The best pod coffee machines make your life easier because you won't need to buy and grind your coffee beans yourself. With summer just around the corner, you won't want to spend ages inside fixing up your next coffee, and the best pod coffee machines speed up the whole process so you can get out and enjoy your day sooner.
Granted, some people may not be so convinced by them because of the cost per cup and the waste created by the capsules, but on the flip side, capsule coffee is clearly convenient and with the right buying choice you can use recyclable pods and create very quaffable coffee.
Each pod contains exactly one dose of coffee and the majority of the capsules can be recycled, the waste issue with coffee pods is not quite as bad as it used to be. Nespresso, for instance, runs its own recycling service – simply fill the supplied bag they give you with your used pods and send it back by post or drop it off at your nearest Nespresso bar. Lavazza, meanwhile, has ditched its original capsule shells in favour of compostable ones. Likewise, companies like Grind are moving into the Nespresso market, too, with fully compostable pods and coffee grown on organic farmland.
If I were to pick one reason why you should buy a pod machine, it would be that you'll get very 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 strong crema-topped black gold every bit as punchy and flavoursome 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 although as you will see both below and in our featurette, 'what is the best pod coffee system?', there are plenty of other winning options And 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.
The best pod coffee machines we have 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 relative newcomer to the Lavazza roster is one of the most gorgeous looking machines in podland, and that makes it a shoo-in for kitchens of any design, from country to modern. It also happens to produce some of the best capsule-based espressos you will ever have the pleasure of passing over your tastebuds.
The Smeg ships with an ample 0.9-litre water reservoir and a large spent-capsule container so you should be able to make about ten espressos without heading for the sink or the recycling bin.
It’s simple to use, too. Just lift the chrome hatch, pop in a Lavazza pod (the Passionale blend is best) and tap either short or long shot. It takes only a minute to warm up but the extraction is completed in about 30 seconds; the machine produces about 10 bars of pressure in case you’re interested.
The Smeg is one of the more premium priced machine’s in the Lavazza A Modo Mio range but if you take part in Lavazza’s subscription system (opens in new tab) you can have it delivered to your home for just £1 (a saving of £248).
If you find standard Nespresso capsules are simply too small in size to produce a decent caffeine hit, consider this 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, which is true. However, for me it has the same consistency of a genuine crema, only it’s much deeper – like the head of a well-pulled Guinness draft.
There are 32 different capsules in the Vertuo range, including 11 espressos. I can vouch that Diavolitto Espresso is the strongest blend 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 most fronts. Just bear in mind that its capsules start at 43p per pod.
Grind (opens in new tab) is a sustainable coffee brand that produces a range of organic coffees in a variety of flavours and strengths, and this is its first capsule-based espresso machine for Nespresso pods.
Let’s start with the packaging first because the Grind One comes in a box so luxuriously pink in colour that you find yourself caressing it for about five minutes before proceeding to the opening ceremony. Once inside, the eyes are met with a square slab of silver that shouts class with a capital C. Really, alongside the completely different looking Smeg, this is one of the best looking espresso makers I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s truly a stunner, from the vintage aircraft-style switches and chunky pod-engaging lever to the height-adjustable stainless-steel cup tray and protruding group head dispenser. Even the generously large 1.2-litre water container is a thing of rectangular beauty. Mind, at 18.6cm, this machine is wider than the majority.
To turn the Grind One on you have to flick a heavy-duty steel switch and then wait for a minute or so for it to warm up. Next, drop a pod into the top, pull the lever down until you feel it engage and select either a short or long shot by pressing one of the backlit buttons on the right. You can easily programme your preferred length of extraction by holding in one of the buttons until the coffee hits your sweet spot.
The Grind One extracts a mighty fine Nespresso that’s as good as any other machine on this page but its aesthetics place it much further up the list, and deservedly so. Nevertheless, being of the manual variety you will need to remember to turn the machine off yourself because it doesn’t have any kind of auto-off mechanism.
Grind produces its own range of Nespresso pods, too, and a beautiful pink tin to keep them in. Truth be told, the Dark Roast was too weak for me but the House Blend has a good depth of flavour even though it, too, may prove too weak in strength for barista-level connoisseurs. The machine, on the other hand, is a stupendous addition to the Nespresso range and is well worth checking out if you’re after an elegant retro-style unit that your guests will certainly notice.
This stocky but stylish Lavazza 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 provided glass jug with cold milk up to the 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 which doesn’t come with the milk frothing system.
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 31p a cup – among the cheapest on the market – and there are seven great-tasting blends to choose from. Best blends in my opinion? Passionale and Lungo Dulce produce top flight espressos time after time, and quickly too.
Once you have a taste for real espresso nothing else will do. So, next time you’re on your travels, pack this remarkable hand-powered gizmo and you’ll never have to endure an insipidly crap hotel coffee ever again. You can even take it camping, up a mountain, into the desert – anywhere you can boil up some water.
With the aid of the optional Nespresso NS adapter (£20), this model produces espressos as rich and aromatic as any kitchen-bound machine on this page. Just fill the small chamber with boiled water, slap a capsule into the adapter, seal the lid and add a good dose of finger pressure to squeeze the piston closed. Boom, instant espresso with a proper dollop of thick, rich crema on top.
If other people’s 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 blooming excellent espresso replete with lush crema and all for around 31p a hit. 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 complex production process of a manual espresso machine.
This model is available in the four colours – cream, black, blue and red – and at just 10cm in width, it’s one of the slimmest capsule coffee machines you can buy.
All pod machines take the guesswork out of making espresso and this one is no different. Lift the top flap (which automatically ejects the previously used pod), chuck in a new pod (choose from 16 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 rich and rewarding. Mind, the capsules themselves cost from 43p per pod, which is quite steep. 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 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 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.
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 a rich, aromatic Illy espresso with a lip-smacking crema.
Illy capsules are more expensive than most brands (from 43p per pod) but, boy, they sure know how to make a gorgeously rich and velvety espresso blend.
This 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 the metal cup tray rattles about, especially when used with a small espresso cup. But on the plus side, it produces as good an espresso as most machines on this page, so it’s still worth a punt.
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 though not necessarily as tasty. Just thought you should know.
This attractive, well-designed DeLonghi-branded unit would sit very well in a boutique hotel, 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 so that’s a major plus.
Make sure to check out the best De'Longhi coffee machine deals.
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 Handcoffee Auto with a handful of ESE espresso pods in the glove compartment.
Fill the chamber with water, place an ESE pod in the cradle, plug the unit into the car’s 12v 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. Simple. Effective.
How we test pod coffee machines
We don't do laboratory testing at T3, and the best way we can think of to review pod coffee makers is… to make and drink coffee with them. It's a tough job but someone has to do it. We have rigorously tried and tested all of the pod coffee machines on this list in the same way that you would use them at home.
Want to know more? Discover how we test at T3.
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 31p per pod), followed closely by Illy (from 43p). Nespresso (from 36p) takes third place for having pods I feel are a bit too small and, in many cases, too weak for my leathery palette. 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.
There is another Nespresso option, however, and it’s called the Vertuo system. Instead of just one standard pod size, the Vertuo uses five different sizes 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 respectable 7g – just like the Lavazza pods – with the larger pods weighing in at substantial 13 grams. Nespresso Vertuo pods retail from 43p per pod.
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 boutiques, so you if you ran out you’d be without your morning lift. However, Nespresso capsules are now available via other means, albeit via a host of third parties like Grind, Starbucks, Notes, Pret and Roar Grill. Even Sainsbury’s is in on the act.
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.