Which Pods are compatible with Nespresso? I just tried 25 and here's my totally wired verdict

The best and worst third-party Nespresso-compatible pods, from artisan to cheap to coffee royalty capsules

Nespresso Test
(Image credit: Derek Adams)

If you think Nespresso is only about products made by Nestlé, you are completely wrong. Not only are all the machines made by third parties – despite most of them looking remarkably similar to each other – but there is a huge wealth of third party Nespresso pods available too. That is only for the original, smaller-sized pods, not Vertuo ones, due to copyright reasons that I shan't bore you with here. 

My recent World Explorations Nespresso taste test got me thinking about the plethora of third-party brands and blends knocking about on the interweb. How good are they when compared to Nespresso’s own massive roster of 43 blends, and are they worth a punt? After all, you can have the best pod coffee machine in the world, but it won’t be much use if your pods are duds. More importantly though, could I get a load of brands to send me some, for nothing? You bet I could!

A few emails later, and I ended up with eight brands and a whopping assortment of 25 different blends that all needed to be extracted, tasted and scored. To be honest, I think I may already have sipped more than I could swallow and am now feeling as edgy as someone meeting Apple's PR people after giving them a negative review. 

Here, I will explain my methodology and give my verdict on all of these pods. Probably while suckling on something soothing and herbal from our best vape list.

Tasting process

It took me a while to decide on how best to test 25 different espressos in one go, so I devised an ingeniously simple score system – with personal notes – and rated each blend for Aroma, Intensity (strength), Flavour and Aftertaste. I gave 1 to 10 points in each category which equals a maximum score of 40. How many get close to that mark?

Yes I know that professional coffee tasters also consider finer details like Notes (subtle flavours buried in many blends) in their tests but, if you want to know the truth, I’ve never detected things like roasted chestnuts, hazelnuts, biscuits or any kind of fruit in any coffee I’ve ever tried, though I can detect nutty and chocolaty flavours in general. Call me a pleb, but my palette just doesn’t detect subtle stuff like blackberries, orange and biscuit. And frankly I care less about ‘notes’ and more about whether my gut reaction says I like it or not.

I should add before continuing that coffee tasting is entirely subjective and what suits one palette doesn’t necessarily suit another. What I personally want from an espresso is a good, strong kick that isn’t too bitter but approaching the texture and lip-smacking flavour and strength of my current favourite espresso blend which I usually pull from my Sage Bambino Plus. The blend in question is Spiller & Tait’s Signature Blend (opens in new tab) and it’s been my benchmark blend throughout this exhaustive test. I should add that I took a good sip of palette-cleansing Aqua Carpatico (my favourite still water) between each cup. The machine I used for the entire test is the excellent Grind One (opens in new tab) which, for me, is the best nespresso coffee machine. It offers simple and effective extraction with all brands of Nespresso-compatible pods, and looks a picture.

A little bit about artisan Nespresso pod suppliers

We all want to support the little guy, whether it’s on the high street or the internet. With this in mind I contacted mostly artisan brewers, because I liked the idea of shopping from a gaggle of smaller outlets where coffee is roasted in smaller batches and put on the shelf immediately for ultimate freshness. I should add that many artisan baristas don’t roast their beans to within an inch of their lives so that more natural flavour can be detected without it tasting too bitter. Consequently, some blends may seem a bit weak to anyone used to barista-strength espresso. I bore this in mind.

The beauty with most of these capsules is that you’re getting mostly great-quality artisan espresso without the mess that goes with making coffee using a manual machine and ground beans. Simply pop in a capsule, extract the coffee and dispose of the capsule. And speaking of disposal, the vast majority of contenders in this roundup supply their wares in compostable capsules that can be safely chucked into any council food waste bin.

So, without beating about the coffee bush, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and give these third-party Nespresso capsules a good run for their money. 

The best (and worst) third-party Nespresso pods

Gentlemen Baristas

Gentlemen Baristas Top Hat blend review

(Image credit: Gentlemen Baristas)

Blend: Top Hat

Price per pod: 70p

T3 score: 29/40

What Gentlemen Baristas says: ‘Vibrant and refined, with chocolatey and fruity notes’

What I say: Good intensity with weak aroma but a pleasing flavour and aftertaste, nonetheless. Expensive, mind.

Gentlemen Baristas Deerstalker blend review

(Image credit: Gentlemen Baristas)

Blend: Deerstalker

Price per pod: 65p

T3 score: 26/40

What Gentlemen Baristas says: ‘Mellow and smooth, with nutty and cacao notes’

What I say: Weak aroma and a not especially pleasant flavour that lingers on the palette in a not very good way.

Roar Gill

Roar Gill Rare review


(Image credit: Roar Gill)

Blend: Rare Brazil

Price per pod: 57p

T3 score: 32/40

What Roar Gill says: ‘Layered cacao, hazelnuts and cedar’

What I say: I cannot taste any cedar in this Brazilian blend mostly because I have no idea what cedar tastes like. Otherwise I quite liked this one’s intense flavour which works very well with a dash of warm milk. Punchy.

Roar Gill Cortado review


(Image credit: Roar Gill)

Blend: Cortado

Price per pod: 39p

T3 score: 36/40

What Roar Gill says: ‘Baking chocolate, treacle, cedar and spice’

What I say: I really liked this one, especially with a splash of milk for which it was partly designed. Its rich, deep flavour profile lingers on the palette in a very nice way. Fair price, cool packaging and great eco credentials, too.

Roar Gill Exotic review


(Image credit: Roar Gill)

Blend: Exotic Peru

Price per pod: 47p

T3 score: 28/40

What Roar Gill says: ‘Crisp acidity, medium body, floral aromas, rich sweetness’

What I say: Not so sure about this blend. It had a slightly sour flavour and aftertaste that didn’t agree with my palette. But maybe that’s just me.

Roar Gill Bold review


(Image credit: Roar Gill)

Blend: Bold

Price per pod: 37p

T3 score: 30/40

What Roar Gill says: ‘Dark chocolate, treacle, vanilla’

What I say: This one is more palatable than the Exotic blend above and 10p cheaper per pod. Definitely worth a punt if you like an espresso that doesn’t blow your balls off. 

Roar Gill Ethiopia review


(Image credit: Roar Gill)

Blend: Ethiopia Espresso

Price per pod: 39p

T3 score: 34/40

What Roar Gill says: ‘Cacao, cedar, brittle toffee’

What I say: I really liked the creamy and oily nature of this blend’s lip-smacking crema. Definitely hints of toffee and chocolate in here but no sign of cedar. My second favourite Roar Gill blend.

Lavazza

Lavazza Maestro

Okay, these next few from coffee giant Lavazza are not so artisan… But they are undeniably from a third party

(Image credit: Lavazza)

Blend: Espresso Maestro Ristretto

Price per pod: 35p

T3 score: 40/40

What Lavazza says: ‘Intense and full-bodied espresso, with notes of chocolate and caramel’

What I say: It helps that I’m a Lavazza fan but this blend has everything I want from an espresso. It’s strong, untainted by odd notes, not too bitter and full of intense, creamy flavour with a pleasant liquorice aftertaste. One of the highest scoring blends here and cheap too. A favourite, for sure.

Lavazza Qualita Rossa

(Image credit: Lavazza)

Blend: Qualita Rossa

Price per pod: 35p

T3 score: 34/40

What Lavazza says: ‘Imagine enjoying the balance between dried fruit and soft chocolate in Venice, or in a tiny Tuscan country village’

What I say: Although it’s got a good strong kick, there’s a bit too much bitterness going on here for my liking. It’s still a very decent blend, mind, but just not as agreeable as Lavazza’s Maestro above.

Coffee Factory

Coffee Factory Daily Brew

(Image credit: Coffee Factory)

Blend: Daily Brew

Price per pod: 60p

T3 score: 25/40

What Coffee Factory says: ‘Caramel-rich cocoa taste notes which is complimented by a plum and raisin like sweetness’

What I say: Sorry to say that the aroma here seemed quite musty and the flavour was a mite too sour to handle.

Coffee Factory Black Bear

(Image credit: Coffee Factory)

Blend: Black Bear

Price per pod: 60p

T3 score: 27/40

What Coffee Factory says: ‘Deep, rich chocolate notes and big body’

What I say: A cleaner tasting blend, but with a faintly sour taste and a bit musty in the aftertaste department.

Coffee Factory Big Red

(Image credit: Coffee Factory)

Blend: Big Red

Price per pod: 60p

T3 score: 22/40

What Coffee Factory says: ‘Comprised of two fantastic stand-alone coffees, one from Brazil and the other Ethiopia’

What I say: Mmmm, I really couldn’t get a handle on this one at all. The taste was really sour and it left behind a disagreeably musty aftertaste. I had to pause at this point before returning 10 minutes later for another taste but my verdict still stands. Sorry Big Red.

Coffee Factory Bosque Lya

(Image credit: Coffee Factory)

Blend: El Salvador Bosque Lya

Price per pod: 60p

T3 score: 32/40

What Coffee Factory says: ‘High up in the forested upper slopes of Bosque Lya, there is a small sector of the farm where only orange bourbon has been grown. Orange Bourbon, as the name would imply, ripens not red but orange and has a more complex flavour’

What I say: Much better than the others in the Coffee Factory range, this blend has a pleasingly complex taste but also a hint of sourness creeping through the mix.

Grind

Grind Dark Blend

(Image credit: Grind)

Blend: Organic Dark Blend

Price per pod: 50p

T3 score: 35/40

What Grind says: ‘Our signature Shoreditch blend: designed to make the perfect flat white. Taste notes of raw cacao, walnuts, black treacle and burnt sugar’

What I say: While I can’t taste any walnuts, I can detect a faint hint of treacle which gives this blend a pleasingly burnt flavour that isn’t too bitter. I absolutely adore the pink packaging, too.

Grind House Blend

(Image credit: Grind)

Blend: House Blend

Price per pod: 50p

T3 score: 28/40

What Grind says: Another signature Shoreditch blend ‘designed to make the perfect flat white. Taste notes of milk chocolate, almonds, cacao nibs and walnuts'

What I say: Can’t say I’m too enamoured of this one. It’s far too meek for my liking and it doesn’t have enough chutzpah to make me want to buy it. Nevertheless, if you like a weaker coffee, then this one will suffice.

Cafepod

Cafepod Intense blend

(Image credit: Cafepod)

Blend: Intense Roast

Price per pod: 34p

T3 score: 39/40

What Cafepod says: ‘Supremely balanced Indian Arabicas form a base on which bold South East Asian robustas sit harmoniously with coffees from Latin America’

What I say: Bingo! Now where talking. This is one of the very best blends in this roundup. It’s rich, nutty and intensely flavoured and with a wonderful aftertaste. Almost top marks.

Cafepod Daily Grind

(Image credit: Cafepod)

Blend: Daily Grind

Price per pod: 34p

T3 score: 38/40

What Cafepod says: ‘We've spent years obsessing about the perfect daily coffee and we all agree that our smooth house blend has the power & intensity you need to help you battle the daily grind’

What I say: I agree with the blurb. This is a perfect espresso for most times of the day. It’s exceedingly flavourful and not too strong to handle on a daily basis. For me it’s the perfect afternoon cuppa.

Cafepod Ristretto blend

(Image credit: Cafepod)

Blend: Ristretto

Price per pod: 34p

T3 score: 36/40

What Cafepod says: ‘Latin American Arabicas combine with natural process coffees from the rolling hills of Southern Brazil and high quality Robustas from South East Asia’

What I say: A very decent cup of espresso but it may be a bit too bitter for some tastes. Best pulled as a short Ristretto, as the moniker suggests.

Cafepod Supercharger Espresso

(Image credit: Cafepod)

Blend: Supercharger Espresso

Price per pod: 34p

T3 score: 40/40

What Cafepod says: ‘Pungent and bold Robustas combine with smooth, balanced washed Arabicas from Latin America and Southern India’

What I say: Wowsers! Full marks for this exquisite blend that is closest to my favourite standard Signature espresso from Spiller & Tait. I am definitely putting this one on the shopping list as my new go-to breakfast pick-me-up. A stonker in every respect.

Cafepod Brunch blend

(Image credit: Cafepod)

Blend: Brunch Blend

Price per pod: 34p

T3 score: 38/40

What Cafepod says: ‘100 % Arabica. High grown East African coffees blended with sweet natural processed Brazils’

What I say: A perfect brunch, lunch or afternoon blend that won’t blow the head off. If you’re after a gentle hit that’s packed with flavour and without any bitterness, this is the one to get. 

Colonna

Colonna Ltd Release review


(Image credit: Colonna)

Blend: Limited Release Rare Espresso: Chilled Cherry

Price per pod: £1.20

T3 score: 34/40

What Colonna says: ‘As our first-ever Limited Release aluminium espresso capsules, we get an incredible texture and body with elevated red notes and a lingering sugariness that coats the palate’

What I say: Although this pod took longer to extract, I really liked its exotic flavour and lip-smacking strength. Its sour cherry aftertaste lingered a little too long for my liking, though.

Colonna Gesha review


(Image credit: Colonna)

Blend: El Placer Gesha Espresso

Price per pod: £1

T3 score: 22/40

What Colonna says: ‘Presenting a deep and fruity cup, with an abundance of red berry notes and citric acidity’

What I say: For me the elegant packaging masks what turns out to be an extremely sour tasting blend that I just couldn’t get along with. I had to let my partner have a sip of this one, too, but I’d rather not report what she said. Call me a drongo but this isn't my kind of espresso. Posh packaging, though.

Colonna La Cinta review


(Image credit: Colonna)

Blend: Discovery: La Cinta Caturra Espresso

Price per pod: £1

T3 score: 28/40

What Colonna says: ‘A supremely sweet, bold and fruity cup of this Natural Caturra lot’

What I say: A better cup than the Discovery above but, again, it’s a bit too acidic for my taste though I can appreciate that others may well love this type of blend. Just not for me.

Caravan

Caravan Market Blend

(Image credit: Caravan)

Blend: Market Blend

Price per pod: 47p

T3 score: 35/40

What Caravan says: ‘A timeless organic coffee blend crafted for sweetness and vibrancy’

What I say: These are the cheapest to buy Nespresso-compatible pods in the list and pretty damn decent they are, too. I especially liked the creamy head on the crema with this blend and the taste was agreeably satisfying, too.

Caravan Daily Blend

(Image credit: Caravan)

Blend: The Daily

Price per pod: 47p

T3 score: 31/40

What Caravan says: ‘Balanced and smooth. A versatile coffee blend for all-day drinking’

What I say: This blend has a delicious aroma and great intensity but its sour taste is too much to handle. I can’t say I’d want this one on a daily basis but I might be persuaded to dive in from time to time.

Final verdict

Nespresso Test

Nespresso anyone?

(Image credit: Derek Adams)

I was surprised by how dreary some of these pods were but then, as stated above, I do like a strong espresso. I half expected Lavazza to impress and it certainly did with the Espresso Maestro blend, which I thought was closest to the kind of espresso you’d find in most mainstream European cafés displaying the Lavazza sign.

I was also impressed by the Roar Gill blends which were mostly a hit with me (especially the Cortado and Ethiopia blends). However, I wasn’t too taken by the Exotic and Bold blends which, respectively, were a bit sour and weak for my liking. But each to their own.

When it came to the brand that consistently impressed me in almost every department, Cafepod took the laurels. Its Supercharger Espresso is a stonker that I will almost certainly be buying on a regular basis. The Intense Roast and Brunch Blend were also clear favourites, but you could opt for any of its blends and not be disappointed. I also like the way they’ve named their blends in an unpretentious and informative way so you know exactly what you’re getting. And what’s more, their pods are among the cheapest to buy. What’s not to like?

Derek (aka Delbert, Delvis, Delphinium, Delboy etc) specialises in home and outdoor wares, from coffee machines, white appliances and vacs to drones, garden gear and BBQs. He has been writing for more years than anyone can remember, starting at the legendary Time Out magazine – the original, London version – on a typewriter! He now writes for T3 between playing drums with his bandmates in Red Box (redboxmusic).