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Single-Serve Coffee and Espresso Makers

posted on June 01, 2009

Updated October 2009

Keurig Elite Coffee Maker

Tired of shelling out $4 for a good coffee, latte, espresso or cappuccino at Starbucks? Save money and time with your very own pod-based single-serve coffee or espresso machine. Whether you're working from home or just need a quick shot in the morning to get you out the door, this is a perfect solution for the caffeinated (or decaffeinated, if that's your thing) masses.

Think about it: no packing coffee grounds into a little cup that has to be cleaned after each use. No full pots of coffee getting stale on a warmer. No complicated milk frother that requires patience and skill to make a simple cappuccino. The pod-based systems are dead simple to use and clean-up, and provide consistent and, often, excellent results in less than two minutes.


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How is a Pod-Based System Different than a Loose Coffee Machine?

Loose Coffee machines require you to fill the machine with loose coffee grounds, tamp grounds to the proper consistency (for espresso), then clean out the damp grounds from the machine. For cappuccino, you have to use a separate container to steam froth the milk, which then also needs to be cleaned out.

While this type of machine makes sense for restaurants or coffee houses, where the equipment is constantly in use, or even for large dinner parties--it's just not convenient for a single cup. The advantage of these manual machines is they offer the flexibility to use whatever kind coffee you like, and costs less--often significantly--per use than a pod-based machine.

Pod-based machines are like your own personal barista. They do almost all the work for you using proprietary coffee "pods" or packs which you simply insert into the machine and press a button. Many models also have features that automate the froth process for cappuccinos. And, because the pods are self contained, clean-up is minimal. Exactly what you need for a quick cup of joe in the morning, an afternoon espresso pick-me-up or a round of cappuccinos at your next dinner party.

The business logic behind the proprietary pods for the manufacturers is simple - locking you into a proprietary coffee supply means an ongoing revenue stream. For the consumer, this means higher costs - between $.40 and $1.25 per cup - and fewer choices of coffee versus buying beans at the store. But what the pod system gives you in return is exceptional convenience and, in many cases, exceptional coffees and espresso drinks at prices that are still far below what you would pay at the local gourmet coffee shop, which will quickly make up for the cost of the machine.

Pod Choices

Quick Take: If you're primarily an espresso/cappuccino/latte drinker, Nespresso or ESE products are the way to go. If your primary drink is coffee, Keurig and Tassimo are both excellent choices. If you're looking for both, then either Nespresso or Tassimo can handle the task, if somewhat imperfectly.

There are many different proprietary coffee systems out there. Choosing the right one depends on what types of drinks you like to make and how much you want to spend on a coffee maker. A machine that can make coffee, espresso, cappuccinos, lattes, tea or hot chocolate will suit any mood or occasion. However, just because a machine claims it can make a drink, doesn't mean it can make it well or to your taste. Whenever possible, taste the coffees provided by a manufacturer before you buy. Here are the most popular choices for single serve coffee and espresso makers:

Coffee Pods are an open standard similar to the ESE product, but for coffee. Offers the largest variety of coffee choices and allows you to use your own coffee. Prices for pods can be less than proprietary pod systems. Also provides tea options, though not espresso-based drinks.


ESE (Easy Serve Espresso) is not a brand, but an open standard for producing pre-packaged pods that work in most "normal" espresso machines. Because it is an open standard, there are many espresso choices available, but it does not provide tea, coffee or hot chocolate options. Note the ESE pods may go stale quickly once a package is opened, which is not an issue for the proprietary pod systems.


Flavia is a brand you may be familiar with from your workplace, as they are quite common in large offices. There's a large selection of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and espresso-based drinks. Unfortunately, we find the quality of the coffee and chocolate drinks fair to middling, though some of their teas are better.


Keurig offers Huge selection of coffee, teas and hot chocolate, including those from well-known brands such as Green Mountain and Celestial Seasonings. Coffees can be quite enjoyable. Has reusable filter option to use your own coffee. Cannot produce espressos or cappuccinos.


Nescafe is a new player in the single serve market with their Dulce Gusto machine (though the company has been a respected beverage maker forever). Drink quality is high, but there are only a handful of choices, including a cappuccino (pre-sweetened only) and hot chocolate.


Nespresso offers a limited, but excellent selection of espresso pods, known for their exceptional quality. No tea, hot chocolate or American-style coffee pods available, though lungo pods make a larger, espresso-based coffee similar to an American coffee.


Senseo may be your choice if you're looking for a basic solution to make very good coffee. Proprietary pods with limited selection, but add-ons allow you to use your own coffee as well. Senseo machines, while bare-bones, are inexpensive.


Tassimo has dozens of flavors of coffees, teas, hot chocolates and espresso-based drinks from well-known brands such as Starbucks', Seattle's Best and Tazo. Coffees and espresso-based drinks are very good, though it uses milk disks for cappuccinos and lattes, which may not appeal to everyone's taste.

Milk Delivery

Quick Take: For near press-it-and-forget-it simplicity, we love the Nespresso Lattissima. For the more budget conscious, it's hard to beat a simple frothing wand for $20.

If you're just making coffee, milk delivery isn't an issue--just pull the carton out of the fridge and pour. For cappuccinos and lattes, there are a number of options for getting the foamy hot milk you need. The ultimate luxury is to buy a machine with an automatic milk frother built-in; these machines just suck the milk in and deliver hot froth to your drink. Nespresso has two models with this feature, including our favorite, the Lattissima. But the convenience will cost you - $500 and up (way up for the fanciest models).

Nespresso also makes a standalone frother for $99 called the Aeroccino+, which heats and froths enough milk for about two cappuccinos in under a minute .

The most economical solution is to buy a frothing wand from Aerolatte for around $20 and froth your own milk.

The pre-packaged milk pods simply don't stand up in this comparison. First, they'll cost you an extra 50 cents per drink and the flavor is never going to equal that of fresh milk.

Our Picks



Entry-level Coffee: Under $100
Basic equipment for making a single-serve cup of coffee.

Senseo - Compact size with a pure coffee focus. Can handle open standard coffee pods in addition to proprietary system. NOTE: Current Senseo models are under recall for a problem with their boilers. We will update this story with a machine recommendation when the new models are released in the Fall of 2009.


Keurig Elite B40 Brewing System ($99.99) - Provides the added flexibility to make tea and hot chocolate utilizing the full line of Keurig pods.
Buy Now at Amazon


Mid to High-end Coffee: $100 and up
When you step up to the mid-range, you have many more choices of pod producers and machines. You'll find more flexibility to produce different strength brews, types of drinks and variety of cup sizes.

Keurig Platinum B70 ($169.95) - This mid-range model adds auto on/off timer, a larger 60 oz water tank, multiple cup sizes, and adjustable temperature control.
Buy Now at Amazon


Tassimo Suprema ($169.99) - Provides a huge 61 oz water tank, customizable beverage strength, and a built-in water filter. Also makes acceptable espressos and cappuccinos. Available for $129.99 without filter.
Buy Now at Amazon



Entry-level Espresso: Under $300
Basic, virtually effort free equipment for making a single cup of espresso.  Pump-driven systems (not steam) with 15 bar or greater pressure provide proper espresso extraction.

DeLonghi EC155 ($99.95) - Traditional style machine provides the ability to use your own coffee as well as the wide range of ESE pods available. Built-in milk frother, though about 30 second delay after brewing before steam is available.
Buy Now at Amazon


Nescafe Dulce Gusto ($169.99) - In addition to espresso, offers pods for hot chocolate and cappuccino, albeit a very limited selection.
Buy Now at Amazon


Nespresso CitiZ in redNespresso CitiZ ($279.95) - Perfect choice for those who want top-quality espresso and maximum convenience. At only 5” wide, including the base, you’ll have no trouble finding a place to set it up. Requires separate milk frother to make cappuccinos or lattes. Read full review.
Buy Now at Amazon


Tassimo Suprema ($169.99) - Primarily a coffee machine, but makes good espressos and cappuccinos and provides more drink choices than the espresso-focused machines.
Buy Now at Amazon


High-end Espresso: $300 and up
When you step up to the mid-range of single-serve espresso machines, you'll find exceptional convenience features, such as automatic milk & drink handling.

Nespresso Concept D290 ($399) - Adds in the built-in milk frother missing in the D90. Frother can pull milk directly from the container into your cup.
Buy Now at Amazon


Nespresso Lattissima ($699) - Completely automatic milk handling for cappuccinos and lattes makes drink-making a breeze. Milk container can be stored in the refrigerator.
Buy Now at Amazon

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