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Would you put rival capsules in your Nespresso?

coffee machine

Noted by the Office of National Statistics as a ‘distinct and growing product’, coffee capsules are making their way into our weekly shopping. But most of us feel tied to buying branded capsules. Is it time we tried third-party alternatives?

This may or may not come as a surprise to you – it did to me – but a poll conducted by Harris Interactive found that 22% of Brits own a coffee capsule machine, with analysts predicting that coffee capsules could overtake teabag sales by 2020 😲

The same poll found that 80% of coffee capsule machine owners stick to buying the manufacturers branded coffee capsules rather than third-party capsules. So what’s holding us back?

Brand lock in

Coffee capsule machines offer convenience more than a cost saving – at least, that’s what it is for me. Nespresso machines are riding high on this trend for caffeine convenience. As a Nespresso machine owner, I have certainly saved some money by kicking my takeaway coffee habit. However, it’s the time I save on getting my caffeine fix in the morning that’s the biggest boon.

Still, restocking my coffee capsules can be a real pain. Nespresso machines are especially particular about where you can buy their branded capsules too – online or via a small list of boutiques.

And I do feel tied to buying my capsules from Nespresso. Early third-party capsules were problematic. There was a spate of these capsules not working and potentially causing damage, which could invalidate the machine’s warranty. All in all, popping down to the supermarket to restock with third-party capsules seemed a little too risky.

However, following a French court ruling in 2014, Nespresso has had to share information about their machines. This change has opened the gates for challenger coffee capsule producers. With access to information about these coffee machines, these third-party capsules offer up a great alternative to the Nespresso-branded capsules. Not to mention being are far easier to get hold of than having to traipse to a Nespresso boutique or place an online order.

Bucking the brand

In fact, when we recently conducted a taste test of compatible coffee capsules we found that those on sale in the supermarkets earned scores high enough to be Best Buys. Branded capsules still performed well, but it’s clear that these third-party capsules are well worth a try. I know I’ll be giving them a go.

Do you find yourself buying the branded capsules, or are you bucking the brand lock-in for third-party capsules?


Fascinating information. 🙂 I had no idea that coffee capsules had made such an impact on our coffee drinking habits. A bit of competition will certainly help to cut costs.

In the meantime, I think I will carry on using a filter coffee maker. I have become lazy and usually buy ground coffee rather than grinding the beans.

I’m quite looking forward to doing my own taste test of rival capsules in my Nespresso machine ☕☕☕

Perhaps Which? and this Conversation could benefit from an analysis of the waste created by some capsules. My brother has the pod machine and to be honest I do not like the ones I have tasted from it and prefer tea or instant coffee. However a fad is a fad and no doubt people will eventually wise up and they will be as cheap as chips at boot fairs in a year or two.

Apparently the inventor has expressed regret in inventing them.

” All of this is great for coffee pod makers’ bottom lines. Green Mountain, which acquired Keurig back in 2006, is swimming in profit—the company netted nearly half a billion dollars last year, most of which came from selling K-Cups and K-Cup machines. And Nestle is believed to turn a hefty 30% profit on its Nespresso coffee pod business (paywall). As of 2012, Nespresso had sold more than 27 billion pods worldwide. The machines are so widely used that they can even be found in over 700 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world.

The popularity of pods, however, is also taking its toll on the environment. Only 5% of the little pods Green Mountain makes are currently recyclable, according to Mother Jones. The other 95% are made of a non-recyclable composite plastic. The company is well aware of its shortcomings, and has vowed to make all of its pods recyclable by 2020.

“We can get to a cup of coffee dozens of different ways,” Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center, a non-profit in Berkeley, California, told the East Bay Express last year. “The best way is a large volume of coffee that goes into a cup that’s washed and re-used a thousand times, and the coffee goes to compost or mushroom production. That’s best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is these pods.”

The sheer volume of pod waste is staggering. As Murray Carpenter notes in his book Caffeinated, the K-cups discarded in 2011 would have encircled the globe more than six times, and in 2013, more than 10 times. Across the coffee pod industry, hundreds of millions of pounds of unrecyclable trash are now being made, used, and then tossed away each year in the US.”

Incidentally you do not link to the survey but to a BBC article reporting on a survey ……
” One in 10 Britons polled by Harris Interactive for The Grocer, a supermarket trade magazine, said that they believed “coffee pods are very bad for the environment.” At the same time, 22% of those asked said they owned a machine.”

Knowing how keen we are on proper surveys and dislike media filled with possibly dubious surveys planted for effect can Which? contact the Grocer for a direct link to the survey.

I wonder if refillable capsules are the answer to the waste problem.

What about refillable teaspoons ?!

Who needs spoons? Have a look at this Conversation presented by Adrian Porter: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/spoons-you-dont-need-them/

Alastair Rayment says:
18 March 2016

This is a really important point. I am amazed that Which rarely discuss the environmental impact of the products they test, as you pointed out here evidence points to pods being a disaster compared to just using conventional beans. It would be fantastic if all product reports which could give an assessment of the environmental impact they have compared to other products.
Convenience is great but we need to be informed on any downsides.

I think decent ground coffee and a cafetiere are the answer, both to waste and to cost – both of the coffee and the machine.

Maybe I’ve missed the test but have Which? compared the taste of coffee prepared in different ways?

I just like Nescafe instant, , One tea spoon not heaped and black with a little cold water on top
I was in NZ about 11 years ago and everywhere we went there was new coffee machines and everywhere had instant coffee written on the price board in marker at 99c because people were not taking to the fancy stuff very quickly

I am the odd one out here coffee makes me ill ,and yes I have bought beans in the past and tried the very top quality stuff ground it myself and yes it has a much smoother taste about it. Started off as a toddler given milky tea and yes I am a tea “addict ” although I have now cut down to three cups a day . But this is one US import I am totally immune to although giant US companies are winning the battle of the media and “converting ” UK citizens to “love ” coffee , the “in ” drink . What I would like to know are the great British Public no longer tea drinkers or is the hype for coffee here still a minority drink. In other words ,is the world renowned — England is a nation of tea drinkers —dead ?

Tea drinking is far from dead but I stopped drinking tea when I moved to a very hard water area.

I don’t understand the popularity of espresso coffee. Nice though it is, I would be drinking an awful lot of espresso to manage to drink a couple of litres a day. 🙂

Tea is , I think, more versatile than coffee; more refreshing on its own, particularly on a hot day, and suited to afternoon tea, whether savoury or sweet. No tea bags though; leaf tea brewed in a pot.

I encountered Nescafe Azera ‘Barista style instant coffee’ a couple of years ago and assumed that real baristas would complain to Nescafe. Unfortunately it’s still with us and there are other ‘barista-style’ instant coffees on the market.

At least the capsules produce coffee that is better than instant coffee.

DebbieG says:
17 March 2016

We’ve got one at work and we buy our own pods. I use rival, cheaper Fairtrade ones with no ill effects to the machine. Our instant coffeen here is revolting. The pods work out at 30p a cup – I heat up some milk in the microwave and make a latte. However, they are amazingly wasteful and bad for the environment, so I think I will be giving up on them when I finish the current box of pods. At least you can compost tea bags (there are a lot of them in my compost heap!)

Elisabeth says:
17 March 2016

I use Nespresso pods which I order online, 200 at a time, as delivery is free for that quantity. I recycle the used pods using the bags supplied by Nespresso which I hand in to a convenient local collection point.

I think it important to make a strong distinction between recycling something seriously useful like a washing machine , radio, clothing and a one use piece of aluminium. Is it just possible that effort involved in recycling is actually anti-green?

Re-usable pods? see below

Anyway here is what the UK charity Ethical Consumer says:
” Each pod or capsule is made of either plastic or aluminium or both. After use it drops out of sight into a container which – despite the protestations of manufacturers about ‘recyclability’ – are emptied into the bin and sent to landfill in the vast majority of cases. This creates a problem for future generations and also wastes the grounds themselves which are a valuable source of organic matter. More than half a million people have now watched ‘Kill the K Cup’ – a spoof Canadian disaster movie – where used coffee pods terrorise the planet.

What About Fair Trade?

With these new easy-to-use systems dominated by the major coffee multinationals, a Rainforest Alliance certified Kenco pod was, for a while, the nearest thing to an ethical choice in this new disposable market. However a legal ruling in 2014 forced Nespresso to open up its machines to other coffee providers. This has brought with it a much wider range of pod choices including:

Cafédirect (an EC Best Buy) now produces a range of Fairtrade pods for Nespresso machines

cafepod.com have a range of single origin Fairtrade and Organic Nespresso machine compatible coffee pods

Starbucks pods for their own machine types are also Fairtrade certified

In addition, supermarket own brands are also moving into this space.
But while there may be better ethical coffee choices for pod users now, there is still the issue of single-use disposable pods filling up the biosphere.

Re-usable Pods to the Rescue

Just when you were about to despair of human ingenuity, it comes up with a choice of re-fillable pod cups for Nespresso and Senseo machines. These use either snap-on tops or disposable stick-on lids. These are all made by smaller companies with ethiscores of around 12, and the main ones we could find were:

Coffeeduck refillable capsules for Nespresso or pads for Senseo

Sealpod/BigSis stainless steel refillable pods for Nespresso machines

Ecopad for Senseo
Not only do they solve the problem of mountains of disposable pods, they also allow a much wider range of ethical coffees to be used. They are most easily available online.
Having said that, it’s still difficult to see what was so wrong with instant granules, cafétieres, conventional espresso machines, stove-top percolators and drip filters to name a few. In the words of John Sylvan inventor of the best-selling American Keurig machine “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it. They’re kind of expensive to use … plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

marc_centre says:
18 March 2016

I have tried a number of alternative pods – now they are in the supermarket it is very convenient and prices are comparable to many of the nespresso pods online. That said, I really enjoy a particular nespresso blend and that’s what keeps me loyal. I take my coffee as a true espresso and find that you can really tell the difference in flavour. I will continue to try new pods, but until I find a blend that I enjoy equally I wont move away from nespresso.

Alister says:
18 March 2016

I certainly do use cheaper alternatives. Can’t really tell the difference between the various flavours anyway. The whole Nespresso thing is a triumph of marketing over common sense, I wouldn’t buy a machine but some good friends gave me one as a present . The best way to get a good espresso is with the little 2 part pots where you put water in the bottom and let the steam do its thing.

Les Roberts says:
20 March 2016

I have tried several other than Nespresso pods. Up to recently Poundland sold a superb pod (I think it was Italian ) but now no longer stock. The Aldi “Alcafe” intense strength 9 is comparable with Nespresso and at £1.79 for 10 excellent value.

Just to help out the article from September 2015


To the question ” Q7. Which one of these do you drink most often?” asked of a range of ten types of hot drinks
only 4% said pods as compared to 44% saying tea.

The statement ” Harris Interactive found that 22% of Brits own a coffee capsule machine, with analysts predicting that coffee capsules could overtake teabag sales by 2020 😲”

” While the humble tea bag costs on average 2p, coffee pods can be upwards of 25p in supermarkets and over 35p direct from the manufacturer.”

So if the pods are ten times , or more expensive, then overtaking teabag sales will be done on 10% of the volume.

I consider the finding that “22% of Brits own a coffee capsule machine” way beyond belief. Perhaps in certain postcodes [or in the top socio-demographic bracket] but not across the entire country surely? If so we can officially announce that the recession is over and the austerity programme has been completed prematurely so we can now all relax with a nice cup of coffee.

I doubt the 22% is even correct for households, let alone UK adults. As we already know, the “1st rule of journalism” usually applies to Convo articles.

Lauren’s got one, Patrick’s got one – obviously it’s the rest of us who are out of step. I think this issue belongs alongside Balsamic Vinegar Anxiety as a special module in the Which? Trend Syndrome Dilemma Analysis Programme.

I only know of one couple who have a pod machine out of say eleven where I am familiar with their kitchens.

Do you think , rather like drug trials, that survey companies can do multiple surveys and report on the one that suits the commissioning company? I am not suggesting that this in the case of The Grocer.

You will appreciate that whilst falsifying figures would be wrong asking for several surveys to be done , perhaps focussed on London AB’s that might produce acceptable figures, would presumably be legitimate.

And would the method you choose favour a result. Well of course it does particularly if you use your panel of Internet savvy people compared to a more thorough door-to-door survey. One might suspect that an awful lot of what we read in print, which has the authority of apparently responsible organisations behind it, may well be based on some very dodgy foundations.

Incidentally that claim published in Conversations by a guest contributor that electric drills are used for eleven minutes only in their life I did nail as a fabrication which just goes to show how happy people are to put items into print without query.

Agreed Diesel, and it’s a risky game with the Which? readership who are prone to spot these myths a mile off and dig out the truth.

I suppose if you stand in the coffee aisle of a supermarket and ask anyone who drops a pod packet into their cart if they own a capsule coffee maker you are likely to get an impressive response. The rest of us have only seen them in holiday hotels and estate agents’ offices.

Its being heavily touted in the media as the “latest ” BIG interest ,except for parts of Germany where its classed as a danger to the environment and banned in one place there due to its plastic cups containing the coffee . The Grocer mag . says (2015) about 25 % of those that drink coffee own one (well they would ) .Tea is still by far the favourite hot drink in the UK but forecasts say that will change ,its amazing the power of advertising makes seemingly highly intelligent people suddenly drop their IQ,s from well over 100 to 84 . Soon we will all be Americans .

: )

BTW did you note that 4% of those that owned them had reverted to other methods ….

SO this means 20% of those that owned them appear to have regretted it. Alternatively perhaps they were gifts and actually not wanted in the first place but the survey does not draw this out.

Perhaps its the price of the pods rather than the aroma of the coffee that gets up their nose.

I don’t know where people find the space to put these gadgets in the kitchens of today, Sometimes I spend quite a bit of time looking at property on line and the kitchen is always pictured; I haven’t spotted one yet [I probably need to widen my search criteria].

dt, I note your smiley face lacks the nose necessary to appreciate the aroma of fresh coffee. It needs a – to become smell-enabled. 😀

There are around 23 million households, so if 22% own pod machines that is 5 million. Sales of coffee capsules were apparently around £112 million last year – I make that around 400 million capsules. So either on average all these owners use them to make just one cup of coffee every 4.5 days (so the rest of the time….?) , or, if a household consumes 2 cups of coffee every day then there are only half a million regular users and 90% of the machines are lying idle (or very underused).

I wonder how many of these machines are bought as Christmas and birthday presents for unsuspecting recipients who put them away with other useful gifts like smoothie makers, juicers, electric egg boilers ……..

I see that to combat the coffee craze that is engulfing the UK, PG are launching tea pods. Presumably that will produce a lot more profit for them than tea bags from the gadget addicts.

I wonder if we could think of other uses for these machines? Soup pods, parsley sauce dispensers, hot glue for the workshop…..?

I drink only a couple of cups of filter coffee a day and don’t use the espresso machine very often. Most of the time I drink instant coffee. I enjoy the once-a-day experience much more than when I drank filter coffee all the time. No doubt there will be capsule coffee machines sitting unused but it would not surprise me if some people use them only once a day.

And in the US K-cups are signing up with Coca Cola ….

Anyway good statistics play malcolm. And if you want more interesting figures these from the US both published in the first quarter of 2015 reveal a possible discrepancy in “facts”

Almost one in three American homes now has a pod-based coffee machine, even though Sylvan never imagined they would be used outside of office

He could have left things at that, but instead, he started investigating K-Cup waste. About 1 in 8 American households now has a single-serving coffee brewer, according to a 2013 survey by the National Coffee Association, and Keurig, which launched in the 1990s, is the market leader.

mark dennis says:
26 March 2016

Our Krupps capsule machine does not work with the first Which? recommendation by Taylors – seems the plastic capsule is too tough for the machine to pierce.
Sainsbury kindly refunded the £3.00 for the capsules

Mark says:
27 March 2016

Our Which recommended Krupps U machine does not work on the Taylors Kenya Heirloom Espresso properly either. I have to put the pods through again and they sort of work 2nd time around. However the coffee is very poor with no aroma. We’ve now tried about 4 or 5 alternative pods and none touch the nespresso ones for aroma and taste. We particularly like the nespresso Fortissio Lungo . Once something as good becomes available as a compatible then we’ll switch. I’ve lost confidence in the Which taste tests however. Anyone tried the M&S Colombian capsules? Are they as good as they say?

Tandjay says:
2 May 2016

I’ve had very similar problems as Mark with my Magimix U Nespresso machine which I have used daily for getting on for two years. I generally use four or five Nespresso capsule varieties that I have grown to like a lot and have only tried third party products twice. The first, from Café Direct I think, did not compare at all favourably with Nespresso for taste. Very recently I also tried and had compatability issues with capsules from Taylors of Harrogate, at one stage thinking they had jammed my machine. I don’t think their plastic tub construction works properly with the patented Nespresso piercing action and the density within the capsule is such that delivery was a dribble, taking ages to fill a cup. And I wasn’t impressed with the flavour either so as I hadn’t noticed any significant saving in cost either it’s back to Nespresso brand loyalty from now on.

John says:
1 April 2016

I was sorry that you did not look into other mail order capsules. I make use of Gimoka and the Fine Coffee Club. Nespresso capsules are only marginally better than some supplied by these firms at two thirds of the cost of Nespresso…

I had some problems with compatible capsules… my Nespresso U won’t pierce the pod so I just get a dribble out of it. Another brand of compatible pods were absolutely fine (if just a bit less coffee than Nespresso). I’m going to give them another go, but I wondered if others had experienced the same (like the two Marks above)?

Patrick, in the interests of promoting English, may I point out 4 spelling and grammatical errors?

I’ve made some edits Malcolm 😉

Unnecessary pedantry Patrick but I had an idle moment when clearing up my workshop. 😡

15 April 2016

Following Which’s recommendation I recently purchased some M and S coffee capsules for use in my two Nespresso coffee machines (one in my kitchen one in my touring caravan)

I first used the M and S compatible capsules in my caravan coffee machine and found the that the coffee was much slower coming out of the machine. After approx 6 uses I noticed that the machine was leaking water so stopped using the compatible capsules.

On returning home I tried the M and S capsules in my second Nespresso coffee machine and again there was slow production of coffee and water leaked from the bottom of this machine.

It was only at this point that I looked closely at the Nespresso and M and S compatible capsules and noticed that they are made of different materials and the so called compatible capsules were hardly pierced.

I have returned my unused capsules to M and S expressing my concern that in my opinion they are not compatible for Nespresso machines.

I am amazed that Which’s testing procedure did not identify that different materials are used for different makes of capsules.

I have since successfully used my kitchen nespresso machine with the nespresso capsules so I can only presume that the water leak was a safety feature of the machine to relieve the increased pressure caused by the M and S capsules.

I have a Nespresso machine and had only used Nespresso capsules so was very interested in your review. I was disappointed that the price of the compatibles wasn’t that much cheaper than Nespresso but thought I’d try the M&S ones that rated highest (3p cheaper per capsule). They made a good espresso (my drink of choice) and I had no problems with my machine unlike some other comments, but I was concerned that they weren’t recyclable without a lot of hard work – splitting them open and separating the lid from the capsule having thrown out the coffee. I can’t imagine many people going to those lengths to recycle. On the other hand it is so easy to recycle Nespresso brand capsules. The easier it is to recycle the more likely it is that people will do it. I am happy to pay 3p more per capsule to know that the aluminium will be recycled and not just end up in landfill for now.