If you've been wanting to make the step up from a pod coffee machine to a bean to cup but have been put off by their complexity and bulk, Smeg may have the answer for you. The new-look Smeg BCC02 is just 42x19x34cm (length by width by height) and could be used with ease by a complete idiot. And by me! I've been trying one out for the last month and I will be very sorry to see it go.
• Buy the Smeg BCC02
For a start, Smeg – which stands for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla, as I am sure you all know – has toned down the retro, art deco styling of its products. In the past, if you didn't want your kitchen to look like a 1950s milk bar, Smeg's house style could be a little off-putting. Now, by dialling back the chrome, making the curves more subtle and the colours more matt and less overtly shiny, it's come up with something that, to my eyes at least, is a lot more contemporary.
- Best bean to cup coffee machine – too large!
- Best Nespresso coffee machine – disliked by coffee purists!
- Jura Z10 – a serious bean to cup that can even make cold brew coffee
The excellence of the design isn't limited to the looks. Despite being remarkably compact for a bean to cup coffee maker, the BCC02 still crams in a sizeable hopper for your coffee beans, and a 1.4-litre water tank. That's enough for six cups of coffee, although of course that may depend on the size of your cups. I didn't find I was having to refill it too often, which is good as that is more hassle than I can stand in the early morning.
Speaking of hassle, the BCC02 involves very little, in any way. Another neat touch is you can remove the drip tray without having to pull out the entire front of the machine, as is normally the case with bean to cups. That means it's easy to empty, and also that you can remove it entirely if you're using a particularly tall mug. That's unlikely to be necessary, as the coffee spout can be moved up and down to accommodate most drinking vessels short of a pint glass or Viking's drinking horn.
Control is via just five buttons, with no screen or other distractions. Your options are espresso (small), ristretto (very small), Americano (medium sized, with water added to bulk the drink out) and hot water, via the four main buttons. The slightly clever bit here is that you can use the fifth button to give you a different option on each of the four. So press button #5 and the coffee buttons now dispense a 'lighter' – or 'weaker', if you will – version of each drink, while the water dispenser becomes a steam wand to froth your milk for cappuccino and latte.
This a great machine that will appeal to those who don't want to mess around with settings. Personally I love to mess around with coffee machine settings, but anything I did to change the size and extraction time of my coffee only resulted in a less pleasant tasting drink. So I ultimately gave up and reset the BCC02 to its original settings – not something that has ever happened before.
The down side of this is that the default beverage sizes are very 'classically Italian', by which I mean 'tiny'. However, using all my years of experience, I was able to overcome this with a brilliant hack. Yes, I dispensed two espressos or three Americanos to get the volume I wanted.
The reason I was keen to fiddle with the settings is that the BCC02's extraction time seemed incredibly short to me. However I eventually had to conclude that bean to cup machines just don't behave in the same way as traditional espresso machines, gave up trying to apply The Rules of Correct Espresso Making and, as I say, reverted to factory settings. The speedy manner in which the BCC02 prepares coffee is in fact another excellent feature of it, especially when you're in a morning rush, and there is no denying that what comes out is reasonably strong, with plenty of crema, and excellent flavour.
I wasn't too impressed with the 'light' versions of each drink – a bit wishy-washy for my tastes – but if you like everything about coffee apart from the taste, they might work for you.
The steam wand is a little bit daunting as it requires some actual skill to use. You'll need a small, metal milk jug ideally – not included, alas – and you need to gently swirl the milk while moving the jug gradually downwards on the steam wand, like a sensual dance accompanied by the loud whooshing sound of steam being pumped into milk.
I am about as much of a barista as I am a barrister, but I was able to produce passably textured milk for my morning cappuccinos, using the BCC02's magic wand. I think over a longer period of time I would probably revert to using my Lavazza milk frother instead, but that's just me.
I don't have much else to tell you about the BCC02, because it is just so joyously simple. It's easy to clean, makes coffee in little more time than a pod machine and with generally much better results, and looks great – I particularly like the red one, although maybe that's just because it matches my kettle.
I really hope Smeg persists with this more modern design approach too, alongside it's usual 'curvy and shiny, with chrome bits on' approach. The BCC02 has already scooped a Good Design Award. I don't think I have heard of that particular award before, but I say it's a deserved winner of whatever that is.
Overall, this is a great little machine – and I use the word 'little' advisedly. It's also extremely simple and easy to use, and makes excellent coffee with very little input required from you. It would make a great addition to any modern kitchen.
Smeg BCC02: price and availability
In the USA the BCC02 is 'coming soon' and I'd imagine it will probably cost about $800. Our American readers can enjoy looking at its product page on Smeg.com while they wait.