/ 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 usually drink instant coffee, and agree with wavechange – I have proper coffee (as I call it!) as a treat rather than more regularly. It’s a good job I’m the expert on the actual machines, rather than the coffee, as I’d be a rubbish coffee expert. 🙂


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?