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.

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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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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Picks team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at insiderpicks@businessinsider.com.

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