Food & Drink Which coffee pods taste the best? 12 top brands...

Which coffee pods taste the best? 12 top brands tested and ranked

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The Nespresso capsule coffee concept was first devised by Swiss company Nestlé in 1986 and finally hit mainstream households in 2004, with the launch of a compact, top-loading capsule machine that looked great, was easy to use and didn’t take up half the kitchen work surface. A revolution in home coffee making was sparked when, in 2014, the brand raised its game to a stratospheric degree with a series of alluring adverts featuring George Clooney.

Until the Nespresso pods came out of patent and competitors began to develop compatible versions, the capsules were only available online or from a small number of Nespresso retail outlets; converts had to keep a step ahead to avoid the disastrous wait that came with running out.

I joined that movement, loading my machine with colourful pods at all hours until, along with many other people, I began to question the amount of aluminium I was binning every day. Nespresso took action by sending customers return bags for used pods; its capsules are currently made from 80 per cent recycled aluminium. But like others, I found filling the bags cumbersome and carving out time to take the bag to the post office was a chore that chipped away at the convenience.

When my little bright orange machine finally gave up the ghost, I went back to the slow gurgle of my “moka” stove-top percolator, and just one flavour of espresso. The pod machine is now a treat to be enjoyed at other people’s houses or on the occasional stay in a boutique hotel, where a bedroom coffee-maker appears to have become a mandatory feature.

'Pods may not deliver the best coffee in the world but you do get consistency, convenience and good value'

For some people, like my friend Lorraine, the Nespresso love affair never waned. “I only ever use their capsules,” she tells me. “I order them on the app in bulk and get free delivery. I have tried other brands but haven’t enjoyed them as much.” Lorraine’s devoted to her pod machine: “I love how clean, convenient and fast it is. I have a little thing I like to do in the morning, my version of a bulletproof coffee. Occasionally I buy a coffee when I’m out but the truth is, I prefer my own because I make it how I want it.”

Born to a family of industrial-scale espresso drinkers, I can’t remember a time when lunch didn’t end with a quick shot. I’ve been conditioned to like an Italian-style dark brew rather than the fashionable light roasts that are currently making waves.

According to Weedon, our tastes are definitely changing. “We are seeing a shift towards lighter roasted coffee – both in specialty right through to coffee chains like Starbucks, which has introduced the Blonde blend,” he says. “Lighter roasted coffee better celebrates the difference in the origins of your coffee. I like to think of it in terms of toast. The longer you toast the bread, the more you’re tasting the ‘toastiness’ rather than the bread itself.”

And for those who prefer a cup of decaf? “Decaffeinated coffee used to be seen as inferior, however there is now more focus being put into specialty graded decaf coffee, so consumers are able to enjoy their cup of coffee with or without the caffeine.”

Lighter roasted coffee is becoming increasingly popular

Looking around my kitchen I can count two sizes of stove-top moka pot, two cafetieres and a hefty bean-to-cup machine with milk steamer. There’s also a cold-brew maker (which admittedly spends nine months of the year buried in a cupboard). But with such a wide and wonderful range of pods on offer, recycling schemes such as Podback and the welcome arrival of compostable options, is it time for me to return to the capsule machine?

In search of the best espresso, my team of fellow coffee drinkers and I tried a wide selection of pods with strength levels ranging from five to 12, running them through a Nespresso Creatista Plus machine on the automatic 40ml espresso setting for consistency. As Weedon explains, “Strength, or intensity, typically indicates the level of roast.

The higher the number, the darker the roast.” But the amount of caffeine in the bean remains the same, regardless of roasting level. Each capsule holds an average 5-6g of very finely ground coffee, markedly less than the 8g or so I typically use to make a single espresso in my bean-to-cup machine.

The verdict? Pods may not deliver the best coffee in the world but you do get consistency, convenience and good value. I may have found my favourites, but I’m going to continue to experiment with new discoveries and lighter roasts.

My only question now is, “Do I have to give the machine back?”

The coffee pod taste test

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My coffee-loving tasters had quite differing preferences so discovering what works for you and your tastebuds is the real key. And don’t expect to always be able to pick up on the enticing dark chocolate, honeycomb or nougat tones promised by the packaging hype.

L’Or Colombia Espresso (intensity 8)

widely available, around £3.60 for 10 pods

Attractive with a golden crema and pleasant aroma, but this is a full-on brew whose strength overpowers any fruitiness. Would cut through well in milky coffees, though. Can be recycled through Podback.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Grind Editions Dark (strength 9)

Available fromgrind.co.uk as a triple pack, £12.75 for 30 pods

Priced at the higher end but with great credentials (compostable, organic and ethically sourced) the packaging is gorgeous and the first online order comes with a free refillable tin for safe and stylish storage. A smooth and silky crema and tempting nutty aroma set up high expectations but we were slightly underwhelmed by the flavour. Smooth but we struggled to find the promised dark chocolate and tobacco. Free shipping for orders over £20.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Nespresso Inspirazione Venezia (intensity 8)

Nespresso.com, £4.30 for 10 pods

From the iconic Ispirazione Italiana range, this blend is full flavoured with a pleasant bitter edge and slight acidity. A good way to start the morning but for the price, not outstanding.

Rating: 2 out of 5

M&S Classic Espresso (strength 8)

M&S andOcado, £3 for 10 pods

This Fairtrade coffee blend was the best of all the supermarket pods we tried and came top for value at 32p per cup. A light aroma and attractive crema with a slight, pleasant bitter edge.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Rave Signature Blend (intensity 3/5)

Available from ravecoffee.co.uk in a triple pack of best sellers £3.65 for 10 pods

Ethically sourced, hand-roasted, compostable and a great price at 36p a pod – there’s a lot to like about these. Very smooth but not very strong and a little zesty for some of our tasters. The cheapest compostable by some margin. Free shipping for orders over £25.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Waitrose No 1 Colombia Reserve Coffee Capsules (strength 7)

£3.25 for 10 pods,Waitrose

A Fairtrade single origin coffee, this has medium-bodied strength with balanced acidity and no bitterness in the finish.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Nespresso Starbucks Espresso Roast (intensity 11)

Widely available, around £4 for 10 pods

Full aroma and a rich, dark crema this is strong and robust but without too much bitterness. A long finish. Can be recycled via Nespresso.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Volcano Coffee Works Pow! You’re Awake (strength 5)

Volcanocoffeeworks.com, Ocado £6.50 for 10 pods

Home compostable and ethically sourced, this is chocolatey, well balanced and very smooth. A wonderful espresso but despite the title, not strong enough to cut through if served milky. At 65p per pod, this is the most expensive of all those tasted.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Lavazza Qualità Rossa (strength 10)

Lavazza.co.uk, £3.50, Ocado, £3.75 for 10 pods

Good value at 35p per pod, this classic Italian blend was familiar tasting and enjoyed by all the panel. Good appearance with a velvety crema – strong and smooth without bitterness.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Caffè Nero Classico Original Blend (strength 7)

Widely available, around £3.95 for 10 pods

A keenly priced pod, this one pleased the tasters with its fluffy crema and smooth texture. Short finish with no lingering or unpleasant aftertaste. Caffè Nero suggest emptying the used coffee grounds into your compost and placing the emptied capsule in your household recycling bin.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Artisan Coffee Co. The Big Shot (strength 8)

artisancoffeeco.com, £6 for 10 pods

Lovely aroma, dark crema and silky-smooth mouthfeel. Packs a satisfying punch without a hint of bitterness. The unanimous favourite. Available online only, can be recycled with Podback. At 60p per pod, it is among the most expensive but lowers to 50p if bought in bulk. Free delivery for orders over £30.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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