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Do capsule coffee machines grind on you?

Multicolour Coffee capsules

Capsule coffee machines may be seen as the ultimate in kitchen convenience. But is this convenience outweighed by premium prices, excess packaging and the hassle of maintaining yet another machine?

Considered a luxury just a few years ago, espresso-based coffee machines now take pride of place on kitchen worktops. And capsule coffee machines account for a large segment of this market.

With George Clooney as its ‘face’, Nestlé’s Nespresso empire has grown from strength-to-strength, with its success tempting many other coffee machine manufacturers to jump on the capsules bandwagon. Even multinational coffee shops have got in on the action, with Starbucks recently releasing its Verismo home coffee system.

Clooney, coffee capsules and convenience

What’s more, several companies, including Braun and Nescafé, have now brought out a range of hot drinks makers – sort of mini vending machines for the home that spurt out instant coffee, hot chocolate and tea. These are expected to be a hit for Christmas 2012.

But are capsule coffee machines and hot drinks makers the epitome of a ‘created need’? Sure, these machines are convenient and many do well in our tests, but how much more convenient do we really need life to be?

According to market research firm Mintel, a big lifestyle trend for the next few years is the ‘slow it all down’ trend – a backlash to life in general becoming faster paced.

One way to pause and appreciate the small things in life is to take time to savour a nice brew – but the making of the cup of coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) is part of the process. Even making an espresso with a machine that takes ground coffee is pretty simple; and putting the kettle on for a tea is even simpler.

The fact that we’re cutting out daily rituals like this bothers me. In our high-speed, high-stress age, I’d pay for a machine that forces me to slow down rather than one that accelerates my already busy lifestyle!

Take time to perfect your brew

The price argument will be more persuasive for some people. Capsules often work out at about 30p per cup of espresso. Starbucks’ capsules are even more expensive, with a pack of 12 Verismo espresso pods costing £5.99 – so 50p per capsule. When you consider that a home espresso made with ground coffee costs around 10p per cup, that’s a costly choice.

As well as being expensive, the capsule trend can be pretty wasteful, with each single serving of coffee sealed in a plastic and aluminium covered pod. Some capsules can be recycled, but the take up of Nespresso’s recycling service has apparently been pretty low – perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider that people are primarily buying these machines for their convenience.

Lastly, many capsule machines restrict you to one brand of coffee. The drinks may be simple to make, but surely the novelty wears off a bit after drinking the same type of coffee everyday for months on end? Is it time for us to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to capsule machines?


I am amazed that these machines are so popular in view of the high cost of the capsules.

Fine if you want to use one, but don’t complain that you are short of money at the end of the month. 🙂

Gavin says:
8 December 2012

For me it’s the only way of getting close to fresh at my parent’s house, that hasn’t gone stale.

They only use the brown dust (instant) so the turnover of fresh coffee is insufficient to keep a pack fresh for more than a few visits, so keeping/ bringing coffee there for my frequent but random visits is unreliable but the Nespresso capsules always deliver! ( although I held off buying a machine til it was clear that the product was going to prevail).

I Keep real coffee at home and never use the brown dust.

I’ve just come back from Australia where there is a very respectable range for an own-brand machine capules from Aldi.

It just goes to show that one can learn to be addicted to almost anything, not just alcohol,drugs,food and sugary soft drinks but overpriced coffee too.The best things in life are free-well almost-I am happy with most varieties of “brown dust”!

When I moved away from my parents’ house I drank proper coffee, even making a Thermos flask of filter coffee for use when I was away from civilisation. After a year or two, I realised that I did not appreciate proper coffee nearly as much as I used to. Now I drink instant coffee most of the time and really enjoy proper coffee once a day.

Interesting article,and I agree with the philosophy of simplicity and essentially good tasting food and drink and in this case coffee. The only gadgets I use to make good coffee are an italian BIALETTI MOKA EXPRESS JUG a classic that’s been around for a long time.It makes excellent essspreso the jug cost me about £30. I also have a KRUPS bean grinder again about £30 bingo excellent coffee.Unground beans are also cheaper than packeted preground. Grinding your beans when you are making your coffee also gives you a better taste,Oh by the way the whole process grinding beans and jug on gas hob takes only ten minutes. What’s the problem?

Jacqueline Pye says:
8 December 2012

We’ve had a Nespresso machine for some time, and vary the flavours, making one cup each (occasionally two) every day mid morning. Find the coffee really good, and make in small cups with a dash of warmed milk. Lovely. And much cheaper than coffee in town.

The problem probably is partly gadgets at Christmas when desperately trying to find a present for someone. No thought to the ongoing cost of proprietary capsules. But if people are happy with them then that, like so many things in life, is their choice.
I make coffee in a cafetiere – quick and pleasant – although not quite as good as a decent espresso-based cup. I did have a cheap espresso machine years ago that used ground coffee – it tasted great, and also steamed milk until frothy – but lapsed because, I suppose, cafetiere quicker, easier to clean, and good enough.

Whatever you do with coffee don’t boil the milk as it denatures the protein in it and by the way the worst coffee I have ever had I think was “Expresso”.

William France says:
9 December 2012

Over the years, there have been a lot of “must have” gadgets. Things people who have them just can’t imagine life without them. There have been slow cookers, smoothie makers, bread machines etc. They all produce an excellent product that people swear is better than anything that can be bought in the shops.However after a period of time (it may be months or even years, These gadgets become recognised for what they are- work-surface thieves.

Each of these machines are useful and do the job intended but the number of people that realise their full potential must be a tiny proportion of those that have them. However, fore those that do use them, they can be invaluable. Just be realistic before you buy a gadget- will it do anything for me in the long term?

We have a Nespresso Lattisma Plus which was expensive, but really does produce a cup of whichever pod you choose. The offers when you buy the machine at the moment with £40 credit are really good, thats a lot of capsules that could stretch a year depending on how coffee crazy you are. The built in milk steaming chamber makes for a very smooth Latte. There are literally hundreds of different varieties to choose from and the Nespress boutiques across the country are great for letting you try them out.

par ailleurs says:
11 December 2012

I think that the capsule method has a place if turnover is irregular, as mentioned above. They do produce excellent coffee but are very pricey per cup.
I just don’t understand the problem people have with making coffee. It’s not remotely difficult and it’s such a varied and satisfying drink. It’s one of my great pleasures in life on a par with nice wine or proper beer. I love the idea of calling instant coffee ‘brown dust’ too! To me even the better ones taste like Bovril or instant gravy.
How many folk who drink instant coffee (even worse with sweetend whitener) would tolerate instant tea? Very few I think.
Good black coffee is a wonderful drink in all its varieties and virtually calorie free as a bonus for those watching their weight. You have to practise getting the hang of the taste-like olives perhaps-but then the pleasure is limitless.

Instant tea and coffee – what you lose in taste for the sake of a couple of minutes! And leaf tea made in a china teapot vs. tea bags – no contest.

I like proper tea too. Not tea dust in toilet paper, as someone named tea bags many years ago.

Chris Halloran says:
14 December 2012

I got a Pixie as a (requested) birthday present. Great little machine, both in looks and performance. Beware when looking to buy capsules. They are on Amazon and Ebay but can be over twice the price as compared to directly from Nespresso. Join the Club for free and then compare prices, you may be surprised. Now then, time for a Nespresso….

YorkshireJumbo says:
14 December 2012

I’m with the “slow it down” brigade. We keep the beans in the freezer and grind them as necessary. The espresso machine has much more “drama”, and you can change how you make it to taste. We do the same for our cafetiere if we prefer something longer. It becomes a highlight, rather than a routine.

I was sceptical about the Nespresso system – but bought a machine and milk frother at a very good price in the January sales. I don’t use it for coffee all the time – that would be expensive – but really enjoy the excellent espresso and cappuccino lattes etc that I can make. The milk frother has been the best investment – fabulous for making cappuccino and hot chocolate; my children love it. And my parents too – I bought them a milk frother (about £46 on its own) – to improve the weak milky coffee they made – they love it too.

I have no interest in the quality of coffee from these devices. They are nothing more than a contrivance by manufacturers to tie customers into buying their overpriced and over packaged product. They are the worst sort of environmental vandalism, creating a demand for a wasteful and unnecessary product.

Sarah Underwood says:
15 December 2012

My husband and I have had a nespresso coffee machine for over 5 years now and still use it everyday. It certainly has become a well used item in our kitchen as opposed to a gadget! Although the capsules are around 30p we believe it is worth it for such lovely tasting coffee everytime. This was something that was not mentioned in the article. Moreover, it has certainly limited the amount of times we would visit a coffee shop for a ‘nice’ coffee, which at usually over £2 a cup is expensive. I am sure we have saved a lot of money over the years for this reason alone! Not to mention discarded rubbish/packaging/paper cups etc.

Glenswit says:
16 December 2012

Yes they are expensive but when you only drink coffe a couple of times a week (if that) I think they are worth it. I was finding that even keeping coffee in the freezer we used so little it was stale by the time we got to the end of the packet and I was not enjoying the coffee at all. My husband makes periodic moans about the cost of the pods but it’s noticeable he drinks more coffee now than he used to. In fact he said today that the americano made with our citz machine was stronger than the espresso he had the other day at a cafe.

I agree with Glenswit – for anyone who makes only a small number of coffees at home, capsule machines make sense. Benefits, apart from convenience, include the wide range of coffees available compared with supermarket espresso beans and ground coffee, and compact machines – much smaller than the likes of the Gaggia Baby. Also, in my experience (we’ve had three conventional espresso machines and two Nespresso machines, currently running a Gaggia Baby and a Nespresso), capsule machines are more reliable. Do weigh up the different capsule systems before settling on one though. Some capsules are cheaper than others and available from supermarkets, which obviously appeals, but, if you want milky coffees, go for a machine with a frother, such as the Nespresso Aeroccino, not one that uses milk capsules (nasty UHT milk fit only for the French!).

Caspal says:
6 April 2013

Am looking to find a coffee machine for office similar to my home Kenwood Mokabista which makes great coffee, has an excellent milk frother, is easy to use and economical as uses soft pods (dosettes) eg Carte Noir costing approx €0.15 each. Sadly, Kenwood no longer manufactures the machine. I refuse to buy Nespresso, Senseo, Dolce Gusto etc as expensive and in the case of Nespresso can’t quickly nip out and buy in a supermarket. Don’t want a ground coffee machine either as staff too damned messy and not good at keeping kitchen clean/tidy. Anyone know of a good, reasonably priced soft pod using machine?