Espresso Capsule Machines

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What happens when one of the world’s most ubiquitous coffee capsule brands hatches a plan with one of the world’s most respected kitchen appliance manufacturers? The Nespresso KitchenAid Empire, that’s what. As you would expect, this 9kg kitchen corker sports all the tell-tale olde-worlde design flourishes of KitchenAid’s vast range of Artisan food prep machines: the heavyweight die-cast construction; the curved, ultra smooth enamelled exterior; the reliable componentry; it’s all here. It’s a big thing, mind  – bigger than it needs to be – so clear the worktop of all those other small kitchen appliances you’ve only ever used once because you’re going to use this one every day.


The sturdy Empire warms up in a thrice and comes with a removable 1.4-litre clear plastic water reservoir and a large used-capsule container with capacity for up to 14 expended Nespresso pods. The espresso extraction process is a breeze: lift the oversized lever, load your favourite blend of Nespresso (from a bewildering choice of 24 different strengths and flavours), pull down on the lever, choose between the six pre-programmed extraction settings and hit the button. Setting one produces a short, powerful hit while setting six is for those who like a long, mild brew. Great machine but pricey and big.


Nespresso KitchenAid Empire
lavazza, modo, mio, fantasia, espresso, pod, capsule, coffee, review, machine, kitchen, worktop

The Modo Mio system makes it much easier to enjoy a cup of café-style Lavazza at home without the fuss of coffee granules being splattered all over the worktop. However, the jury’s out on the design of this replacement to the excellent AEG Favola machine reviewed below. For starters it’s quite an ugly-looking unit with a front fascia that looks like it was bolted on as an afterthought. We weren’t too enamoured of the colour of the plum red unit we received either (we’d advise the black or cream model) and there are one too two many loose fittings to juggle with when emptying the used-pod tray. Just as well it’s easy to use, then. Simply pop a capsule into the slot, pull down the handle, tap one of the six touch-control program buttons and let the machine do the rest; the process starts automatically once its warmed up. For cappuccino, fill the removable milk reservoir, clip into place and select from a choice of three foam consistency settings. Then scoop on top. Voila, an instant velvety froth-topped pick me up.


The Fantasia is designed to be narrow enough to fit on any worktop without taking up too much space and, despite being located to the rear, the huge water reservoir (1.2-litres) is easy to remove. Lavazza capsules (available online and John Lewis) cost around 26p a cup – among the cheapest on the market – and there are eight great-tasting blends to choose from. However, unless you’re insistent on a cappuccino first thing in the morning, we’d advise forgoing this particular variant and perhaps plump for one of the cheaper, smaller models in the current AEG range.


Lavazza Modo Mio AEG Fantasia
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Any discerning coffee aficionado will agree that Illy produces one of the best-tasting coffee blends on the market. Well here’s a way to make an authentic Illy espresso without the hassle of loose grounds and an overly complex production process. This particular FrancisFrancis-branded model is one of the most attractive in this roundup. Granted, it takes up a sizeable chunk of worktop space but, trust us, this thing will get looks aplenty. The convolutedly-named Iperespresso Y5 makes espressos, lattes and cappuccinos with the tap of a touch-sensitive button.


Although the notion of a machine that automatically dispenses pre-frothed milk sounds appealing, in practice it doesn’t really work that well. True, you will get a head of froth on your cappuccino but, because the milk is added before the extraction process, there’s not much peak to it and it certainly isn’t as smooth and velvety as a manually produced froth scooped on with a spoon. Also, you will have to remember to decanter or chill the unused milk or it’ll be yogurt next time you come to use the machine.


If we were to review this with our green hat on we’d have to say that the Illy capsule design is among the least environment friendly on the market – and the most expensive at around 35p per capsule. Furthermore, the official Illy online store only offers the pods in large consignments of around six tins (21 capsules) at £45 a pop. But, hey, at least you’ll have enough coffee in your larder to start a barista bar.


Illy Iperespresso Y5 Milk

Nespresso is the most ubiquitous capsule brand on the market; in fact, many upmarket hotels have started installing them in their guest rooms. This attractive, well-designed DeLonghi-branded unit takes up very little room and is a dab hand at whipping up espressos, lattes, and to some degree, cappuccinos. We say to some degree because, like the new Illy Iperespresso Y5 Milk, the Latissima Touch comes with an automatic milk frother that dispenses a quantity of the foamy stuff before the coffee extraction process and, as any aficionado will testify, a proper cappuccino should have the milk spooned onto the espresso right at the end, just before serving. But hey, mustn’t grumble, our trial cappuccino at least tasted authentic.


Aside from providing its customers with an unnecessarily bewildering 18 different blends, the biggest problem with the Nespresso system is that the coffee measure in each capsule (around 33p per cup) is very small so you might need to use two pods in a row to get a decent morning kick up the pants.


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Nespresso Latissima Touch
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Lavazza coffee is served in hundreds of independent cafés and bars around the world so it’s a brand most of us are familiar with. The Modo Mio system makes it much easier to enjoy a cup of café-style Lavazza at home without the fuss of coffee granules being splattered all over the place. Simply pop a capsule in the slot, pull down the handle and let AEG’s Favola Cappuccino machine do the rest. Result? A damn fine cup of Lavazza espresso every bit as good as those served in your favourite Euro café. The Favola also comes with a very efficient, fuss-free frother that whips milk into a scrumptious cappuccino peak. Capsule-based coffee is more expensive to buy than packet espresso but because the machine and the pods are designed to work together, there’s far less mess to deal with and the coffee itself is very consistent. And consistency is something inherently difficult to achieve using a loose-ground system. We’re hooked.


Lavazza Modo Mio Favola Cappuccino

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Nespresso is the most ubiquitous capsule brand on the market. Indeed, some upmarket hotels have started installing them in their rooms. And a good thing too, because we all know how awful instant coffee tastes. The only problem with the Nespresso system is that there are 24 blends to choose from which is quite confusing, and the coffee measure in each capsule is quite small so you might need to use two to get a decent kick. The Nespresso Pixie is one of the company'’s cheapest units but it works a treat and it doesn’t take up much room on a kitchen worktop. Indeed, it's portable enough to take on holiday. Highly recommended.


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Nespresso Pixie

Not content with having taken over the high street, Starbucks now has eyes on your home. If you like Starbucks coffee then this is the capsule system to go for. Just avoid the latte option because the powdered milk Starbucks provides smells awful as it's coming out the spout. The Starbucks Verismo 580 is well designed (if a little large) but it dispenses the coffee quickly and with little fuss. If there’s one major caveat, it’s the price of the capsules themselves which work out at 50p a cup. That’s almost twice the price of the Lavazza Modo Mio system which, in our opinion, makes a much better cup of coffee.


Starbucks Verismo 580
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Tassimo Joy
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The Tassimo system offers the widest variety of hot beverages, from coffee (including Costa Coffee, Kenco and Carte Noire) to tea and hot chocolate. A shame then that few of the drinks it dispenses taste especially good. Indeed, most of the coffees we sampled, Costa notwithstanding, tasted like they’d been dispensed by a vending machine, Succhard’s hot chocolate was far too sweet and the tea, well, what’s the point when you already have a kettle and some teabags on the shelf? We wouldn’t advise the Costa Latte capsules either since they include powdered milk and that’s just not latte in our book.


Thankfully Bosch’s Tassimo Joy is very easy to use but that’s because it has only one button. Simply load a ‘T Disc’ (Tassimo’s proprietary capsule design), hit the aforementioned button and that’s it. You’ll need to manually remove the disc after each cup which isn’t the end of the world; other units automatically eject the pod into a collection tray. Expect to pay around 28p a disc. Tassimo products may be more readily available than other capsule brands (pretty much every supermarket stocks them) but the flavours of the brands and blends Tassimo has aligned itself with don’t taste particularly pleasant. That said, if you have a family with differing beverage desires then by all means give this a whirl.