Espresso is at the heart of every classic coffee and the best coffee pod machines will produce a richly dark, aromatic shot in under 30 seconds from a protective capsule. Each pod contains the perfect measure for a single espresso and removes the need to faff around with grinding, dosing and tamping coffee grounds.
The footprints of these machines are far more compact than bean-to-cup coffee machines, so for smaller kitchens or limited countertop space, are a space-saving option for making short coffees. If milky coffee-classics are your favourites, we’d recommend pairing a coffee pod machine with a milk frother.
Speed is another reason to consider a pod machine. These machines force heated water from its tank into the coffee pods until they burst and release rich, quickly brewed espresso. Every machine will preheat after switch-on. From then, it’s possible to get an aroma-packed espresso shot or lungo in under 30 seconds.
There’s cause for a cautious approach to coffee pods that are made from aluminium or plastic. Although some big brands like Nespresso offer programs that allow you to return used pods for recycling, there are more environmentally friendly coffee pods to choose from. Discover coffee expert Celeste Wong’s picks of the best eco-friendly options out there, from small coffee roasteries to major brand players.
Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all design to coffee pods; different brands require different pod designs so when it came to testing, we kept as much parallel in roast and bean variety as possible, focussing on espresso and lungo programs.
Discover more with our guide to the best coffee machines, featuring our tried and tested favourites of the best espresso machines and the best bean-to-cup coffee machines. Or for more coffee reviews, check out our best coffee subscriptions and best gifts for coffee lovers. Make your own homemade coffee syrup using our step-by-step recipe and discover more advice and buyer’s guides on everything from the best British gins to the best English vineyard breaks in our reviews section.
How to choose the best coffee pod machine for your home
A coffee pod machine is an excellent entry into the world of reliably fast and delicious espresso. Before you buy, there are a couple of things to be aware of.
- Pod compatibility: Nespresso? ESE? Lavazza? Keep this in mind when looking for a coffee pod machine. Some will have eco capsule options available. You can buy pods from independent roasteries to fit most (but not all) machine types. Brands like Nespresso require buying into the brand itself.
- Versatile functions: although it’s often a single shot affair, most coffee pod machines offer a lungo function that draws a slightly longer shot than the traditional single espresso.
- App connectivity: more modern models are often accompanied by apps and can be connected to via smartphone.
- Coffee quantity programming: this will allow you to tell the machine how much to brew into your waiting cup so that it saves the quantity as your pre-set.
Best coffee pod machines at a glance
- Best blow-out coffee pod machine: Grind One, £275
- Best basic coffee pod machine: Lavazza Jolie, £49
- Best for retro style: Lavazza A Modo Mio SMEG, £199
- Best for energy efficiency: Illy ESE pod machine, £115
- Best for versatility: Nespresso Vertuo Next, £149
Best coffee pod machines to buy in 2021
Grind One coffee pod machine, £275
Best blow-out coffee pod machine
Cult coffee brand Grind have teamed up with Swedish experts Sjöstrand to create its Grind One machine, a sleekly paired-back gadget compatible with Nespresso pods, that’s as graceful as it is industrial. Manual controls make it an unusually hands-on experience that was the most gratifying of all we tested.
Despite its small footprint, the boxy design paired with three rails around its top means there’s a practical espresso cup warmer to take advantage of; an unusual feature for a coffee pod machine. Needless to say, with a five-star rating this machine impressed far beyond the richly dark and crema-topped espresso it pulled.
Lavazza Jolie, £49
Score: 4.5/5 stars
Best basic coffee pod machine
The Lavazza Jolie has been available for few years, but the combination of its design and performance has stood the test of time against newer models. A single button controls the two coffee functions; espresso and the slightly longer lungo.
The cup holder is specifically designed for espresso cups, but removable for standard cups and mugs. For those with smaller countertops after simple and delicious espresso, the Jolie is a diminutive and efficient coffee pod machine that’s great value for money.
illy ESE coffee pod machine, £115
Best for energy efficiency
The slim new coffee pod machine from illy is an excellent option if good sustainability credentials are important to you. It uses compostable ESE pods that can be thrown into green waste collections, and at 800W was the most energy efficient machine we tested, still producing 20 bars of brew-pressure and an espresso in under 30 seconds.
The controls are nice and simple; espresso and lungo coffee functions are selectable by button. It has a power-saving mode that kicks in quickly. A large lid lever loads and locks the ESE pods into place. The fold-down espresso cup holder will also bring a little smile to your face.
Lavazza A Modo Mio SMEG, £199
Best for retro style
This is a great step-up from the Lavazza Jolie if you’re a fan of SMEG’s 1950s design aesthetic. This model proudly displays the SMEG and Lavazza brands across its front and requires a dominant spot on your countertop. The drip tray lifts up and out to allow space for a large mug. Espresso and lungo coffee options are available. Its energy saving mode kicks in after two minutes of inactivity and standby after seven.
The only niggle we encountered was its water tank; tricky to fill once the lid has been removed. However, unlike other machines, it’s possible to program the brew-quantity of this machine. It will also tell you when the water tank is empty, when the used capsule tray is full and when descaling is required.
Nespresso Vertuo Next, £149
Best for thick crema
Nespresso is a big brand player when it comes to coffee pod machines. On the Vertuo, unique coffee brewing technology means a a thick crema can be achieved even on filter coffee-quantities. This is more like a finely whipped foam, but still a welcome addition. The pods look like little space ships and vary in depth depending on the five coffee sizes you choose; espresso, double espresso, Gran Lungo, Mug and Alto.
Each capsule has a barcode on the underside which the machine reads before puncturing the cap in the middle and around the edges. The sound somewhat resembles that of a vacuum cleaner when it brews. Then the machine discards the used caps with a satisfying ping once the lid lock is released.
Although it’s larger than the others, you can’t go too far wrong with this coffee pod machine. There’s even an app to guide you through use.
How we tested coffee pod machines
The coffee pod machines featured in this review were the best performing from a longlist of more than 15. All were tested using compatible eco caps of similar roast strength and bean variety (excluding the Nespresso machine. The brand does a recycling service) and marked against a standardised criterion. The average score out of five decided each product’s overall star rating.
- Quality of espresso
We looked for richly flavoured and aromatic espresso with a velvety crema.
- Value for money
Did the price feel right? Every criteria from coffee quality to design played into this.
- Ease of use
Coffee pod machines are all about speed and convenience, so we looked for easy steps from setting up, and cleaning to easy programming.
- Quality of materials
Flimsy, rickety or cheap-feel components were a no-no.
- Design and aesthetic for keeping on the countertop
How it looked, and how much space it took up, in the kitchen were considered.
The additional criteria played into our decision making:
- Variety of functions
- Kitchen footprint
- Ease of cleaning
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