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Coffee Makers

Finding an eco-friendly coffee machine, with ethical and environmental rankings for 24 brands of coffee machines.

We also look at the environmental impact of coffee pods, repair options, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Aero Press and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying a coffee maker:

  • Is it simple? Complex, electronic coffee machines require more materials and energy to produce and are not as easily recycled, so opt for simple, manual machines.

  • Is it second hand? Buying second hand is nearly always the more environmentally friendly option, especially for an electronic machine.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying coffee makers:

  • Is it a pod machine? Although there may be some environmental benefits to pod machines, pods create excessive waste – particularly if they are made from plastic. If you do opt for pod, ideally choose compostable pods. You may also be able to find a compatible reusable steel pod.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

When it comes to coffee made in UK homes, instant still dominates, holding around 60% of the market. However, fresh grounds/beans and pods have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, when national lockdowns meant that more people attempted to recreate the cafe experience in their own homes.

There are a million and one ways to make a coffee these days. For this guide to ethical coffee machines, we’ve included the most common machines on the market and assessed the ethical pros and cons of each, as well as the most ethical brands producing these machines.

In general, we recommend manual machines over those that have electronic components, as electronic goods generally have a greater negative environmental impact.

Price comparison

Some of the complex, high-tech coffee machines cost an arm and leg. The most expensive machine we came across was made by Jura and cost £3,795!

The good news is that the most ethical ways to make coffee are also the least expensive.

The machine-less methods discussed later are probably the cheapest, but simple, manual devices such as the AeroPress, cafétiere, pour-over filter, and moka pot are each available for under £30.

What is the most environmentally friendly way to make coffee?

Academics love to disagree, and this is the case when it comes to the question of which form of coffee making is least harmful.

One study we looked at found that coffee pods score better than other forms of coffee making when assessed across a number of different environmental categories. However, this study did not take account of the energy used to make the pods and assumed that there wouldn’t be excessive wastage once the pod has been used.

Another study, which had broader scope, found that “the AeroPress and French Press presented the lowest general environmental impacts among the methods evaluated,” while “the single-serve pod with paper sachet (soft pod) was the best alternative”. This study found that when the production and disposal of the pod was considered, pod machines generally had a greater impact than other methods.

Another factor to consider is whether you have your coffee black or white. As you can see in our guide to coffee shops, milk accounts for a significant proportion of a coffee’s environmental impact, with milk accounting for three quarters of a latte’s carbon footprint.

On balance, making small amounts of black coffee using simple, manual machines looks to be the most environmentally friendly option.

So now that we’ve got to the bottom of that debate, it’s time to sit back and just enjoy your coffee!

Cup of coffee made with filter paper in cup

Nespresso and the rise of the coffee pod

Coffee pods were introduced to the world by Nespresso, whose portmanteau moniker combines the name of its owner (Nestlé) and the type of coffee that these machines could produce (espresso). Nespresso was officially launched in 1986, but it took several years and some considerable rebranding before it started to gain ground in the coffee market.

The brand really took off in 2006 as a result of its high-profile marketing campaign with George Clooney, who is still the brand’s ‘ambassador’ to this day.

The Nespresso brand became dominant across much of the globe, with the notable exception of the USA, where Nespresso’s small portions struggled to satisfy to the big American appetite.

Its dominance was challenged around 2012 when some of Nespresso’s key patents expired, allowing competitors to enter the market.

There has also been increasing concern about the environmental impact of pods.

Are coffee pods bad for the environment?

The obvious negative impact of coffee pods is the waste that they produce, with each coffee made requiring a new pod. While many pods can be recycled, the majority end up in landfill instead of being recycled. According to The Rolling Bean, of the 39,000 capsules produced every minute worldwide, only 29,000 are actually recycled.

Nespresso pods are mostly made of aluminium (88% in consumer capsules and 67% in professional capsules), which is infinitely recyclable, though they also contain other materials including the filter, lacquer and silicon ring, which need to be melted off the aluminium during the recycling process.

Due to the mix of materials and the complexity of the recycling process, it has generally not been possible to recycle coffee pods with the rest of your household recycling.

For this reason Nespresso has operated its own recycling scheme for a number of years, where customers can send used pods to Nespresso, or drop them off at a collection point. In 2021, three of biggest coffee pod brands, Nespresso, Nescafé Dolce Gusto and Tassimo, launched a partnership programme, Podback, to allow consumers to recycle their coffee pods more easily. Pods can be dropped off at a number of locations across the UK, or left at the kerbside with your other household waste – though only if your local authority is part of the scheme.

This is a positive development if it helps to increase the number of pods that make it to recycling instead of landfill.

However, even if pods are recycled, this does not mean that their environmental impact is neutralised – the pods must still be produced, which requires energy and resources, and the recycling process takes more energy still.

The benefits of pod machines

Although pods create more packaging waste than other coffee products, some have argued that overall they are more environmentally friendly than other coffee making methods. A 2019 article by Wired even went so far as to proclaim that “coffee pods are actually pretty good for the environment.”

The first thing to put right about this misleading claim is that no method of making coffee is ‘good’ for the environment – rather, we are looking at which is the least harmful. This may seem like a pessimistic way of viewing the situation, but the production of most goods in the current global economy generally has many negative implications, not least due to the burning of fossil fuels in the production, transport, and use phases.

The Wired article argues that coffee pods are ‘good’ because they are generally less wasteful than other methods of making coffee. There is truth to this claim, because pods contain the exact amount of coffee needed to make a coffee, and on average this is significantly less than is used in other coffee brewing methods. Pod machines also only use and heat up the exact amount of water needed, whereas other methods (such as those that involve boiling a kettle) may heat up too much.

It is important to minimise waste, both of coffee and energy, because according to lifecycle analysis studies of making coffee, “the greatest environmental impact is attributed to the production of the ground coffee itself and the energy needed to brew the coffee.” More coffee wasted means more coffee needs to be grown, which comes with a host of environmental impacts, including use of pesticides, water, land and energy.

Using more energy than necessary at the brewing stage likely leads to more fossil fuels being burned. Of course, an individual using too much coffee or boiling a little too much water has minimal effect. But there is not just one individual making coffee – there are millions of people making several cups every day.

Image: capsules

Compostable pods

There has been a rise in the number of brands offering compostable coffee pods. The production of any sort of pods takes energy and resources, but a recent academic study found that compostable pods had the lowest environmental impact when compared to plastic or aluminium pods.

So for those of you that have pod machines, compostable pods look to be the best option when it comes to environmental impact. You may even be able to find a reusable steel pod compatible with your machine.

Gaphic with line drawings 8 types of coffee machines: pour over filter; espresso; moka pot; bean to cup; Aero Press; cafetiere; electric filter; pod machine
Drawings by Mike Bryson for ECRA

What are the different types of coffee machines?

Here we introduce eight of the main types of manual and electric coffee machines.

Pour over filter

What is it? A simple system that involves pouring hot water through coffee grounds in a filter.
Pros: Simple, manual, no electronics. A great choice.
Cons: Some filters are disposable, so create waste.

Cafetiere / French Press

What is it? A classic coffee maker. Coffee and hot water are left to brew, then pressed.
Pros: Simple, manual, no electronics. A great choice.
Cons: Usually made of glass and metal, so not as portable as the AeroPress

Moka pot/ stove top

What is it? The classic design, the Bialetti Moka pot, was invented in 1930s Italy. The device, which is also known as stove top or espresso pot, is placed on the stove, which heats up water in the bottom compartment. When the water reaches near boiling point it is forced upwards through the coffee grounds and into the top section.
Pros: A manual, non-electronic device. Generally made of aluminium or stainless steel, which are infinitely recyclable. A great choice, which makes strong coffee.
Cons: Requires heating on a stove, many of which use gas, a fossil fuel.

Aero Press

What is it? The new kid on the block. A brilliantly simple manual device that sits somewhere between a filter machine and a cafetière. Coffee-heads rave about it.
Pros: Simple, manual, no electronics, easily portable, easy to clean. A great choice.
Cons: Made of plastic, requires paper filters for each use – though metal filters are also available.

Electric filter

What is it? Same as the pour-over filter, except it heats the water and drips it into the coffee grounds for you.
Pros: Good for making large quantities of coffee and keeping it warm.
Cons: A large electronic machine made of a range of materials, usually including lots of plastic.

Espresso

What is it? A mini-version of the espresso machines you’ll find in cafes – for the coffee maker who fancies themselves as a bit of a barista.
Pros: Makes you feel like you have an ounce of artisanal skill – perfect for those who sit at computers all day and question what physical skills they actually possess.
Cons: An electronic machine that requires a lot of energy to produce each coffee.

Pod machine

What is it? Originally invented by Nespresso (Nestle), but now supplied by many brands. Hot water is forced through a coffee-filled pod to produce a strong, espresso-style coffee. Once the height of sophistication, though after years of widespread criticism over the amount of packing waste produced, coffee from a pod machine will likely contain some notes of guilt.
Pros: Generally uses less coffee grounds per serving than other methods, which has benefits at the early stages of the coffee supply chain. Also only heats the exact amount of water needed for each coffee.
Cons: An electronic machine that produces a great deal of packaging waste (one pod per coffee). Up until recently, pods have generally been made from aluminium or plastic, though compostable pods have now entered the market, which are preferable, and you may even be able to find a compatible reusable steel pod.

Bean to cup

What is it? Does everything for you at the push of a button, from grinding the whole beans to frothing the milk. The most ostentatious machine around – the Lamborghini of the coffee machine world.
Pros: Requires minimal effort to make a coffee.
Cons: A complex, electronic machine that takes lots of materials and energy to produce.

Which brands make what sort of coffee machines?

The table below shows which brands make which sort of coffee machines, and whether these are manual or electric. We've also included if they offer a repair service and spare parts.

Brand

Repair service* Spare parts Cafetiere/ French press (M) Moka pot/ stove top (M) Pour over filter (M) Bean-to-cup (E) Espresso machine (E) Filter machine (E) Pod machine (E)

Aeropress

No Yes     Yes**        

Bodum

No Yes Yes   Yes     Yes  

Jura

Yes Yes       Yes      
Melitta 3rd party Yes     Yes Yes   Yes  
Smeg 3rd party Yes       Yes Yes    
Swan Yes Yes         Yes Yes  
Bialetti Yes Yes Yes Yes     Yes   Yes
La Cafetiere No Yes Yes Yes Yes        
Le'Xpress No Yes Yes Yes Yes        
Krups Yes Yes       Yes Yes   Yes
Illy 3rd party Yes   Yes     Yes   Yes
Sage Yes Yes       Yes Yes Yes Yes
De'Longhi Yes Yes       Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bosch Yes Yes       Yes   Yes  
John Lewis No Yes Yes Yes     Yes    
Siemens Yes Yes       Yes      
Tassimo Yes Yes             Yes
Beko Yes Yes       Yes Yes Yes  
Grundig Yes Yes           Yes  
Lavazza Limited Yes             Yes
Russell Hobbs Limited Yes         Yes Yes  
Breville Limited Yes       Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cookworks No No           Yes  
Nespresso Yes Yes             Yes

M = Manual; E = Electric

* This is only applicable to more complex, electronic machines. Manual machines can usually be repaired at home if spare parts can be ordered.
**AeroPress is a unique coffee maker, but it is most similar to a manual filter system.

Repairing coffee machines

Most brands offer some form of coffee machine repair service, as shown in the table, but make sure you read the small print before purchasing any machine.

Of course, simple machines such as cafétieres or pour-over filters are much easier to repair yourself, with most brands in this guide supplying spare parts.

Machine-less methods of making coffee

As well as the many different machines you can use to make coffee, there are also some more low-tech options. We outline three below.

The coffee & cup method

For the Luddites among us, you can make perfectly good, fresh coffee without any machine by following these simple steps:

  1. Place coffee grounds in your mug.
  2. Saturate the grounds with a small amount of hot water to keep them at the bottom of your mug.
  3. Top up with hot water.
  4. Allow to sit for several minutes to allow the coffee to brew.
  5. If any grounds remain at the top, stir the surface gently and leave for a minute to settle.
  6. Drink! Though be careful not to drink the coffee grounds when you near the end.

Arabic or Turkish coffee

There are many other coffee making methods around the world that don’t require high-tech machines. We can’t do justice to the nuances of all of them here, but one of the best known is Arabic or Turkish coffee. Of course, coffee is made differently across the Arab world, so we advise you to look into the particularities of each region, but here is a general recipe to start you off:

  1. Heat water in a saucepan, dallah (Arabic coffee pot), or cezve (Turkish coffee pot).
  2. Remove from the heat, let stand for 30 seconds, then add ground coffee.
  3. Brew the coffee on a low heat (without letting it boil) for up to ten minutes. Foam should start to rise.
  4. If desired, add crushed cardamom and other spices.
  5. Return to a low heat for another five minutes, then remove from the heat and let stand for several minutes.
  6. Pour coffee (straining if desired) into a pre-warmed dallah, thermos or teapot, stopping when the coffee grounds start to pour out.
  7. Serve into small teacups and enjoy!

Cold brew coffee: the low-carbon alternative

While cold coffee may not be particularly appealing in the depths of winter, it is perfect during those few sacred days of summer when the sun graces the UK with its presence. The cold brew method doesn’t require any water heating and therefore results in fewer carbon emissions than other methods. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Grind coffee coarsely.
  2. Add this to cold water.
  3. Leave it to steep for around 12 hours.
  4. Strain the coffee and either drink straight, with added water, or with milk.
Person pouring coffee into coffee cup

How do coffee machine brands score in our ratings?

AeroPress tops our table and is several points ahead of the second-best scoring companies. The company only produces the AeroPress (plus accessories) and doesn’t produce any electrical goods – thereby avoiding the ethical issues associated with such goods. It also received our Best rating in our Environmental Reporting and Supply Chain Management categories, though it did lose a whole mark in the Tax Conduct category because it was incorporated in Delaware, US (a tax haven) while its principal offices were in British Columbia, Canada.

When we last looked at coffee machines, back in 2019, Bialetti came top of the table with a score of 12, but now scores 7.5. When we last researched the company, we weren’t aware that it sold a range of electronic machines as well as moka pots. So it is now subject to our ratings on conflict minerals and pollution/toxics (electronics), for which it scores worst. This time it also lost half marks for excessive director’s remuneration and operations in two oppressive regimes. Despite its lower score, we still recommend the Bialetti moka pot as an alternative to electronic coffee machines.

Company Ethos

Only two companies gained positive marks in the Company Ethos column:

  • Illy received half a mark because it is a certified B-Corp
  • John Lewis Partnership received half a mark for being an employee-owned business.

Conflict minerals

Most of the brands produced electronic coffee machines, or other electronic goods, and were therefore expected to have policies addressing the issue of conflict minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold). These minerals can be sourced from many different locations around the world, but in politically unstable areas, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the minerals trade can be used to finance armed groups, fuel forced labour and other human rights abuses, and support corruption and money laundering.

The majority of brands received our worst rating for conflict minerals, though the following received our middle rating: Cookworks, Russell Hobbs, and Siemens.

Three brands (AeroPress, La Cafetiere and Le’Xpress) didn’t produce any electronics goods and so weren’t expected to have policies on conflict minerals and therefore didn’t lose any marks in relation to this issue.

Climate change

Most brands lost a whole mark in the Climate Change column.

Illy was the only brand to receive our Best rating for Carbon Management and Reporting (thereby losing no marks), while AeroPress and John Lewis received a Middle (thereby only losing half a mark).

Bosch deserves special mention for its role in the Volkswagen emissions scandal, also known as Dieselgate – one of the largest corporate greenwashing scandals in history. In 2019 the company was handed a €90 million fine by German prosecutors for lapses in its supervisory responsibilities which enabled carmakers to cheat regulatory emissions testing.

The rise of the coffee brand 'ambassador'

Nespresso’s partnership with George Clooney set the trend for upmarket coffee brands partnering with suave, middle-aged male celebrities, with Roger Federer the ambassador for Swiss brand Jura, and Brad Pitt the ambassador for De'Longhi.

The homogeneity of these brand partnerships illustrates just how successful Nespresso’s initial campaign with Clooney was. These brands aren’t just selling convenient and tasty coffee, they are selling consumers a suave and sophisticated experience, all from the comfort of the home.

Company behind the brand

AeroPress, Inc is a US-based company founded by Alan Adler, an inventor and retired Stanford University engineering instructor. In 1984 Adler founded Aerobie, Inc, which produced sports toys, including the Aerobie Pro – a flying ring toy (like a hollow Frisbee) which was used to set a Guinness World Record for farthest thrown object. However, in 2017 the company sold the Aerobie sports brand and became AeroPress Inc, which is almost exclusively focused on the Aeropress and its accessories.

The AeroPress has taken the coffee world by storm in recent years and has a loyal fanbase. This is evidenced by the World AeroPress Championships, a fan-driven event that has taken place annually since 2008 and sees more than 3,000 entrants competing to make the best AeroPress coffee.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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