Single-serve or bean-to-cup coffee machine: which is best?

Which style of coffee machine will make the drink you love, and what will it cost? Get the inside track on single-serve and bean-to-cup coffee machines

KRUPS EA817840 Arabica Digital Bean-to-cup Coffee Machine on side in kitchen
(Image credit: Krups)

If the idea of barista-style brews at home made with one of the best coffee machines rather than only getting your coffee on the high street appeals, read on. Invest in the right coffee machine and you’ll save on shop bought, won’t have to wait for your favourite in the morning, and you can make the after-dinner drinks your friends prefer. 

But should you go for a bean-to-cup design or a pod machine to brew the coffee you like? We’ll give you the lowdown on how they work, what you’ll pay to buy one – and to use it from day to day – and recommend some of the top buys around. 

 How do bean-to-cup machines work? 

 OK, the clue is in the name, but let’s look at the process. With a bean-to-cup coffee machine, you put coffee beans in, and the machine grinds them ready to produce a range of coffee drinks – we’re talking espresso, americano, ristretto… If the coffee machine has a milk frothing function, it’ll also allow you to make cappuccino, latte and so on. 

Most importantly, your coffee will be really fresh, and that’s not just idle adjective use. Coffee made from just-ground beans should have more pronounced and more distinctive flavours.  

Starting the coffee-making process from scratch doesn’t need to make it more of a chore: a machine with an automatic programme will get on with the job while you put the toast on. But you can make like a barista with a manual machine if you prefer. Equally, some automatic machines let you customise your coffees so you have control over taste.

Bear in mind that your cleaning duties will be a tad more onerous with one of these machines as you need to stop it getting blocked. Another downside? Grinding means noise, so the rest of the family may not thank you as you get your early morning brew going. 

It’s important to know that a bean-to-cup machine doesn’t necessarily oblige you to grind your own beans. Some models take ground coffee as an alternative, so if you resent your coffee purchases being dictated to you by a home appliance, opt for one of these.

How do pod coffee machines work?

The best pod coffee machines make coffee using – yes, you’ve guessed it – pods, which you put into the machine when you want a drink. The pods are sealed, so coffee stays fresh this way but because it’s already ground, it won’t have the flavour potential grinding the beans to make a drink immediately does.

These machines are extremely quick and there’s little mess to tidy up. On the flip side, pods do mean extra waste, and recycling options depend on what the individual pods are made from. If you, your family, or guests aren’t always up for a coffee, some pod machines also make a huge variety of other drinks as well. Like to customise drinks? This may be possible, depending on the model you buy.

If your kitchen is small, a pod coffee machine does have an advantage over its bean-to-cup rival, as they’re often beautifully compact.

How much do bean-to-cup coffee machines cost?

You’re likely to have to pay more for the privilege of freshly ground coffee. Bean-to-cup machines can be found for around £100, but you’ll discover the majority cost from around £350 up to around £1,500 and even more and, yes, we’re talking freestanding machines, not the built-in variety.

Once purchased, however, a bean-to-cup machine can save you money day to day compared to a pod machine (as well as in comparison to a coffee-shop habit). 

How much do pod coffee machines cost?

Kinder on your bank balance than bean-to-cup machines generally, a pod coffee machine can be yours for as little as around £40. At the top end of the range, you might pay around £350. 

Remember, though, that making coffee from pods is more costly overall than making from beans. You’ll pay around 25 to 30p for each pod, so if you’re a dedicated several cups a day drinker, you’ll need to stack this up against what’s likely to be a cheaper initial cost for the machine itself. It’s still less expensive than an equivalent consumption in a coffee shop, of course.

Which brands make bean-to-cup coffee machines?

You’ll find bean-to-cup machines available from leading appliance brands such as Siemens, De’Longhi and Miele, along with kitchen appliance companies such as Sage, and coffee machine specialists like Krups, Melitta and Jura

Which brands make pod coffee machines?

The world of pod coffee machines is a tad more complicated than bean to cup. Pod type – for example, Nespresso or Dolce Gusto – and machine are linked, so mostly you have to buy the brand name pods the machine is designed for – although there are sometimes compatible pods available. 

Of the big sellers, you’ll find Tassimo pod coffee machines from Bosch. Krups, Magimix and De’Longhi, among others, make Nespresso machines, and you’ll also find them on the Nespresso site. You can also buy Nescafé Dolce Gusto machines on the Dolce Gusto site, and find them via De’Longhi and Krups

 Which are the best bean-to-cup coffee machines? 

Our top bean-to-cup coffee machine is the Melitta Barista Smart TS F85/0-102 bean-to-cup coffee machine. We love the coffees, naturally, we like the fact that it comes with an integrated frother, and we adore the smart control. Yes, you really can get the coffee on before you get out of bed.

Take a look, too, at the De'Longhi Eletta Cappuccino bean-to-cup coffee machine which will make all your favourite coffees, lets you save your customised brews to its memory, and even has a cup warmer to get your favourite mug to the right temperature for the drink.

The Sage Barista Pro SES878BTR bean-to-cup coffee machine is a great buy if you’re after a manual design so you can channel your own inner barista, and we’re huge fans of Sage machines. 

 Which are the best pod coffee machines? 

Our number one? The Sage Nespresso Creatista Uno SNE500BKS capsule coffee machine. This model was just pipped to the post as our overall best coffee machine, and it was a winning design for us because it’s simple to use and clean, and looks fab, as well as making delicious coffee, of course.

We also succumbed to the charms of the KitchenAid Artisan Nespresso 5KES0503 – a brilliant choice for espresso fans, especially where kitchen space is limited because it’s a compact number.

Another brilliant pod buy? The Lavazza A Modo Mio Jolie Plus makes high quality coffee with authentic Italian taste from Lavazza’s pods. 

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.