Looking for eco-friendly coffee pods for your coffee machine? Get expert advice from olive’s coffee expert, Celeste Wong. She has tried and tested all the below coffee pods to get the lowdown on which is best for using in your espresso machine at home. Prefer to grind your own coffee? Check out Celeste’s pick of the best coffee beans and best coffee grinders.
Coffee pods or capsules are sealed small containers filled with ground coffee. When used in a coffee pod machine, heated water is pumped into the capsule under high pressure until the capsule bursts, releasing rich, crema-topped espresso. A filter inside the capsule ensures that no coffee grounds get into your cup of coffee.
Although convenient, the environmental impact of lots of individual pods can quickly add up. Whilst most coffee pods were originally plastic or aluminium (not always easy to recycle), there are now a range of eco-friendly pods that are compostable, biodegradable and easier to recycle. We tested a range of eco-friendly pods to find the best on the market.
Best coffee pods at a glance
- Colonna Coffee Rare capsules, £10-15 for a box of 10
- Kiss The Hippo, from £11
- Lost Sheep, from £3.95 for a pack of 10
- Volcano Pods, from £6.50 for a pack of 10
- Grind, £10 for a pack of 20
- Norlo, £9 for a pack of 15
- Lavazza Eco-caps, £3 for a pack of 10
- Penningtons coffee roasters and tea merchants, £3.90 for a box of 10
- Moving Beans, £3.25 for a box of 10
- Pact, £19.95 for a box of 40
Best eco-friendly coffee pods 2021
Colonna Coffee, roasted in Bath, is renowned for its rare and interesting origins of coffee beans and has been able to transfer this ethos to its pod selection seamlessly. This was one of the largest ranges of specialty compostable and eco-capsules I’ve seen, all of which are Nespresso-compatible. Almost everything offered in traditional bean is available in something similar or of the same quality but as a capsule. Compostable capsules are split into three categories: Africa, Americas, and ‘limited release’, while decaf capsules are made of aluminium to be recycled.
I tried out the compostable limited release Rare Columbian Gesha. I was excited to try this and the results didn’t disappoint. The intoxicating aroma is distinctively bold cherry, with blackberry and floral qualities. Colonna’s recommendation is to drink this as an 80g lungo. The information on the box highlights that the capsules are nitrogen flushed for optimum freshness.
This range is the most expensive of the pods, but it really is something special, so if you’re looking for something exquisite to try I would highly recommend this. If you are a strictly black coffee drinker and appreciate trying different flavours of espresso, then Colonna is a range you’ll want to look into.
Buy Colonna coffee pods from Colonna Coffee
Kiss the Hippo offers three different coffee pods: Organic House Blend (sweet and strong), Organic Classic Blend (darker and more intense in flavour) and Organic Decaf. All are organic-certified, ethically sourced, 100% compostable, plastic-free and completely carbon negative – a huge eco-friendly asset, going beyond just carbon-neutral. Pods are available in packs of 20 or 30, plus you can subscribe to packs of 30 and save 15%. For every subscription, Kiss the Hippo plant a tree in partnership with On a Mission. Packaging is minimal, clean and neat.
The House Blend was my favourite: the coffee was bright and very sweet tasting, with a little acidity to lighten the espresso. The Organic Classic blend from the Americas tastes bolder than the house blend and produced a solid lungo. The decaf was really pleasant: the espresso is sweet, light in body and mouth feel, and doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste. An excellent option for decaf drinkers – and even handy for impromptu espresso martinis! Overall, really enjoyable and drinkable.
Buy Kiss The Hippo coffee pods from Kiss The Hippo
Volcano Pods offers four pod choices of Balanced, Reserve, Bold, and decaf. All are ethically sourced, biodegradable and vegan-friendly. Pods are made from 100% compostable, GMO-free, bio-based material derived from sugarcane. There is a multi-pack of 120 capsules for £80 which is a good option for offices, studios or the multiple times a day espresso drinker. You can also sign up for subscriptions with many variations of frequency, starting with a 40 pack or more and free delivery.
I tried Volcano’s Balanced pods, which also have the Great Taste 2019 seal of approval. The espresso is strikingly balanced, and while there is no recommendation whether to drink the coffee best as an espresso or lungo, the lungo was equally enjoyable. The words ‘biodegradable & compostable’ are printed on the pods, which adds a helpful reminder when using. Volcano reassures you that the pods will be biodegraded in about 90 days – it feels really good to know a time limit on when compostable pods are actually decomposed by.
Buy Volcano Pods from Volcano Coffee Works
Lost Sheep, based in Whitstable, produces small-batch, hand-roasted capsules. It offers two main coffee origins, a decaf and a half caffeine pod called Fifty Fifty for those who are a bit more sensitive to caffeine – great for late afternoon coffees, and an option I haven’t seen offered anywhere else. Pods are available in packs of 10, 60 or a ‘mega box’ of 100, and there are subscription options for the 60 and 100 packs.
Pods are industrially compostable and free from oil-based plastics. The best thing for home users is that Lost Sheep explicitly says the capsules are designed to compost when placed inside your local authority food waste caddy. Comparatively, branded Nespresso pods are inconvenient to recycle where there are different options to have them recycled.
Pods come in a range of flavours – I tested the Smooth Journey capsules. These do what they say: it’s smooth but strong at the same time. The pack itself is packed with information including details about the roastery and where the coffee is from. It also gives a recommendation as to which button to use on your machine, for this one it suggests espresso over lungo. Even as a lungo the coffee doesn’t taste over-extracted, and if you do want to take the edge off a straight up espresso, the lungo is nice. But they are right, as an espresso it is vibrant and punchy, but smooth.
Buy Lost Sheep coffee pods from Lost Sheep Coffee
Grind offers House, Light, Dark or Decaf pods, all of which come in a refillable (and recyclable) chic Grind branded tin. When you subscribe to the pods, you get a free tin, 20% off and free shipping. All your pods after that come in letter-box friendly boxes.
Grind coffee is certified organic, ethically sourced and plastic-free. The compostable coffee pods are made from biodegradable bioplastic, while the lid is made of PLA and paper – Grind specifies the pods will break down within six weeks in industrial compost. What I like about the offering in general is that it feels really simple and straightforward.
I tried out the House blend capsules, which is the same blend used in the Grind cafes. There’s limited information on the packaging, and they don’t actually disclose the origins of the beans anywhere easily that I can see. If you like milky coffees, I would definitely recommend drinking this capsule with milk, which I preferred over drinking it black. If you are strictly a black coffee drinker I’d suggest trying the Light or Dark capsules.
Buy Grind coffee pods from Grind
Lavazza offers five styles of eco-capsules: Espresso Deciso, Lungo Intenso, Espresso Armonico, Lungo Avvolgente and Bio-Organic. Each type has a helpful intensity rating and a specific guide to how long to extract the shot. Lavazza runs foundation projects focused on helping farmers and communities with their infrastructure and production to yield and supply higher quality coffees, encourage more women in coffee, and implement sustainable practices. It is worth noting that Lavazza has its own design of machine, with a different shaped capsule to classic Nespresso.
While these may not be as complex or delicate as some of the other capsules, I like that it’s clear which pods should be used for either espresso or lungo. The Espresso Decisio is creamy and much less bitter than I expected, with a sweet aftertaste. It’s bold and a strong shot of espresso for the morning. The Lungo Intenso was smooth and would suit an Americano style coffee. In the past, Lavazza coffees in its commercial range have been a bit dark or bitter for me, however these capsules were a pleasant surprise comparatively.
Buy Lavazza coffee pods from Lavazza
Pact Coffee has a range of pods to choose from: browse by roast, origin or flavour profile to find one that suits your taste. The colourful packaging is a welcome delivery and the mixed box selection of 40 pods contains all four origins of coffee capsules to give you some variety. Pods are 100% recyclable, and a ‘pods and recycler bundle’ is available containing an Ecofriendly Pod Recycler to ensure the pods are accurately disposed of.
There are detailed, accurate tasting notes on the box. My two favourites were the Rwanda and Honduras: the Rwanda pod is described as ‘raspberries and cream’ and this coffee certainly had a raspberry-style acidity and a creamy mouthfeel. The Honduras was bright and fruity, great as an espresso. The Brazil and Columbian pods would suit people who enjoy the more chocolatey, nutty and rich notes from an espresso.
Buy Pact coffee pods from Pact Coffee
Inspired by the Oslo coffee scene and Nordic-style coffee in general (which is characteristically very lightly roasted), Norlo claims to be the lightest roast in the UK. With an option to order a practical capsule cardboard tube to store your capsules on your first purchase to refill as you go, Norlo capsules are 100% compostable, Fairtrade, organic and plastic-free. Rather than packaged in boxes, the pods are split into smaller bags of 5 and those bags are flushed with nitrogen for extra freshness.
I tested the Norlo Organic Caffeinated pods. These light roasted pods have a soft and subtle aroma upon extracting an espresso. Although there is no recommendation on how to drink it, I didn’t find too much difference between the lungo and espresso – both were light and easy to drink. I actually cut up a few capsules to compare the grinds and roast colours to other capsules and the Norlo coffee was noticeably lighter in roast which was good to see that it matched the description. The grind size was a little coarser than most of the other pods, which will give a lighter extraction, taste, and thinner mouthfeel.
This is a great option for those who like a less strong, subtle coffee and can be easily drunk regularly throughout the day.
Buy Norlo coffee pods from Norlo
Penningtons, based in the Lake District, has multiple eco-friendly claims: they use power exclusively from renewable sources, recycled packing materials for deliveries and recycle the majority of any waste. Its range of 100% compostable pods is available in a Brazil Espresso roast and a decaffeinated option, plus there are subscription options for regular deliveries.
We tested the Brazil Cerrado, an espresso roast, with caramel, dark chocolate and nutty notes. They come in a simple brown box and in two compostable bags holding five pods each, flushed with nitrogen for maximum freshness. This was a nice drinkable subtle espresso, and I would recommend drinking this as an espresso because it might lose its flavour if too much milk is added. A smooth, sweet and nutty drop.
Buy Penningtons coffee pods from Penningtons Coffee
Moving Beans specialises in eco-friendly Nespresso-compatible coffee pods, with a range of styles on offer. The capsules are fully compostable and biodegradable, made from sugar cane and sugar beet plants. A discovery pack of all six styles of coffee (from a classic espresso blend to Colombian single origin) is available to get you started, as well as subscription options.
I tried the Classic Espresso Blend. This capsule was bold with a good chocolate base. There is a distinct citrus flavour and acidity which makes it interesting and not all one note. I’d recommend just a small amount of milk if you’d like a milder tasting coffee, because the espresso might get lost in too much milk.
Buy Moving Beans coffee pods from Moving Beans
How Celeste Wong tested the coffee pods
All pods reviewed are Nespresso compatible: I tested using a Nespresso Inissa Pod machine. I tried all pods as a short espresso (approx. 30ml) and a lungo (80-110ml). Although coffee can be extracted longer, I personally wouldn’t recommend it as each pod only contains around 5-8grams of coffee, so you run the risk of over-extracting and that’s when flavour is dulled and the bitterness can creep in.
Some pods specifically say how they are to be brewed, which I followed. I rinsed my mouth between each pod tasting.
This review was last updated in June 2021. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at oliveweb@.