Getting your caffeine fix from the local cafe can be expensive. And while there's a certain appeal – and savings to be had – in making your daily brew on your home manual espresso machine, not everyone has the time or the inclination. For many, the convenience, consistency of taste and cost of the single use coffee pod wins out.
For those with an automatic espresso machine at home, we reviewed 13 different Nespresso-compatible coffee pod brands to see which tastes best and which offers the best value for money.
Daley St came out top of the pods with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 75%. There were a full five percentage points between first place and the tightly contested second place – where four pods tied with a score of 70%.
Daley St Medium Dark Roast
1st place: Daley St Medium Dark Roast
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 75%
- Price: 40c per pod
- Taste test notes: "Good nuttiness, some fruitiness", "Well-rounded mouthfeel", "Great flavour and aromatics", "Aftertaste a little bitter".
Campos King St, Creamy & Balanced Blend
Equal 2nd: Campos King St Creamy & Balanced Blend
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: 71c per pod
- Taste test notes: "A bit flat, some bitterness and nutty flavour", "A solid performer", "Bold flavour".
Illy Classico Pods Mild and Balanced
Equal 2nd: Illy Classico Pods Mild and Balanced
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: 55c per pod
- Taste test notes: "Pleasant, subtle, nutty aftertaste", "Smooth, lacks depth", "Under-extracted but well-presented".
L'or Lungo Profundo
Equal 2nd: L'or Lungo Profondo
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: 70c per pod
- Taste test notes: "Good crema viscosity", "Good nutty, floral, fruity aroma", "Woody and watery flavour"
Nespresso Ispirazione Firenze Arpeggio
Equal 2nd: Nespresso Ispirazione Firenze Arpeggio
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: 79c per pod
- Taste test notes: "Flat but bitter", "Slight edge aftertaste", "Flat tasting", "Unpleasant mouthfeel and aftertaste"
Daley St coffee capsules were not only the best tasting pods in our test, but they were also the cheapest, making them the best value, hands down.
The Coles-owned Daley St pod proves that paying a premium price won't necessarily get you a better tasting coffee pod. At 40c a pod, the best tasting pod in the test is also the equal-cheapest.
But it was a real outlier among the products you can pick up while doing your grocery shop. Pods from the supermarket are more readily available, but for the most part our tasters found them weak, watery or lacking in flavour.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the lowest scoring coffee pod was another supermarket staple. Vittoria Family Cup Nespresso Compatible Coffee Capsules managed a lowly CHOICE Expert Rating of 40%.
Feedback on the flavour included "Excruciating" and "A little burnt". At 49 cents a pod, these pods couldn't even claim to be the cheapest.
Can you recycle coffee pods?
Yes and no. The cardboard boxes that the pods are packaged in are recyclable – no surprises there – but the pods themselves leave a much bigger environmental footprint. For a start, aluminium (which Nespresso and some other brands of pods are made from) is an energy-hungry product, requiring nine times more energy to manufacture than steel.
Coffee pods, many of which are mostly plastic rather than aluminium, generally can't be thrown into domestic recycling bins. They're too small for the machines at recycling plants to separate from other rubbish and simply drop through sieves into general waste.
Coffee pods, many of which are mostly plastic rather than aluminium, generally can't be thrown into domestic recycling bins
Nespresso gives Australian customers several options for recycling their pods through the Nespresso recycling program. L'or, Moccona, Illy and Campos pods can be recycled through the TerraCycle program.
Despite both of these programs, only a small percentage of coffee pods in Australia is being recycled. Planet Ark states that of the three million pods consumed daily in Australia, only 10% are actually being recycled. This equates to 8.5 tonnes of aluminium, plastic and coffee grounds heading to landfill each year.
Are coffee pods compostable?
While some brands claim their pods are biodegradable, in some cases they may only be compostable through an industrial facility, as home compost systems aren't hot enough to break down that particular product.
Two of the coffee pods we tested were compostable:
- Tripod Red Sunset Coffee Pods – home compostable
- Urban Brew Coffee Pods – industrial compostable
But if compostable pods sound appealing, it's worth noting that the home compostable option in our test, Tripod Red Sunset, scored just 45% for taste. The Urban Brew coffee pods came in equal-third on 65%, so would be a better choice if you want to actually enjoy your pod, and not just compost it.
Reusable coffee pods
If you're interested in a 'pod'-like coffee with a lot less waste you might want to consider reusable pods. Brands we've seen include Motipod, Podstar and CremaJoe, although we've not tested them.
Reusable pods work in most coffee machines. To use, you simply fill them with your favourite ground coffee, press the grounds in, pop the lid on and put it through your pod machine.
Shop Ethical ratings
Shop Ethical ratings, developed by the nonprofit organisation Ethical Consumer Group, classifies companies based on their social and environmental ethical practices, including such issues as legal breaches, transparency, packaging and waste. Ratings range from A to F, where A is praise and no criticisms, and F is criticisms and no praise.
The coffee pods with the highest Shop Ethical rating ('B') were:
- LavAzza Espresso Classico (CHOICE Expert Rating 53%)
- Vittoria Family Cup Nespresso Compatible Coffee Capsules (CHOICE Expert Rating 41%).
Coffee is grown in Australia across northern NSW and Queensland, but none of the pods we tested specified Australian-grown coffee beans.
It's a small industry in Australia but it has the potential to grow with use of mechanical harvesting (the cost of manual labour would be too high to be viable for farmers).
Australian coffee comes with lower food miles and many farms are growing it sustainably.
Upcycling your coffee pods
If your coffee pods aren't recyclable or compostable, you may want to try one of these ideas for putting your pod to a new use:
- Spread the grinds thinly over your garden to deter insect pests and snails.
- Use the grinds to exfoliate your skin when in the bath or shower.
- Use the empty aluminium pods to plant mini-succulents.
Which coffee pod fits your machine?
Working out which coffee pods fit which machines can be very confusing. Machines use different 'systems', and you'll need to use pods that are compatible with the system your coffee machine uses.
If you have an Aldi Expressi, for example, Aldi's website states that "All capsules with a K-fee System logo will fit into your machine, irrespective of whether they are sold under the brand name of our retail partners or under the name Kruger."
Your best bet is to check the machine's instructions and if it's still unclear, contact your machine's manufacturer.
Nespresso machines and pods
If you don't like your barista's coffee you can go to a different cafe, but once you've bought a coffee pod machine you're stuck with the flavours and brands compatible with it. There are multiple machine and pod brands jostling for a foothold in the lucrative coffee market, but the Nespresso system (which includes machines from brands DeLonghi and Breville) still has the lion's share of the market, which is why we focused on Nespresso-compatible pods for this test.
Nestlé initially registered a formidable 1700 patents to cover its Nespresso pods and machinery, and claimed that if a non-Nespresso-branded pod damaged the machine or caused a malfunction the machine's warranty wouldn't be valid.
There's a proliferation of brands emblazoned with 'Compatible with Nespresso coffee machines', offering serious competition through convenience and price
But when the company was called out on this by France's antitrust authorities, Nespresso extended the guarantee on its single-serving coffee machines to customers who use non-Nespresso pods, and removed the warning on its capsules and machines.
Now there's a proliferation of brands emblazoned with 'Compatible with Nespresso coffee machines', offering serious competition through convenience and price.
Where to buy
You can buy Nespresso pods online or at one of the 19 boutiques around Australia. The price per pod works out to be 79c if you buy the 10 pack, and the cost of delivery is $9 (unless you order 100 or more pods, after which it's free).
In comparison, major supermarkets including Coles and Woolworths sell numerous Nespresso-compatible pod brands, many for less than 50c each. Some Nespresso-compatible pod brands can only be bought online, such as Urban Brew coffee pods.
Good to know
How many grams of coffee in a pod?
For fans of a strong espresso, pod coffee can be insipid – even if you choose one with an intensity rating at the higher end. This could be due to the amount of coffee they contain. The stated weight of coffee in the pods we looked at ranges from 5 to 5.6g, while the traditional amount in an espresso is 7g. Baristas commonly serve up an 11g regular espresso or a 22g double shot.
How can you tell if a coffee pod is fresh?
Invigo Coffee, a Canadian coffee pod manufacturer, claims that you can tell the freshness of a coffee pod by lightly pushing the silver membrane of the pod. If there's resistance to your push, the pod is still fresh to use.
Pods also have 'best before' dates, so use them as a guide to help guarantee a fresh coffee.
Our coffee experts: David, Anee, and Matthew.
Assessing each shot of coffee in this taste test were brothers David and Matthew Gee, principals of Barista Basics Coffee Academy, as well as Anee Sampath, founder of Bean Craft coffee roasters. We regularly rely on the expert palates of this experienced tasting panel to put coffee machines through their paces in our coffee machine tests.
Our panel blind-sampled 13 Nespresso-compatible pods bought in supermarkets and online. All pod coffee was made in a DeLonghi Nespresso Lattissima One EN510.B.
Each shot was assessed for crema thickness and colour, aroma, flavour, mouth feel and aftertaste and given an overall score, which was converted to a percentage and rounded to the nearest 5%, to create a CHOICE Expert Rating.