So you’re going to buy a pod coffee machine? Great! They’re a fantastic way to make really nice coffee, the sort that you used to have to go to one of the big chain coffee shops to drink, all in the comfort of your home. On top of that, you will end up paying a fraction of the price for your coffee.
The explosion of coffee’s popularity over the last decade or so has seen companies racing to take advantage by coming up with better and better machines, producing better and better coffees. As consumers, we benefit from this pod coffee arms race, and get some tremendous coffees as a result.
The main three companies involved are Nespresso, Dolce Gusto and Tassimo, who all produce coffee pods. Where it gets tricky, though, is these pods are only compatible with one type of machine, so once you buy a machine, you can only use that one type of pod.
With that in mind, your first major decision when you are buying a pod coffee machine is what sort of pod do you want to be using? (That’s before we even get into the hundreds of different machines for each type of pod!)
If this all sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry – you’re in safe hands. Let us guide you through one of the great modern day rivalries to see which team you are about to join: Nespresso vs Dolce Gusto vs Tassimo.
Let’s kick things off with Nespresso, owned by food and drink behemoth Nestlé (the word Nespresso being the combination of Nestlé and espresso).
Nespresso invented the first pod coffee machine as far back as 1986 – originally aiming these at large offices – and it took a very long time for the concept to take off. They had patents on the concept which expired in 2012, enabling competitors to jump into the market, which has really helped the whole industry erupt in popularity. In 2018, 59 billion coffee pods were manufactured.
Perhaps it is because they were the first, and therefore the most established name in the industry, but Nespresso have always pushed themselves as the most stylish and elegant choice when it comes to coffee pod machines – George Clooney has been the face of their advertising since 2006, and they have had a host of A-List celebrities appear alongside him.
It goes to follow, therefore, that the pods tend to be more expensive than the other options on the market. Obviously, the cost is much less than buying a coffee in a coffee shop (you could probably make about 10 cups at home for the same price as one in Starbucks, for example), but compared to other pods, they are slightly more expensive.
At least, the ‘official’ Nespresso pods are more expensive. One of the great things, at least from a consumer’s point of view, is that Nespresso failed to secure copyright for the design of their pods (and lost a major court case trying to protect it), so now anyone can make Nespresso compatible pods – and they do!
I’m not sure if it’s because they’re sulking, but the official Nespresso pods can only be purchased from official shops and online – they are not available in supermarkets, but that hasn’t stopped everyone else…
The range on offer is staggering – most supermarkets will do their own brand (of course Lidl and Aldi weren’t going to miss out on a trick like this!), as well as some of the major coffee chains. Not only that, but there are now a whole host of independent roasters starting to make their own, as well as more compostable pods being made available. Even my milkman will drop off coffee pods compatible with Nespresso machines – they’re everywhere!
All of these come at a range of different price points and, of course, vary massively in quality. One of my favourite things to do with coffee is experiment in the never-ending search for the best coffee and Nespresso machines certainly give you plenty of scope to do that.
In terms of the machines themselves, unlike the others that we will cover, they only make espressos or lungos through the pods – you don’t get milk pods. Many machines have an integrated milk frother, though, so you can still make your lattes or cappuccinos etc, and with fresh milk as well. The Nespresso Aeroccino is a really good milk frother, which you can buy separately if your machine doesn’t have one integrated.
They basically give you a similar experience to a ‘proper’ espresso machine, in that it provides you with the espresso from which you can base your coffee – you build up from there. It is a very different philosophy to that of the other two machines we will look at. It takes a bit more time and thought to make your coffees, but gives you much more scope for experimentation and control over your drink.
As you can probably predict, Nespresso machines are the most expensive type of coffee pod machines. Don’t get me wrong, you can get some budget options that do a great job, but as a general rule of thumb, they will be a bit more expensive than Tassimo or Dolce Gusto machines. They have a much higher ceiling as well, largely because there is much bigger scope for these machines to do more – they don’t just rely on the pods to make the whole drink.
A great example of that is the Nespresso Creatista Plus by Sage, as featured in our article Best Coffee Pod Machines. Not only is it a wonderfully looking machine, it just feels like the sort of machine you’d get in a really nice, independent, coffee shop. The milk frother is fantastic, and the results are drinks just like the ones you’d get in a shop – you can even work on your ‘coffee art’ and make patterns in the milk!
The Nespresso Lattissima Touch is another wonderful machine, and even offers you the option of making the entire drink with use of the integrated milk frother – you just press the button of the drink you’d like and it will take care of everything, making it with fresh milk as well. If your budget will stretch that far, I would heartily recommend this machine.
On to Dolce Gusto now, another coffee giant brought to you by…errr, Nestlé again.
Fitting snugly under the Nestlé umbrella meant that Dolce Gusto have been able to make coffee pod machines from an earlier point than other companies, as they didn’t have to wait for any patents to expire. Their first model was made in 2006, the KP200, which is still very similar to the machines that they produce today.
As I alluded to in the Nespresso section, with a Dolce Gusto machine, the pods themselves make the entire drink – all you need to do is load them in, set the length of the drink, and press the button. Any milk required will come from separate pods, but again, that is an incredibly easy process – you just do the same again.
The pods themselves will even tell you what settings to use, so there is nothing complicated about making drinks with these machines at all. You get consistent results every time with these machines – you know exactly what you’re going to get. Very little can go wrong.
Similar to the Nespresso pods, you can find a whole host of other companies making pods compatible with Dolce Gusto machines, again from some of the most well known coffee companies in the world like Starbucks and Costa, as well as some much smaller, independent roasters. The choice is fantastic.
While the official Dolce Gusto coffee pods are some of the cheapest ‘official’ pods that you can get, certainly cheaper than Nespresso, the amount of choice that you have means that you will be able to find your perfect combination of expense and quality. As ever, I urge you to experiment with as many of these as you can. That’s all part of the fun.
Another key factor of all of this choice is the fact that you can find plenty of refillable or compostable pods. One of the major things that used to put me off buying a coffee pod machine was the amount of plastic and waste involved in the process – in fact this is becoming a huge issue for these companies, and Dolce Gusto in particular seem to be scrambling to find a solution.
Dolce Gusto themselves have launched a recycling scheme throughout the UK which, while having plenty of teething problems, hopefully sees a shift to taking these issues more seriously. I would urge you to look into ways in which you can reduce the ecological damage that these machines can produce.
On to the actual machines: Dolce Gusto coffee pod machines tend to be the smallest machines that you can get, taking up less room on your work surface. This is emphasised by the De’Longhi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Mini Me, another machine featured on our Coffee Pod article. It epitomises everything the Dolce Gusto machines tend to be about – simplicity. Load the pods, set the settings and press go. You’ll have your drink within a few seconds. There is even a cold setting, for making ice coffees when the sun’s out!
Another classic example of the Dolce Gusto machines is the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Oblo Coffee Machine by Krups. I love the look of this machine, with the cup placed in a cool circle, and the drink dispensed from the top. It just looks cool. It’s also very shallow, so fits nicely into most kitchens. There is a bit more control given to the user as well, as you operate the dispensing manually with a lever – you can choose how strong/long you would like your drink.
Now for a company that isn’t in any way connected to Nestlé, Tassimo is owned by Mondelez, who also own Cadbury amongst many other giants of the food and drink world.
They were founded in 2004, but it has only been over the last decade that they have really taken off in terms of popularity and become a household name. They really are one of the Big Three when it comes to coffee pod machines.
Their machines do offer something slightly different to the other two Nestlé-owned companies. Like the Dolce Gusto, they produce a complete drink by just using pods – again they have milk pods to help produce the milky coffees like cappuccinos and lattes. Where they differ, though, is that only the official Tassimo pods are compatible with these machines – you cannot find any other ‘own brand’ replicas.
While this can be seen as quite limiting, and indeed put people off buying a Tassimo completely, it also means that you know exactly what you are going to get from a Tassimo machine and its pods. Some of the biggest brands in the world of coffee supply these pods – companies like Costa, L’or, Kenco. If you are a big fan of these coffees, then a Tassimo could be perfect for you.
On top of that, you also have a large selection of ‘other’ hot drinks from equally well-known brands. As Tassimo is part of the Mondelez family, they obviously have access to some huge companies, like Milka and Cadbury, so you can enjoy some delicious hot chocolates with these machines. There are also special Bailey’s pods that produce an amazing Latte Macchiato, and then there’s a huge selection of tea from Twinings. It really is quite an array of different drinks.
The pods are generally quite cheap as well, particularly compared to the official Nespresso ones. While the specialty Tdisks (as they call their pods) are a little bit more expensive, the coffee is very reasonable, and you can save an awful lot compared to buying a coffee direct from a coffee shop.
With regards to the machines themselves, they are also very competitive, price wise. In fact, these are probably the cheapest of all the machines available on the market today. For example, the Tassimo Bosch Vivy 2 (all the machines are made by Bosch these days) would cost you roughly the same as 10 coffees at a high street coffee shop. This is another machine that features on our Coffee Pod article.
A huge selling point of the newer Tassimo machines is the introduction of the patented INTELLIBREW™ technology, which is a handy little feature. Basically, there is an inbuilt barcode scanner, which reads a barcode off each individual pod, and then automatically calibrates the machine to the desired settings. Literally, all you need to do is insert the pod and press a button – your drink is made straight away!
The simplicity of these Tassimo machines, and the restricted pod market, means that they are great for people that don’t want to fuss about with different coffees – they know what they want and they want it made quickly and simply.
Which Is Best – Nespresso, Dolce Gusto Or Tassimo?
“Okay,” I hear you say, “you’ve told me all about them – which one should I buy?”
Well, it’s up to you…
I get it, that’s not a particularly helpful answer, but all three types of machine offer something slightly different, so it really depends on what you want to get out of this machine, and what sort of budget you are working with.
If you just want to be able to make decent coffees quickly and easily, and without paying a fortune for a machine in the first place, then I think Tassimo might be the sort of machine for you. They are so incredibly easy to use, and the choice of pods has been streamlined for you – you know what you are going to get from these brands. This might be the best sort of machine for a shared office space, as it is a real crowd pleaser.
The Dolce Gusto machines are a little bit more sophisticated, but still incredibly simple. You don’t need to worry about frothing your milk, you’ll get the same result every time, and the price of each pod is still around the same price of the Tassimo. However, you do get much more choice in terms of which pods you use with the machine, and you can experiment with a whole host of different brands.
My guess though, is that if you are on a website like this, and have spent the last 10 minutes or so reading this article, that you are very keen on your coffee. In which case, I think a Nespresso machine is probably going to be the best option for you. Like the Dolce Gusto, you get loads of choice in the variety of pods, probably a lot more in fact, but you also get so much more control over the results. You are frothing the (fresh) milk, and combining it with the coffee. You can create the art on top of your drink. Yes, these are the most expensive machines, but if you want the best, these are the ones for you.