/ Food & Drink

Beans, ground or capsules: what kind of coffee person are you?

Coffee cup and beans

Hands up if you need a coffee to kick-start the day? If instant coffee fills you with fear, then how do you get your caffeine fix? We take a look at the tampers, grinders and convenient capsule makers – which do you prefer?

I can’t actually function without a coffee in the morning, but I don’t have an espresso machine – yet. It’s on my Christmas list though.

While working on our latest coffee machine reviews, I tested a few capsules machines, like the Nespresso Pixie, Nescafe Dolce Gusto Piccolo and Dualit Rapido.

There are three main types of electric espresso machine:
1. Traditional espresso machines use ground coffee, which needs to be measured and tamped correctly.
2. Bean-to-cup machines, which grind beans at the touch of a button, delivering the freshest espresso into a waiting cup.
3. Capsules machines, which just need a unique capsule popped in and away you go.

Some argue that capsule machines are the easiest to use, while others say it’s a cheat’s (and most expensive) way to get an espresso.

But is easier? Or is there something satisfying about making the perfect espresso with ground coffee in a traditional espresso machine? Seeing the golden crema form on top of the dark, rich espresso. That lovely, freshly brewed coffee aroma.

The art of espresso making

Our coffee expert, Giles, agrees. Apparently, we’re getting more serious, more inquisitive and more demanding about our chosen ‘foodie pleasure’.

And espresso coffee machines are no exception. The real aficionado doesn’t just fill up the machine and push a button, doesn’t just follow the basic rules (fresh water, fresh coffee, primed machine etc) – they go further.

Making the perfect espresso has become a ritual, with the anticipated pleasure of delivering a perfect cup. For many people it is nearly an art, requiring full understanding of the quirks of the machine, determination to master them and an ability to be self-critical in the search for the perfect brew.

No matter how easy manufacturers make coffee machines to operate, it seems coffee machines need a bit of love and attention and time to learn how to get the best out of them.

Coffee machines live Q&A – Which? member exclusive

Do you have questions about how to get the best out of your machine? If so, Which? members can join Which? experts and top coffee connoisseur, Whittard’s Giles Hilton, for a live chat on 22 November from 12.30pm. We’ll be answering your questions on the best coffee makers and how to perfect your espresso making.

Or, get involved in the discussion here. Do you favour using ground, beans or capsules? How much preparation do you put into making the perfect brew – or is ‘proper’ coffee overrated?

Sign up for a Q&A event email reminder today at Which.co.uk/coffeelive

What do you use to make your coffee?

Instant (36%, 188 Votes)

Ground coffee (34%, 178 Votes)

Beans (12%, 61 Votes)

I don't drink coffee (12%, 60 Votes)

Capsules (6%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 520

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I’ve had a lot of stick for this from friends and family, but I genuinely prefer instant coffee. Perhaps I just have rubbish taste! I like to think my Mum raised my siblings and I to be moneysavers by only ever giving us the cheap stuff – instant coffee, supermarket-value baked beans, cheap orange juice – so that now I shudder at the hint of quality. Instant coffee – yum.

I used to get through a lot of ground coffee, even making it if I used a Thermos flask. I realised that I was not really enjoying it. When I switched to instant coffee and drank ground coffee only once a day I found I enjoyed it much more. A treat rather than a habit.

I was advised by my consultant not to drink as much tea or coffee – So reduced breakfast tea to two cups of Earl Grey – and stopped drinking ground coffee – switched to caffeine free instant black coffee.

I still enjoy my instant coffee.

I hate the coffee that comes from the machines in coffee shops. The coffee hardly has any liquid in it and the machines take so long to vomit out some coffee.

Dont ask for an expresso then ! Ask for an Americano

Better still, bin the machine and ask for a “coffee”

christian says:
20 November 2011

I have a coffee shop cafe, I did a lot of research and spent about £4500 on an Italian La Speziale Espresso machine, I buy some of the best beans and employ a superb Barista…. If I want a good coffee then thats where I get it. Otherwise I cant be bothered

There are other ways of using ground coffee, or beans, than expresso machines, especially dreadful pod machines, Accepting that instant coffee is not coffee but an entirely separate drink,.why are filter, stove top expresso or, though I do not like them, cafietieres(?) , never mentioned, let alone tested?

I never use instant and find a cafetiere the best compromise for ease of use, cost, flavour and speed especially when wanting more than 1 cup.
If I was at home during the day and maybe still had the kids at home I would invest in a bean-cup expresso machine.
Quite fussy about the coffee I buy – Fairtrade Ethopian (Harar or Yumo) and Whittards Decaf Columbian ( the only decaf I have found which is reasonably strong).

I only drink coffee. I drink both filter and percolated. Sadly many expensive percolators do not give a good cup of coffee. All my family are Italian and a good cup of coffee is a must. We all agree the percolator which one puts on the gas ring gives the best and most consistent cup of coffee. Most family members have bought expensive coffee machines but all have reverted back to the ‘on the stove’ percolator. Another problem with filter coffee is the vast amount of coffee one can buy. It seems that when one finds a good coffee, its either buy ten packets because its almost guaranteed one will not find the same coffee again over a period of months. Its seems when in town the quality of coffee from cafe to cafe is a lottery, so I rarely buy a coffee when out as it is such a disappointment. My wife and I prefer to come home and make our own.

Vicky says:
19 June 2014

I want to know what would be the best grinder, ie one that is powerful enough to pulverise nuts, spice seeds and chicory granuals. My present one (now very old) is not so good on the nuts etc.

Peter says:
6 April 2015

I’m looking for a coffee grinder for my wife’s birthday, any suggestions ?
Even though I live in Prague, most electrical products which are available in the UK are also here, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m looking for something reasonably priced, so in the middle range.

Hi Peter, have you taken a glimpse at our online coffee machine reviews?:


Here we’ve published lots of really useful information that I’m certain you’ll find interesting. Using the ‘compare features and prices” tool, you can narrow down your search to find the best model that matches your specification.

I have recently purchased a De’Longhi Magnifica ECAM22.320.SB Bean-to-Cup machine after reading through the Which reviews. After having been lucky enough to be near a place that sold fresh ground whilst I was at university I have an idea of what I like but I have to admit that I largely agree with Tricko’s comments on the variety of coffee itself. I find the sheer diversity of beans bewildering and don’t even know where to start experimenting. Does anyone have suggestions on how to learn about this kind of thing?

I’d suggest that you just buy beans of different varieties and note the ones you like, and where you bought them. Coffee taste is a personal thing. You must also bear in mind guests who might not share a particular taste.

Herts Fairview says:
22 October 2016

Peoples individual coffee tastes do vary a lot in terms of the strength they prefer, and flavour. I would expand on the latest Which review of coffee machines where it states a 7 gram ground coffee dose is enough. It might be for a lot of people but if you like a stronger ‘double shot’ type of drink you will notice a big difference in whether you use 7 gram or 15 grams. The Nespresso-type pods are around 5 grams and for my cappucino or flat white drinks I need two pods when using the Nespresso machine to get any where near the flavour of my Gaggia Classic where I use 15 gram shots, and get a top class coffee. You can keep the ground coffee in the fridge. BUT keep it in a sealed container to keep moisture away! Most coffee-knowledgeable people say use it within 14 days if possible, not more than 3 weeks if well kept. You will find it hard to get consistently good ‘to your liking’ coffee if you roast and grind yourself . You will occasionally get it right and think ‘great’ but the problem is in the consistency, beans vary and you cant always be sure how old or how well they have been kept. Blending coffee beans takes you into a difficult uncertain area where inevitably you will get mixed results. I have tried it all and concluded that the likes of Illy and Lavazza provide the most consistent and safe route for most people. They buy the right beans, roast well, get the grind right, and then air seal immediately. Its very hard to beat that to be honest.But having opened the air-sealed coffee pack its then very important to use it within 14 days and keep it well stored as discussed!

What I’m looking for is a recommended Coffee Grinder – a stand alone one, not incorporated into a coffee maker. Unfortunately I can’t find anything on this.

The market is awash with machines at all sorts of insane prices, but having got through a few of these over the years I know that I want a burr-type grinder, not a sort of liquidizer offshoot. Also the position of the catcher is crucial as many grind the coffee out sideways rather than directly down – a good way, I find, of redecorating the kitchen.