under $500/£500 as that way poor quality grinders, tampers and coffee lie. So to really get started with bean-to-cup you need to drop around half a grand, and that's a pretty big investment.

However, I would argue that after a few years at most, if you drink a decent amount of coffee each week, bean-to-cup coffee machines pay for themselves. For example, if we say an average coffee is $3/£3 to buy at a coffee house, then you'd have to buy 166 coffees to hit our suggested $500/£500 spend on a machine.

So, if you theoretically buy a coffee a day from a coffee shop during a working week, then you're spending £15 a week on coffee. Do that for 33 weeks and you've spent your bean-to-cup coffee machine money. For the record, there are 52 weeks in a year, so this means you'd pay off your investment in just over half a year. Drink less coffee each week, maybe with just 2 or 3 bought? Then you're still likely to have paid off the cost in under two years.

5. You absolutely should tinker with settings

Finally, while these all-in-one machines do do everything for you, from grinding the beans, to tamping the grounds, to heating and pressuring the water, and onto steaming and frothing any add-in milk, you will need to play with the machine's settings to get the best coffee.

Grind settings, dosage size, milk temperature, water quantity and more are the sorts of things we advise playing around with, as by doing so you'll almost certainly get a better coffee, or at least coffee out of the machine that suits your tastes better. Remember, the best coffees require that human touch, so while these machines detach you from the key tasks, you can at least give some more refined orders.

So, yes, don't think that the machine comes out of its box with optimal settings, and don't be afraid to experiment with its options menu.

Robert Jones

Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology, toys (specifically Lego and board games), smart home and more for over 15 years. As the editor of PC Gamer, and former Deputy Editor for T3.com, you can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket his two favourites.