GadgetGuy Asks: can Nespresso pods be used and reused with other coffee?

Start with the coffee

The Emohome reusable pods we chose are made of plastic and feature small holes at the bottom and on the lid at the top, which itself is on a small hinge. You can easily fill these pods up with whatever you want – tea, coffee, etc – and then seal them, throw them in the Nespresso machine, and let the appliance do its best, pumping the pod with water with the 19 bar pump.

An initial test showed a grind of 2 or below was too fine for the machines, effectively turning the coffee into a thick paste no matter how much we packed it in. After consulting with the experts, we had grinds measuring 3.5, 3.8, and 4 to work with.

The same coffee blend in three grinds.

With our three grinds, we went to work attempting to recreate the espresso from across the road, albeit with a machine that wasn’t designed to work under these sorts of conditions.

Coffee grounds were packed in various ways – loose and full, loose and half-filled, tamped and full, tamped and half-filled – pushed through the Nespresso Maestria on the long or “lungo” setting of 3.

In the more full pods, we thought we had success, with a stronger coffee coming out, though without a strong crema, one of the factors Nespresso pods are known for.

Our testing was showing that a grind of 3.8 was proving the best for us, though it still wasn’t as lovely a cup as was capable from across the road with their professional machines, nor was it as nice as the Nespresso pods.

Some success with the 3.8 grind.

After trying it in twenty different configurations, we settled on the idea that we probably weren’t going to recreate a Nespresso pod with our own blend, with the reasons coming down to several factors: pod shape and material, type of seal, coffee packing, coffee type, and consistency.

As it stands, Nespresso holds the patent for its capsule-based system, and as far as we know, it hasn’t shared those designs and specifications with anyone else. That means the third-party pods don’t follow exactly what Nespresso has designed around, so the pod sizing and shape isn’t spot on in the way the official capsules are.

The Emohome reusable plastic pods next to the Nespresso one-use aluminium pods.

Next is the material, which on the official pods is aluminium, but on our reusable pods is plastic and rubber. Using metal in the official pods means the coffee can be kept perfectly sealed until use – with the pressure still inside – as well as keeping the coffee hotter as the water pumps through the pod during extraction.

We’d hazard a bet that the different material makes a big difference here.

The seal is a pretty big deal, too. Some may argue that the aluminium seal Nespresso uses on its pods may be solely to keep the coffee fresher for a longer period of time, but given that the machine has to puncture the pods during use, we’d say there’s more happening here. When a Nespresso coffee machine “punctures” a plastic seal, the extraction doesn’t seem as high quality.

The whiter bumps on the top of the reusable pod lid show where it's beginning to warp.

In fact, after one cycle of the coffee pods, we noticed our capsule lids were beginning to warp, bringing in the question of whether our 30 use pods would even make it past their fifth outing.

Adding to the seal quality is the way the coffee is packed, and without an industrial grade packing system, there’s no way of guaranteeing the amount of coffee you pack in. Basically, Nespresso can pack the right amount of coffee into its pods, and you can’t, because it has a system designed for it, and you’re using a spoon and a tamp.

Keep in mind that as you do this, you’re taking the time to fill these pods. That’s a few minutes of your life per pod that you won’t get back, compared with the Nespresso capsules which are bought pre-packed.

The coffee pods made by Nespresso are also designed to create a specific taste. More than just a flavour, the pods are basically engineered to come out the same time every time, which is more than you can do with reusable ones in our experience.

The coffee amount and consistency is very different and hard to nail on the reusable pod (left), whereas the Nespresso pod (right) is factory controlled.

That’s where the consistency comes in, or lack thereof.

With a Nespresso capsule, it’s the same cup, with the difference being the length: short ristretto, mid espresso, or long.

With a reusable capsule, you can pack it and intend it to be the same cup every time, but it’s possible that the coffee will come out completely different. One cup could be totally amazing, but then the next ten could be a different world altogether, with no way of guaranteeing the result.

It’s a shame too, because reusing coffee pods actually makes a lot of sense, especially when not only is there so much more coffee out there than what Nespresso produces, but it can be more economical, too.

But if you try the reusable pods, know that the results are nowhere near as simple as you may expect them to be, with a cup of coffee that just doesn’t feel or taste as good as the Nespresso blends.

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  1. I have started pulling apart my used Caffitaly pods, a top and bottom plastic sieve I assume can go into recycling, coffee grounds can go in the garden or pot plants, cellophane-like top into garbage but not sure about remaining pod, looks like plastic, can it go into recycling bin too?

  2. I cut the top of the plastic part off of the re-suable pod and actually re-use the actual aluminum capsule. I’ll cut filters (using a quarter to trace) from regular drip filters to place in the caps. It produces a pretty decent espresso! I do agree that it will not be like exactly like the nespresso capsules themselves but it’s pretty close; and after a bit of trial and error in ‘packing’ the coffee (using my thumb) get a very decent cup.

  3. I’ve been looking at scads of posts on this issue and this was far and away the most comprehensive and objective. For once, I finally understand why a bottom-feeder like myself would actually pop for a more expensive cup of coffee!

  4. I have a Caffitaly machine and have been reusing the same 20 pods we got with it, since the beginning of the year. They’re easy enough to pull apart. When you refill them, you cut a square of metal foil that just covers the area, and fold it securely over the edges. If you use too much coffee, it can overload the motor. At least this way I can use my favourite organic fair trade coffee, and know that I’m not contributing to the dumping of tons of plastic waste. I’m sure the manufacturers of the coffee machine or the plastic pods would not be happy. These new machines are like printers which are sold cheaply but only work with the correct brand of ink or toner.

    1. I intend to try refilling Caffitaly pods and was wondering whether the very small perforation on the bottom of the pod should be sealed. I have just bought 800 grams of ground coffee in four separate containers to fill the pods. If it works it will be very economical. If it doesn’t work I have only wasted $23! I have toyed with the idea of buying a grinder but they are so expensive.

  5. for those of which that actually return there pods to nespresso, Nespresso then recycles them and utilizes the aluminum to construct parts of there machines such as the Pixie. The outer metal walls of the Pixie are constructed of 90% of recycled aluminum pods.

  6. Interesting; we have been considering buying reusable pods but wondered about how good it could be, and also worrying whether the plastic ones would be BPA free. I do however also worry about the aluminium in the Nespresso pods as there is said to health problems with aluminium. However the great taste of the coffee seems to outweigh that concern at the moment. But I would like to know if it’s something to be concerned about. Thanks for doing this test!

    1. hi, I’ve been selling nespresso machine for years and nespresso is aware of the health problem with aluminum that’s why they are coating the inside of each capsule with mineral oil so the coffee is not in contact with the aluminum

    2. If you buy the stainless steel replaceable pods they will last forever. A bit expensive, but worth the price. Don’t have to use the sealers that come with when you run out. Just use a thin and cheap aluminum foil. Works great

  7. Just make sure you all be good environmentalists & return your used pods back to the Nespresso boutique stores for recycling. Is also a good excuse to stop by for a free coffee & no i dont work there, just a customer that hated all the Aluminium wasted

  8. i am curious though as to the use of tea leaves as you said because we drink a lot of leaf tea as well so these reusable may be ideal. And secondly as I have neither a nespresso of copy I am curious can I buy a cheaper machine and use the nespresso pods?

    1. There are cheaper machines, though I haven’t seen or heard of amazing results from all of them. Some of them are good: I’ve heard ALDI’s system achieves some pretty decent results.

      That said, if you’re using one for tea, all you’re really doing is filling your own plastic teabags and pumping them with water.

      If you drink a lot of tea, you may want to look at an appliance designed specifically for tea. Breville makes one, and I suspect a few other companies do.

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