For the true espresso enthusiast, the bean-to-cup machine has quickly become the definitive way to start your day, condensing the entire coffee-making process into the touch of a button.
But for those who are only just getting a handle on their new machine, you may be finding your mocha results are so far a little mixed.
While your natural reaction might be to blame the brand of machine, it might instead be a better idea to look in the mirror and ask yourself:
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Am I really getting the most out of my bean-to-cup?
Because however incredible your coffee machine is, it’s not a miracle worker and if you keep making common blunders, it’ll keep churning out bitter-tasting brews.
And even if you’ve avoided every mistake in the book, sometimes it’s a lack of adventure that can result in a bland beverage.
To make a truly flawless coffee, you also need to be comfortable tweaking your coffee machine’s settings. If your new bean-to-cup machine isn’t quite hitting the spot, it may just need a little modification.
If it sounds daunting, have no fear, as Daily Espresso explores the biggest bean-to-cup mistakes and how some simple settings adjustments can create out of this world flavour!
Common coffee machine mistakes
These are some of the most popular mistakes which people make when using their coffee machine, which could be causing that disappointing flavour.
When your machine’s water tank is empty, it might seem like the most obvious thing in the world to go and refill it with tap water.
Why would it occur to you to do anything else?
But believe it or not, using tap water could actually be having a huge impact on the taste of your brew.
Unfiltered tap water can range in its chemical and mineral balance depending on how hard or soft your water is, and it’s hard to say what’s right for your cup of joe.
While softer water is usually your best bet for a great-tasting coffee, certain hard minerals such as calcium can often improve flavour too.
But if your coffee has something of a metallic taste when using tap water, it’s highly likely your water contains too many hard minerals such as iron and copper, and it might be time to invest in a water filter.
For more information on how to achieve the ideal water composition, read our water tips here.
Although what beans you use are down to personal preference, it’s worth noting that a poor quality batch is almost always a recipe for disaster.
A good machine is nothing without good ingredients, and nothing spoils a good espresso like old, stale beans.
Coffee doesn’t last forever, and if you’re not using up your stash regularly, your big bag of beans can quickly lose its flavour.
Make sure to always check the roasting date of your beans on the packaging and try and use them up in a month or less to avoid a disappointingly dull experience, or store them in a dedicated bean container.
It’s also worth doing a bit of a study around the different types of beans available so you can choose the ideal beans for you.
For example, growing locations can have a huge impact on flavour, with South American beans giving a unique ‘nuttier’ flavour to the more acidic African bean.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for when it comes to coffee beans and so if it’s a truly mind-blowing espresso you’re after, be prepared to splash out.
Just like puppies, coffee machines aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for life.
And if you don’t show your machine some love once in a while, don’t be surprised when it repays you with naff, poor-quality joe.
Unfortunately, all bean-to-cup machines require some level of cleaning to make sure they can perform to their optimum level.
Failure to do so can result in a build-up of limescale, leftover coffee and nasty bacteria, which could affect more than just the taste of your espresso.
To ensure you’re always able to offer your guests a great-tasting brew, it’s probably a good idea to draw yourself up a regular cleaning schedule.
For more information on cleaning and descaling your machine, read our maintenance guide here.
Getting the best out of your settings
Not experimenting enough with your settings is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your bean-to-cup machine.
However, if you’re just getting to grips with your model, the various dials and buttons can be very overwhelming, as even the subtlest of changes can completely change your cup of joe’s flavor.
But you don’t have to change everything all at once!
Learning what each setting does and how it impacts your brew is incredibly important, so try experimenting with them one at a time to find your perfect coffee equation.
People tend to neglect their coffee grinder settings, usually because they’re not sure what effect changing it will have.
But changing your grinder settings is incredibly important, especially if you use a certain type of coffee bean.
Certain beans generate better results with certain grinds and so being able to match them up is crucial when looking to perfect your barista skills. Typically, the darker your roast, the coarser your grind settings should be.
You’ll know your grind setting is on point if your espresso has an extraction time of around 25 seconds, and is a thick liquid with plenty of crema (the tan-coloured froth that sits on top of the espresso).
The extraction time is simply the length of time that the water is in contact with ground coffee, and the grind settings ultimately define how long that is.
Most baristas will tell you the idyllic coffee extraction time is anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds, and if you get your grind wrong, your timing will likely be well before or well after this period.
Flavour is impacted by how long the water is in contact with the grounds. The longer it is in contact, the more aroma and flavour it absorbs, but it is also likely to absorb more caffeine and tannic acid.
Therefore, if you over-extract your coffee, it will likely be very bitter from too much tannic acid, and your grinder setting is too fine.
But if you under extract, it will likely not absorb enough flavour or aroma and taste very weak, and your grinder setting is too coarse.
So correctly calibrating your grind is pretty much the key to unlocking a phenomenal mug of java.
These days, almost all bean-to-cup machines allow you to adjust your amount of coffee grounds per cup, giving you the ability to truly customise the strength of your drink.
Some models will allow you to be truly exact with your amount in grams while others will offer a more simplistic mild, medium or strong option.
A high amount of coffee grams will make it more difficult for the water to flow through, increasing extraction time and making a much stronger cup.
If you’re making a larger mug with these settings, you’ll want to add more coffee and make a coarser grind to stop it from getting too bitter.
Naturally, if you’re always changing the size of the drink you’re making, you’ll need to be adjusting your water volume setting, with more water equalling a larger brew.
But in tandem with your coffee quantity settings, water volume can also be used to correctly define your chosen strength.
By keeping your coffee quantity the same, you can instead adjust water volume to make small, stronger drinks or large, milder ones.
But remember to keep an eye on your extraction time!
Too much water through a small amount of coffee results in slow extraction time and a more bitter drink, which may need correcting with a coarser grind.
All the settings work in tandem with each other, and you’ll eventually be confident enough to experiment with all three at the same time.
It can be intimidating, but it’s also meant to be fun!
And in the end, it’s the only way to find your own personal cup of coffee!
Other factors to consider
Think your choice of the coffee cup has no impact on taste?
Even if you’ve splashed out on a state-of-the-art bean-to-cup machine, nothing will ruin a coffee faster than serving your brew in a cheap plastic or polystyrene cup.
Why go to all that effort only to end up with a horrible plastic-flavoured coffee?
Worst of all, the heat of your coffee may well cause harmful toxins such as BPA to leak from the cup into your drink, which could have negative effects on your health with long-term use.
It’s best to instead always use glass or ceramic mugs to serve your espresso in, or a stainless steel flask if you’re on the go.
And if you somehow find yourself in need of a new bean-to-cup machine, please feel free to check out our unbiased Beko Bean-to-Cup Coffee Machine Review.
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.