Getting your caffeine fix from the local cafe can be expensive. And while there's 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 12 different Nespresso-compatible coffee pod brands to see which tastes best and which offers the best value for money.
Top of the pods: Nespresso Arpeggio inspired such comments as "Pretty good", "Nice well-rounded mouthfeel" and "Pleasant, lingering aftertaste".
Some coffee pods were considered to be better than others, but overall the scores they received in our blind taste test were merely OK, at best.
- Nespresso Arpeggio (73c per pod) achieved the top score (65%), with comments from our expert taste testers such as "Pretty good", "Nice well-rounded mouthfeel. Pleasant, lingering aftertaste" and "Not the best looking espresso, but aroma and flavour elevated this to being somewhat of a standout in this line-up."
- Coffee pods from the supermarket are more readily available, but for the most part our tasters found them weak, watery or lacking in flavour. The cheapest product in our test, POD a-licious Intense (33c per pod), scored 50%. But paying top dollar at the supermarket didn't guarantee a better coffee, with Lavazza Espresso Deciso (60c per pod) and Vittoria Espresso (70c per pod) scoring 50% and 40% respectively.
A word on coffee pod strength
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 5g 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.
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.
In Australia, customers are advised they can recycle Nespresso pods by returning them to a Nespresso boutique, dropping them off at a participating collection point or posting them back to Nespresso using a special Australia Post satchel, but it's not clear what proportion are actually being recycled.
Customers are advised they can recycle Nespresso pods… but it's not clear what proportion are actually being recycled
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.
And while there are some brands that claim their pods are biodegradable, this is only in industrial (not household) compost conditions.
As the vigorous discussions on online forums demonstrate, working out which coffee pods fit which machines can be very confusing. For instance, the Aldi Expressi accepts Map and Woolworths pods, but Aldi pods don't work with the Map or the Woolworths Caffitaly machines.
Not just Nespresso
Nestlé registered a formidable 1700 patents to cover its Nespresso pods and machinery early on, and claimed that if a non-Nespresso-branded pod damaged the machine or caused a malfunction the machine's warranty wouldn't be valid. But in 2014 Nespresso was called out on this by France's antitrust authorities with the result that it 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 you'll see a proliferation of brands emblazoned with 'Compatible with Nespresso coffee machines', offering serious competition through convenience and price.
Where to buy
To buy Nespresso pods online a customer must join the Nespresso Club; otherwise, non-members can purchase capsules at one of the 19 boutiques around Australia. The price per pod may work out to be 73c, but the cost of delivery is $9 (unless you order 50 or more pods, after which it's free).
In comparison, we readily found 11 Nespresso-compatible pod brands in Sydney supermarkets for as little as 33c each. And many more Nespresso-compatible pods can also be purchased online.
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 a lion's share of the market, which is why we focused on Nespresso-compatible pods for this test.
David, Anee and Matthew, our coffee experts.
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 BeanCraft coffee roasters.
We regularly rely on the expert palates of this experienced tasting panel to put coffee machines through their paces in our tests.
- Our three coffee experts blind-sampled a shot made from a Nespresso pod and 11 different Nespresso-compatible pods bought in supermarkets. All pod coffee was made in a DeLonghi Nespresso Citiz & Milk machine.
- For comparison, we also included a shot made on a manual espresso machine from freshly ground coffee beans.
- 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%.
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