For a nation of tea drinkers, we take our coffee pretty seriously and many of us now like to have an automatic coffee machine at home. While there are a lot of varieties on the market, the pod machine is still one of the most popular options, providing our favourite beverages fuss-free and without leaving the house.
But prices and budgets vary wildly, as do the kind of capsules each pod machine takes. Styling, dimensions, functionality and all sorts of other add-ons also differ between machines. So, what should we look for when shopping for our next coffee pod machine?
Firstly, think about where you’ll be using the machine: some are tall and slim, others are teeny but have less functionality, and then there are those require easy and frequent access to the water tank (so under a low cupboard might not work as well as you’d anticipated).
Once you have size in mind, decide what kind of coffee you’re keen on. If you’re purchasing a machine specifically to enjoy a certain Costa coffee you enjoy, make sure the capsules will be compatible. Some machines only take their own branded caps, while others allow you to explore all sorts of independent coffee brands’ pods. It’s worth noting too, that many pod machines don’t serve milky drinks, so if that’s your thing be sure to check out any potential machines’ latte capabilities.
How we tested
We have tested a lot of coffee machines over the last few years, and this list is a roundup of our current pick on the market based on style, substance and how tasty the coffee produced is. We used capsules recommended by the manufacturer and stuck to the branded ones rather than testing any indy brands’ coffee for this piece, simply for parity.
To best compare the machines, we opted for straight espresso where possible. Here’s our list of the best pod machines to get your at-home coffee fix at the touch of a button.
The best pod coffee machines in 2021 are:
- Best overall – Lavazza voicy: £249, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for frothy coffees – Nespresso vertuo next with aeroccino: £199, Ao.com
- Best ESE machine – illy ESE: £115, Illy.com
- Best looking – Grind one: £275, Grind.co.uk
- Best for small budgets – Bosch tassimo myway2: £99.99, Currys.co.uk
- Best entry level machine – DeLonghi nescafe dolce gusto genio S: £64.99, Currys.co.uk
- Best multi-use machine – Dualit multibrew: £179.99, Johnlewis.com
Smart coffee machines have been around for a few years now, but the Lavazza voicy is the first machine with built-in Amazon Alexa – and the first affordable one, too. Follow the quick set-up (and it is fairly quick) to pair the Alexa with your phone and the Lavazza app and the functions this machine can take on become impressive.
As a coffee machine, the Lavazza voicy is no different to many of the others in the a modo mio range, so you’re paying for the tech alone here. The coffee options are simple: espresso or a longer espresso using the range of compostable a modo mio caps. Using the app and Alexa you then have the option to make your coffee slightly longer or hotter, which it can then remember as a command, “Alexa make me a hot coffee,” or “Alexa make my favourite coffee.”
Of course, you can go back to manual operation at any point and select the small or large coffee button from the simple display too. As ever, the Lavazza coffee is rich, well extracted and with a beautiful layer of crema. This is an espresso as good as any and the machine is nice looking, easy to wipe down, fill up and empty the used caps. The fact that the alexa can replace any smart tech in your kitchen is a bonus; ask her all the usual for music, news, timers and the rest of it, plus we like how she can remind you when you’re about to run out of capsules.
Nespresso magimix vertuo next with aeroccino
Best: For frothy coffees
Nespresso have done it again with its newest iteration of the pod machine; this swish looking kit takes all the guesswork out of making any drinks thanks to their clever barcode system. Each of the vertuoline pods (yes, you’ll have to shell out for these special capsules as it won’t take anything else) is recognised by the machine so it adjusts the brew time and water:coffee ratio to make the perfect beverage, and all you need to do is press one button.
Nespresso are proud of its new centrifusion technology – a higher speed rotation system – which the brand says offers a superior coffee infusion, and it’s true that each of the coffees we tried were aromatic and flavoursome, with a thick layer of crema.
We like that this machine is fast (15 seconds to heat), very quiet, and includes an aeroccino milk frother for more decadent milky coffees. It also looks good on the counter and is ridiculously easy to set up, operate and maintain. We’ve knocked off a point for the fact that you’re stuck buying into the Vertoline pods, and the fact that they’re still not compostable or locally recyclable. You can drop off at a Nespresso boutique or arrange collection – but we must admit it does make a decent cup of coffee for a pod machine.
Best: ESE machine
While some manufacturers have made great strides to make coffee pods more environmentally friendly, it is sadly still the case that the majority use plastics and are hard to recycle. While compostable caps do exist (like Grind’s) another option is to consider an ESE machine.
ESE, or easy serving espresso, pods aren’t really pods; instead, these are just ground coffee packed into paper, making them completely biodegradable. We like Illy’s machine which is retro-cool and takes up minimal space while looking very slick – especially the scarlet model.
Easy to set up and get started, the Illy ESE offers two simple coffee preparations: espresso or a lungo. The Illy ESE capsule contains the perfect dose of tamped coffee and is sealed within environmentally friendly filter paper, eliminating the need for plastics. Its classico is a universally pleasing medium roast coffee blend with a nice balance of florals and natural coffee sweetness, but of course, you can use any ESE compatible capsule of your choice in the machine.
The concern with ESE is often that freshness and aroma can be lost, as the coffee has been ground in advance, but in our experience while this true when compared to freshly ground beans, the difference is imperceptible when compared to any other pods. Our main complaint with the ESE’s is that we found them hard to source in supermarkets, so the illy website may be your best bet.
Once your pod is inserted, operation is simple and coffee is served within 30 seconds. The machine is compact with a good-sized water tank. A good value, attractive option that won’t cost the earth.
Grind, the London-based mini-chain of cafés, has branched out from selling its recognisable pastel pink cylindrical tins of signature coffee beans and now has the hardware to match. Grind one is the brand’s first espresso machine, modelled on the Italian machines used in its stores daily, and looks every bit as stylish. Made from gleaming stainless steel in Stockholm, this industrial inspired pod machine uses 19 bars of pressure to extract the most flavour and aroma from coffee pods – choose from a 40ml espresso or 100ml longer coffee.
Idiot-proof to set up and utilise, just lock and load up your capsule to enjoy your hot coffee delivered quickly and very quietly. It’s suitable for all original Nespresso compatible capsules, but we really enjoy the flavour of Grind’s own compostable pods which provide a full-bodied cup and impressive crema.
The Grind one is built to last and a refreshing antidote to most plastic-heavy coffee machines on the market; if it breaks Grind will repair it (for free for the first two years, too).
Bosch tassimo myway2
Best: Budget machine
Bosch make a lot of noise about this machine being easy to use, but the fact it comes with no written instructions and only a book of diagrams made for a bit of a headache in setting it up and getting started, even if it is actually fairly simple. We’d recommend looking up some YouTube videos for ease.
Once you’ve found your feet, this is a simple machine and gives a few options to help you personalise your beverage, which is appreciated. The LED interface is self explanatory, allowing you to choose from three levels of intensity, adjust the temperature of your drink and the volume of liquid. It also remembers up to four of your preferences, so you can enjoy your favourite coffee, tea, hot chocolate or other beverage automatically. The range of capsules the Tassimo is compatible with is vast, allowing you high street favourites like Kenco, Cadburys and special beverages like Costa gingerbread latte.
Cleaning is easy with this machine, as the Tassimo auto-rinses after every use, preventing any mixing of flavours, and the water tank comes complete with a Brita filter to help prevent limescale build-up (although this does restrict the capacity of the tank, which is a downside). The machine is perhaps on the bulky side, but overall a useful machine that lets you enjoy a huge range of drinks, mess-free and fuss-free.
DeLonghi nescafe dolce gusto genio S
Best: Entry-level machine
We reviewed the dolce gusto genio S in detail here, and its bargain price and cute aesthetic means it’s made it into this list too. The small size of this machine means it handily fits on shelves and cupboards (its even small enough to travel with) and is super simple to use – just fill the tank and select your pod of choice as there is nothing else to fiddle about with.
The genio S takes dolce gusto pods, so you’ve got a choice of around 50 branded options and many more independent compatible caps too. The key point with this machine is that it makes milky drinks possible without having to faff about with steaming milk; just choose the appropriate capsule, such as the indulgent caramel latte macchiato and you’re off. There is also the option to make any beverage XL at the touch of a button, useful for when you’re filling a travel mug.
The negative of this machine is that there is no capsule bin so you must remove the previous empty capsule before making your next beverage, but this is a trade off against the machine’s diminutive size and wouldn’t be a big issue unless you regularly made a round of coffees at once. This is an entry-level machine that would suit a student or solo home office, rather than a coffee aficionado or family kitchen, but does its job well and without hassle.
Best: Multi-use machine
When we tested espresso machines, this model came top thanks to its versatility of use. It takes ground coffee, Nespresso pods, Dualit’s own NX coffee and tea pods as well as ESE’s which makes it a useful piece of kit to have in any coffee fan’s arsenal.
First, the good things: it’s stylish looking with a modern, sturdy stainless steel design and has none of the flimsiness that plastic machines can have, it has a steam wand for extra functionality, a hot water button and we really like the cup warmer.
Unfortunately, some things about this machine are irritating: that you need to put paper filters in the portafilter to use ground coffee, and that some capsules need to be manually pierced. The best coffee this machine produces is from just-ground beans; then the espresso is well extracted, aromatic and rich, so decide if you are prepared to put up with the mess and faff of grinds and paper filters.
This list, however, is for pod machines specifically so we’ll consider the ground coffee option an unexpected bonus. We think that ESEs work really well, as do pods, providing a quick, hot and decent coffee in 30 seconds that you can choose to make into a cappuccino, latte, macchiato or americano without worrying about brewing parameters or too much mess.
Pod coffee machines FAQs
How to choose the best coffee pod machine for you
In recent years the coffee pod machine and capsule market has exploded – meaning lots of choice for the consumer and, well, confusion.
Before choosing your coffee pod machine it is important to consider how the features fit in with your lifestyle. Do you have a lot of counter space for an all-singing, all-frothing coffee machine? Or do you have only room for a compact design? Are you strictly an espresso person? Or do you not wake up until you’ve had your latte? How many people in your household will be using your machine, having how many cups a day? Will nothing short of a 1.5l water tank cut it? Make sure to research your options to find the perfect one for you.
Do coffee pods fit all machines?
Unfortunately, when it comes to coffee pods, it is not a one size fits all. When buying your coffee pod machine be sure to check which capsules work with your product.
Can you use Aldi pods in Dolce Gusto?
Aldi’s inexpensive Alcafé barista moments range – including cappuccino, americano, latte macchiato coffee pods – are compatible with Dolce Gusto coffee machines.
The verdict: Pod coffee machines
The smart speaker aspect of the Lavazza voicy has stolen the show for us, coupled with the fact that Lavazza’s machines are always terrific at producing authentic-tasting Italian espresso. If you’re looking for a machine to make milky drinks or big high street names then it’s not the one for you, but for coffee purists looking for a helping hand in the kitchen this is your answer.
If you’re not so bothered about tech but are still looking for a tremendous cup of coffee then the Grind one is worth exploring too – plus it looks beautiful.
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Searching for a guilt-free brew? Our review of the best eco-friendly coffee pods and capsules is on hand to help
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