Bean To Cup vs Espresso Machine : What Are The Differences and Which Is Best

If you are looking to invest in a good home coffee machine, one question you probably have on your mind is what is the best option between a Bean To Cup vs Espresso Machine?

The bad news is, the answer is not as simple as recommending one coffee machine over the other.

The best option for different homes will depend on the user, their preferences and what they want from their coffee machines.

With either option easily setting you back upwards of a few hundred pounds, this is a decision you need to get right.

If you choose the wrong option now, you could be seriously out of pocket and stuck with a machine that doesn’t quite do what you need it to.

But as always We Spill The Beans has your back, and our handy guide will take you through the differences and the main functions of each type of coffee machine

All so you can buy with confidence


Bean to cup vs Espresso Machine

What are Bean-To-Cup Coffee Machines

Jura Z8

A proper bean to cup coffee machine is as the name would suggest a coffee machine that is capable of handling the whole process from whole coffee bean to the final drink in the cup.

To put this is simple terms is they are an automatic espresso machine that has an integrated grinder.

A user will just need to add their fresh coffee beans in the top, and press a button and the machine will grind the beans, tamp the coffee grounds and brew a perfect shot of espresso.

Depending on the model chosen, they will also have either manual milk frothers for texturing milk, or they may have a fully automatic milk system.

The automatic milk option will allow users to make flat white, cappuccino or other espresso drinks with one touch of a button.

Bean to Cup coffee machines are relatively new and have grown in popularity in recent years. They may also be called super automatic coffee machines.

Advantages of the Bean to Cup Machine

There are pros and cons with both types of coffee machine, and sometimes, 1 thing listed as a pro may in fact be a con to another user.

  • No training or experience required, you can simply use straight out of the box. Yes most machines are plug and play. Although you do have many customisable options you can tweak over time
  • Any member of the family can use it with ease, they really are that simple, the most advanced machines have touch screen displays, you just press the drink you want.
  • No need for external machines such as separate grinders, the bean to cup will handle everything. The main advantage is the convenience of having one machine handle the whole process.
  • Consistent results, get the same coffee every time you use it. Being fully automatic they are very very consistent in the product they produce.
  • Hands free, allows you to complete another task while it makes your drink. Pop in some toast, cut your bagel or even slice a piece of cake.
  • Freshest possible coffee. Grinding on demand means your coffee is as fresh as it possible can be.

Disadvantages of the Bean to Cup

While they offer an amazing level of convenience, bean to cup machines do lack in certain areas compared to a traditional espresso machine. How much is the convenience worth to you, can you live with the cons

  • They are generally more expensive to purchase upfront. They range in price from £300 to well over £2500. Not a small investment at all
  • They can be quite large and need a lot of space. So if you have a small kitchen or you are the type of person to put things away in a cupboard when not in use, then it may not be suitable.
  • The grinding can be noisy, some people find this annoying first thing in the morning. But for me its the sound of mornings as much as birds chirping.
  • Cleaning and maintenance can be quite fiddly, and depending on the model you have could require you do it all, or could be fully automated
  • Some people are snobbish and will not think they’re for real baristas. I am not sure why but some coffee lovers just haven’t taken to the bean to cup machines.
  • Can be limited by the coffees it has programmed. While some will offer 20+ programmed options and the ability to add your own recipes. Some will have only 2/3 options and that is all you can make

What Is an Espresso Coffee Machine

Espresso machine by Sage

Espresso machines are more traditional than the bean to cup option. They work by forcing a pressurised water through a compact disk (puck) of ground coffee. The minimum pressure required for espresso machines is 9bar, however most options now offer 15 bar. (1)

Generally the machine will only handle the brewing of the espresso shot.

You will either need to buy pre ground or if you want to use whole beans then you will need an external grinder.

For specialty coffees such as flat white and cappuccinos some models will have a milk frother wand. An espresso machine will not offer and automated milk system.

Espresso coffee machines are what you would find in your local coffee shop, being used by barista. They need a little skill to master and get a good quality coffee.

Advantages of the Espresso Machine

Traditional espresso machines do not offer the same level as convenience but if you are trying to recreate the feeling of your local coffee shops then they are the way to go.

  • A trained home barista can produce an excellent cup of coffee. With just a few weeks practice you could be producing an espresso as good as any coffee shop
  • Traditional looking machine, makes an impression on anyone who pops over for a cuppa. Lets them know you are someone who takes coffee seriously
  • You control each aspect of the process, which means you can really customise the drinks and produce truly unique coffees
  • They are on average cheaper than bean to cup machines and you can pick a really good option up for between £100-£500
  • Compared to bean to cup machines they are relatively simple things and are easier to clean and maintain

Disadvantages of the Espresso Machine

Nothing is perfect and espresso machines especially, while they are amazing in so many fronts they also have their drawbacks.

  • You need a little skill to get going. You cannot simply take it out of the box and start producing quality shots.
  • To use whole coffee beans you will need an external grinder, which will be both an extra expense and also noisy to use.
  • Because each step of the process is manual and depends on the operator, you coffee may taste different each time you make one.
  • An espresso machine is not as efficient and there maybe more wastage.


Why Choose a Bean-To-Cup

The main benefit of the bean-to-cup coffee machine is convenience, many people are attracted to the one touch operation.

If you don’t fancy yourself as a barista but want a coffee machine that can do more than your standard Nespresso machine, then this is the option for you.

You will get an extremely consistent coffee each and every time you use it, from a shot of espresso to more fancy coffees such as Flat White’s, Latte’s and Cappuccino’s

With the advances in the technology used in these types of coffee machines, the quality of the coffee produced is as good as you will get in most coffee shops.

It is no wonder then they are the fastest growing part of the market and customers love them

Why Choose an Espresso Machine

Espresso machines take more skill and training to operate, but once mastered allow the operator a greater level of control of the shot produced.

If you fancy testing your skills against that of trained baristas then you will definitely want an espresso machine.

This is also the option for those that like the traditional look, and home espresso machines looks like a mini version of the machines you find in coffee shops.

They are not however for anyone who wants the easy option, of pushing one button and getting a coffee out the other end.


Can you put coffee beans in an espresso machine?

Not really no, you cannot use whole bean in an espresso machine. You will need to ground them first in a grinder and then you can add the grounds to the group head. The extraction process is reliant on the water being forced through the compact coffee puck.

If you just used whole beans the result would be watery and not very nice at all

Can you use ground coffee in a bean to cup machine?

Yes you can use ground coffee in a bean to cup machine. Most machines (but not all) will have a bypass chute. This will allow you to add the grounds directly into the group head.

Just remember the big reason for choosing a bean to cup coffee machine is the integrated grinder, and the ability to use whole bean coffee. So you are better off not using grounds.

What does Bean to Cup mean?

A Bean to Cup machine means exactly what it sounds like. A machine that is capable of handling the whole process from whole bean to the cup of coffee.

A fully automatic coffee machine that incorporates a grinder

Is it best to buy beans or ground coffee?

If possible you are always better off buying whole bean over coffee that has been ground. As we know coffee is at its best when it is freshly ground, this freshness lasts for roughly 30 mins.

However grounds that have been vacuum packed and sealed instantly will retain a lot of flavour and aromas.

But given the choice always go for fresh whole bean coffee

The Final Word

As you can see there is no real definitive answer to which is better between bean to cup machines and espresso machines. It really is down to your personal preferences and what you require most from the coffee machine.

In my mind it will not be too long before you can have it all the convenience of a bean to cup coffee machine, along with the espresso machine coffee quality.

But until then there is a middle a ground, a sort of hybrid between the 2, introducing the Sage Barista Express.

About Jacques Carner

Jacques is the man behind behind We Spill The Beans. He as a lover of all things coffee, and has previously worked as a buyer for one of the biggest coffee companies in the world. You can find more about him here.