After testing six new machines, our new pick for the best single-serve espresso maker is the Nespresso Creatista Plus by Breville.
If you're a coffee nerd who assumes pod espresso is for the unenlightened—and trust us, we once thought that too—we're here to tell you you're wrong.
The best of these single-shot pod-based espresso makers are quick, neat, and give totally consistent results. Shot after shot comes out with a beautiful layer of crema, the signature of a true espresso. Add a bit of steamed milk and invest in some flavored syrups and you'll have a hard time telling the difference between the espresso drinks you make at home from those made in your favorite café.
Pod machines also save money and counter space by combining up to five gadgets into one. Inserting a capsule is much easier than messy grinding and tamping, so these machines allow a few extra minutes to catch up on sleep each morning—and require very little skill to use.
To help you get the most bang for your buck, we chose 11 espresso machines that work with capsules , all priced under $500, and put them to the test. We examined the temperature, time to brew, affordability of the capsules, and density of the crema, among other features.
Our winner, the Nespresso Creatista Plus by Breville(available at Amazon) isn’t the cheapest of the pack, but its features make it worth the splurge. If you’re on a budget but don’t want to compromise on espresso quality, then the Nespresso Lattissima by De’Longhi is a strong choice, too.
These are the best single-serve espresso makers we tested ranked, in order:
Our new winner of the pod espresso roundup, the Nespresso Creatista by Breville, impressed us with its intuitive design, sleek appearance, and delicious espresso. Naming it our favorite was a no-brainer.
This Nespresso was the only machine we tested that didn’t require reading the manual to get it started. Once plugged in, the smart display screen quickly got my attention and led me through the right steps to get the machine ready. This Creatista Plus model has every aspect of a user-friendly espresso maker that my old-fashioned machine lacks: sleek design, intuitive touch buttons and a countertop-friendly size.
This model offers several brewing options. For espresso, you can choose between espresso and lungo, which means “large” in Italian. For coffee drinks, you can select flat white, cappuccino, and latte. Then the machine asks you to select the temperature of the milk to make sure it froths a perfect cup every time. Every shot we pumped came out with light brown, foamy crema on top, and the milk frother also did wonders.
Additionally, because you make the shot first and then start the milk separately, using the Creatista Plus resembles the process of operating a regular espresso maker, which is great for regular espresso machine users like me. The steam pump also self-cleans after each use, and the wastewater automatically goes into the built-in drain. It features the largest water tank of this roundup at 60 ounces. Every espresso shot contains about 1.6 ounces, so there’s definitely no need to refill the tank too often.
The De’Longhi Lattissima is an all-in-one artisanal coffee maker. It allows you to make espresso shots and lattes or cappuccino, all with one touch.
The process is straightforward: Firstly, lift open the head with a slight push and then insert a Nespresso capsule. Then on the control panel, choose from one of four options: espresso, lungo, latte, and cappuccino. Make sure to use a large mug and adjust the tip of the steam wand so the foam doesn’t spill everywhere. Unlike other machines we tested, the Lattissima makes lattes that requires only one push. In our tests, the coffee drinks turned out to be consistently decent, with foamy toppings. It’s easy to clean as well that you only need to remove the parts below the brewing head and throw them in a dishwasher.
The main reason the Lattisima didn’t earn our top spot was its water tank. The very narrow reservoir design makes it exceptionally difficult to pour water in without making a mess, either from the tap or from a water pitcher. De’Longhi probably should consider redesigning this extremely inconvenient water tank. What’s more, the user manual was confusing. The first latte we made left us with a mess with milk spilling everywhere.
This pod espresso roundup is a joint project by Sharon Franke, a food writer who’s been testing kitchen tools for the past 30 years, and Valerie Li, our kitchen and cooking writer here at Reviewed. They’re both avid coffee enthusiasts who are passionate about using scientific testing (and their refined palettes) to judge a good shot of espresso. Sharon published the original roundup in 2018, and Valerie tested six new products for the update in 2019.
We tested 11 espresso machines , each under $500, that use capsules rather than ground coffee. We evaluated on design, ease of use, and most importantly, the quality of the cup of espresso and/or latte it delivered.
Since this is an appliance that is going to live on your countertop, how it looks and how big of a footprint it takes up is important to consider. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what appeals to your sense of style and how much space you’re willing to dedicate, but we gave high marks to “heavy builds.” Pumping out a quality shot of espresso requires a sturdy and stable base that doesn’t shake.
We considered the clarity of the manual, how easy it was to get the espresso maker up and running, fill the tank with water, use the controls, and clean the machine, as well as how many shots you can expect to brew without refilling the tank.
When it came to brewing, we measured the time it took to deliver an espresso shot, along with its volume and temperature once in the cup. Ideally, an espresso should brew in under 25 seconds, measure about two ounces, and be about 160°F. When a machine included a frother, we looked for whipped milk that was rich and foamy and was easy to fold into our coffee.
What’s the Difference Between Pod Coffee Makers and Espresso Machines?
Firstly, the mechanics of pod coffee makers and pod espresso machines are rather different. Brewed coffee asks for a coarse grind to prevent the coffee from being too bitter. Espresso, on the other hand, requires a fine to medium grind so more bean surface is exposed to the hot water when it’s pumped through. Coffee machines use hot water to slowly filter through the coffee grounds, while espresso machines pressurize and shoot boiling water through fine coffee grounds packed into “cakes,” giving the resulting coffee its aromatic smell, velvety mouthfeel, and rich taste.
Are Espresso Makers Worth the Cost?
Getting professional espresso drinks at a coffee shop on a daily basis can cost a fortune. Therefore, investing in a pod espresso machine will inevitably save you some money in the long run. A one-coffee-per-day user would spend around $4 on coffee at the shop, and that's at least $120 per month. Using the Nespresso Creatista Plus with capsules, in comparison, will cost you $500 up front (which is as expensive as you can get), but only $21 per month for capsules in the months following. Those are savings we can get behind.
Other Single-Serve Espresso Machines We Tested
Before our most recent update of this guide, our original winner, the Nespresso CitiZ, drew our attention for its compact, sleek design. It also features a versatile foldable cup tray that accommodates taller single-serve coffee or espresso glasses. Every cup of espresso brewed in less than 25 seconds, measured two ounces or less, and was hot enough even if you opt to add a dash of cold milk.
If you like your cup shorter (fewer ounces and more intense) or taller (more ounces but less strength) you can set the volume you prefer by holding down the button as it brews and releasing it when your desired amount is dispensed; the CitiZ will remember the setting. In cup after cup, Nespresso espressos had the combination of bitter and sweet notes that always make espresso so satisfying.
With the new Essenza Mini, you get the same great cup of crema-topped espresso you would expect from even the largest, most expensive Nespresso machine—but you don't have to give up as much of your kitchen's precious counter space. Wondering what you give up? Although it’s attractively designed, the Essenza doesn’t quite have the heft of the pricier models.
Its tank only holds enough water for about 10 shots, but since it’s recommended that you refill the tank with fresh water every day, this won’t be a drawback unless you keep yourself super caffeinated. After every six brews, you’ll need to empty the used capsule holder. If you buy the Nespresso Essenza Mini Bundle—from Breville—you get the same Aeroccino 3 frother that comes with the CitiZ & Milk—but it will sit on your countertop instead of on the machine.
The Essenza comes in two styles, both of which are eight inches deep. The Mini by Breville is 13 inches tall and just 3.5 inches wide, and it comes in black, white, and grey. The Mini by De’Longhi is 12.75 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide at its base, and shaped like a trapezoid. It comes in your choice of black, white, green, or red.
When we first came across the KitchenAid espresso maker, we were simply stunned by how similar it looks to its stand mixer cousin. Upon unboxing, we realized it’s also just about as heavy. A KitchenAid stand mixer—despite being hefty and taking up a large amount of space—is no doubt an adult kitchen must-have. But do you want an appliance that size that only does espresso? We would probably pause and think about it. It’s a big commitment.
The machine performed nicely in our tests, and the quality of the shots was comparable to that from the Breville Creatista. The water tank is tucked under the brewing head, however, which makes it difficult to detach for refill and cleaning without force.
Until the Essenza Mini came along, this model was the smallest Nespresso machine you could buy. It is still a very reliable choice, if every single bit of counter space isn’t precious.
We found this machine slightly sturdier but a little less easy to use, as it is possible to neglect to push the lever all the way down. Do that, and it will pour coffee all over your counter instead of into the cup. The tank holds enough water for about a dozen cups of espresso. You can choose an aluminum or titanium finish.
If you like the latest bells and whistles, the Expert is the machine for you. Its basic usability is the same as other Nespresso machines and you get the same consistently good espresso but you have a broader array of settings from small ristretto to americano as well as hot water. Designed for heavy users, the Expert’s tank holds enough water for about 18 shots and the interior compartment about 10 capsules.
In addition to being able to control the volume each setting delivers, you can easily adjust the coffee temperature. Because you make all these choices before you press the brew button, you do have to check the settings when you change up your drinks.
The biggest innovation, however, is the Bluetooth connectivity which allows you to control your machine and order coffee through an app on your phone as well as receive alerts when the tank is empty or the used capsule compartment is full.
Now, honestly, it’s pretty easy to order new capsules online without the app. And is it really necessary to start the brewing process from your phone, rather than by pressing the button on the appliance itself? We found it more convenient to adjust the amount of coffee for each setting with the app, instead of on the machine, but we'd still caution you to think hard before purchasing the Expert (which doesn’t come with a frother) at a higher price than our other Nespresso picks.
As someone who subscribes to Lavazza’s monthly coffee delivery on Amazon, I was very excited to hear about their newly-launched pod espresso makers. Since it’s a coffee and espresso ground supplier, Lavazza uses its own pods, the Lavazza Blue Capsules, in its machines. My favorite part about the Lavazza is the helpful indicator that tells me when I need to refill the water tank, or that the used pods' drawer is full. The size is on the smaller end, and it’s a lot less noisy than many of the other machines we tested.
However, the tiny footprint means that you’ll have to compromise on other things. The water tank is only 0.2 gallons (less than 26 ounces ) and the drawer for used pods is small, which means you’ll have to dump the pods frequently.
This product has been replaced by the Esperta 3. Think of the Esperta as a drink station rather than an espresso machine. Yes, it makes an acceptable shot with a layer of crema, but what really distinguishes it is its ability to make everything from a vanilla latte macchiato to chai to peach iced tea.
To prepare a milk-topped beverage, you brew two capsules consecutively, changing the setting between each. The toppings are made from a dried powder that’s reconstituted and lightly frothed during the brewing process. They definitely don’t have the taste or the volume you get from frothing real milk, which means this is not the machine for a serious coffee aficionado.
From the clarity of its diagram-filled manual to the grip in the tank, you’ll appreciate that this appliance is exceptionally easy to use. However, unlike all the others we tested, it doesn’t automatically dispense used capsules into an internal chamber, so you have to pop each one out before you use another. A bin is included to hold them if you plan on recycling them but the machine is already bulky too begin with. The tank holds enough water for a whopping 22 cups of espresso, but most likely you’ll use the Dolce Gusto to make larger drinks.
Through past testing, we've always been impressed by the strength and durability of Mueller products. Well, not this time. This pod espresso maker is on the cheaper end of the machines we tested in the roundup, and its price clearly suggested its quality. Marketed with 20-bar high-pressure pump—a standard espresso pump is 16-bar—it seems to be on par with a professional barista pump, but the Mueller espresso maker failed to deliver a dense, aroma-filled, and balanced shot of coffee. If anything, this machine proves that you need to pay more for high-quality espresso makers, and that otherwise you should just stick with a pod coffee maker, such as a Keurig or VertuoLine.
The shot it made tasted rusty and thin, almost like a cup of brewed coffee that has gone bad, which makes me question my own judgement. For the same price, I’d much prefer my Mueller pod coffee experience than the espresso maker.
This mini espresso maker first caught our attention with its compact size and inexpensive price tag. We were impressed with how many great reviews it had generated after its recent launch. It’s by far the lightest machine we tested, but that’s not a good thing when it comes to espresso. As we have discussed, the traditional espresso brewing method involves high-pressure pumping, which means a heavy base is often necessary for safety assurance. When I turned on the ChefWave, the machine started to shake so violently that I had to put my left hand on the head and hold the shot glass in my right hand so it wouldn’t drift away.
The espresso came out more mediocre than most of the shots we made, most similar to Mueller. However, overall we think the flimsy build—which is a telltale sign that it’s not suitable for long-term usage—is more of an issue than the coffee taste.
Valerie Li Stack is a senior staff writer for Kitchen & Cooking. She is an experienced home cook with a passion for experimenting with the cuisines of countries she's visited. Driven by an interest in food science, Valerie approaches the culinary scene with a firm grasp of cooking processes and extensive knowledge of ingredients. She believes food speaks to all people regardless of language and cultural background.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.