Single cup coffee maker buying guide
Which brand is best?
Nestlé were the innovators here: the Nespresso was the first pod-based machine. But is the original still the best?
Whatever the brand, pod-based single cup machines work in essentially the same way. Ground coffee is flushed with nitrogen and hermetically sealed in a capsule. This keeps the coffee from contact with air, light or moisture, keeping it fresher for longer.
To make your coffee, you insert a pod into the machine and press a button. A needle – or sometimes more than one – pierces the pod and allows water to push through the coffee grounds. The resulting coffee is dispensed into a single serving ready to enjoy straight away.
With this fundamental similarity, there’s nothing to say that any one brand is better overall. There are, though, some differences to be aware of…
Coffee or multi-beverage?
The brands do take quite different approaches to the question of flexibility. If you drink tea or hot chocolate as well as coffee, this will be important.
Tassimo machines are aimed firmly at those who want a single appliance to prepare a range of drinks. Their “Intellibrew” system, they claim, adapts the brewing process to give great results whatever the beverage.
The machine reads a barcode on the lid of each capsule. This gives it the information to adjust the brewing temperature, time and water serving. As a result, it will make tea, hot chocolate and other beverages as well as coffee.
Dolce Gusto machines will also brew tea and hot chocolate. It’s just a matter of buying the right pods.
The Nespresso, on the other hand, produces only coffee. Its website notes rather sniffily that its focus is on quality coffee, and its brewing process is not designed for other beverages.
Pods, ground coffee – or both?
Although we’ve focused so far on single cup machines that use pods, there are other options.
The Bunn MyCafe MCU, for example, can cope with either pods or ground coffee. Use the pod option when you’re dashing around mid-week, or grind your own coffee fresh on the weekend. (It also dispenses hot water for tea and oatmeal.)
At the other end of the spectrum, some machines are pretty restrictive.
Nespresso have introduced bar-code reading technology to their new range of Vertua machines. This means the machine is able to adjust its brewing parameters to different styles of coffee. An unfortunate side effect is that only Nespresso pods will work with them.
Even more restrictively, these pods aren’t available in supermarkets. If you want them, you’ll need to find a Nespresso boutique or shop online.
If you have a Keurig, on the other hand, there’s a wide range of compatible pods. That gives you greater choice about price as well as flavor. And some supermarkets also now stock capsules that are compatible with the Dolce Gusto.
Espresso or lungo?
You’re looking for a single cup coffee maker – but just how big does that cup need to be?
If you’re after a standard espresso, the world is your one-cup oyster. Any of the pod-based machines will give you a consistent drink. But if you want to make longer drinks too, there are a few things to consider.
First, make sure the distance between the spout and the cup stand is sufficient for a larger cup. Some machines allow you to change the stand position depending on whether you’re making an espresso or lungo.
Next, check the options for different doses. Espresso and lungo come as standard, but some models offer other serving sizes. Just remember the pod still has the same amount of coffee. If the machine is adding more water, the result will usually be a weaker drink.
There are two exceptions to this rather depressing rule.
The first is the Vertua range of Nespresso machines. They offer serving sizes up to “alto” – 14 ounces. And because the pods are calibrated accordingly, there’s little risk of tasteless coffee.
Alternatively, ditch the pods and go for a machine that uses ground coffee instead. You;’l have more control over strength.
Black or white?
If you prefer your coffee with milk, you’ll find different machines offer different options.
The Dolce Gusto has milk capsules for white coffee. Some have added sugar, so beware if you’re trying to watch your weight.
Some Nespresso machines offer integrated milk frothers, allowing you to steam your own fresh milk. They’re more expensive, but give a better flavor. And the top of the range models even have a steam wand to allow you to create latte art.
Prince or pauper?
Last but not least, consider how much you want to spend.
Single cup machines vary dramatically in price. For less than $20, you can get the Vremi Single Cup Coffee Maker. It uses standard ground coffee and brews direct into its own travel mug, so you can drink on the go.
If you want the convenience of a pod-based machine, the cheapest options start at around $30. But if you have the cash to splash, you can pay a lot more.
For a few hundred dollars, the Nespresso Creatista gives you no less than eight milk texture options. And for those looking for something completely different, several thousand dollars will buy you Bunn’s Trifecta. Its “air fusion” system is hailed as an entirely new way to brew coffee.
For those of us with more modest budgets, remember there’ll be ongoing costs to keep your machine supplied with pods. If you’re considering a machine that requires specific capsules, check their price first.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our single cup coffee machine buying guide. The range of options available can be bewildering. But if you’ve answered all these questions, you’re well on the way to finding the right machine to suit you.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please comment and let us know. We hope you’re soon enjoying coffee from your new machine!