We are increasingly being asked by prospective clients, if coffee capsule machines offer
more value than the traditional bean-to-cup automatic coffee machines such as, for example,
the Jura or Saeco ranges. Dang…I really hate to respond with a “it depends!”…but it
really is about what you want and are prepared to pay for.
A typical automatic bean-to-cup coffee machine
Let’s have a look at each option.
The traditional bean-to-cup automatic coffee machines, like the one pictured here, use coffee beans that are ground when you make your selection. Ground coffee falls into a brewer, and hot water and pressure are applied to remove the black gold! This falls into your cup.
Coffee capsule machines require you place a small plastic capsule with pre-ground coffee into the machine and when you make your selection, hot water and pressure are applied too.
So the process is essentially the same, but the starting ingredient differs in how it is packaged and put into the machine.
So what are the differences?
Essentially choice, ease of use, taste, environmental friendliness and cost. Let’s look at
these in more detail.
When you own a coffee capsule machine, you can only use the coffee provided by capsule makers.
This is by no means a negative because there is a good range and the coffee is generally
well blended and roasted (Illy, Caffitaly. Lavazza etc would never have the market they have if
the coffee was poor!).
A domestic automatic bean-to-up coffee machine does however, allow you to use whatever coffee
beans you prefer. So the choice of coffee blends is virtually unlimited.
My choice for choice: Automatic bean-to-cup coffee machines.
2. Ease of use
Inserting a capsule and making a coffee is quick, simple and relatively mess free with a
coffee capsule machine. All you have to do is throw away the coffee capsule which holds the
brewed grinds nicely inside.
Automatic bean-to cup coffee machines require you throw out the used grinds. These are
usually small round cakes of compacted ground coffee that sit in a dreg drawer under the
brewer. You simply remove the drawer and tap the grounds out over a dustbin.
Then you’ll have to rinse the inside of the dreg drawer to remove all the coffee.
While not strictly part of “ease of use”, one additional difference is noise level. Coffee
capsule machines are quieter than bean-to-cup automatic machines because they do not grind
the beans. The grinding action does have a higher sound output.
As to maintenance, both types of coffee machine can go wrong – any machine with high pressure
and near boiling water operations will be a challenge to the engineering community! As the
bean-to-cup coffee machine has more moving parts, I’d say they probably need more servicing
than a coffee capsule machine. So be prepared for that.
My choice for ease of use: Coffee capsule machines
There is no doubt that automatic coffee machines allow you to make more changes to how the
coffee tastes. Basic changes you can make include the amount of coffee brewed per cup and
the fineness of the grind. You can buy capsules with more or less coffee and also capsules
with different grind size…but they are not common items and so that is more difficult than just turning a dial.
Secondly, with reference to the blend used, automatic coffee machines allow you to brew a
coffee blend that you really enjoy. Again, that is not to imply that capsules don’t contain
great coffee – they really do! It’s just that you have no control over what is inside them
like you would when dropping one of literally thousands of coffee bean blends into your
bean-to-cup coffee machine.
My score for taste : tough one…probably tied given capsule coffee is good…but I’d go
for the automatic bean-to-cup coffee machine if pushed.
4. Environmental friendliness
Coffee capsules are made of plastic and while many manufacturers
are using recycled material and making more bio-degradable capsules, there is more waste
than a traditional coffee packet on a per serving basis.
My choice on environmental friendliness: Automatic bean-to-cup coffee machine.
This is important! Capsule coffee machines are cheaper than bean based automatic coffee machines.
You can get a decent coffee capsule machine for under R2000. A bean-to-cup coffee machine
will require an investment of around R5000-R7000. So that was easy… nope…not so quick…!
The operating costs are exactly the opposite.
Coffee capsules will set you back about R4 each (this varies of course, but that’s a
reasonable average). You see, they are imported! So exchange rates, transport costs, and
higher offshore manufacturing costs all find their way into the price.
A good local coffee will set you back say R120/kg and with a 7g shot, you’ll pay about R0.85
per coffee shot. So it’s about R3.15 cheaper to make a cup of coffee from a bean-to-cup
coffee machine, than it is from a coffee capsule machine.
So here’s the calculation – if you bought a R5000 automatic bean-to-cup coffee machine,
you’d be better off financially only afer you had used it 952 times. For a two person
household who drink a coffee each in the morning and one at night…that is 238 days
or about two thirds of a year.
For an office where you have 10 people drinking 3 cups a day each…well…you’d need about
a month before the R3000 advantage of buying a R2000 coffee capsule machine over a R5000 bean to cup automatic coffee machine, is completely eroded. Thereafter, think about this…the cost of that same office
drinking from the capsule machine woud be 10 people x 3 cups/day x 21 working days x
R4-00/capsule = R2520.
The cost from the automatic bean to cup coffee machine would be R535-00/month.
My choice on cost: Automatic bean-to-cup coffee machines
So what is the conclusion about value?
For the coffee lover who is cost conscious, appreciates choice and has an appreciation for
the environment, a bean-to-cup automatic coffee machine is your best bet. For the coffee
lover who wants ease of use, is happy to have a more limited selection of coffee and is
not that environmentally conscious or worried about cost, the coffee capsule machine is for
Well, that’s what we at Frontier Coffee tell those prospective clients who ask the question!