- Coffee pods are a quick-and-easy solution to making a cup of coffee or espresso.
- The best Nespresso pod is the Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods, the best K-Cup pod is The Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast, and the best Illy pod is IperEspresso espresso and coffee pods.
To be clear, an espresso pod machine is not an espresso machine, and the liquid it delivers, while inspired, is not espresso. However, pod machines (coffee or espresso) make a morning cuppa quickly and easily, require almost no maintenance, and take up minimal counter space, so it's easy enough to justify having one.
For this guide, we tested three pod-based systems, the Nespresso, Keurig K-Cup, and Illy IperEspresso. We actually found Illy's espresso pods to produce the most espresso-like consistency of any pod we've tried. However, that's your only option, because only Illy makes the pods, so if you own an Illy machine, your choice is either Illy's IperEspresso espresso and coffee pods or nothing.
Depending on which machine you have, these are our taste-tested and approved top picks.
Here are the best coffee and espresso pods:
- Best Nespresso pods overall: Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods
- Best K-Cup pods overall: The Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast
- Best budget Nespresso pods: Bestpresso
- Best reusable K-Cup pods: IParts Plus More Coffee's reusable K-Cups
- Best single-use Nespresso pods: Nespresso OriginalLine pods
- Best Illy pods: Illy's IperEspresso espresso and coffee pods
Updated 8/31/2020. We updated prices and links.
The best Nespresso pods overall
With Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods, you're free to build the perfect espresso-like shot on your own terms.
There are more reusable Nespresso-compatible pods on the market than for any other pod coffee or espresso system, and the best pod for a Nespresso system is the Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods.
Recaps and Sealpods are essentially the same contraptions, but Recaps pods win out because they come with a tamper in addition to the pods, and cost nearly $20 less than Sealpods. The fitted tamper is a huge help, especially when dealing with such tiny capsules, and made our experience filling them far less painstaking.
With that said, filling these pods is a chore. It gets easier the more you do it, but it is something you might accomplish better by sitting down. It's also tricky to learn the optimal size for grounds and tamping to produce a good shot in any given machine. It will take a while to dial these things in, but you should, with a little practice, get a much better shot than with the pre-filled Nespresso and third-party pods.
Pros: (Sort of) environmentally friendly, much more cost-effective than single-use pods
Cons: Still somewhat wasteful with single-use aluminum foil glue-on tops
The best K-Cup pods overall
The Original Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast K-Cups are not only among the most affordable single-use K-Cup pods but the clear favorite of Keurig users.
From Green Mountain to Dunkin' Donuts, any number of brands make K-Cups filled with a variety of blends from their own grounds.
But one medium roast seems to be the most popular of all, and while I'm not a regular coffee drinker, I found that The Original Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast (made by Keurig Green Mountain) was the least offensive to my palate. It's a fuller-bodied medium roast that should appease most coffee drinkers. It's not overly bitter, nor is it overwhelmingly rich, but it's not flavorless either. It should also be mentioned that "Extra Bold" simply means that these cups are packed with more coffee than the usual K-Cup, which is another plus unless you're highly sensitive to caffeine.
Pros: Less expensive than many other brands
Cons: Apart from being single-use
The best budget Nespresso pods
Some of Bestpresso's blends are better than Nespresso's, in our humble opinion. And, they're also the most affordable ones we've found (and enjoyed).
I didn't love every flavor of these pods, but after tasting almost all of them, I was delightfully surprised by several. We all have different tastes, and it's hard to pin down any single brew, blend, or flavor for all, but Bestpresso was able to delight my picky palate, which is no small feat. And with twelve different flavors, there's sure to be one (or two or three) you'll enjoy.
Bestpresso's pods are not terribly different in design from Nespresso's own branded pods, and you get a comparable amount of crema and richness. I like the Brazil blend, but the best option for your first go might be a variety pack to suss out which you prefer.
Pros: Affordable, 12 different flavors
Cons: Some flavors may border on offensive
The best reusable K-Cup pods
IParts Plus More Coffee's K-Cups are simple little contraptions that allow you to brew your favorite coffee in a Keurig machine with barely any more effort than popping in a single-use cup.
Reusable K-Cups, unlike espresso pods, are much less finicky. Because coffee doesn't require pressure to brew, a loosely-filled mesh pod will do the trick. You could probably make one yourself without much hassle, but then IParts Plus More Coffee has four-packs on offer for about $10, which is worth saving your time fiddling with wire and pliers on a Sunday afternoon.
This is the answer for just about any coffee-lover who wants a pod machine. You're not beholden to whichever companies produce Keurig-machine-specific pods for their own coffee. And while packing espresso pods for Nespresso machines is a meticulous exercise, you can just pile a couple of spoons-full of coarse grounds into these reusable K-Cups without much attention because their only job is to facilitate steeping.
The beauty of these contraptions is their simplicity — not a whole lot can go wrong with them — and pods, whether they're espresso or coffee, are not cheap. If you're going to go the Keurig machine route, this is the best K-Cup purchase you will make.
Pros: Simple, affordable
Cons: Thin, cheap plastic (but if you're gentle with them, they should be fine)
The best single-use Nespresso pods
Nespresso's OriginalLine pods come in plenty of different roasts and flavors that can be brewed several different ways, offering the best variety of almost any pod system we've tried.
Single-use pods are often limiting but Nespresso's OriginalLine pods come in more than 20 flavors. We also like that they can either be brewed as ristretto (~25ml), espresso (~40ml), or lungo (~110ml), and Nespresso has specific details on which ones they recommend for which brewing methods.
Being a strict espresso enthusiast, I find the Arpeggio and Ristretto flavors to be the best, but my advice is to order a variety pack and find out which you prefer.
Pros: Large variety, designed for different brew styles, most compatible and convenient
Cons: Not cheap, no comparison to fresh coffee
Shop all Nespresso OriginalLine pods on Amazon
The best Illy pods
Love is a strong word, but Illy's IperEspresso espresso pods produce the most espresso-like consistency of any pod we've tried. It's just too bad you can't fill them with the grounds of your choice (for now).
The best Illy pods are the pods that Illy makes. But that's only by default: Relatively complex to the rest of the mainstream pod machines (and corresponding capsules), any third-party looking to join the competition has the work cut out for them.
That aside, Illy's pods might work the best of all because of how much pressure their design allows, providing the closest thing to espresso you can get from a pod machine. And, if you use Illy's X7.1 by FrancisFrancis! machine, you'll get the closest thing to a cafe-quality espresso out of any pod machine I've ever tried. The only shame is that, especially with it being a $200-$300 machine, you can't use any other espresso besides what comes in Illy's pods.
There are a couple of brands offering capsules to fit Illy machines, but the Amazon reviews for them are so poor that we can't make a case for trying them just yet. I reached out to Illy about this, and a representative responded by saying that it's currently working on creating a more eco-friendly pod. Here's hoping, and a reusable option might even put them ahead of Nespresso in my book.
Pros: Most espresso-like drink out of any espresso pod machine
Cons: Expensive, almost exclusively Illy (which limits you to about four blends at the time of this writing)
How to recycle your espresso and coffee pods
Each company has its own pods, but recycling pods for whichever system you decide to commit to is as simple as sending them back to the company, which will now recycle them for you.
Still, it's important to keep in mind that dedicating time to recycling pods is somewhat antithetical to the whole premise of these machines, which are designed to save us time. Those of us who don't have enough time to make a coffee in the first place is not likely to be the ones taking time out of the day or week to hit FedEx or UPS on the way to work or school. The plan is in place, but it does little to encourage consumers to use it, and, unfortunately, most of us do not.
Nespresso will send you a recycling bag (often included with the purchase of a machine), which you fill and seal and either drop off at a "Nespresso Boutique" (of which, admittedly, there aren't many) or any UPS drop-off location, all free of charge. Here's a short video about how it works.
Illy's recycling plan is, frankly, the least sensible of them all. The company charges you $15 for a recycling kit, which comes with a prepaid (by you) shipping label. If you're a member of Illy Casa (a pod delivery service), the recycling is included, but it's an expensive commitment in and of itself, and if you're not set on having at least a capsule a day, it's probably not worth it unless you have a lot of spare storage. Someone has, it turns out, ingeniously discovered that you can open and reuse an Illy capsule with a can opener. (Here's a YouTube video on that.) Here's how Illy's pod recycling program works.
Keurig's K-Cups are the easiest of all to recycle. Simply peel off the aluminum foil lid (which, yes, you'll have to trash), empty the grounds wherever you choose (they make great compost), and toss the #5 plastic cup into the recycling. Here's how it works.
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