The best pod coffee machines mean you don't need to mess around with buying coffee beans and grinding them. Yes, that's questionable for some in terms of the expense and waste, so we wouldn’t call even the best capsule coffee maker the best coffee maker, but on the other hand, capsule coffee is clearly convenient. Woah, good alliteration.
As each pod contains exactly one dose of coffee, and many of the capsules can be recycled, the waste issue wit pod coffee is not quite as bad as it looks initially. Nespresso, for instance, runs its own recycling service – simply fill the supplied bag they give you with used pods and send it back by post or drop it off at your nearest Nespresso bar – while Lavazza is gradually ditching its original plastic capsule shells in favour of compostable ones.
Coffee pod machines also produce consistent results that are notoriously difficult to attain using standard espresso machines and most bean-to-cup models. With a capsule machine you simply load in the pod, hit the button and out comes a stream of strong crema-topped black gold every bit as punchy as the last one.
Please note that if you are already married to one pod brand above all others, we have a guide specifically to the Best Nespresso machines. If you are looking to step up, we also can point you to the Best espresso coffee makers or go large with the Best bean to cup coffee makers.
How to buy the best coffee capsule machine
When you purchase a capsule machine you’re essentially buying into a particular brand of coffee too. Having tried all the major pod brands, my overall favourite brand is Lavazza (from 27p), followed closely by Illy (from 37p per pod). Nespresso (from 33p) takes third place for having pods I feel are too small and therefore too weak. To illustrate this I cut open a Lavazza and Nespresso pod and measured the contents. The Lavazza contained 7 grams of coffee while the Nespresso came in at just 4 grams.
However, Nespresso’s Vertuo system is a whole different ball game. Instead of just one standard pod size, it uses five different ones to satisfy a wide range of coffee preferences: Espresso, Double Espresso, Gran Lungo, Mug and extra large Alto. You’ll also be pleased to learn that the Vertuo’s standard espresso capsule’s contents weigh a much more appropriate 7g – just like the Lavazza pods – with the larger pods weighing in at substantial 13 grams.
As with any coffee-making machine, we would recommend using only bottled water with your pod system because a) it tastes better and b) there’s less chance of the internals getting clogged by limescale.
It used to be the case that standard Nespresso capsules – the most popular variety among poddists – were only available online or in the brand’s own shops, so you if you ran out you’d be without your morning lift. However, they are now becoming available via other means.
It’s also important to note that many of the milkier and more novelty type drinks from some pod-related brands are not amazing. If you want richly textured milk in your flat white, cappuccino or latte, use proper milk because these aren’t going to satisfy. You can greatly improve matters by getting a high quality milk frother from Dualit, Lavazza or Nespresso itself.
For Americanos, espressos and other, more purist drinks that don’t rely on milk, results range from good to excellent. These machines can also serve as a "gateway drug" to a more heavy-duty, non-pod coffee maker.
The best coffee pod machines we've tried
The Lavazza A Modo Mio system makes it much easier to enjoy a cup of Italy’s favourite espresso blend at home without the fuss of coffee granules being splattered all over the worktop. This stocky but stylish top-of-the-range model comes with an ingenious milk frothing system that doesn’t involve any fiddly wands or, indeed, any input at all from the user.
For a straight espresso, simply drop a capsule into the top slot, pull down the handle, tap one of the three main extraction choices – single espresso, long espresso, long coffee – and out pops a delicious almost uncannily authentic Lavazza espresso replete with a rich, silky crema. Mind, be sure to place any cups far back on the adjustable plinth or the stream will miss the cup and pour straight into the excess tray. This is because the Deséa’s integrated milk frothing system uses the same area for its jug and internal wand instead of the usual stand-alone wand method.
To make a milky coffee – cappuccino, macchiato or latte – fill the glass jug with cold milk up to the prerequisite level marked on the side of the vessel, push the whole assembly into the area you would normally place a cup, drop in a capsule and choose your preferred brew using the interface on the right. The milk will go through the frothing and heating process before a single dose of espresso is added to the mix. Rather cleverly, the espresso sinks straight to bottom so that when you pour it into your cup, the coffee pours out first followed by the creamy froth. If you never have milk with your espressos, perhaps consider the cheaper Idola model (£139) which is almost identical but doesn’t come with a milk frothing system.
If you wish to extend or shorten any of the extraction lengths, just hold the button that most closely resembles your preferred extraction rate and remove your finger the moment the coffee reaches the right level. This is handy if you find that the default levels are too short or too long for the size of your espresso cup.
The Deséa is narrow enough to fit on any work top (it’s just 14.5cm wide) and it comes with an ample 1.1-litre water reservoir that’s easy to remove. The spent capsule drawer meanwhile is large enough for about 10 pods – rather handily, an audio tone signals when the container needs emptying.
Lavazza capsules (available online and in most high street stores) cost around 27p a cup – among the cheapest on the market – and there are seven great-tasting blends to choose from. We tried the Deséa with both the Passionale and Lungo Dulce blends and it produced a top flight espresso every time, and quickly too. Very impressive indeed.
If you find standard Nespresso capsules are simply too small in size to produce a decent caffeine hit, consider this new Vertuo machine from Magimix. Nespresso’s Vertuo pod system is completely different to the standard Nespresso capsule system. For starters, the pods are almost twice the size and shaped completely differently so you can’t use a standard Nespresso pod in a Vertuo machine, and vice versa.
The best thing about the Vertuo system is that it’s capable of using different sized pods and this makes it a great choice for those who like a variety of coffees throughout the day. There are five capsule sizes in all, from Espresso and Double Espresso to Gran Lungo, Mug and extra large Alto.
So, what’s so special about this machine then? Well it looks good for a start and comes with a monstrous 1.8-litre water tank that can be positioned behind or to either side of the machine depending on your worktop space. It also has the biggest used capsule bin in the business – enough for 13 large pods.
To use, simply tap upwards on the protruding silver disc and the whole lid moves up mechanically. Now pop in a pod blend and size of your choice and tap the top button. Every pod comes with its own unique barcode which instructs the machine to provide just the right amount of water and the optimum length of extraction. Uniquely, the Vertuo system uses Centrifusion technology (the capsule spins at up to 7,000rpm) instead of just steamy water under high pressure.
The result is the deepest, thickest, creamiest and silkiest crema you will likely ever get your lips around. Granted, some espresso purists will say it’s just a foam and not strictly a crema but this writer begs to differ because, to me, it has the same consistency of a genuine crema, only it’s much deeper – like the head of a well-pulled Guinness draft. In fact, it’s so rich and creamy that, if you add a drop of hot milk to it, it turns an ordinary espresso into a mini cappuccino.
This writer received a variety box of 12 capsules with the test machine and can vouch that the Diavolitto Espresso and Double Espresso Scuro blends are strongest and by far the most satisfying. But if you prefer a weaker blend, then there are plenty of those to choose from, too. After all, the whole point of this system is to cater for as wide a variety of tastes as possible. In that respect the Vertuo system is a winner on all fronts.
Magimix has pulled off a doozy with this particular machine – it delivers consistent results and is just so easy to use. I also love the huge water reservoir, enormous capsule collector and its clever automatic capsule loading and unloading mechanism.
Once you have a taste for real espresso nothing else will do, least of all instant coffee. So, next time you’re on your travels, pack this remarkable little hand-powered invention and you’ll never have to endure an insipidly crap hotel coffee ever again. You can even take it camping.
With the aid of a Nespresso adapter, this model produces espressos as rich and aromatic as any kitchen-bound machine on this page, though you are advised to use two pods for a decent strength-to-volume ratio.
Just fill the small chamber with hot water (most hotels have a kettle in the room), slap a capsule into the adapter (available separately), seal the lid and add a good dose of finger pressure to squeeze the piston closed. Voila, instant espresso replete with a proper dollop of thick, rich crema.
If hotel coffee rarely meets your high expectations, you’re out camping in the wilds or visiting a relative who only drinks instant dishwater, pop one of these in the travel bag and you’ll never be without a proper caffeine fix. Highly recommended.
This keenly-priced micro machine is the width of a coffee tin and couldn’t be easier to use. The 0.5-litre water tower is big enough for at least half-a-dozen cups (either long or short, depending on which button is pressed) but the used capsule collection drawer is tiny and only has room for five. If you step too far over the mark, I can guarantee the drawer will jam and you’ll struggle to get the damn thing open.
That aside, this little workhorse makes a bloody excellent espresso replete with lush crema and all for around 27p a hit – and even cheaper if the pods are bought from John Lewis, for some reason. Top blend, top podder…
Any discerning coffee aficionado will agree that Illy makes one of the best domestic coffee blends on the market. Well, here’s a way to make an authentic Illy espresso without the overly complex production process.
This FrancisFrancis-branded model is available in the three colours – white, red and black – and at just 10cm in width, one of the slimmest.
All pod machines take the guesswork out of making espresso and this is no different. Lift the top flap (which automatically ejects the previously used pod), chuck in a new pod (choose from nine different blends), close it and press either the big cup button or the small cup button. And that’s all there is to it.
The Y3 uses a unique two-stage extraction process and the coffee it dispenses is so rich and rewarding I bought one, despite the 37p cost per pod. Illy’s innovative capsules seem less environment friendly than others even though the polypropylene plastic used is 100% recyclable.
If full-bodied flavour and a strong, palette-smacking kick are your prerequisites to a good espresso then make this model among your first ports of call.
Sage has excelled with this stupendous, premium-priced addition to the Nespresso roster of third-party machines.
The Creatista is superbly built, with a reassuringly large amount of metal used in the construction, but what impresses most here is the typically Sage-like, intuitive interface. There’s an LED panel on top that displays one of eight coffee styles from short-shot ristretto to latte macchiato, and it's so easy to use, my cat managed to whip up a flat white without even looking at the instruction manual.
The foaming wand, too, is excellent and almost entirely automatic – just set the amount of froth required and hit the button for anything from warm milk to a Matterhorn-style peak of rich, creamy froth.
Nespresso is the most popular coffee pod brand on the market, but finding the blend to suit your palette requires sipping through a chocolate box assortment of different flavours. Nespresso capsules are also the smallest on test so real fiends may need a couple of shots to get a decent morning buzz.
This standard Nespresso machine is superbly designed though we should add that it is much wider (38cm) than other Nespresso-specific models and that may be an issue for anyone with a small kitchen worktop.
Available in black or dark grey, the Expert is equipped with a single digital control dial that provides four different lengths of extraction (from single shot to Americano). Simply select your preferred beverage size and tap the top button.
The bit we like most about this machine is the tactile nature of the capsule loading system. Simply slide the spring-loaded aluminium cover to the right, pop in a Nespresso capsule of your choice and tap the cover again to close it. When spent, the capsule is automatically ejected into the container behind. Nice touch. If you have the space to spare and enough wonga in the pocket, then this is the model for you.
Ditching the plastic of some of the more popular pod machines, FrancisFrancis has created a swish, colourful chrome machine with a fascia reminiscent of Wall-E the robot.
The X7.1 boasts an excellent Pannarello steam wand for frothing milk, a large one-litre water reservoir and an old-fashioned portafilter, but one that takes plastic Iperespresso capsules instead of coffee grounds. A simple touch of the centre button produces an exquisitely rich, aromatic Illy espresso with a lip-smacking crema.
Illy capsules are more expensive than other brands and they’re not as readily available but, boy, they sure as hell know how to make a gorgeously rich and velvety espresso blend.
This new standard Nespresso machine from Dualit doesn’t take up much space and is very easy to use – it comes equipped with a touch interface that provides a variety of extracts from espresso to Americano, plus a side-mounted milk frother for cappuccinos. It also heats up in 40 seconds flat – handy for those in a rush to get out of the house first thing in the morning.
On the downside, the Café Cino is noisy as hell and, worse, the metal cup tray rattles about, especially when used with a small espresso cup. On the plus side, it produces as good an espresso as most machines on this page, so it’s still worth a gander.
Incidentally, like many third-party Nespresso pod manufacturers, Dualit also makes its own range of reasonably-priced coffee – and tea – pods that are usually cheaper than Nespresso’s own. Just thought you should know.
Nespresso is the most ubiquitous capsule brand on the market, with many upmarket hotels installing them in their rooms. No wonder, as this attractive, well-designed DeLonghi-branded unit would sit very well in a boutique hotel space, taking up very little space, yet whipping up excellent espressos, lattes and, to some degree, cappuccinos.
I say to some degree because the Lattissima Pro comes with an automatic milk frother that dispenses a quantity of the foamy stuff before the coffee extraction process and, as any aficionado will testify, a proper cappuccino should have the milk added to the espresso right at the end, just before serving. But hey, mustn't grumble, my trial cappuccinos did have an authentic taste and texture.
Aside from providing its customers with an unnecessarily bewildering 25 different blends, the biggest problem with the Nespresso system is that the coffee measure in each capsule is very small, so you might need to use two pods in a row to get what most British punters think of as a single espresso.
This 9kg kitchen corker sports all the tell-tale olde-worlde design flourishes of KitchenAid's vast range of Artisan food prep machines: the heavyweight die-cast construction in a choice of six colours, including the trademark red; the curved, ultra smooth enamelled exterior; the reliable componentry. It’s all here.
It's a bigger thing than it needs to be, really, so clear the worktop of all those other small kitchen appliances you've only ever used once. You’re likely to use this one every day.
The sturdy Artisan warms up in a thrice and comes with a removable 1.4-litre water reservoir and a large used-capsule container with capacity for up to 14 expended Nespresso pods.
The espresso extraction process is a breeze: lift the oversized lever, load your favourite blend of Nespresso, pull down on the lever, choose between the six pre-programmed extraction settings and hit the button.
Setting one produces a short, powerful hit while setting six is for those who like a long, mild brew. This would sit perfectly next to your KitchenAid stand mixer, and is priced accordingly.
You’re in the car, stuck in a monumental jam on the M6. Everything’s ground (pardon the pun) to a standstill and, to top it off, you’re still 10 miles away from a motorway services. But you have a plan. You’ve still got half a bottle of Evian to hand, and a Handpresso Auto and a handful of ESE espresso pods in the glove compartment.
Fill the chamber with water, place an ESE pod in the cradle (or scoop in some pre-ground espresso blend), plug it into the cigarette lighter, close your ears while it emits its irritating miniature pneumatic drill-type sound and, voila, you now have a damn fine hot cup of instant espresso replete with obligatory crema. Cool car kit.
The Tassimo system offers the widest variety of hot beverages, from coffee to tea and hot chocolate. Aside from the Costa blend, it’s a shame that most of the available coffees – from the likes of Kenco, Grand Mère and Jacobs – taste like they’ve been dispensed by a vending machine. I wouldn't advise the latte capsules, either, since they include long-life milk, and that’s so not latte.
Bosch’s keenly-priced Tassimo Vivy 2 is a fairly petite 21cm in width so it doesn’t take up much worktop space. It’s also extremely easy to use, because it has only one button. To use, simply load a ‘T Disc’ (Tassimo’s proprietary capsule design), tap the aforementioned button and that’s it. You’ll need to manually remove the disc after each cup, which isn’t the end of the world, though other units automatically eject the pod into a collection box.
You can expect to pay about 28p a disc, which makes it more expensive than Lavazza while not being half as good. That said, Tassimo capsules are far more readily available than other brands, with pretty much every supermarket stocking them. However, without wanting to seem like a ravening coffee snob, what comes out of the Tassimo just doesn’t taste sophisticated, or even especially pleasant. But, you know, horses for courses…