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There are many ways to make a decent brew of coffee – from pour-over filter to French press – but massive credit must go to early 20th century Venetian businessman Luigi Bezzera for creating what is unquestionably the best and quickest method of all – espresso.
You could of course spend literally hundreds of pounds on a top-flight espresso machine that will undoubtedly produce a delicious stream of black gold with huge dollop of crema. However, many high-calibre espresso machines require a degree in barista physics in order to extract the perfect cup of espresso.
However, there is a solution for us non-experts that makes espresso extraction an absolute breeze, and with consistent results time after time – the humble coffee pod.
Not sure where to begin? Relax, because we’ve rounded up the best one-touch coffee capsule machines you can buy right now.
The best coffee pod machines
The first thing to note is that there are several main brands of capsule coffee makers – Nespresso, Lavazza, Illy, Tassimo and Dolce Gusto – and their capsules are not interchangeable. If you like your coffee flavoured with caramel, chocolate and other unusual concoctions, then the widely-available Tassimo and Dolce Gusto trade names are the brands for you.
However, you won’t find any of their machines in this roundup because, well, they’re simply not that great, especially from a true espresso point of view. What you will find, though, is a selection of great machines from the three most authentic brands – Nespresso, Lavazza and Illy. All three companies produce a range rich, aromatic coffee blends for their machines that will satisfy the palette of all but the most fussy connoisseur.
The best coffee capsule blends
Nespresso produces the widest range of coffee blends (32 and counting), some admittedly tainted by overzealous use of ingredients like caramel and chocolate. On the other hand, Nespresso is the only brand of coffee capsule machine to embrace coffee blends from a huge variety of third party roasters, including several high-end artisan companies. You can even buy blank Nespresso pods which you can fill with your own favourite blend.
On the downside, Nespresso pods contain just four grams of coffee against the average bona fide espresso machine’s 11 grams. This means that some lovers of very strong coffee may feel the need to extract two pods at a time, at around 33p a hit! Hint! If you just want to know about a single fail-safe Nespresso blend that kicks like a mule, you can’t go wrong with Palermo Kazaar. This café-strength blend is perfect for any time of the day.
If four grams of coffee seems woefully low, perhaps consider Nespresso’s newer Vertuo system, which uses high-speed centrifugal force to create palette-smacking espressos from much larger pods. This is the system to go for if you love nothing more than a Guinness-sized head of crema that leaves a creamy moustache on your top lip.
The Vertuo system uses different sized pods to produce five different styles of coffee, from espresso to a full mug. There are currently 27 varieties to choose from but if you’re not sure which blend to start with, just go for the extra strong Diavolitto or the creamier Altissio, and you’ll never look back. Incidentally, both Nespresso systems use recyclable pods – simply load the used capsules into Nespresso’s green bag and drop them off at your nearest boutique.
Of the commercial café-style brands, Lavazza is arguably the most popular blend on the planet. While not of artisan origin, it is always a very safe bet. Lavazza’s compostable Modo Mio capsules contain about seven grams of pre-ground coffee so this is the system to opt for if you like a proper café-style espresso first thing in the morning.
Best blend to start with? Head straight for the red Passionale box which is the blend that tastes most like that served in Lavazza coffee shops. And choose Lungo Dolce if you want a milder, creamier breakfast coffee. Lavazza capsules retail at around 28p per capsule.
Last but not least is another brand you will almost certainly have seen advertised outside Euro coffee caffs. While not exactly artisanal, Illy coffee is widely considered to be one of the best commercial brands on the market. Illy capsules contain more plastic and look more complicated in design; they are also among the most expensive – 37p a capsule.
Sage’s R&D department is a dab hand at producing small home appliances that are a cut above the rest and this elegant Nespresso maker is a prime example of the forethought and workmanship that goes into all of its products.
The Creatista Uno heats up in just three seconds and produces exceptional Nespresso coffee time after time. Unlike most standard Nespresso units that produce just one style of coffee, this one handles three: espresso, ristretto or lungo. It also comes with an excellent milk frother for those who prefer milky beverages like cappuccino and latte.
Being of Sage origin, the Creatisto Uno can also be customised to suit the size of cup being used. If for instance your espresso cups are smaller or larger than the norm, then simply hold in the extraction button till the cup is filled and it will save that setting for future use.
If money’s no object and you’re in the market for a high-end Nespresso capsule machine that performs like a manual machine, only without any complex malarkey, then this is the model for you.
Picture the scenario… You’re on holiday and the hotel only serves filtered mud in the breakfast room. Or perhaps you’re visiting granny and she only has insipid instant coffee to hand. Or maybe you’re camping in the wilds where there are no espresso machines at all.
Given that the physics behind making an espresso is simply very hot pressurised water pushed through fine coffee grounds, it doesn’t really matter whether that pressure is managed my electronics, a big pull-down handle or, in this case, a finger-powered plunger.
With this little marvel all you need is a Nespresso pod and access to hot water for an authentic espresso that’s as rich and flavoursome as any major league machine can produce.
The Minipresso measures 175mm in length and weighs just 350g so it’s a perfect size for travel. To use, simply fill the one-cup chamber with hot water, drop a Nespresso capsule into the holder and screw it altogether. Now hold the unit over a pre-heated cup, push in the plunger using both sets of fingers and watch in awe as a stream of caramel-coloured liquid miraculously appears in your cup.
If you travel a lot and simply can’t start the day without a hit of authentic espresso, then this little manual handheld Eureka contraption may just turn out to be your best friend.
lly is still widely considered to be among the best of the café commercial brands. At just 10cm in width, this super slim tower is of perfect dimensions for a small kitchen or office desktop.
Available in bright red, black or off-white, the convolutedly-named Y3.3 Iperespresso uses Illy-specific recyclable pods that retail at a rather high asking price of 38p a capsule, making it far and away the most expensive way to enjoy a morning pick-me-up.
On the plus side, the quality of coffee this machine dispenses if of the highest calibre, especially if loaded with the Intenso and Brasile blends.
Like most cheap pod machines, it’s an absolute cinch to use because there are only two buttons: espresso and double espresso. Just load in one of its capsules, pull down the lid and hit your button of choice for a deeply aromatic espresso that delivers oodles of punch and flavour.
There are two Nespresso Vertuo machines currently doing the rounds but the Plus model is far and away the better option since it comes with a superb motorised capsule container lid that is a breeze to use. By comparison, the newer Next model features a stiff, cumbersome latch system that takes two hands to use it.
The Vertuo system uses a completely different method of extraction to standard Nespresso models. In fact, it’s unlike any other system on the market. Firstly, it can accept three different sized pods depending on your choice of drink. Alto and Mug are the largest, followed by Gran Lungo and Double Espresso. Although Espresso is the smallest, it still packs a mighty punch, especially the Diavolitto blend.
Unlike other espresso makers, the Vertuo system uses Centrifusion technology instead of just high pressure hot water. Each pod is equipped with a barcode that tells the machine the type and length of extraction required, spinning the capsule at up to 7,000rpm to create the deepest, richest crema known to mankind. Granted, purists will say it’s more of a foam than a silky crema but people like you and I will be more than happy with the result.
The VertuoPlus is equipped with a huge 1.8-litre water tank that can be swivelled to the side or back depending on the individual’s worktop space. It produces exquisite espresso – and other styles of coffee – with minimum fuss and maximum taste. Highly recommended.
At just 124mm in width and 210mm in height, this little brewer takes up hardly any space on the worktop. It’s easy to use, too – simply lift the silver lever, pop in a Modo Mio pod, pull the lever down and tap the top button, and that’s it.
After about 30 seconds it will dispense a rollickingly good cup of espresso replete with obligatory crema. And when you go for the next cup, a lift of the lever will fling the used pod into its small collection bin.
If you absolutely love Lavazza coffee then this simple hassle-free machine will deliver the goods on a consistent basis. It’s simple to use, easy to keep clean and the quality of espressos it produces never ceases to amaze. At just £49, it’s a veritable bargain, too.