Best pod coffee machine 2018: great taste, no faffing about

The best capsule coffee makers from Nespresso, Lavazza, Dolce Gusto and more

TODO alt text

The best coffee pod 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, but on the other hand, it's incredibly convenient. 

In the cause of strict fairness, in some respects – as each pod contains exactly one dose of coffee, and the capsules can be recycled – the waste issue is not as bad as it looks initially.

Coffee pod machines also produce consistent results that are notoriously difficult to attain using standard espresso machines and even most bean-to-cup models. With a capsule machine you simply load in the pod, hit the button and out comes a stream of crema-topped black gold every bit as good as the last one.

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 Illy (35p per pod) followed very closely by the cheaper Lavazza (27p). Nespresso (31p) 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. I rest my case.

It used to be the case that 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. 

Interestingly, for instance, coffee delivery service Pact.com UK now sells Nespresso pods filled with its own freshly-ground bean blends, with a box of 40 pods costing £14.95 including delivery. So does the none-more-artisan Colonna coffee brand, from Bath.

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 in order

1. Illy Y3 Iperespresso

The best pod coffee maker, thanks to premium design and the best blend on the market

Specifications
Capsule brand: Illy
Capsule cost: 35p
Width: 10cm
Reservoir: 1 litre
Frother: No
Reasons to buy
+Superb espresso maker+Exquisite coffee blend
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly capsule basket

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 four cracking colours shown above, plus black, and is by far the most stylish unit here. At just 10cm, it’s also 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 stonkingly rich and rewarding I’ve decided to buy one, despite the 35p cost per pod and fiddly used capsule drawer. 

Illy’s innovative capsules seem less environment friendly than others even though the polypropylene plastic used is 100% recyclable. The company has thankfully started a pod recycling program though it’s yet to be rolled out in the UK.

If full-bodied flavour and a strong, palette-smacking kick are your prerequisites to a good espresso then make this model your first port of call.

2. Lavazza Jolie Plus

Best lower-cost pod coffee maker

Specifications
Capsule brand: Lavazza
Capsule cost: 27p
Width: 12.4cm
Reservoir: 0.6 litre
Frother:
Reasons to buy
+ No27p a cup+Space-saving footprint
Reasons to avoid
-Tiny used-capsule drawer

The Lavazza capsule 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. 

There are 16 blends (six of them being recent additions) in the roster and they all taste great, especially the red labelled Qualità Rossa, which is closest to what’s served in most Euro caffs (or 'cafés' as they pretentiously insist on calling them). 

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…

3. Wacaco Minipresso NS

Best portable pod coffee machine

Specifications
Capsule brand: Nespresso
Capsule cost: 31p
Width: 6cm
Reservoir: One cup
Frother: No
Reasons to buy
+Truly portable+Uses Nespresso capsules
Reasons to avoid
-Strong finger muscles required

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.

This model uses fuss-free Nespresso capsules to produce espressos as rich and aromatic as any kitchen-bound Nespresso 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 in a pod, seal the lid and use a good dose of hand pressure to squeeze the piston closed. Presto, instant espresso replete with a proper dollop of crema.

Even if you're in the wilds, or a hotel in the Scotland, pop one of these in the shoulder bag and you’ll never be without a proper caffeine fix again.

4. Sage Creatista Black

Classy high-end model with top specs

Specifications
Capsule brand: Nespresso
Capsule cost: 31p
Width: 17.7cm
Reservoir: 1.5 litres
Frother: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Intuitive controls+Great selection of espresso options+Fantastic milk frother
Reasons to avoid
-More premium, price-wise

Sage has done it once again and pulled off a doozy 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 26 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.

5. FrancesFrances Illy X7.1 Iperespresso

Italian Ultra packs a lot of flair, and a decent Pannarello steam wand

Specifications
Capsule brand: Illy
Capsule cost: 35p
Width: 33.5cm
Reservoir: 1 litre
Frother: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well built but keenly priced+Easy to use+Excellent pods, albeit at the pricier end of the scale
Reasons to avoid
-You either love the look or you very much don't

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.

6. Dualit Classic 85170

Swish mirrored retro option

Specifications
Capsule brand: Dualit & Nespresso
Capsule cost: 29p to 31p
Width: 17.1cm
Reservoir: 1.2 litres
Frother: No
Reasons to buy
+Hey, good looking+Uses both Dualit and Nespresso pods
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to keep clean-No milk frother, at this price?

This stylish rectangular chunk looks like it’s swathed in chrome but closer inspection reveals it’s actually mirrored plastic that attracts fingerprints like a cow pat attracts flies.

Dualit makes its own coffee and tea pods and they look remarkably like those made by Nespresso, save an indent or two. So much so, in fact, that you don’t have to stick to Dualit’s range of blends (six coffees and five teas at 29p each); you can use Nespresso capsules, too.

Keeping to the retro-industrial look, the old-fashioned on/off switch here looks like something you’d expect to see on a 1970s hi-fi system. On the right you’ll find two buttons. Tap the top one and out pops a short espresso. Tap twice and it deposits a lungo. The lower button is for making tea though why you’d make tea from a pod is open to debate. 

Just be sure to pull the lever down firmly and don’t let go until the pod has clicked into place or the lever may spring back, ejecting the unused capsule into the container.

If you’re a fan of Dualit gear or simply want a Nespresso-compatible machine that looks the bee’s knees and makes a great little espresso then this one passes much muster, though I do prefer the broadly similar-looking Sage machine, and that also has a milk steamer.

7. Nespresso Latissima Touch

Super compact and a dab hand at whipping up lattes

Specifications
Capsule brand: Nespresso
Capsule cost: 31p
Width: 17.3cm
Reservoir: 0.9 litre
Frother: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Attractive design+26 different blends
Reasons to avoid
-Single espresso dose a bit stingy

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, like the new Illy Iperespresso Y5 Milk, the Latissima Touch 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 spooned 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 18 different blends, the biggest problem with the Nespresso system is that the coffee measure in each capsule (it starts at 29p but you can get varieties for 33p per cup and more) 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.

8. KitchenAid Artisan Nespresso 5KES0503

Classic KitchenAid design and a choice of 26 strengths and flavours

Specifications
Capsule brand: Nespresso
Capsule cost: 31p
Width: 20.8cm
Reservoir: 1.4 litres
Frother: No
Reasons to buy
+Large water reservoir+Ultra smooth enamelled exterior+Six brew settings
Reasons to avoid
-Rather a substantial beast

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.

9. Lavazza AEG Fantasia

King of cappuccino for under £200

Specifications
Capsule brand: Lavazza
Capsule cost: 27p
Width: 18.5cm
Reservoir: 1.2 litres
Frother: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Excellent milk frother+1.2-litre reservoir
Reasons to avoid
-Unattractive design

This AEG model is quite an ugly unit with a front fascia that looks like it was bolted on as an afterthought. There are also too many loose fittings to keep tabs on. 

Just as well it’s so easy and efficient to use…

Simply pop a Lavazza capsule into the slot, pull down the handle, tap one of the six touch-control program buttons and let the machine do the rest; the process starts automatically once the machine’s warmed up. For cappuccino, fill the removable milk reservoir, clip into place and select from a choice of three foam consistency settings. Then pour on top. Voila, an instant, velvety, froth-topped pick-me-up. 

The Fantasia is designed to be narrow enough to fit on a work top without taking up too much space and the large water reservoir (1.2-litres) is easy to remove. 

Lavazza capsules (available online and John Lewis) cost around 27p a cup – among the cheapest on the market – and there are 16 great-tasting blends to choose from. 

10. Tassimo Joy T45

A wide range of unchallenging beverages at an affordable price

Specifications
Capsule brand: Various
Capsule cost: 28p
Width: 27cm
Reservoir: 1.4 litres
Frother: No
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use and cheap+Also makes hot chocolate
Reasons to avoid
-Not the greatest coffee in town-Oversized

The Tassimo system offers the widest variety of hot beverages, from coffee (including Costa, Carte Noire and Kenco) to tea and hot chocolate. A shame then that most of the coffees I sampled, Costa notwithstanding, tasted like they’d been dispensed by a vending machine: Succhard’s hot chocolate was far too sweet and the tea, well, what’s the point? I wouldn't advise the Costa Latte capsules, either, since they include powdered milk, and that’s so not latte.

Bosch’s Tassimo Joy is excessively wide at 27cm, but it's extremely easy to use, because it has only one button. Simply load a ‘T Disc’ (Tassimo's proprietary capsule design), hit 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 tray. 

You can expect to pay about 28p a disc, which makes it more expensive than Lavazza while not being half as good. 

Tassimo capsules may be 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.