The best coffee and espresso pods you can buy

Let's get all delusions out of the way: "Don't be obsessed with your desires... A flute with no holes is not a flute. A donut with no hole is a Danish," the immortal Ty Webb once mused, and he had a point. An espresso pod machine is not an espresso machine, and the liquid it delivers, while inspired, is not espresso.

I'm what my friends and family like to call an espresso snob, as you may have already gathered. I don't like regular coffee, and avoid it at all costs unless I'm about to fall asleep at the wheel, at which point I might reluctantly stumble into a Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks does make espresso, but I hate that too. When I don't have time to fire up an espresso machine at home or in the office, an espresso pod machine is my best friend (I now have one for the car and boat, too, so Starbucks is, once and for all, entirely out of the question).

Whether you're looking for backup when you just don't have time to brew using your preferred method, or you're not really a coffee drinker but like the convenience for guests or the odd occasion that you need a little pick-me-up, an espresso or coffee pod machine is a handy appliance to keep around.

Pod machines (coffee or espresso) require almost no maintenance apart from the occasional cleaning, and they take up almost no desk or counter space, so it's easy enough to justify keeping one out in the open, and most of them have a certain charm to their aesthetic, which doesn't hurt. And, for the record, I would not put up with a big clunky plastic appliance this day in age, and you shouldn't have to either.

Preferences aside, these are machines of convenience. If you're anything like me, you'll only use these on occasion, or maybe in the office. If you're nothing like me, a pod machine may be the first and last coffee-related appliance you buy. No matter what, though, having one will come in handy someday, some way.

For this guide, we tested two popular systems, the Nespresso and Keurig K-Cup. We also tested a third, from Illy. We found Illy's espresso pods to produce the most espresso-like consistency of any pod we've tried. However, that's your only option, because only Illy makes the pods and there are currently just four flavors, so if you own an Illy machine, your choice is either Illy's IperEspresso espresso and coffee pods or nothing.

How to recycle coffee pods

Each company has its own pods, but recycling pods for whichever system you decide to commit to is as simple as sending them back to the company, which will now recycle them for you.

Still, it's important to keep in mind that dedicating time to recycling pods is somewhat antithetical to the whole premise of these machines, which are designed to save us time. Those of us who don't have enough time to make a coffee in the first place is not likely to be the ones taking time out of the day or week to hit FedEx or UPS on the way to work or school. The plan is in place, but it does little to encourage consumers to use it, and, unfortunately, most of us do not.

Nespresso: Nespresso will send you a recycling bag (often included with the purchase of a machine), which you fill and seal and either drop off at a "Nespresso Boutique" (of which, admittedly, there aren't many) or any UPS drop-off location, all free of charge. Here's a short video about how it works.

Keurig K-Cups: Keurig's K-Cups are the easiest of all to recycle. Simply peel off the aluminum foil lid (which, yes, you'll have to trash), empty the grounds wherever you choose (they make great compost), and toss the #5 plastic cup into the recycling. Here's how it works.

Illy IperEspresso: Illy's recycling plan is, frankly, the least sensible of them all. The company charges you $15 for a recycling kit, which comes with a prepaid (by you) shipping label. If you're a member of Illy Casa (a pod delivery service), the recycling is included, but it's an expensive commitment in and of itself, and if you're not set on having at least a capsule a day, it's probably not worth it unless you have a lot of spare storage. Someone has, it turns out, ingeniously discovered that you can open and reuse an Illy capsule with a can opener. (Here's a YouTube video on that.) Here's how Illy's pod recycling program works.

Here are the best coffee and espresso pods we've found, tested, and approved here at Insider Picks:

Keep scrolling to read more about our top picks.

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The best Nespresso pods overall

The best Nespresso pods overall
With Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods, you're free to build the perfect espresso-like shot on your own terms.

There are more reusable espresso pods on the market than for any other pod coffee or espresso system, and the best pod for a Nespresso system is the Recaps Stainless Steel Refillable Capsules Reusable Pods, followed by Sealpod Stainless Steel Refillable Pods.

Recaps and Sealpods are essentially the same contraptions: stainless-steel cups with single-use (disposable) aluminum lids that stamp on and peel off. The differences lie mostly in the kits themselves, and Recaps, which comes with three refillable pods (as opposed to Sealpods' five), also comes with a tamper, and costs nearly $20 less than Sealpods. The fitted tamper is a huge help, especially when dealing with such tiny capsules, and made my experience filling them far less painstaking.

With that said, filling these pods is a chore. It gets easier the more you do it, but it is something you might accomplish better by sitting down. It's also tricky to learn the optimal size for grounds and tamping to produce a good shot in any given machine. I'm still dialing mine in, but I do on occasion get a much better shot than with the pre-filled Nespresso and third-party pods.

What the Recaps and Sealpods aren't is environmentally friendly because you do throw away the lid after each use. The most eco-friendly option for Nespresso pod machines is by WayCap, which is all stainless-steel (save for a rubber or plastic O-ring to help forge a seal in the machine). The problem with WayCap is that it's difficult to get it to work to build up enough pressure for anything close to espresso. There are, however, multiple tops that come in this kit, and if you can figure out your grind and packing density, there's a good chance you'll be happy with WayCap. Here's a little video guide that the company put together.

The only pods I've learned to get a good shot out of with any consistency have been Recaps' refillable plastic snap-on lid model, but they can be a little tricky to get right, and you do end up having to trash them after about 100 uses. I'd recommend them, but they're still a nuisance in their own right and because they have a limited lifespan, they're not the most eco-friendly.

Amazon reviews for Recaps and Sealpods are not overwhelmingly positive (3.7 stars based on over 200 reviews and 3.8 stars based on over 260 reviews, respectively), and that's probably because these things, as I've already said, are tricky to get dialed. Wirecutter included a section on reusable pods in their guide to pod machines, but only tried the Sealpods based on their slightly stronger Amazon reviews. Having thoroughly tried both Sealpods and Recaps, they differ only negligibly, save for price, which is a huge difference of over $20. I say save yourself the money and go with Recaps (the stainless steel tamper is a nice touch, too).

Pros: (Sort of) environmentally friendly, much more cost-effective than single-use pods

Cons: Still somewhat wasteful with single-use aluminum foil glue-on tops

Buy a three-pack kit of Recaps resealable pods (with 120 single-use lids) from Amazon for $36.99 Buy a three-pack of Recaps plastic refillable pods on Amazon for $6.99 Buy a five-pack of Sealpods with 100 single-use lids from Amazon for $59.90

The best K-Cup pods overall

The best K-Cup pods overall
The Original Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast K-Cups are not only among the most affordable single-use K-Cup pods but the clear favorite of Keurig users.

Okay, so, once again, the coffee you like or are willing to drink (as the case may be) is highly subjective. From Green Mountain to Dunkin' Donuts, any number of brands make K-Cups filled with a variety of blends from their own grounds.

But one medium roast seems to be the most popular of all, and while I'm not a regular coffee drinker, I found that The Original Donut Shop's Extra Bold Medium Roast (made by Keurig Green Mountain) was the least offensive to my palate. It's a fuller-bodied medium roast that should appease most coffee drinkers. It's not overly bitter, nor is it overwhelmingly rich, but it's not flavorless either. It should also be mentioned that "Extra Bold" simply means that these cups are packed with more coffee than the usual K-Cup, which is another plus unless you're highly sensitive to caffeine.

More importantly, though: More than 6,000 reviews on Amazon average out to 4.4 stars. Faveable also found it to be the crowd favorite.

Pros: Less expensive than many other brands

Cons: Apart from being single-use

Buy The Original Donut Shop Single-Serve Keurig K-Cup starting at $34.56 Shop all of The Donut Shop's Keurig-compatible K-Cups on Amazon Shop all single-use K-Cups on Amazon

Best budget Nespresso pods

Best budget Nespresso pods
Some of Bestpresso's blends are better than Nespresso's, in our humble opinion. And, at about $0.30 cents per pod, they're also the most affordable ones we've found (and enjoyed).

When we first received a boxful of Bestpresso's pods, we were skeptical, if not concerned about what to do with this massive pile of espresso pods we thought we'd never consume. Further, after trying a couple of flavors, I'd sworn the whole brand off and began contemplating where to toss them.

But then, some weeks later, I tried a few other flavors, and to my surprise, I was delightfully surprised by one, and then another. We all have different tastes, and it's hard to pin down any single brew, blend, or flavor for all, but Bestpresso was able to delight my picky palate, which is no small feat. And with twelve different flavors, there's sure to be one (or two or three) you'll enjoy.

Bestpresso's pods are not terribly different in design from Nespresso's own branded pods, and you get a comparable amount of crema and richness. I like the Brazil blend, but the best option for your first go might be a variety pack to suss out which you prefer.

Pros: Affordable, 12 different flavors

Cons: Some flavors may border on offensive

Buy a 120-pod Bestpresso Espresso Variety Pack on Amazon for $39.99 Shop Bestpresso on Amazon

The best reusable K-Cup pods

The best reusable K-Cup pods
IParts Plus More Coffee's K-Cups are simple little contraptions that allow you to brew your favorite coffee in a Keurig machine with barely any more effort than popping in a single-use cup.

Reusable K-Cups, unlike espresso pods, are much less finicky. Because coffee doesn't require pressure to brew, a loosely-filled mesh pod will do the trick. You could probably make one yourself without much hassle, but then IParts Plus More Coffee has four-packs on offer for about $10, which is worth saving your time fiddling with wire and pliers on a Sunday afternoon.

This is the answer for just about any coffee-lover who wants a pod machine. You're not beholden to whichever companies produce Keurig-machine-specific pods for their own coffee. And while packing espresso pods for Nespresso machines is a meticulous exercise, you can just pile a couple of spoons-full of coarse grounds into these reusable K-Cups without much attention because their only job is to facilitate steeping.

Insider Picks editor Sally Kaplan has been using IParts Plus More Coffee's reusable K-Cups daily for about six months without a hitch, and more than 5,000 Amazon reviews have averaged out to a respectable 4.1 stars.

The beauty of these contraptions is their simplicity — not a whole lot can go wrong with them — and pods, whether they're espresso or coffee, are not cheap. If you're going to go the Keurig machine route, this is the best K-Cup purchase you will make.

Pros: Simple, affordable

Cons: Thin, cheap plastic (but if you're gentle with them, they should be fine)

Buy a four-pack of IParts Plus More Coffee's reusable K-Cups from Amazon for $9.95

The best single-use Nespresso pods

The best single-use Nespresso pods
At $0.70 per capsule (in bulk), Nespresso's OriginalLine pods come in plenty of different roasts and flavors that can be brewed several different ways, offering the best variety of almost any pod system we've tried.

Single-use pods are limiting no matter how you look at them; you're stuck with whatever flavors or blends they have on offer, and whatever you choose has likely been sitting in warehouses far too long to be considered fresh.

Nespresso's OriginalLine pods, though, come in more than 20 flavors, and are still enjoyable, for what they are. We also like that they can either be brewed as ristretto (~25ml), espresso (~40ml), or lungo (~110ml), and Nespresso has specific details on which ones they recommend for which brewing methods.

Being a strict espresso enthusiast, I find the Arpeggio and Ristretto flavors to be the best (my former colleagues at Wirecutter agree for those that like a rich, thick espresso), but the kind of coffee you like is highly subjective, so my advice is to order a variety pack and find out which you prefer, and go from there.

Amazon has more than 2,400 reviews averaging out to 4.2 stars, with over 80% falling above four stars. The only complaints seemed to come from people who received smashed up pods, or didn't find the coffee to be a sufficient substitute for fresh stuff. Most, however, were overwhelmingly positive, and one reviewer went so far as to praise Nespresso pods with a bonafide ode: "...But your own capsules are what made me buy a [N]espresso machine in the first place, and it turns out that nothing else comes close. You're too smooth, too rich, too perfect for me to give up. I just can't quit you. I'm done trying out every other brand on the market. From now on, it's just you and me."

All of the brands we recommend have their own recycling plan in place, but they vary slightly. Here's Nespresso's.

Pros: Large variety, designed for different brew styles, most compatible and convenient

Cons: Not cheap, no comparison to fresh coffee

Buy a 50-pod variety pack of Nespresso OriginalLine pods from Amazon for $35 Buy a 50-pod variety pack of Decaffeinated Nespresso OriginalLine pods from Amazon for $35.05 Shop all Nespresso OriginalLine pods on Amazon
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