• Vintage Coffee

Yes, you can make tasty coffee in a bean-to-cup machine. Here’s how.

So after years of complaining about the coffee at the office someone finally gives you the green light to set the office bean-to-cup machine and see if you can get it better. Or you bought a bean-to-cup for home for a teary-eyed amount of money and when you taste the coffee it’s just not quite what you had hoped for. What to do? I often get asked what I think of bean-to-cup machines and if one can make good coffee from it.


The short answer is that with some bean-to-cup machines, yes you can.


And I can give away my suggestion right at the start in case you’re not interested in the explanation and just want to try it out. My suggestion is:

• Set the grind to its very finest setting.

• Set the espresso/water volume to its absolute minimum.

• Set the “strength” at its absolute strongest.

• Use good coffee.


On most bean-to-cup machines this should give the closest thing to a real espresso that you can get. This espresso can then be diluted with hot water to make an americano or you can microwave some milk and add it to taste to resemble a flat white or latte. Some bean-to-cup machines allow you to set milk volumes and temperature you can use the same espresso settings and use the built-in milk-frother to turn your espresso shot into a cappuccino or flat white.


One thing NOT to do is to increase the volume of the coffee shot to get a bigger cup of coffee. You will get a much deeper flavour if you dilute the concentrated shot with hot water or if you perhaps add a second shot and then dilute.


Why do I say this?


Ratio

In commercial coffee machines, the size of the basket holding the ground coffee is roughly between 18 and 24 grams. A typical size is 22 grams. When creating an espresso recipe, most shops will start with a ratio of around 1:2 or 1:1.7 and adjust their recipe from there to get the best taste. As a rough indication we are talking of a world where about 20g of coffee gives you a 40g espresso.


Bean-to-cup machines simply don’t have such big baskets. The ones I’ve encountered dose between 7g and 16g. Flushing half a cup of water through that small dose means that you’re extracting bitter compounds long after the good flavours have been extracted.


What is strength?

When bean-to-cup machines refer to strength it most often indicates how much coffee will be used in your shot. Because the does is already so small you want to make sure that you use the maximum dose possible!


Grind

In coffee shops coffee is ground by high precision grinders that can grind very fine. The machines also operate at 9 bars of pressure (or more). Bean-to-cup machines simply can’t grind this fine nor produce that level of pressure. But here I would theorise that two negatives might actually make a positive. By grinding the coffee as fine as possible we are able to slow the extraction slightly and thus extract more flavour. And because the machine has less pressure than a commercial machine it also helps for the water to work its way through the coffee a bit slower. We are essentially increasing the time the coffee grounds have contact with the specific dose of water.

Isn’t this extremely one-sided?

When you’re dealing with a professional espresso machine and grinders there is generally a sweet spot that is strived for. The sweet spot is where you extract maximum flavour without over-extracting. You don’t want under-extraction and you don’t want over-extraction. You want the sweet spot. So isn’t my suggestion for bean-to-cup machines a bit “one-sided”? In short, I feel that ALL bean-to-cup machines are inclined to over-extraction by pushing way too much water through a small dose of coffee. And NO bean-to-cup has a grinder of a high enough quality to match a commercial grinder. The standard settings are so severely skewed to one side that by tipping the scales at its maximum to the other side you get closest to a middle-ground in the vicinity of a sweet spot.


What can I expect it to taste like?

I have been surprised on numerous occasions by what a bean-to-cup machine can produce. If you’re lucky you might end up with a very sweet espresso that’s rich and flavourful with a pleasant acidity yet slightly “softer” or more delicate than a standard espresso.


What if people complain that the cup is so small?

Let’s face it…in homes and offices people have BIG mugs. Getting a 32g bit of super flavourful coffee will be a horror for most. And suggesting a top-up with hot water won’t really help. Even when you turn it into a flat white by adding something like 130ml milk to give a very flavourful 160ml drink, it will probably fill only half the cup of the dear lady working downstairs in payroll.


Yes, you can make tasty coffee in a bean-to-cup machine. Here’s how.

So after all your effort here’s how it will probably play out…You will make the dear lady working in payroll a cup of coffee. She will swoon about it and say you’ve saved the office forever from bad coffee. She will call her friends and ask you to make them a cup as well. They will agree with her. You will be the hero and go to bed that night feeling like you’ve made the world a better place. And the next day you will find her at the machine holding in the manual override button to top up her mug. She will smile glowingly at you and say, “Your new coffee is too good to have such a small cup!” All the while while a stream of boiling water is pulsing through a tiny vulnerable dose of ground coffee hidden deep within the machine and out of sight.

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