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8 best eco-friendly coffee capsules: Barista quality joe that helps the planet

These Nespresso compatible capsules won’t end up in landfill – brew, anyone?

Ed Cumming
Thursday 10 March 2022 10:10 GMT
<p>Most of our favourite brands offer subscription services, so you’ll never be without your morning cuppa</p>

Most of our favourite brands offer subscription services, so you’ll never be without your morning cuppa

Led by Nespresso, capsule systems revolutionised domestic coffee drinking. Espresso was once a messy, expensive and time-consuming process – even the smallest machines took up lots of counter space.

Nespresso changed all of that. Suddenly you could have a decent espresso in your own home for a fraction of the price of one in a shop in minutes.

However, convenience came at a price. Strong and light, aluminium was the perfect material to make capsules out of, and could be transported all over the world, retaining the flavour of the ground coffee inside. The downside was the environmental impact.

Although aluminium is recyclable in theory, in practice many coffee capsules end up in landfill, where they can take hundreds of years to break down.

At first, Nespresso’s system was protected by patents that prevented other manufacturers from making capsules for their system. But after a ruling in 2013, the field opened up to third parties. At the same time, advances in materials meant you could have a more eco-friendly capsule without compromising on the quality of your drink.

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There are now hundreds of capsules compatible with the original Nespresso machines, which are compostable, biodegradable, and reusable. And, Nespresso themselves have introduced a new range, the Vertuo, protected by a new patent system. But which of these new eco-friendly capsules is the best?

How we tested

We tested them as espresso and lungo drinks, with milk and without, to bring you the list below. There is now an eco-friendly capsule for every taste, so convenience needn’t mean unnecessary waste. Prices are listed for single-purchases, but most suppliers also offer a subscription service.

The best eco-friendly coffee capsules for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Colonna Coffee nuguo honey gesha, 20 pods: £22,
  • Best all-rounder – Roar Gill rare, 10 pods: £5.75,
  • Best for carbon neutrality – Kiss the Hippo, 20 pods: £11,
  • Best blending – Fireheart palace blend, 40 pods: £16.96,
  • Best recyclable aluminium pods – Dualit compostable intense espresso, 10 pods: £1.50,
  • Best tasting – Blue Goose Ethiopian eco coffee pods, 10 pods: £5.50,
  • Best reusable pod – Maverick SealPod: £18.99,
  • Best supermarket eco-pod – Co-op irresistible Fairtrade coffee pods, 10 pods: £3.65,

Colonna Coffee nuguo honey gesha, 20 pods

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

The Colonna founder, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, is one of the UK’s leading coffee experts, and his Colonna and Smalls coffee shop in Bath is one of the best around. He has consulted for Nespresso, so he knows the business well, and has a capsule shop that reaps the benefits of his knowledge of the world’s best coffee.

Colonna’s compostable options include single-origin coffees from Ethiopia, Brazil and Colombia. We especially enjoyed the limited edition nuguo honey gesha lungo coffee from Panama, but there are options for every palate. Unfortunately, these are currently unavailable to buy.

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Roar Gill rare, 10 pods

Best: All-rounder

Rating: 8/10

Using their “cutting-edge” bioplastic, Roar Gill only sells compostable pods in recyclable packaging designed to fit through your letter box. There are “bold,” “rare”, “cortado” and “exotic Peru” blends, designed for different pallets.

Our tasting panel especially enjoyed the “rare” blend, made from Arabica beans from Brazil. These are simple, stylish and easy to understand, with something for serious coffee drinkers without being off-putting to the beginner.

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Kiss the Hippo, 20 pods

Best: For carbon neutrality

Rating: 8/10

Kiss the Hippo may just be a small coffee shop with only two outposts – one in Richmond and another in Fitzrovia – but its growing army of fans adore its plastic-free compostable Nespresso-compatible capsules. There are three options, all organic: a house blend, a slightly stronger classic blend – our panel’s favourite – and a decaf.

As good as the coffee is, so are the brand’s carbon credentials. Kiss the Hippo prides itself on being London’s first carbon negative coffee company, with a tree-planting scheme that off-sets the carbon costs of the business.

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Fireheart palace blend, 40 pods

Best: Blending

Rating: 7/10

Rather than sticking to one origin for its blends, North London-based Fireheart coffee switches things up according to what’s in season and tasting best. Its palace blend is a deep mix of cherry and chocolate flavours, and comes in compostable, plastic free pod.

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Dualit compostable intense espresso, 10 pods

Best: Recyclable aluminium pods

Rating: 7/10

Dualit sell a range of compostable pods – our panel liked its punchy new “intense espresso“ option – as well as regular aluminium pods. Even more helpfully, for those who are wedded to the precision of the aluminium, which still just has the edge over compostable pods in terms of flavour and freshness, Dualit sell a tool to make recycling easy (£9.99, Simply put each capsule in the machine, push the button and it is ready to go in the household recycling.

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Blue Goose Ethiopian eco coffee pods, 10 pods

Best: Tasting

Rating: 8/10

Blue Goose’s Ethiopian pod is the only compostable coffee pod so far to have been awarded two stars by the Great Taste awards. And it’s not hard to see why. Grown in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, this coffee has a lighter, easy-drinking floral flavour and a rich crema. More expensive than some pods, but you can taste the difference.

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Maverick SealPod

Best: Reusable pod

Rating: 6/10

Perhaps the most eco-friendly option of all is this reusable pod. You can wash out the old grounds, put in fresh ones and re-seal the pod. Traditionally they have not worked as well as aluminium or compostable pods, but the technology is improving all the time. Maverick’s SealPod is the best we’ve encountered yet, and they also make reusable pods for the rival Dolce Gusto system.

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Co-op irresistible Fairtrade coffee pods, 10 pods

Best: Supermarket eco-pod

Rating: 7/10

Co-op’s pods are made from aluminium, but they are fully recyclable, as well as Fairtrade and organic, with coffee from Sumatra, Indonesia. It makes for a rich, full-bodied espresso with a delicious crema. Perfect for those moments when you’ve forgotten to order online, or you don’t have an active subscription. Stock does vary between regions though, so be sure to input your post code to check whether they’re available to buy in your area.

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The verdict: Eco-friendly coffee capsules

For many years compostable pods have struggled to keep up with aluminium ones in terms of keeping the ground coffee fresh. Nespresso’s infrastructure and technology meant their best capsules were hard for independents to compete with. In recent years, however, the tide has started to turn.

Compostable pods now offer a coffee experience almost indistinguishable from the aluminium pods, although they are still not quite there. Real coffee heads should try Colonna’s nuguo honey gesha pods – they’re made by one of the leading experts and its hard to argue with quality and knowledge like that.

Unfortunately, Colonna’s pods are currently unavailable to buy owing to being a limited edition. So, we’d instead recommend turning to Roar Gill, which are the best entry-point for compostable pods and a great all-rounder.

Voucher codes

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