We explain the differences between ground coffee, bean-to-cup and capsule or pod machines. Use our guide to find your perfect coffee machine.
Coffee machines come in a wide range of styles and can cost anything from £30 to more than £1,000. What’s right for you depends on several factors, including your budget, what coffee you like to drink, and how much control you want over the process. Some coffee makers are better suited to espresso fans, while others will make every type of froth you can imagine. Others may limit your options in terms of the coffee you can use, so it pays to do your research to make sure you don’t get stuck with a machine that doesn’t cater to your needs. Head straight to our coffee machine reviews to compare models.
Coffee machine types explained
These are the main types of machine that make espresso-style coffee – your starting point for making Americanos, lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and more:
Capsule or pod coffee machines – these use pre-prepared coffee pods for a quick, easy and mess-free brew, but you’re usually limited to a specific type of capsule and the pods can be pricey and hard to recycle.
Bean-to-cup coffee machines – these grind beans from scratch for each drink, to give you the freshest coffee possible.
Ground coffee machines – these look most like the kind of machine you’ll see in a café.
They usually require you to get more hands-on with your drinks prep. See below for the pros and cons of each of these machine types. Filter coffee machines make a longer black coffee by slowly dripping hot water through ground coffee into a jug (rather than using pressure like an espresso machine). If you’re after this type of machine see our filter coffee machine buying guide.
Pod coffee machines: pros and cons
Coffee pod machines, such as Nespresso, Tassimo and Dolce Gusto, are the most popular type. They’re likely to suit you if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make coffee at home.
Pros of pod coffee machines:
Usually quite compact, so won’t take up too much space in your kitchen. Cheap to buy – some cost as little as £40. Quick, simple and consistent results, with little clean-up required. Some also make drinks such as hot chocolate and tea. Good for occasional coffee drinkers, as the sealed pods keep coffee fresh. Can have a range of coffee flavours and styles on the go at once.
Cons of pod coffee machines:
More expensive per drink than ground coffee or beans. Coffee pods create waste, as many pods are plastic – although some are greener than others. You’re usually tied into using a specific capsule type (eg Nespresso pods), limiting your choice of drink and where you can buy the pods.
Some are only available online. The brand of machine you choose will affect the drink options available to you. Some focus on espresso, while others make a range of weird and wonderful drinks, from caramel macchiatos to iced chocolates.
Pricier models will usually offer more customisation options, allowing you to save preferences and adjust the temperature or froth level of your drink. Some also have apps so you can control them from your phone, or keep track of your capsule supply.
The key coffee-pod brands are: Dolce Gusto, Illy, Lavazza, Nespresso and Tassimo. Find out more about what they offer and how they compare on factors such as price, range, taste and eco credentials in our full pod coffee machine buying guide. Best pod or capsule coffee machines – go straight to our top recommended models. All pod coffee machine reviews – independent reviews of Dolce Gusto, Illy, Lavazza, Nespresso, Tassimo, and more.
Ground coffee machines: pros and cons
A ground coffee machine will suit you if you want to have more control over your coffee, and don’t mind getting hands-on with your drinks prep. They also offer a good compromise between upfront costs and the ongoing cost of coffee.
Pros of ground coffee machines:
Can use any ground coffee provided it’s the right grind level (fine espresso coffee). Some can also use ESE pods (like tea bags) giving you the option of mess-free drinks prep. Cheaper per cup than pods. More control over the strength and size of your drink. Can make two drinks at once.
Cons of ground coffee machines:
Might take a bit of time to get the hang of making your coffee, and there’s more room for error. More manual prep and clean-up than with other types. Most ground coffee machines have a steam wand, which you can use to froth milk in a separate jug.
Many opt for a traditional look, with old-fashioned dials and controls that leave you to decide the length and strength of your drink. However, some, such as the Breville One-Touch, have adopted a more novice-friendly design with simple pre-set drink settings and automatic milk-frothing units, so going for ground coffee doesn’t have to mean a crash course in being a barista.
DeLonghi has the biggest range, but Krups and Sage also make ground coffee machines. There are also some cheaper options around from the likes of Argos, Beko, Sainsbury’s and Swan.
Best ground coffee machines – discover the top models we recommend. All ground coffee machine reviews – independent reviews of all the latest models.
Bean-to-cup coffee machines: pros and cons
pros of bean-to-cup coffee machines:
Grind beans on demand for a fresh brew. Most automate the coffee-making process. Can use a variety of coffee beans, and in some cases ground coffee too. Some have extensive customisable settings, so you can tailor drinks and save preferences. Some can make two drinks at once.
Cons of bean-to-cup coffee machines:
Tend to be much more expensive.
Some models are very large and bulky.
Can be difficult to clean and prone to clogging.
Can be noisy when grinding.
Premium bean-to-cup machines often have colour touchscreens and extensive drinks menus. Some have automatic milk frothers, too. Cheaper models are more likely to have a steam wand for manual milk frothing. Price varies wildly, with some models exceeding £2,000. Paying more doesn’t guarantee great coffee, though. We’ve uncovered top-scoring bean-to-cup machines for a fraction of that price, as well as some expensive models that make mediocre coffee. Big brands in the bean-to-cup world include DeLonghi, Dualit, Jura, Melitta and Krups. Sage and DeLonghi both also make some traditional-style models which have built-in grinders but still require you to have a hand in the coffee-prep process, similar to a ground coffee machine. Best bean-to-cup coffee machines 2021 – see the models we recommend. Bean-to-cup coffee machine reviews – independent reviews of all the latest models.
Coffee machines: upfront vs running costs
Pod coffee machines tend to be the cheapest type to buy, with prices starting at around £30 for some Dolce Gusto, Lavazza and Tassimo machines. They can work out more expensive in the long run, though, as pods are more expensive than ground coffee or beans, so your cost per cup is higher.
Pod coffee machines – £30 to £400, typically £100
Ground coffee machines – £50 to £500, typically £200
Bean-to-cup machines – £250 to £2,000+, typically £850
The price of pods varies by brand, but some cost as much as £1 per pod. Here’s how costs add up over time by coffee machine type:
Coffee machine features to consider
If you’re a fan of milky drinks, such as cappuccinos and lattes, choose a coffee machine with a milk-frothing function. There are several options: you’ll need to decide whether you want your drink made for you, or if you’re happy to froth the milk and add it to your coffee.
Steam wand – traditional option, mostly found on ground coffee and some bean-to-cup machines. You froth milk in a separate jug using a burst of steam, and you can then add it to your drink. Some premium versions are partly automated, so you just need to stick the wand in a jug to create your froth.
Automatic frothing – found on bean-to-cup and some ground coffee/pod machines. Just add milk to a dedicated container and a built-in frother sucks it up and dispenses foamed milk directly into your cup.
Milk-frothing accessory – whisks and heats milk for you to add to your coffee. Often sold with Nespresso and Lavazza pod machines. You can also buy them as a standalone accessory. See our guide to the best milk frothers for our top picks.
Milk pods – pre-prepared UHT or powdered milk pods dispense froth directly into your cup. Used in Tassimo and Dolce Gusto pod coffee machines.
Some coffee machines let you adjust pre-set drink settings to suit your preferences. This means the machine will automatically dispense just the right amount of coffee, at the perfect strength, every time.
If you tend to make a lot of coffee at once, look for a model with a larger water tank of around 1.5 litres, otherwise you’ll find yourself having to constantly refill it. Some pod machines have very small tanks.
Regularly cleaning and descaling your machine will help to keep it working well for longer. Look for automatic cleaning programs to make it less of a hassle. If it needs to be cleaned manually, check to see if the parts can be removed easily for cleaning, and whether they’re dishwasher safe.
Some coffee machines can be connected to your smartphone via an app. You can control the machine from the app, as well as accessing troubleshooting advice and maintenance alerts.
Choosing a coffee machine that lasts
As well as choosing a coffee machine that makes a tasty espresso or latte, you’ll want one that will keep doing so for years to come. We survey coffee machine owners to find out which coffee makers last the distance when you get them home, so check our guide to the most and least reliable coffee machine brands to help narrow down your search.