Fed up with the Daily Grind?
I know that grinding, tamping and hand-brewing can be pleasurable. It can also take too much time when you’re a bit rushed or otherwise busy. And for non-pro baristas, it can also produce inconsistent results.
Coffee Automation for the Home is here
In many industries, automation can produce good, consistent results. And maybe it can do the same for coffee-making? Many coffee drinkers have heard of “Bean To Cup Machines”, but for many their cost can be off-putting – perhaps even prohibitive. I have seen some machines priced at over £3,700. Ouch!
But some of the “consumer level” machines are more price-friendly, and so we wanted to see just how good a “consumer level” machine can be. Critically, we wanted to see how good, and how consistent, the resulting coffee was – from a machine costing from around £280 (depending upon colour).
We were in for a treat when we tested this De’Longhi machine! – More on that later…
The helpful people at De’Longhi UK kindly loaned us a CAFFE CORSO Bean To Cup Machine, model ESAM2800, and we set aside our usual Espresso machine, grinders, tampers etc and lived with the CAFFE CORSO for about a week. This machine has a silver finish, and there is an equivalent (and much lower cost at time of writing) variant in black called the ESAM 2600.
But before we get to our findings, let’s discuss these machines in general. You can jump straight to the Review here.
What is a Bean To Cup machine?
Aside from non-powered coffee machines, the powered variants are grouped into, broadly, four types:
- Drip machines, perhaps the more traditional machines used in the UK. These drip hot water through a paper filter filled with ground coffee. They can produce nice coffee, and in large volume.
- Pod / Capsule “systems”. These machines use a specific coffee pod/capsule to automate the brewing process for you. In our experience, the coffee is usually pretty good (e.g. see our Nespresso review where we found the coffee to be terrific). You might feel a little constrained by the range of coffees, and the drink selections available on your particular machine. These systems are good for folk who appreciate uber-convenience and a consistent flavour.
- Manual Espresso machines are like the machines used by Baristas in your favourite coffee shop. The coffee is either pre-ground or you can grind your own beans. These machines will be more familiar to the coffee enthusiast, giving greater control over the entire brewing process.
- Bean To Cup machines are somewhat like manual Espresso machines, except that they automate the whole process. Beans and water in at one end, and coffee out of the other. They grind, tamp and brew, and do not produce any waste apart from the used grinds. These machines tend to be at the higher end of the consumer cost bracket, and their main advantages are quality, convenience and consistency.
What we look for in a Bean To Cup Machine
You would spend a lot of time comparing available machines, and even longer trying to justify the many thousands of pounds some of them cost. To enable your research, these are the features that we would seek in such a machine:
- A conical burr grinder. This grinder type is favoured by professionals, allowing control over grind coarseness, and delivering it consistently. This grinder type is critical for us.
- The ability to use pre-ground coffee, because sometimes you just want to.
- A steam wand. Although some coffee machines have their own (often patented) milking preparation systems, we prefer a simple steam wand. They are more flexible, give you greater control, and are easy to clean.
- Ease of use. Frustratingly, our usual Espresso machine has its water tank at the rear. And it’s fiddly to fill. Hence, water tanks and consumable refill points should be accessible and conveniently placed.
- Ease of cleaning. All coffee machines need to be cleaned, and for Bean To Cup machines, this includes the infuser (the critical component that makes the coffee). Some machines have their infuser on the side which might be fiddly, and some are accessible from the front – front is best. A descaler reminder is handy too (I always forget when to descale my Espresso machine).
- Control over brewing parameters, such as water temperature, grind coarseness, coffee and water volume etc.
- Pre-heating. When not in use, a machine contains cold water. For some machines, this could lower the temperature of the first brew. Pre-heating means the water is at the correct temperature throughout.
- Warming plate. Missing on some coffee machines, this helps to warm your cups.
- Variable height spout. Although this seems trivial, actually keeping the spout as close to the cup as you can helps to maintain the crema. High-level splashing is not good for crema.
Finally, although we usually switch machines off, some folk might appreciate help with “Eco” features like auto power off and power saving operation.
Our review of the CAFFE CORSO Bean To Cup machine
Packaging and what’s in the box
The machine came well packaged as you would expect. Apart from the machine, De’Longhi supply an instruction book, some supplemental help guides and the expected Registration and Guarantee flyers. All of the documentation was clear and helpful.
Oddly, the image on the box was not exactly the same as the machine in the box (although this may be down to the packaging requirements for international markets).
There is also a ground coffee measure (spoon) neatly stored away in the top of the machine. They don’t include a milk-frothing jug, but you can just use a cup if you don’t have a jug to hand.
Helpfully, De’Longhi includes a descaler kit. Personally, I would always have one of these in the cupboard. They are inexpensive, yet essential.
The build quality is high. And as we have see before with De’Longhi, its design has been thought-through from the perspective of the operator. All parts, hatches, doors, flaps and controls are well placed and easy to use. Its dimensions are approximately 28.5 W x 37.5 D x 36.0 H, and seems remarkably compact to us.
Overall, it appears to be well made and robust. If we didn’t know the retail price and had to guess, we would have guessed higher that the actual retail price based on the look, feel and build. In black and silver, the machine also looks the part!
The documentation is clear and concise, and the warranty is 2 years.
The machine has a single heater with the “usual” 15 bar pump. It features what De’Longhi call a “tubeless system” meaning that the beans are ground freshly – directly into the infuser unit, so it’s always a fresh grind. The internal water heating system (they call it “instant reheat”) makes sure that the water is always at the correct temperature for brewing (more on this later), by heating the core of the machine.
Here are some of the features we liked
It has a variable conical burr grinder with 13 settings. The default setting (#4) was perfect for us, but you can adjust the grind coarseness.
The water tank is mounted on the side, and pulled out from the front of the machine. I cannot tell you how easy this is, compared to our usual Espresso machine! The tank holds about 1.8 litres – enough for about 60 Espresso or 18 Lungo or 7 Long Black (as I make them).
Cleaning is almost a pleasure! The front hatch opens to clearly expose all of the innards. The drip tray slides out as you would expect. But this tray also holds the used grind pot – making day-to-day cleaning really simple.
Note that you must empty the grind pot each time you empty the drip tray, but because they withdraw as a single unit, it is simple and easy.
We noticed that the used coffee grind plugs still retain their compressed plug-shape in the pot, demonstrating the coffee was adequately tamped at the brewing stage; we broke up a plug to check the coarseness, and found it was a consistent grind.
The infuser is front-mounted and it could not be more obvious how to remove it, once the drip tray has been removed. More evidence of the user-orientated design!
Lastly, both components of the steam wand were simple to remove and wash.
The machine accepts a good volume of beans, or a single serving of pre-ground coffee (in a different hopper).
It features a top warming plate, but you can also pre-heat you cup with hot water; a nice touch.
The machine pre-heats the water system when you switch it on, and this expels some hot water from the spout. As a tip, I put my cup under the spout to use that hot water to heat my cup a little, rather then it filling the drip tray.
The height of the spout can be easily adjusted to suit your cup, helping to preserve the crema and flavour of the coffee.
The steam wand tucks away nicely, and produced sufficient steam or hot water as needed. It’s also very simple to clean (there are two plastic parts to clean).
The machine maintains the correct (and user selectable) temperature for brewing, but raises the temperature for producing steam. After producing steam at the higher temperature, it does not allow coffee to be brewed until the temperature has dropped to the correct coffee brewing temperature. This stops the coffee being burned, and is an excellent feature.
Of course, this means you have to wait for the temperature to drop. However, the instructions offer a little tip on how to rapidly drop the temperature, and that works really well.
You will have your own requirements, but for us this machine ticks our boxes: It has a good grinder, can use pre-ground coffee, has an efficient steam wand, it’s easy to use, very easy to clean, gives the user control over brewing parameters, has a cup warming plate, a core heating system, and a height-adjustable nozzle for good crema. Well done De’Longhi!
Some other features
It is rated as Energy Class A when the Eco Mode is selected.
De’Longhi provides a water hardness test stick, and you can set the water hardness level in the machine. Again, this points to the whole package being well thought out.
De’Longhi also includes a descaler kit, so you have one ready when required (actually when the machine tells you to use it). When you use it, I would suggest that you buy another so you have one ready for the next time.
You have to use an approved descaler for this machine, though, as some descaler chemicals are unsuitable for the machine.
Points to note
Like some other machines and grinders, this machine cannot grind candied beans as they would gum up the grinder. I am not sure this is real problem to the coffee consumer, though.
The machine has a single internal heater for both coffee and steam. Some machines have dual heaters (typically professional-use machines), but for a consumer system the second heater carries an additional cost and complexity. De’Longhi provides simple guidance on how to rapidly cool the heater after steaming your milk and their guidance works really well.
The machine did not come with a milk frothing jug. Again, this is by no means a show-stopper.
The machine in use
This machine has pre-set buttons for 1 cup or 2 cups. It also allows you to alter the volume of coffee and water for each brew using dials. You can also add a little extra water by simply pressing and holding down a preset button within 3 seconds of the automatic brew cycle completing. This is really useful and allows you to attain the perfect level for whatever cup you have used.
There is a separate lever for steam/hot water, the higher steam temperature being selected by a button.
In hot water mode, it produces a sufficient flow of water to make an Americano or Long Black.
The most important thing – the brewed coffee
There are many factors that affect the flavour of coffee, and more factors that affect the consistency of flavour between brews. These factors include bean freshness, water quality, grind coarseness, tamping pressure, brewing pressure, water temperature, water hardness, cup temperature, and more.
For this review, we used fresh Lavazza Rossa beans, and our usual filtered water. The resulting coffee from this machine was as good as if it were brewed by hand with our usual manual Espresso machine. Except that you just press a button…
The coffee flavour was spot-on and the crema was excellent. Over the review week, we made Espresso, Lungo, Cappuccino, Latte, Americano and Long Blacks – and enjoyed every cup.
Importantly and impressively, the coffee flavour was consistent.
The ability to adjust the coffee’s strength and volume, depending upon one’s prevailing mood, was fantastic. It will take a few test cups to establish your preferred settings, but then you can enjoy consistently good coffee.
Summary and rating
Overall, we thought this machine was excellent, especially for the price. Actually, I thought I would miss the usual grinding and tamping routine, but in reality I’ll be sorry to return this lovely machine.
Our overall rating
Our rating is based on what features we wanted from a consumer Bean To Cup machine, the brewed coffee flavour and consistency, its easy of use, and its price.
We rate this machine very high.
For the home consumer and coffee lover, we would be happy to recommend this machine based on our experience of actually using it. As always, please research carefully before you arrive at your own decision as to what machine to buy.