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Nespresso vs Espresso: How the Machines and Drinks Differ

Are you trying to decide between buying an Nespresso vs espresso machine? Or maybe you’re just looking to settle a friendly argument? 

Either way, we’re here to help. Let’s find out if Nespresso is espresso.

Comparing Nespresso Machines and Espresso Machines

We could describe both Nespresso machines and espresso machines as pressure-based brewing systems. But that doesn’t mean they work in the same way. Let’s look at some similarities and differences.

This video has a detailed comparison of a particularly popular model of each type of machine:

A machine punctures the capsule of coffee grounds in a Nespresso machine and forces pressurized hot water through it. An espresso machine also relies on high-temp water pumped through the coffee grounds, and both machines operate at about 9 bars of pressure. But that’s where the similarities end.

Nespresso machines are designed for convenience and consistency. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the world’s foremost coffee expert or a bleary-eyed commuter on a Monday morning; you’ll both get pretty much the same result in the same amount of time from a Nespresso machine.

This is great for the commuter but disappointing for the coffee enthusiast who enjoys working with a semi-automatic espresso machine or a even a lever.

Unless you have a super-automatic machine, making espresso is an art form that you need to practice to perfect.

There’s no handy capsule of coffee. The brewing process takes more than just a push of button. You need to finely grind the coffee beans at the right grind size, pack the right amount into a portafilter, and tamp with the proper pressure. You may even need to time the espresso shot.

Nespresso vs Espresso Infographic
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So, is Nespresso Real Espresso?

But ignoring the differences between operating Nespresso machines and espresso machines, let’s look at the results. Sure, the Vertuoline can make coffee and espresso, but does any of the existing Nespresso machine lines make real espresso? 

Unfortunately, the short answer is that it depends.

For starters, there’s no universal definition of espresso. Different coffee associations have other guidelines, with the Italians being especially strict.

A few generally agreed upon requirements for a single shot of espresso include:

  • 7 grams of ground coffee
  • 9 bars of pressure
  • 25 – 30 seconds of extraction time
  • 25 mL of hot water

By this definition, Nespresso coffee comes pretty close. The main difference is that their standard capsules contain only about 5 grams of pre-ground coffee, and often the extraction time is a bit on the low side

Of course, the Italian definition, practiced by the likes of Illy’s Master Barista, Giorgio Milos, would never allow for the use of a coffee capsule anyway (1).

A good cup of espresso has to be balanced between sour, bitter, and sweet.

But espresso purists will insist (and not wrongly) that a Nespresso lacks true espresso’s character and soul regardless of the stats. Its flavors are muddied and muted compared to the real quality espresso, and the crema is nothing but a generic foam.

Final Thoughts

To experience amazing espresso shots the way you’re supposed to, you need a real espresso machine. In many subtle ways, a Nespresso machine can’t replicate the experience. But if you want quick and convenient access to something very much resembling espresso, a Nespresso machine and some Nespresso capsules are a perfectly viable solution.

FAQs

Compared to Keurig, Nespresso is much closer to espresso. Keurig brewers don’t use pressure at all, instead of making something closer to drip coffee.

Nespresso is cost-effective compared to a daily visit to a cafe. But coffee capsules are more expensive than grinding your coffee than home espresso. That said, depending on how you value your time, Nespresso’s speed might make it more cost-effective for you.

An ESE (Easy-Serving Espresso) pod is a capsule system devised by Illy to make the espresso more consistent and convenient. You use these pods in proper espresso machines, and they remove grinding, tamping, and dosing from the equation. Most baristas agree pod espresso is inferior to that of a freshly prepared puck.

  1. Botha, T. (2010, August 25). What “true” espresso is, and how Americans ruin it. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com/2010/08/25/american_espresso/

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I come from a country where people drink domestic coffee (what the rest of the world knows as Turkish coffee) and where Nescafe designates all instant coffees ever made. So, imagine my first encounter with, say, Hario V60...Yes, it was love at first sight.  Today I’m a moderate coffee connoisseur and a huge coffee lover. My favorite brewing methods are the V60 and traditional espresso-making. Yet, despite my country’s long tradition of Turkish-coffee-adoring, I somehow cannot stand it. That’s just too dark, even for me.

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