Bean to Cup vs Pod Coffee Machines : Which is Best?

Despite being known as mainly a tea drinking nation, the UK actually consumes a staggering 95 million cups of coffee a day, that’s very nearly 2 coffee drinks per adult, every single day.

While true we are still mainly an instant coffee kind of folk, our love of real freshly brewed coffee is growing rapidly and now accounts for over 20% of the market.

More and more Brits are choosing to shun their local coffee shops and buy their own coffee machine for home, and why not it makes perfect economic sense for anyone who drinks a coffee cup a day.

But which coffee machine to choose is not an easy decision to make, their are so many considerations, and making the wrong choice will be an expensive error.

Most people will opt for ease of use and convenience, and that is why the two of the most popular options are bean to cup coffee machines and pod machines (nespresso).

But you needn’t worry as I have a vast experience of both types, and the below guide will help you decide which is best for you?

Bean to Cup vs Pod
Pod coffee machine

Definitions

Before we get into the meat of the subject, you should probably know the difference between the two.

Bean to Cup Coffee Machines

A Bean to Cup machine is essentially like an espresso machine, but it will handle the whole process from grinding the beans, to tamping them, and then brewing your shot. Basically its fully automatic.

Some more expensive models have automatic milk frothing systems that will also handle texturing the milk for you to make cappuccinos and lattes.

Pod Coffee Machines

A pod machine or capsule machine as they are sometimes called are a relatively new invention and are designed to offer a simple way to make an espresso without a fancy machine.

The pods are loaded with freshly ground coffee that is compact and ready to brew a shot.

Convenience

As I have mentioned, the biggest consideration these days is convenience and not just when choosing a coffee machine. We look for convenience in all aspects of our lives.

Filter coffee machines and espresso machines just don’t offer the same level of convenience. Which is why the market for pod machines and bean to cup machines has grown massively in recent years.

But which of the two is the most convenient coffee maker? This is extremely close,

Both pod machines and bean to cup offer virtually one touch operation. They both heat up and produce a great tasting coffee in around a minute.

If you only drink espresso then a capsule machine probably just has the edge, however if you drink anything else such as Latte or Flat white, or any other coffee that requires a milk frothing function then a bean to cup is the best choice.

Ease of Use

Jura Z6 Control Display

Similar to convenience but not quite the same consideration is how easy are they to use?

Bean to Cup Coffee machines : These vary wildly in functionality and ease of use. The basic entry level options are very simple to use. Add the beans to the top, place the cups under the nozzle and push a button.

The more expensive options have touch screens, hundreds of possible settings and even smartphone apps. But mostly these are extremely intuitive to use and you just follow the onscreen prompts.

Pod Coffee Machine : Again it depends on the different models. The basic ones are as simple to use as it gets, add the pod, close it and push the button.

But the more expensive machines can get quite complex when they offer different coffee drinks. They fail to offer either the level of customisation or ease of use as the bean to cup.

Initial Price

The cost to purchase your coffee machine will most likely be a big factor in your decision, and it is no wonder, we are talking about anything from £60 all the way up to over £3000

How much does a Bean to Cup Coffee Machine Cost?

How much does a bean to cup coffee machine cost? How long is a piece of string?

The entry level options from two of the big players Delonghi or Gaggia can cost just a few hundred, and if you time it right for the sales, then even less.

The top of the range all singing, all dancing smartphone connected machines are over £3000.

However if you’re are new or upgrading from an espresso machine then you can get an extremely good bean to cup machine for £5/600 check out the Sage Barista Express

How much do Capsule Machines such as Nespresso cost?

No doubting pod coffee machines are cheaper than bean to cup machines. The cheapest are around £50, in fact the first one I bought cost £60 but came with £90 worth of pods for free. So effectively they paid me to have the machine.

But this was very basic, it only made an espresso or doppio espresso.

If you want more functionality then you will need to stick your hands in your pocket, as these can go up to £500. But for this it will have a milk frother and milk jug included, plus the ability to customise your coffees.

Cost of a Coffee

The next big consideration consumers need to consider is the ongoing costs of owning either type of coffee machine. This is manifested by how much does it cost you to make each coffee?

To make this easier I will stick to the cost of an espresso, otherwise we could be here all day.

Cost per cup from a Bean to Cup

For a bean to cup machine the cost of producing a quality shot of espresso is roughly 16p each. How did I come to this figure?

Well on average a bag of real good quality coffee from a good roaster will cost £20/kg, so that is 2000p per 1000 grams. So 2p per gram.

A standard 25ml shot of espresso will use 8 grams of ground beans.

So 8g x 2p = 16p / shot

Cost per cup from a Pod machine

Working out the cost for a pod machine is even simpler, this is simply the cost of the pods.

Nespresso pods = 30p each on average

Tassimo pods = 45p each on average

Supermarket own brand pods cost as low as 10p each (bear in mind they are not always as good)

How good is the Coffee?

So to the all important question. All the other considerations are important, but they should not make you buy a coffee machine that doesn’t make a decent cup of coffee.

If they make a bad coffee, then you may as well stick to the filter coffee machines laying around at the back of the cupboard.

Bean to Cup Coffee machines : These have the ability to make coffee as good as any espresso machine or pro barista. Most can even be used good plug and play, the standard distributor settings will be good enough for anyon, just take it out of the box and go.

But fans on the bean to cup machine, will tell you the best thing is the ability to customise every aspect of their coffees.

From the size you want your beans ground, to the length of the brew. You really can make the perfect cup of coffee in the comfort of your own home.

Pod Coffee Machines : One thing the pods have going for them, is simplicity. Even my gran can use one, there is no dosing, measuring, grinding. No it is all done for you, just pop in the pod and off you go.

So they make good coffees consistently, but the downside is they lack personalised touches. If you have specific tastes or like to different style coffees then these are not for you.

Other Considerations

Environment

coffee pod waste

Our slow convergence from tea to coffee is not the only revolution going on in the UK at the moment, no a much bigger and much more important one is happening simultaneously.

What is this you ask…

The green revolution of course, yes we are all now, much more concerned with our own impact on the world.

And this is factor you absolutely have to consider when choosing your coffee machine, the same as when you choose anything new.

So which is the best environmentally in the bean to cup vs pod choice?

With all pod machines the big downside is the pod themselves what do you do with them once you’ve had your coffee?

Well there are a few options, the big companies like Nespresso and Tassimo have their own recycling schemes, but this means collecting the pod and sending it to them or taking to a special collection centre.

Because they can’t just be recycled by your council, it is estimated that over 250 million, yes million pods end up in UK landfill every year(1). Scientists estimate these can take up to 500 years to breakdown.

We do not have this problem with bean to cup coffee machines, although they are not entirely innocent. The beans you buy still often come in plastic lined bags which are not recyclable. The ground coffee beans though can go straight on the compost pile.

Cleaning and Maintenance

This is a big consideration and one not to be taken lightly, this is a big investment and one you will be with for years to come. All coffee makers will require some ongoing maintenance from you, but exactly how much?

This is a close call between the two but I have to say a capsule machine just has the edge, and only just. They are a little easier to clean after each use, and all the coffee grounds stay in the used coffee pods and all you need to do is pop that in the recycling bag.

A bean to Cup machine on the other hand will take a lot more cleaning after each use, including removing parts, and soaking with hot water.

For the longer term maintenance such as descaling I would give it to the bean to cup machine. Most will have automated programs that will not only remind you when you need to run it, but will most likely do it all for you.

Size

This is an easy win for the pod coffee machines, the smallest pod I can find is only 32cm deep and 23cm high. The biggest is not much bigger 42cm deep and 32 high.

Bean to Cup machines on the other hand are generally much bigger and the Delonghi Magnifica as a starter is 50cm deep and 40 cm high. The biggest machines will quite easily consume your worktop.

FAQs

Are Fresh coffee beans better than pods?

Coffee snobs will argue yes beans are better than pods, and to an extent I agree. If you are get small batch locally roasted beans and using within a few months, then that will be at their best.

The advantage of pods is they are sealed in the airtight pod almost immediately after being roasted. This is a very close second and will keep the coffee near its peak until you need it.

Can Nespresso make a full Cup?

An original Nespresso machine will only brew a Lungo Coffee (140ml) at the most. The newer Nesrpesso Virtuo can brew a larger cup of coffee up to 230ml.

A normal mug is between 240ml – 300ml

Are coffee beans cheaper than pods?

Yes generally coffee beans are cheaper than pods, there are outliers of course, but these are rare.

A single pod bought directly from Nespresso will cost you 30p a shot, similarly it takes 8grams of coffee to make an espresso shot. If the average cost for 1kg of good quality coffee is £20, then this is 16p per shot.

The Final Verdict

This is hard, there really is no clear winner in the battle between the pod and bean to cup coffee machines. I hate to say it but is ultimately dependent on what you want from your coffee machine?

I know that seem like a cop out, and it is but when your making such a big decision it needs to be right for you.

As a guide I would say get a pod machine if you are after the ability to make a decent shot of espresso to get you going each morning and don’t want any faff.

However if you love the specialty coffees and want to give latte art a go and impress your mates with great barista skills then a bean to cup is the one for you.

Either way, I hope you enjoy our new coffee machine

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.