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How to use Nespresso compatible pods

Nespresso compatible pods are all those capsules that are sold by 3rd party companies and work with most (maybe all) Nespresso original line machines. These aren’t official capsules produced by Nespresso, and in the past they were subject to a series of problems, not the last being capable of breaking your Nespresso machine. Those were the early days, and luckily those issues aren’t common today.

We said that these compatible pods should work with most, perhaps all, Nespresso machines. The vast majority of Nespresso compatible pods will indeed work flawlessly with your machine, as with any other. Not all these capsules have the same shape or material, and that influences the way they brew and the final taste profile in the cup. Due to these slight differences compared with the official Nespresso pods, there are indeed some capsules that don’t work with some machines. Check the package of each compatible capsule you’re looking to buy before completing your purchase. Non-compatible Nespresso machines are clearly indicated on it.

Most Nespresso compatible pods work in any machine, though. We never experienced any issue in testing the ones we have been reviewing so far. But more on this later.

In this guide, we answer some common questions about using compatible pods and bring you our top tips for using them successfully, based on our experience as Nespresso reviewers.

Why trying compatible capsules?

The obvious question is why would you try compatible pods given that Nespresso offers a large choice of excellent ones already?

Variety

The first reason to try a different brand than Nespresso would be variety. As we have recently seen with the discontinuation of Dharkan, not every Nespresso official pod is guaranteed to be available forever, go figure the briefly appearing on the market limited editions.

So what happens when your favourite capsule is discontinued by Nespresso or you can’t find one that you truly love? That may seem hard as Nespresso has hundreds of capsules available, but long term Nespresso drinkers may still want something else, that matches their more refined taste. Those who have been owning a Nespresso machine for a long time know that there are excellent limited edition capsules that are available for a few weeks and then are gone, even forever. If you fell in love with one of those, you may want to drink them again, and your only chances are waiting for Nespresso to bring them back (which only occasionally happens) or find a similar taste profile in a compatible pod.

Spent Coffee Grounds
Photo by Flickr / Steven Depolo

Thus Nespresso compatible pods offer you a wide choice of flavours and blends to have as an alternative to Nespresso’s ones. There are probably hundreds of companies producing capsules compatible with the Nespresso Original line system, from the large brands as Illy and Starbucks, to the tiniest local cafes that have only a couple of carefully concocted blends. Every company, big or small, has up to a couple of tens of capsules that you can choose from, making the variety of Nespresso compatible pods truly infinite.

Basically, if you want to have something closer to your tastes that Nespresso happens to not offer at the moment, most probably a compatible capsule will deliver what you seek.

Convenience

Second reason is convenience. Nespresso sells its capsules either through their boutiques or their official website. They’re not available everywhere. Boutiques are far from being ubiquitous and ordering online incurs in shipping costs unless you make a big order.

Contrarily, Nespresso compatible capsules may be available from your local roasters or at the supermarket 5 minutes on foot from where you live. It’s much easier to just go out, grab a few pods, and get back home in 15 minutes max.

Of course, not all the compatible pods are so easily available. But the ones with a wider distribution chain are. Probably you’ve seen a compatible pod from either Starbucks, L’Or, Peet’s, Costa Coffee, Illy, Lavazza or Caffé Vergnano somewhere in a local store. Some local roasters may have struck an agreement with a local supermarket chain, and you may have seen their compatible pods on their shelves.

Nespresso Compatible Pods
Nespresso Compatible Pods come in many shapes

Hard to say what you can find around you, but for sure some Nespresso compatible capsules are available in a physical store nearby you. That’s very convenient, if only as a backup plan for when the official pods are few.

Price

Last but not least, the price. Nespresso has a rigid pricing system, in which normal capsules are priced on the expensive side and limited editions are even more expensive. Quality deserves to be paid well, so it’s totally understandable to spend a few more cents per pod than other companies. 

But of course you may want to have a still very good coffee for a few cents less. And that’s precisely what compatible pods try to offer.

The Nespresso pricing system is an opportunity for smaller brands. Most, but not all, Nespresso compatible pods cost less than the official ones. Quality greatly varies, but it’s totally worth trying a few pods to find those we like, and saving in the future quite a few cents for each consumed pod.

To sum it up, variety, convenience and cost are the main advantages of Nespresso compatible pods.

Things to check before trying a compatible pod

1. Check that it works with your machine

Especially in the case you have a very old or a very new machine, some pods may not work with yours. That doesn’t mean they’ll damage it, most probably not, just not brew or brew only partly (outputting an undrinkable mixture of water and coffee) or getting stuck inside the machine.

Check the packaging of the compatible capsules if they name a non-compatible machine. If your machine isn’t named, it’s because it works with the compatible pods.

2. Check the material of the compatible capsule

Many compatible pods are recyclable as well as the official ones. An increasing number is also compostable or even biodegradable. Environment-conscious consumers will find plenty of reasons to enjoy the compatible pods.

For everybody else, the material of the capsules is important for a different reason: how to use it.

Aluminium and plastic capsules can be recycled as well as the official Nespresso capsules, generally speaking. They are advised to be removed from your machine tray as soon as finished brewing with, but can actually stay inside the machine for a long time without causing mold or bad smells. The material from which they’re made is more insulating than others, causing bacteria and fungi to not grow as quickly as with others, usually the compostable or biodegradable capsules. Business as usual, then.

With those who are made of different materials, more porous, compostable and especially the biodegradable ones, you should really remove the capsule from your machine as soon as the coffee is ready. They start decomposing very quickly, even a few hours in the machine can mean the capsule is breaking down and opening up, letting the coffee inside to spill out. Bad odours and a general mess ensues.

An example of this is the Sendero compatible pods:

Sendero Peru package
Sendero Peru package

This is normal, as the material from which they’re made is meant to decompose as soon as possible, to not pollute the environment for years and years, as with unrecycled plastic and aluminium capsules.

Nothing that should make you turn your head away from these capsules, but it’s important to know it beforehand so not to blame the producer for the “bad quality” of their capsules.

3. Check if there are disclaimers on how to use the compatible pods

Compatible capsules are physically different from the official Nespresso ones. Not all, as some are very, very close in shape and weight than the Original line pods. Most are made of not only different materials but come in a different shape and have a different consistency, in density and weight.

Therefore, the main issues with the Nespresso machines comes from these differences. Some fit very well in some machines, but tend to get stuck in others. Others need to be carefully pushed inside your machine or they won’t brew, while entering effortlessly in others. It all depends on the shape, size, and space inside the machine. Not all the Nespresso machines are identical in this regard.

Thus, do check if on the packaging of the Nespresso compatible pod there is a disclaimer on how to brew with them, or any instructions. This will avoid unpleasant situations like having to push your unused capsule out of the machine slot because it didn’t fit well enough for the machine to puncture it.

4. Check the taste profile

Nespresso compatible pods have their own rating system. Some will say that they are “strong” intensity, but may be actually “medium” compared with the Nespresso official pods. Others may say they’re dark roasted but aren’t as dark as the darkest from Nespresso or that their acidity is medium but way above any official pod.

Basically, every company has a different way to rate and describe their coffee. You shouldn’t truly compare any score on the packaging of a pod with a different scoring system from another company. Nespresso included. 

Instead, check what the compatible pod is supposed to taste like, if it’s relatively dark or light roasted, if it’s higher in bitterness or acidity or sweetness and so on. Try to figure out to which of the official Nespresso pods it may resemble the closest and, if it’s one of your favourite pods, consider buying the compatible equivalent.

Knowing your tastes here is vital. Check what all the Nespresso official pods that you like the most have in common. From that, you can have an idea of what you prefer, what aroma you love, what you don’t and what are the main characteristics that will make you love a compatible pod.

Is it safe to use Nespresso compatible pods in your machine?

Generally, yes. You aren’t going to void your machine’s warranty by using them but, and it is an important but, damages caused by the compatible capsules to your machine won’t be covered by the producer’s warranty.

Do always check the machine compatibility of the compatible pods before trying to brew with them. Neither the machine’s producer nor the pod’s can be held responsible if you attempt to use a pod that is declared not compatible with your machine.

Nestle Dolce Gusto Pods
An example of pods that will never work in any Nespresso machine: the Dolce Gusto ones

With that said, we didn’t find any issue whatsoever in using any of the compatible Nespresso pods we reviewed with our machines. The worst that happened were either capsules remaining stuck after brewing (nothing that pushing them with a stick wouldn’t solve) or not being punctured, resulting in a very watery coffee. No damage whatsoever to the machine was caused by any of the compatible capsules we tried.

Do remember that with the sole exception of the Starbucks Vertuo capsules, no Vertuo compatible pods exist. You shouldn’t attempt to use any of the Original line pods in your Vertuo machine, ever.

Can Nespresso compatible pods be recycled?

Absolutely yes. The vast majority is made of recyclable materials. Even more so, a large percentage is made of fully recyclable materials (meaning that every part of the capsules is recyclable) or compostable or biodegradable.

There’s a lot of attention from smaller brands on being environmentally friendly, and this reflects in the materials of their capsules. We have yet to find a Nespresso compatible pods line from a small roaster or local cafe that wasn’t fully recyclable, at least. Do check their advice on where to throw the used capsules, if they can go in the same bin as the food waste or with the plastics.

Coffee Capsules Ready to Be Recycled
Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras

Larger brands usually make their capsules in plastic, aluminium or a mixture of both. Like Nespresso. Plastic capsules can be recycled, usually, but need to be emptied before. You can reuse the coffee inside as a fertilizer for your plants or throw it away as you would with any other food waste. Aluminium pods can be sent to Nespresso, unofficially, to let them recycle. It is a non-official practice, not advertised nor suggested by Nespresso, but which many Nespresso owners do to reduce their environmental impact. If you want to go this route with your aluminium compatible pods, do check first that they are 100% aluminium and not a mix of aluminium and plastic. The latter may not be recyclable at all, or only in part, and end up discarded into the landfill anyway, even if put in the recyclable bag for Nespresso.

Fully aluminium pods should be fully recyclable anyway. Of course, if you know your town council or local government is able to recycle aluminium, it’d be better if you give the capsules to them.

Where to buy Nespresso compatible pods?

Anywhere. No, really, there are some compatible capsules in most big online retailers that sell food and beverages. Amazon has quite a few, Walmart too, your local supermarket’s chain online shop will surely offer a couple of different brands, at the very least. Local food shops may have some compatible capsules as well, depending on how big they are and if they usually sell a lot of coffee.

Sometimes even electronics shops have compatible pods. Those who sell Nespresso machines may offer to sell you capsules with them too, and a few may also have compatible pods on sale. It’s rare, admittedly, but we found at least one big electronic chain that does where we live.

If none of these options entice you or aren’t available where you live, a quick web search with the name of the brand you are looking to buy will point you to their official online stores. Hopefully they will be able to ship to you, whenever you are, but that’s not guaranteed. As with Nespresso official pods, not all compatible capsules are sold everywhere. A lot are available in only 1 country, even. Probably a few at most, like Canada + USA or UK + EU and so on. Nearby countries, where shipping costs would be moderate.

Conclusion

Compatible Nespresso pods require so little attention more than the official ones that there’s barely a need for an article explaining how to use them. We used our experience in testing tens of them, from as many companies, to give you some advice on what to take care of when using compatible pods, and how to choose the right ones for you.

Price, convenience and variety are their big advantages. Go check what your nearest store has to offer, we’re sure you’re going to find a compatible pod that you like!

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