Need to know
- Nespresso is the brand we usually associate with pod machines, but there are models at a range of prices from Aldi, Kmart, Sunbeam, Grinders, Lavazza, Vittoria and more
- Coffee capsule pod machines are on average cheaper to buy than manual coffee machines, but the ongoing cost of pods or capsules is higher than ground coffee
- Many – but not all – machines, let you use compatible capsules, which can be cheaper and offer you more variety. You may also like to consider recyclable or reusable pods
If you want to make your own coffee at home, but you're looking for an easier or quicker alternative to a manual coffee machine, then a coffee pod machine is a simple solution. You simply pop in a coffee capsule, press a button and sit back while it automatically brews and pours an espresso for you (with some machines also frothing the milk for you).
On the whole, coffee pod machines are cheaper than manual or automatic espresso machines and are a convenient option if you're short on time or have limited bench space in the kitchen. Plus, they're super simple to use – no grinding your own beans or fiddling with a steam wand!
Our experts independently review a range of coffee pod machines in our labs from various brands, ranging in price from $37 to $799. Each machine is ranked and given a score based on factors such as taste, how easy they are to use, how effective they are at frothing milk and consistency of temperature.
You can read our full, detailed home espresso coffee machine reviews. But here's a breakdown of some of the key brands on offer and some further things to consider before you buy.
The Aldi Expressi coffee machine is a popular choice for coffee pod machine lovers.
The Aldi Expressi Multi Beverage Capsule Machine is available at certain times of the year for $79.99, with a two-year warranty. Design variations such as the Expressi Wave and Expressi Cube are also sometimes available. With just a couple of exceptions, the machine is only compatible with pods bought from Aldi, priced at $5.99 for a pack of 16 (37 cents each).
There's a large range of pods available, in different intensities from 5 to 13: the intensity relates to the flavour of the pod and can take into account things such as the type and blend of beans used as well as the roast. Aldi also has various limited-edition flavoured coffee pods available, such as hazelnut, vanilla, or Irish coffee, as well as hot chocolate pods. Each pod contains almost 8g of coffee (as a comparison, original Nespresso pods have 5–6g of coffee, depending on the type).
I think the Aldi coffee is actually pretty good for pod coffee – it's the supply that is problematic, if you can't get to AldiDeanna, CHOICE staff
CHOICE staff member Deanna bought the Aldi Expressi "Wave" machine around 10 years ago on the spur of the moment: "I love it," she says. "Before buying the machine, I rarely drank coffee at home. At the time I was the only one in the house who drank real coffee, so a manual or semi-auto machine would have been overkill.
"It's annoying that there is restricted availability of pods, though. You can only buy them from Aldi [or compatible recyclable pods from some places such as Urban Brew]. Don't get me wrong, I think the Aldi coffee is actually pretty good for pod coffee – it's the supply that is problematic, if you can't get to Aldi."
What do CHOICE experts say? Read the CHOICE review of the Aldi Expressi coffee machine.
Before investing in a coffee pod machine, ensure you understand which capsules are available for the models you are considering.
Nespresso is the brand that most commonly springs to mind when you think of coffee pod machines. There's a large variety of models available at various prices, and the retailer collaborates with brands such as Breville and DeLonghi to produce different machines.
Options range from the Nespresso Essenza Mini for around $179 up to the Breville Nespresso Creatista Pro for $1199 (which comes with premium features such as digital display and steam wand).
"Twelve of the capsule coffee machines we've tested recently come from Nespresso," says CHOICE expert Kim Gilmour. "They all performed quite differently with scores ranging from 60% to 79%. I recommend looking closely at the features and exploring a variety of brands before you buy.
"Our tests have shown that you don't have to spend a fortune to get decent results. We do get different results depending on the machine even though we use the same type of coffee."
Our tests have shown that you don't have to spend a fortune to get decent resultsCHOICE household expert Kim Gilmour
An advantage of buying into this huge brand is that you have a wide choice when it comes to coffee capsules for your machine. However, you can only buy official Nespresso coffee pods directly from a Nespresso retailer or online, which limits your options for stocking up.
Nespresso initially protected their capsule empire with a staggering 1700 patents (which had previously given them a monopoly over the coffee capsule market), however you can now buy many different Nespresso-compatible brands of coffee pods and supermarket own-label coffee pods at more competitive prices. These pods are only compatible with Nespresso Original machines however, not Vertuo Nespresso machines – (see more below).
Nespresso Original capsules start from 73c each as opposed to cheaper Nespresso-compatible brands from supermarkets such as the POD a-licious pods that cost 33c per pod. Many independent roasters have also created Nespresso-compatible pods, as well as biodegradable versions.
What's the difference between Nespresso Vertuo and Nespresso Original coffee pod machines?
These machines are both produced by Nespresso but are designed for different coffee styles and use completely different-shaped coffee pods.
Original machines use the standard Nespresso pods (and the compatible varieties available from many supermarkets and retailers), however there are no third-party options available for Vertuo machines as each pod is individually barcoded to brew at a specific temperature, cup size and strength.
This means that you can only buy the pods for Vertuo machines directly from a Nespresso boutique or the Nespresso online store, leaving you limited flexibility to shop around and buy cheaper pods.
Original Nespresso machines are designed specifically for traditional espresso and espresso-style drinks, while Vertuo is designed to create a wider style of hot or cold coffee-based drinks for up to five cup sizes depending on your preference.
The Nescafe Dolce Gusto Lumio coffee pod machine
Nescafe Dolce Gusto produces a variety of compact capsule coffee machines, some in collaboration with Breville and DeLonghi. They're some of the cheapest coffee pod machines we've tested, starting from just $55.
These machines do not come with milk frothers – instead you use pods with the milk contained within them.
Pods for these machines are available in different varieties and strengths, with additional options such as chocolate and mocha available, and you can buy them from a variety of retailers such as Woolworths, Coles, IGA, Big W and Amazon (average price for a 16-pack of pods is $8.50 or 53c each).
There's also a Starbucks-branded range of compatible Nescafe Dolce Gusto pods so you can produce 'Starbucks-style' coffees such as caramel macchiatos at home.
Produced in collaboration with Philips, the L'Or Barista coffee machine range is compatible with a wider range of capsules than some of the other machines we've tested here at CHOICE.
You can use either L'Or branded single-shot or double-shot capsules (capsules bought direct from L'Or are $6/10-pack or 60c each), but this model is also able to be used with original Nespresso capsules and most Nespresso-compatible capsules such as those from Moccona, Lavazza and Coles and Woolworths own-labels.
There are a few different machines in the range, priced from around $159, with more expensive models including a semi-integrated milk frother.
In Australia, Caffitaly system coffee machines and the compatible capsules are now sold under the Grinders Coffee brand (which is owned by Coca-Cola Amatil). If you bought a Caffitaly system coffee machine previously, you'll probably find that you can no longer buy the 'Caffitaly-branded' coffee capsules that were previously sold in retailers such as Gloria Jeans.
However, your machine will be compatible with capsules sold under the Grinders Coffee brand. Urban Brew also produces Caffitaly-compatible capsules.
Grinders Coffee currently sells two capsule coffee machines, priced at around $159 and $319.
View the CHOICE review of the Grinders Cafe Little Collins Capsule Machine.
Lavazza sells a few different styles of coffee pod machines in their A Modo Mio range, such as the Lavazza Jolie, priced from $99, and the Lavazza Desea model, priced from $299, which allows you to choose between different-sized cups and milk options to customise your coffee more than their standard model.
The Vittoria Espressotoria coffee pod machine.
Vittoria has a couple of coffee capsule machines in their Vittoria Espressotoria range – the Capino machine and the Piccolo, starting from around $99 for the Capino model without a milk frother.
Although Vittoria produces Nespresso-compatible pods, the pods you need for the Espressotoria machine are a different shape to Nespresso pods so you need to buy that specific type.
There's a variety of Espressotoria-compatible pods on offer though, including Vittoria Coffee capsules and three options within the Caffe Aurora range and the Chicco D'oro blends (all generally available to buy in supermarkets or direct from Vittoria).
You can also buy refillable stainless steel coffee pods to use in your machine, but check compatibility first.
A huge factor to consider if you're thinking of buying a capsule machine is the environmental cost. A downside of the convenience of pods is that most single-use pods are made of strong aluminium and plastic and will likely end up in landfill, taking between 150 and 500 years to break down. This is in contrast to coffee grinds from a manual espresso machine or plunger that you can throw in the compost.
If you use Nespresso pods, you can recycle them by returning to a Nespresso boutique, dropping them at a participating collection point or posting them back to Nespresso, but it's not clear how many of them are actually being recycled. There's also a recycling program available for Nescafe Dolce Gusto pods that's run in partnership with TerraCycle.
Even if you do recycle your pods though, you need to consider the carbon footprint of production and distribution before you even buy them.
Most single-use pods are made of strong aluminium and plastic and will likely end up in landfill, taking between 150 and 500 years to break down
There are many Australian brands on the market now that offer compostable, biodegradable or recyclable coffee pods, but these are mostly compatible with Nespresso machines only, so you may like to consider this before you buy a machine. You can look at brands such as Pod & Parcel, PodCo, Goliath Coffee, Tripod Coffee and Urban Brew (which is compatible with Nespresso, Aldi and Caffitaly machines). Pods from brands such as Republica are available from Coles.
Are reusable refillable stainless steel coffee capsules any good?
There are several brands of refillable stainless steel pods now available that are compatible with various machines, including Nespresso Original and Vertuo machines, Aldi Espressi K-fee machines, Caffitaly and Dolce Gusto. They are available from online-only retailers such as Podstar and Crema Joe (which distributes SealPod, WayCap and Bluecup reusable coffee pods).
Instead of buying single-use capsules, you just fill a reusable stainless steel capsule with ground coffee and tamp down into the capsule. This means you can buy the coffee of your choice, which is a big plus for people who don't like the taste of the coffee from capsules.
Some might say that having to fill a pod with coffee before putting in your machine (and clean it out afterwards) negates the convenience of having a capsule coffee machine in the first place
CHOICE staff member, Deanna, purchased the Aldi Expressi-compatible reusable pods from Podstar ($44.95 each or $79.95 for two). "I'm really impressed with these!" she says. "The pods were easy to use and to clean, and I was happy with the taste of the coffee generated, and felt good about creating less landfill, so I think I'm a convert. But I will keep some Aldi pods in the pantry for when I'm in a hurry (or feeling lazy)."
Some might say that having to fill a pod with coffee before putting in your machine (and clean it out afterwards) negates the convenience of having a capsule coffee machine in the first place. And although you may spend less on coffee in the long run, you do have to buy the stainless steel pods to start with.
Another CHOICE staff member Tom says: "I tried the reusable pods in my Nespresso DeLonghi machine but I didn't get a great cup. And mostly I forgot to clean them so they would be ready for the next use, which throws out the convenience factor."
Despite the fact coffee pod machines can be relatively cheap to buy compared to manual espresso machines, the single-use pods can be expensive, costing up to $100/kg (as opposed to ground coffee or coffee beans which can cost as little as $12/kg from the supermarket).
Costs do vary though, so it's wise to consider all your options before you commit to a certain type of machine. If you drink one standard coffee per day (using one standard capsule), you could be adding an average cost of about $182 per year on top of the cost of your machine (based on an average cost per pod of 50c, depending on where you buy your pods).
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.