Desktop, low profile coffee machines that can brew fresh tasting coffee straight from miniature capsules instead of grinding up coffee beans in a little under a minute? That sentence may have sounded like overly caffeine-fueled science fiction mere decades ago. A full-scale coffee vending machine, for your kitchen?
It’s pure fantasy no longer. Advances in miniaturisation, speed, efficiency, and affordability since 2008 have meant that the home (or office) pod-based coffee machine has recently exploded in popularity. Capsule coffee offers an instant flavour and warmth that coffee left to stand often lacks after a few short hours.There’s never been a better time to get into drinking instant coffee. However, it can be very difficult to know which machine to pick. Capsule coffee machines often appear deceptively similar at first glance.
Different brands tend to have distinct differences, advantages, and disadvantages. Potentially, certain machines or brands might offer some particular special features. The ways in which they brew and serve the coffee often vary slightly, as well.
The two titans of the pod-based coffee machine in Britain are currently (Bosch) Tassimo and Dolce Gusto. But which is truly superior?
I’ve reviewed two of their most comparable popular flagship home coffee machines to give you a rough idea of what to currently expect.
Bosch Tassimo Vivy (T12)
- Wide Range of Drinks
- No Fuss
- Limited Special Features
- Dependant on the Quality of Individual T-Disks
- Poor Liquid Milk Quality
The Bosch Tassimo Vivy T12 is Tassimo’s latest best-selling compact machine. The T12 was designed to be a cheaper, smaller, more efficient version of Tassimo’s already popular T-Series. The first generation Vivy T12 supposedly offers the same Tassimo premium performance for small spaces and small budgets.
The Bosch Tassimo Vivy offers the standard easy use Tassimo T-Disk drinks system via top loaded capsules. Rated at only 1300W, it consumes substantially less energy than many competitors while providing up to 3.3 bars of pressurised capsule brewing power. While the machine is decidedly no-frills, the auto cleaning function is a welcome improvement to earlier models.
The machine’s adaptability and looks are definite strong points. With a mere 17 cm Width and 30 cm depth, the Vivy is an extremely versatile unit. The minute size certainly backs up Tassimo’s claim that it can fit in anywhere.
While the T12’s design isn’t that dramatic or colourful (coming in either black, white, or a muted cool blue) it seems to fit a unit that’s meant to blend in. The black design seems to look and fit best in a contemporary setting.
Likewise, the adjustable mug platform and curved design cut down the footprint even more while still keeping the somewhat boxy and utilitarian machine stylish. It can fit most cups and mugs easily, excepting the very large.
However, there are some design drawbacks. At only 700ml (or approximately 4-6 cups) the side mounted on-board water tank is smaller than most, requiring refills more frequently. This seems like an acceptable compromise to keep the machine’s rear footprint in check, but it does mean that the Vivy may not be the best choice of unit for a group setting such as an office kitchen. The moulded plastic construction, absence of serious splash guards or a deep drip tray, and the lack of a dedicated disc rack or holder may also prove cumbersome for some.
But how does the Vivy fare when actually making coffee and other drinks? The system’s simplicity is its strength. One button push is all that is needed, due to Tassimo’s barcode based Intellibrew system handling everything. The inline flow heater works quickly and effectively when making drinks.
The lack of detailed settings effectively means that playing the role of the barista is out of the question, however. This is not that much of a loss due to how well optimised most T-Disks are. The low-pressure brewing capacity also means that the Vivy just can’t compete with more dedicated professional quality devices when it comes to coffee.
However, the quality and taste are mostly dependant on the quality of the T-Disks you buy due to the limited maximum pressure and standardised brewing the Vivy offers. Brands such as Costa do come out exceptionally well. You may want to use your own milk as an alternative to the liquid capsules many brands supply.
As for the cost, variety, and availability of refills, it’s a mixed bag for Tassimo. With over 40 dedicated brands, there’s plenty to pick from. The cost of T-Disk capsules is relatively low for Tassimo, when compared to Nescafe’s Dolce Gusto. Despite this, you should bear in mind that they are still typically more expensive per cup than dried instant. The price gap becomes even steeper for drinks such as tea.
Tassimo T-Disks are fairly easy to find online and at most mid-range UK supermarkets but you may struggle to find many refills quickly in rural or isolated areas. The Tassimo range also absolutely refuses to use any third party T-Disk analogues.
Nescafe Dolce Gusto Melody 3
- Better Quality for Some Drinks Through Superior Pressure
- Interesting, Elegant Design
- More Adjustable Brewing Options
- Greater Water Capacity
- Fewer Varieties
- Power Hungry
- Difficult to fit in Small Spaces
Krups Nescafe Dolce Gusto’s current equivalent compact is the Melody 3.
Rated at 1500W, it is typically a slightly more expensive and power hungry unit. The trade-off is in terms of brewing pressure. The Melody 3 offers an amazing 15 bar pressurized brewing, equivalent to high street quality.
A larger footprint and strange shape to accommodate this makes the machine a little more unwieldy. Nevertheless, the 30 cm depth offered is almost identical to the Tassimo Vivy. It similarly comes it matte black, red, or white plastic with an adjustable mug tray, although the lack of any dedicated splash guard is an obvious drawback.
The Melody has quite a few advantages to the Vivy in certain areas. Dolce Gusto has gone for a decidedly unique postmodern design that resembles a sitting bird with a bulbous water tank, front loading pull out capsule tray and large luminescent displays. While it’s not really that conservative or easy to fit into a confined space, the curved, sleek design looks amazing and shows off the reservoir. The water tank is much larger at 1.3 litres and is also fitted with a Thermoblock automatic control system, for better conservation.
In terms of brewing options, the Melody is much less bare bones than the Vivy. While it contains a fully automatic function similar to Intellibrew, the Melody also allows users to specify criteria such as the amount of water used and whether the output is hot or cold.
It’s still limited, but these features add to the limits of what the Vivy’s system can do while keeping much the same no fuss, rapid heating, and easy cleaning functionality. It may be a small addition, but a milk frother is also included as standard.
As for the taste provided by the Melody, Dolce Gusto has developed quite the cult following for sheer quality. Bloggers ReeRee and Lynn Baird make their cases at length here and here, for example. The dedicated tuning and high-pressure systems in the Melody 3 serve the production of coffee house quality, foamy brews extremely well.
The system is mostly reliant on the smaller, Nestle own brand Dolce Gusto pods to achieve this. However, there are fewer varieties available. Nestle does offer more than 25 different drinks, including some hot chocolate options. Despite this, the Dolce Gusto range are really meant to be used mainly as dedicated coffee machines. The Melody 3 is no exception.
Specialised Nestle Dolce Gusto pods are similarly ubiquitous online and off. They can be found (and not found) in much the same locations as Tassimo T-Disks, although users have reported that they are slightly harder and more expensive to come by. Likewise, third party capsules will probably not work with the Melody.