The issue with a number of bean-to-cup machines isn’t that using one feels like cheating, but more that you have to sacrifice flexibility on the altar of ease. Not so with the Melitta Caffeo Barista TS, which is an automatic machine designed purely for the coffee lover, with features that you just won’t find elsewhere.
For starters, there's a rather clever dual-hopper, so you can have two types of bean on the go. Next, there's a huge range of configurable recipes with which to experiment. And with automatic milk frothing as standard, there’s practically no drink that this machine can’t create.
Although made of plastic, it’s fair to say that the Caffeo Barista TS is a premium machine. Its slick front and high-quality gloss finish match the best that other manufacturers have to offer. It’s also surprisingly slender for a bean-to-cup machine and is no wider or taller than a manual pump machine, although it's a little longer (365 x 255 x 465mm).
Since all of the buttons are touch sensitive, there’s nothing to spoil the coffee machine’s front. It gives the Barista TS a more futuristic look. Touch buttons can be frustrating, but once you get used to where to tap, the Caffeo Barista TS's controls are very responsive. I now very rarely have to tap a control twice.
The Barista TS is also rather well designed, with every little detail considered. The steamer tube that connects to the milk container can be fitted to either side of the spout, and when it's not in use, the tube plugs into the drip tray, so you don’t have an ungainly lead to deal with.
The spout slides effortlessly up and down, with enough height adjustment to move down to an espresso glass and all the way up to a latte glass. There will be few mugs that you can’t fit under this machine.
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It’s the intelligent dual-hopper system that makes the Barista TS stand apart from its competition. Flip open the lid on top, and you’ll see a clearly divided space for beans so that you can have a choice with every drink. I typically go for a regular everyday bean in one side, and fill the other side with something more luxurious, such as a Blue Mountain or Hawaiian Kona.
Simple controls and a bright LCD screen, which shows you the drink type you’ve selected, make it easy to put together your coffee.
Across the top of the Caffeo Barista TS are dedicated buttons to make different types of drink, all set with default recipes. From the left, there are buttons for a short drink (espresso), long (café crema doppio), short milk (cappuccino) and long milk (café latté macchiato), plus buttons to dispense just milk or hot water.
All recipes default to bean hopper one, but you can easily override this with a tap of the bean selector button. You can also override the drink volume and coffee strength by using the simple controls.
If you don’t like the default options, then the menu system lets you change the recipes. There’s an enormous amount of choice on offer, including ristretto, lungo, caffè Americano and flat white. For each recipe, you can adjust the volume of coffee, and hot water, milk and milk froth, if applicable.
For different users, there are four My Coffee modes, which you can use to assign different recipes to different people. For example, you may want a strong ristretto, but other people in the house may want a lungo. That’s a staggering amount of customisation on offer. I found that it took me a few weeks to get the Caffeo Barista TS set up the way I wanted it.
Fortunately, while I was experimenting with the best settings, I found that even the default options produced top-notch coffee straightaway. That’s good news, since I didn’t have to waste any shots of espresso at the start, and could tweak as I went.
To improve on the out-of-the-box settings, I adjusted for a finer grind using the control that’s a little inconveniently locked behind the side panel. I also increased the coffee temperature to High, increasing the temperature from 57oC for the initial shot to a near-perfect 63oC. My perfect coffee strength was with the machine set to three out of five, but you should adjust this based on personal preference.
With everything configured to my liking, I can honestly say that this machine pours a shot of espresso that’s incredibly close to that you can get from a top manual machine. With fresh beans, the crema is absolutely spot on: it’s thick, rich and sits stably for a few minutes.
Coffee taste is exceptional, too. There’s the smooth crema first, followed by the slightly bitter taste of the espresso shot. I was impressed with the detail and flavour, with the Caffeo Barista TS retaining the finer notes of my test coffee beans: its pronounced acidity and strong body.
Automatic machines can struggle to make properly frothed milk, but the Barista TS excels here. You just have to connect the milk tube to the provided milk container (I’ve upgraded to the optional thermal milk container so I can leave milk out for a few hours). The Barista TS then automatically steams, froths and pours the milk with the proper, silky texture that you’d expect. Cappuccinos and lattes are expertly dispensed. You can arguably get slightly better results with a manual machine, where you can free-pour the milk – but this is as close as you can get with no effort.
While you’ll want to set up your recipes to pour the right amount of milk and coffee for your mugs, you can adjust the volume on the fly, with the Barista TS increasing espresso and milk using the recipe's correct ratio.
Plus, you can always top up with more milk or hot water if required. At the end of a milk drink, the Barista TS prompts you to engage the easy-clean system: you just stick the milk hose back into the drip tray, and steam is flushed through it to keep everything clean.
All coffee machines need a little maintenance to keep them running smoothly, but the Caffeo Barista TS is one of the easiest bean-to-cup machines to own. There’s a lot it does automatically, including flushing the system when you power on and off.
Also, every time you make coffee, the grinder takes the right amount of beans, grinds them, and then runs empty for a few seconds. The high-pitched whirring seems a little odd at first, but it means that all traces of one bean are cleaned out of the grinder. This prevents subsequent coffee being tainted by the remains of a different bean, both when you’re refilling the machine or switching between hoppers.
My one minor complaint is that the Barista TS will tell you that a hopper is empty before you've used all of your beans. Flipping the hopper lid and covering the sensor at the back tricks the machine into thinking it’s full: you can either get one last drink out of it, or just run the final beans through the grinder so you’re ready to refill with something different.
Fortunately, for everything else the Barista TS will guide you through its maintenance using clear instructions on its LCD. This includes prompting you to clean the system using an espresso cleaning tablet, and how to perform the simple descaling operation.
You also get on-screen warnings when it’s time to empty the drip tray and used coffee grounds container. This job is a little tricky, as the drip tray is the entire length of the coffee machine. Pulling it out from the front of the Barista TS requires carrying it rather carefully to avoid any spillages.
Used coffee pucks are easier to deal with, as you just pull the container out of the trip tray and tip them away. I recommend cleaning both the tray and the coffee puck container once a week to prevent any mould growth or build up of coffee residue.
Coffee grounds can clog up the inside of an automatic machine, but with the Barista TS you can remove the brewing unit and rinse it out under a tap: once a week is recommended. Finally, you’ll need to replace the water filter in the 1.8-litre removable reservoir when prompted. How often depends on how hard your water is (Melitta provides a water test strip so you can choose the right setting when you first set up the coffee machine).
Considering the price, flexibility and quality of the coffee, the Melitta Caffeo Barista TS just can’t be beaten. With the dual hoppers adding further flexibility, this is a machine that’s easy to fall in love with. If you want quality coffee without the hassle of a manual machine, the Caffeo Barista TS is for you.
A bean-to-cup machine that can do almost everything as well as a manual machine, all for a great price.