Why Nespresso compatible pods are underrated
Thoughts

Why Nespresso compatible pods are underrated

Many Nespresso drinkers swear by the official Nespresso pods and disregard any compatible pods, no matter the brand. The assumption being that these capsules aren’t the same quality of the Nespresso ones, nor created with the same craft, or that you get what you pay (thus, less). 3rd party Nespresso pods are seen as a cheaper alternative that rarely lives up to the expectations.

But, is it true? Is it accurate to consider the Nespresso original pods as the best pods you can purchase for your Nespresso machine?

We’d say that it is not. There are some compatible pods that are absolutely worth checking. To establish that we will go through what are the actual differences, in pros and cons, between capsules compatible with Nespresso and the official Nespresso pods.

Compatible pods: pros and cons

Quality

Nespresso has dominated the single-serve coffee market for years. Having the exclusive to their pod system until recently, meant that they have tweaked their coffee to accommodate the tastes of the coffee drinkers of the markets they invested in. Therefore, 3rd party pods haven’t had enough time to do the same, one of the reasons why many consider them “cheap Nespresso pods” and nothing more.

Coffee beans being roasted
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas

Yet coffee giants like Lavazza, Illy, Segafredo, L’Or, Dallmayr, Peet’s have entered the market of compatible Nespresso pods since years. They surely cannot be considered newbies, nor lacking resources to research and produce excellent coffee blends. Taste is personal but we find it rather odd that not one coffee from one of these large producers may be liked by any Nespresso fan. It is simply not probable.

Saying that “3rd party pods are worse than Nespresso’s” is unsubstantiated.

Nor is it disputable that these brands only produce low quality coffee compared to Nespresso. It is different, indeed, but constantly being considered worse than the official pods from Nespresso is honestly thinking unbelievable.

There are many other smaller brands who launched their line of Nespresso compatible pods over the last decade. These are niche companies, operating usually on one or two markets at most, or even just locally. Some are cafes that got popular and started selling pods online. Their quality greatly varies and we find it perfectly reasonable to be often deluded by these tiny companies. That’s not to say that they are unequivocally bad but we feel that the bad reputation that compatible pods get is because of these types of pods, not those from more established companies. There are lots of “bottom of the barrel” small companies selling compatible pods on Amazon that clearly aren’t worth their price, even if often much cheaper than the official pods. Learning to avoid those is part of the fun in discovering the compatible pods.

One good rule that we learned was to pay attention to the material of the capsules: if fully aluminum, the freshness of the coffee inside is protected more than with the more porous plastic. Same for the compostable pods: while great for the environment the choice of material is often not the best to preserve all the flavors of the coffee for weeks or months. That doesn’t mean that only aluminum pods contain good coffee, rather not, but the material of the pod plays a slight importance in the final quality of the cup of coffee you are going to drink.

In the end, taste is personal but quality is not. There are good quality compatible pods available for the original line of Nespresso pods. Most unfortunately aren’t as advertised nor as popular in some markets as Nespresso’s, which may make them seem as unworthy of your money.

Choice

Nespresso Original line has tens of different capsules. Most of them are limited editions, appearing only for a few weeks per year, and not even each year. But even only considering the stable pods, there is a good range of choices already.

Yet there are limits. Lots of official Nespresso pods are geared towards dark roasts or espresso-sized coffee. A few are for lungos or ristrettos. That is apparently a good enough range of flavors for most coffee drinkers by the vast success that Nespresso experienced for decades to our days.

Yet those who prefer gentler coffee, lighter roasts, or very large mugs of coffee have fewer choices. There’s the Vertuo line for those heavy coffee drinkers, but that requires you to purchase a second machine.

Coffee and Beverages menu
Photo by Daria Shevtsova

Compatible pods can help here. There are frankly so many companies offering them these days that if you feel you are missing a specific taste profile in the original line pods, you are bound to find it in a compatible pod sooner or later. It requires lots of searching and purchasing mediocre pods, though. But if you ever felt that there’s not a pod that is exactly how you like your coffee in the Nespresso offering, compatible pods will probably have it.

Go on Amazon or your local supermarket and ask for compatible pods. A few brands will pop up. Or, even better, search for them online with keywords like “nespresso compatible pods + your country” and see what is available.

Compatibility with machines

3rd party pods can be a Russian roulette in terms of compatibility. We never had major issues with the official pods. Very, very rarely, like once every 100 brews, a pod got incorrectly punched or was crushed and had to be discarded. We feel that it mainly depends on the type of machine you have rather than the pods themselves.

But outside of these rare moments, no issues with the Nespresso’s own capsules.

The story is different with compatible pods. Some are as reliable as the official ones; others are extremely unreliable. We noticed a pattern depending on the material used for these pods.

Aluminum pods

Many companies use aluminum now, as Nespresso does. Usually the compatibility with machines of these types of pods was 50-50: either all the pods worked flawlessly all the time, or they had consistent issues.

Aluminum moka pots
Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative

For instance, we experienced delayed brews with aluminum pods often: when the pods aren’t punched right at the beginning of the brew but some seconds into it. When it happens, the hot water doesn’t go through the pod and its coffee but around it, pouring in your cup water and then, once the pod is finally punched, coffee. The issue is manageable when brewing an Americano (even convenient we’d say), but utterly unacceptable when brewing an espresso or a ristretto. We often had to take a pristine pod from the tray and brew it again because all the water that was supposed to make an espresso went outside the pod.

Occasionally we encountered the aluminum pod that was correctly punched at the beginning most of the time but once in a while was crushed sideways, with no brewing occurring (the machine would complain about a stuck pod). We had to discard such pods as they wouldn’t brew anymore. It is a rare occurrence but more common with aluminum pods.

Other than these, aluminum pods showed no problems on average. As said, either pods from a specific company worked 100% of the time or they showed issues, regularly.

Plastic pods

A few companies have fully plastic pods with a thin layer of aluminum foil on the bottom (and sometimes also at the top). We found this type of pods to be generally without issues during the brew. Only from time to time the machine failed to punch it and immediately stopped, complaining that the pod was obstructing the interior. An issue that was always fixed by re-positioning the pod.

Generally-speaking, plastic pods work fine.

Compostable and biodegradable pods

These pods greatly vary in shape. Some are circular, others have a flat head and a narrow body. Others yet have small holes at the top, probably to facilitate the puncturing. Nearly none of them has the typical Nespresso shape.

Compostable/biodegradable pods shown nearly never an issue. We experienced with a brand that the pods were often opening during the brew, letting the coffee grounds end in your cup, something far from desirable. But outside of that specific brand, no company producing compostable or biodegradable pods was problematic to use with Nespresso machines.

Compatible pods don’t always work

That’s our conclusion. They have a higher rate of failure in brewing or issues in general. Especially the aluminum pods, for reasons unknown. While the Nespresso official pods aren’t immune from problems, the compatible pods have either plenty more or the same. It is kind of an increased risk going with a compatible pod over the official ones.

Most of the issues are due to a problematic combination of machine-pod. The very same type of pod that didn’t brew with a machine, worked 100% of the time flawlessly with a different one.

We suggest trying a few brands and checking how they work with your machine.There will surely be some who will give you no issues whatsoever. Don’t take for granted the notice on the package that the pods work with your machine: it is not a reliable indication. Some pods will simply not work reliably and you will have to discard them.

Do pay attention if the brand cites a specific machine as not supported: don’t purchase those pods if you own that machine as the chance that they will never work is basically certain.

Important also to notice that machines “deteriorate” over time. We had more than one machine that worked flawlessly with a compatible pod and then after months or years started to have problems with those same pods. Not large issues but small ones like a pod could be momentarily rejected by the machine, or the brewing stopping midway for no apparent reason. Nothing that reinserting the same pod or pressing the brew button again wouldn’t fix but this behavior makes us think that in certain cases the issues reported with the compatible pods are due to the machine getting old rather than the capsules themselves.

While the original Nespresso pods give you the best chances of “just working”, compatible pods aren’t entirely to blame.

Sustainability

Nespresso has a great recycling system and has pioneered the field of sustainability when most other single-serve coffee systems were still in their infancy. The large part of the aluminum necessary to make the pods is recycled (up to 80%) and Nespresso plans to offer carbon neutral coffee by the end of 2022. The company has made various pledges to have more sustainable coffee, not just in the packaging but in the sourcing and in carbon efficient operations.

Of course all this remains1 to be seen if it will be reached and when. We can only observe and commend the good intentions.

Paper straws
Photo by Sarah Chai

For sure we as Nespresso drinkers know how the recycling system works and how there are scarce alternatives to it from other coffee companies. That doesn’t mean that only Nespresso recycles though. An always larger number of other brands producing compatible Nespresso pods has recycling or composting programmes, among which:

Alternatively, 3rd party services for recycling various types of pods exist. Not all recycling programmes are available in every country. Rarely a company allows you to recycle your pods for free anywhere in the world but if you are in one of the developed countries or largest coffee markets, chances are high that you can send the used pods somewhere for recycling.

Most smaller brands don’t offer such a program and you need to hope that your local waste disposal facility can recycle the aluminum (and will). Often that is not possible.

Compostable pods don’t need to be recycled and theoretically should be preferred in terms of sustainability over all other types of pods. In practice, it is highly improbable that your local government has a compostable facility where you can send them and, even if it has, will be able to reach the necessary temperature to break down the material of these pods.

Biodegradable pods, albeit rare, are your best bet in terms of sustainability. It is unclear the exact materials used for these pods most of the time, nor their lifetime after being disposed of. Theoretically-speaking they should be gone a few years after use. In practice it depends from company to company and from where they have been disposed of.

Price

Nespresso pods aren’t the cheapest on the market. That we all know well. Then, are compatible pods any cheaper?

Usually, yes.

An official pod on the US market goes anywhere from $0.75 up to $1.2/1.4 each. It is not rare to spend $10 for a 10 pod sleeve. In the EU it is better, with a single pod being in the €0.4-0.9 range. Not a lot better admittedly, especially for the limited editions, but the regular pods are consistently cheaper than in the US. Over a year of consumption the difference is noticeable.

Compatible pods wildly vary in price, depending on the brand. We are basing the following prices from Amazon or the official online stores of the company, which of course means that you may find it cheaper or pricier elsewhere:

  • Peet’s pods come at $0.60-0.79 each.
  • L’Or are anywhere between $0.55 and $0.70 per pod.
  • Illy pods, a brand that has never been known for being inexpensive, are up to $0.9 per pod on Amazon US.
  • Caffé Vergnano are about $0.6-0.75 per pod.
  • Lavazza pods can be found as low as $0.4-$0.55 each.
  • Bestpresso pods can be purchased anywhere from $0.3 and $0.6.

In EU, prices are again slightly lower:

  • Kimbo are often found at around €0.3 per pod.
  • Lavazza’s similarly at €0.25-0.35 per pod.
  • Pellini are sold at €0.3-0.4 each.
  • L’Or aren’t much more expensive, sitting on the shelves with a €0.35-0.4 price tag.
  • Illy is often sold at €0.4-0.5 per pod.

Prices updated as of July 2022.

These are some of the most known brands that sell Nespresso compatible pods, easily available on Amazon or at the supermarket closest to you. Arguably none of these have decidedly worse coffee than Nespresso itself, and very often can be purchased for less than the official pods.

If you are willing to try less reputed brands, local ones perhaps, we have seen pods being sold for as low as $0.3 each in the US and €0.14 in the EU. A true bargain compared to what you get from Nespresso. If you can find a pod that you like, you may save a considerable sum of money on coffee each year.

Starbucks

A word of notice about Starbucks pods. We aren’t considering them as “compatible pods” as they are 100% manufactured by Nespresso at their facilities. Only the coffee comes from Starbucks. Therefore, in shape and intention, they are “official” pods sold by Nespresso and Starbucks. Their price is also similar to Nespresso’s own capsules.

Conclusion

To conclude, are compatible pods underrated?

We say yes.

There isn’t really any reason that makes them invariably worse than the official Nespresso pods. It depends on your tastes. Nespresso pods tend to be medium/dark roasted and lovers of lighter roasts are often left on the side, without many pods to choose from. Similarly, extremely dark roasts, like those known within the industry as “Italian” or “French” roasts, aren’t that common among Nespresso’s own pods. A few staple pods are always present, indeed; but they’re few.

Going to shop for compatible pods can make you find a solution for both situations. Or, at the very least, you may find that specific taste profile that you used to love but that Nespresso has discontinued. We have been receiving tens of emails about Nespresso having changed their favorite pod or removed it altogether. Usually Nespresso doesn’t come back on its steps.

Compatible pods greatly enlarge your choices. With the always welcomed benefit that they don’t cost more and, actually, often less.

The only clear issues that compatible pods have compared to the original ones is them being more prone to not brew, brew unpredictably, or getting stuck inside the machine. They’re not fully compatible, not every time nor with every machine. Definitely a risk to purchase a sleeve and end up not being able to use it in your machine. We advise you to buy as little as possible any compatible pods at first, to check both if they are to your liking and if they work with your specific machine. Damage control, so to say.

We don’t subscribe to the notion that compatible pods aren’t worth purchasing. That sounds like elitism to us. It has never been proved in any way that other companies other than Nespresso use worse coffee grounds. It is ridiculous to believe only 1 company has good coffee. Be it Nespresso or another.

We have been reviewing some compatible Nespresso pods since Nespressoguide’s very beginning. We will continue doing so. Feel free to check some of our previously reviewed pods not from Nespresso. Explore what’s available locally and online, you may find some true gems.

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2 Comments

  • Swiss ID

    Hello,
    Thank you for this interesting post. I have been a great Nespresso lover for many years, however I have taken the time to test many compatible pods, mainly pure origin, because for me this is the best way to bring out the aromas of coffee. I have sometimes been disappointed and other times totally enchanted by new flavors. In terms of the physical compatibility of the pods, if you have a machine with a manual piston, there is generally no problem, however if you use an automatic piston machine (Type Expert, U, etc.), the compatible pods are to be avoided, because the failure rate is sometimes close to 100%. Have a good tasting.

    • Nespresso Guide

      Hello and thank you for the point you raised. It is indeed much more common to have issues with an automatic piston-based machine than with a manual one. With some compatible pods we indeed had a 100% issue rate but with others nearly no issues, even with pods coming from the same brand. It is unnerving to not know if the pod will correctly brew.

      Still, despite these issues, there are true, and cheaper, gems to be found among compatible pods, as you have discovered. It is worth risking. And in any case, even in the worst case it is trivial to open the pods and use the grounds to brew with another method. Coffee doesn’t have to go wasted.

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