K-Cups. Keurig 2.0. Pod scanning technology. VertuoLine. Centrifusion. T-Discs. Reusable pods.
For the uninitiated, who only want a convenient coffee machine that’s easy to use, it can be challenging navigating this sea of terms.
I feel your pain.
Take a deep breath and keep on reading, because I’m going to show you exactly how to choose the pod coffee machine that’s perfect for you and your needs.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Choose Your Universe
There are three different “universes” when it comes to pod- and capsule-based coffee:
- Keurig K-Cup universe
- Nespresso capsule universe
- Tassimo T-Disc universe
Ultimately, choosing between the three universes comes down to three factors:
- What you want to drink
- Your price range when purchasing the initial machine
- Varying costs of ownership as you use the machine
Let’s dig deeper into all three.
What kind of drinks do you want to make?
Almost any coffee-based drink these days can be found in a pod, whether it’s a long black coffee, espresso shot, cappuccino, or latte. Deciding what style of drinks you want to make is the first decision when choosing a pod coffee machine.
The Keurig K-Cup universe caters exclusively to coffee drinkers. There’s no espresso-based beverage compatibility here. (Keurig used to make their Keurig Rivo specialty beverage machine, but they discontinued it and no longer support the product.)
The Nespresso capsule universe caters primarily to espresso-based beverage drinkers, including standard espresso shots, ristretto and lungo shots, and pretty much every milk-based specialty drink you can think of. However, Nespresso recently released a second line of machines, called VertuoLine models, which also have the ability to brew your standard long coffee. It’s also worth noting that even if you want to purchase an original Nespresso machine (appropriately dubbed OriginalLine machines) you can also make an Americano, which is one part espresso and two parts water. It comes pretty close to a standard coffee.
The Tassimo T-Disc universe offers special pods for all kinds of beverages, whether it’s a standard long coffee or a cappuccino.
Price range when purchasing the machine
Keurig coffee makers generally range from $75-$175. The higher end of the price range is populated by the Keurig 2.0 brewers, which are Keurig’s newer machines. They incorporate pod-scanning technology and have more advanced features, such as temperature and strength control, digital touch displays, and larger water reservoirs. If you don’t need these features and just want simple one-touch brewing, you can safely shop at the bottom of that price range.
Nespresso machines are the most expensive of the three universes and range from $100-$450. At the low end of the spectrum is the tiny Essenza Mini, which is the most basic Nespresso machine available. It doesn’t come with any frothing capability, so you’ll have to get a bundle which includes an easy automatic frother. To add the frother, be prepared to add $50-$80 to the price of the machine alone. At the high end is the Nespresso Creatista Plus, which is the Cadillac of single serve coffee makers. It has the same internal brewing components as all other Nespresso OriginalLine machines, but it also comes with some advanced milk foaming functionality that borders on commercial quality.
Tassimo has by far the fewest different models. In fact, as of this writing, they only sell two! And both are in the $125-$150 range. You’ll recall above that Tassimo machines have the ability to brew almost any coffee beverage with their T-Discs, and that goes for milk-based drinks. Whereas Nespresso requires you to purchase a dedicated frother, which easily bumps your minimum priced Nespresso model north of $175, Tassimo does it all in one machine. They sell special milk and creamer T-Discs, which pair with specific espresso T-Discs when making your specialty beverages.
Varying costs of ownership
Once you purchase your machine (whichever universe it’s in), presumably you’ll want to use it for the next few years. That means you’ll have to keep buying the pods, capsules, and discs it needs. This recurring cost of ownership varies between each universe.
Keurig K-Cups typically sell for around $0.50 per pod. You also can buy third-party Keurig-compatible pods to shave a little off that unit price, and you can also buy the reusable My K-Cup pod and refill it with your own ground coffee each time.
Nespresso offers two versions of their capsules depending upon whether you own an OriginalLine or VertuoLine machine. Nespresso OriginalLine capsules sell for around $0.75 per capsule, but again, you can buy third-party compatible capsules and almost cut that price in half. Additionally, there are reusable pods, such as the SealPod, which are compatible with OriginalLine machines. Nespresso VertuoLine capsules generally cost about $1.00 per capsule, but sometimes they can be had on sale for $0.75. However, you can’t buy third party capsules compatible with VertuoLine machines, because the VertuoLine’s capsule scanning technology locks out competitor capsules. You can use the My-Cap vPACK to use your own coffee grounds, though.
Tassimo T-Discs run around $0.75 per disc, which puts them on par with Nespresso OriginalLine capsules. Tassimo machines have a disc-scanning system like Nespresso VertuoLine models, which means there aren’t any cheaper third party compatible models except those which are licensed by Tassimo.
Step 2: Decide name brand or knock-off
When shopping for the right machine, there’s a curveball to consider:
Mixpresso is an example of a company that sells these third party machines.
The biggest pro to these machines generally is price; they’ll cost a little less than a name brand Keurig, Nespresso, or Tassimo machine.
The biggest con is usually the one related to price: quality. The companies that make these third party machines are trying to provide a cheaper alternative to people who want exposure to the specific pod or capsule universe, and sometimes that means they use inferior components to drop the price.
Step 3: Narrow Down the Models
Once you decide which pod or capsule universe best suits your needs, it’s time for the most confusing step: narrowing down the models.
If you compare Keurig models you’ll notice there are over 50 different types spanning the Keurig 1.0 and Keurig 2.0 systems. Many of the models are nearly identical, but there are distinct “levels” among the different brewers. In particular, keep an eye out for the following settings:
- Whether it’s a pod scanning model (Keurig 2.0)
- Water reservoir size
- Available brew sizes
- Strength and temperature control features
- Whether a water filter is included
- Size and weight
Like with Keurig above, make sure you compare Nespresso machines among the following categories:
- OriginalLine vs VertuoLine
- Water reservoir size
- Brew sizes (meaning does it offer ristretto or lungo)
- Spent capsule container capacity
- Whether a frother is included
- Whether it has one-touch cappuccino or latte functionality
The OriginalLine vs VertuoLine distinction is the biggest one. Here’s the quick rundown on the differences:
- VertuoLine brews a long coffee and not just espresso
- VertuoLine has capsule scanning technology
- VertuoLine extracts with Centrifusion and doesn’t have a pump
- VertuoLine espresso has a foamier crema
- VertuoLine espresso is a little less hot
I’m an OriginalLine fan personally, but there isn’t a single correct answer. What’s best for you may be different.
Tassimo only offers two different models, which makes it much easier to decide which is right for you.
Choosing the best pod coffee machine can be daunting. Including both the brand name models and the third party “knock-offs” there are literally hundreds of different models to choose from.
My advice: Keep it simple!
Figure out what types of drinks you want to make, what price range you want to be in, and how important the recurring cost of ownership is, and you’ll quickly be able to narrow it down to just a few models. After that, a little price shopping should get it done.
If you have any other tips for choosing the best pod coffee machine, comment below!