Do you want to make a great coffee at the push of a button, do you simply not have the time to prepare a coffee in between getting the kids ready for school and making it to the earlier train to get you to work on time? You need an automatic coffee machine.
There are a plethora of machines available to you with various functions, I’ll decode some of those functions below. Some automatic machines will make a cappuccino at the push of a button, some use little pods, and some automatic coffee machines turn whole bean coffee into a pleasant cup of wake-up juice with almost no effort from the operator. I’m going to categorise these machines into 2 major groups, bean to cup – where the whole coffee beans are poured into a hopper and the machine does the work for you and pod coffee machines – where you put a little aluminium, plastic or paper pod into a machine and it brews something resembling an espresso.
Bean to Cup Vs Pod Machines
We have been testing a bean to cup machine in the office for a few months and we love it. It’s a Melita Solo. We plugged it in and followed the set-up procedure, without any setting alterations, the machines produced a well extracted shot of coffee, with a good crema. Bean to cup machines create very little waste, only a coffee puck that can be used to deter slugs on your garden or put straight in your garden waste bin. There’s of course that recycling of the coffee bags, which is limited in the UK however some roasters and us at Dog and Hat, use the teracycle scheme. The coffee bags are shipped in bulk and recycled to make things like hardwearing benches. We have found our Melitta is easy to clean and maintain and parts are available from the supplier if anything breaks.
Pod machines are just as user friendly, but they aren’t as environmentally friendly. The problem is waste, there is always a pod to dispose of. We did a little bit of reading into how easy these pods are to recycle, and its limited. There are only 3 councils in the UK currently that claim to recycle all pod machine capsules and pods, some of the large suppliers of pod machines have taken responsibility for the waste and have partnered with each other and PodBak to try to reduce the number of pods going to landfill.
Currently pod recycling is in its infancy and most postcodes in the UK are unable to recycle or receive curb side collections. Details of how many pods are recycled and what sort of environmental impact the processing has is undisclosed at this time. According the Independent News Paper in October 2021, it is estimated that 30,000 coffee pods go to landfill. Each pod takes around 500 years to decompose. Many of these pods contain plastic as well. There are composable pods available, these pods still take a long time to degrade.
An other consideration is the cost per pod anywhere from 45p to 70p and the processing the make the pod and grind just 7g of coffee and seal each one. In comparison a bean to cup machine uses a dose of around 9 – 10g meaning a 250g bag of specialty grade coffee costing £9, would make 25 coffees. 36p per coffee.
In my experience of pod machines cleaning and maintenance requires minimal effort, however they are short lived. They usually break after 2 years with heavy use, however parts are not available in most cases.
HOW TO CHOOSE A MACHINE?
For what they are bean to cup machines are reasonably priced compared to comparable traditional espresso machines and you don’t need to spend thousands to get a great coffee. Our Melita Solo’s RRP is £340. There are lots of bean to cup machines on the market so you need to find the machine that’s right for you. Consider the size of the machine. What roast profile you prefer, bean to cup machines are not suitable for very dark roast coffees as the oils on the surface clog the machines. Medium to medium light roasts are preferred and you can alter the grind size to suit the roast on most machines.
Link to our Bean to Cup subscription Bean to Cup Machines – Dog & Hat Coffee (dogandhat.co.uk)
An important question is do you want milk with your coffee? We wouldn’t recommend any machine that dispenses milk from the same nozzles that the coffee is dispensed. This does mean that if you want a milky coffee, you’ll need to do a little more, but it’s worth it. Not only can the milk curdle and block the nozzles, but once the nozzles are blocked the coffee can be forced back into the machine causing a failure of the pressure chamber. This will then need replacing. In my experience machines the dispense milk in this way are harder to maintain.
There are alternatives, some machines come will milk dispensers independent to the coffee nozzles, they still need to be maintained to prevent blocking. Our preferred design is a semi-automatic milk wand or a separate, easy to clean milk frother. We elected for the latter, we have been testing the Melita Cremio. We found it works well with soy, oat and cows milk and creates a thick creamy froth without over heating the milk. The milk is suitable for cappuccinos but is probably to thick for lattes. The Cremio can also heat milk with no froth, and froth cold milk for milk shakes.
Most bean to cup machines are easy to maintain, most of them have auto clean and descale programmes.
A fully automatic machine is expected to produce a coffee provided it is primed with water, milk and coffee. Some machines come with other functions that could be important to you when you’re deciding on which machine you want. Most machines will give you the option to change the “strength” of your coffee and alter the volume of liquid these settings are important when it comes to getting the best out of your machine. While the coffee brewed is arguably not an espresso, it is easy to set up the machine to brew a great tasting cup, you are aiming for a 1:4 ratio of coffee to water. Some will allow you to change the grind size however we wouldn’t recommend that you change the grind size much finer than the manufacturers recommended settings.
REVIEW OF THE MELITA SOLO AUTOMATIC COFFEE MACHINE
This machine is minimal, that’s a good thing sometimes. It’s not exactly barebones but for an “automatic machine” I’d say its brilliant. It’s perfect for espresso and black coffee drinkers, or someone who only adds a bit of cold milk. The is no auto-milk, no milk dispenser and therefore in my humble opinion a easier to maintain machine.
The Solo is basic but it comes with a lot of potential, when you receive the machine it is already to plug and play (as long as you’ve pre-soaked the water filter). Without changing a single setting the Solo produced a great tasting coffee extraction. Arguably it wasn’t an espresso in the same sense of a traditional machine. The ratio was a bit off, but the coffee itself tasted good. I was a little surprised at first, however this little machine is capable of much more.
On the left there’s a dial that regulates the amount of coffee brewed, ranging from 30 ml and 220 ml. Under the central display there are buttons for single-cup brewing, double-cup brewing and to set the strength of coffee to be brewed. The “strength” is represented by LED coffee beans. Its simple but it works, inside the machine under the panel there is a lever to alter the grind size if you want dial in each coffee perfectly. We have found that we can aid the extraction by slightly changing the water output without having to change the grind size.
The machine build quality is good but it does have a plastic casing which makes the panels that you can remove seem flimsy. Overall the machine is attractive and fairly compact, the water reservoir is a little small and the machine has an auto rinse setting so you end up having to fill the machine after about 5 espressos.
Its neat and tidy, it cleans itself, the drip tray is easy to remove and can be rinsed in the sink. All the waste coffee is collected in a little tub that you can empty into your garden waste.
The quality of the extraction is great and the espresso has a lovely crema, good body and a rich taste. Exactly what you’d expect. The is no milk attachments on the Solo, this was our preference as milk dispensers complicate the cleaning process. We decided to go with an external milk frother. The Melita Cremio. This produced a lovely thick indulgent cappuccino foam, the bubble where a little bigger using oat milk. I poured the frothed milk into a steaming pitcher to knock out the air as I didn’t want to bash the electrical Cremio on the side.
Overall I think the Melita is perfect for those who want to wake up on a morning press a button and have a beautifully brewed espresso made with freshly ground coffee. You don’t need to be a barista to use this machine but you’ll defiantly impress your coffee friends with this machine.