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Nespresso vs. Espresso: Comparing Two Similar Brewing Methods

Many coffee lovers will scoff at Nespresso machines and say that it isn’t real espresso. But, Nespresso machines have found their place with millions of users around the world. The biggest difference between Nespresso and espresso machines is how they work (pods vs. coffee beans) and the coffee taste they produce.

I’ll compare Nespresso and espresso machines and explain their similarities and differences, including the most important one — the espresso flavor. I’ll also explain who’s best suited for each espresso machine, so you can decide on the best coffee device for you.

Read on to learn more about the battle of the coffee machines: Nespresso vs Espresso machine. I’ll explain each in a section, then compare them both.

Nespresso

How Does the Machine Work?

Nespresso machine is all about ease of use and convenience. These coffee makers are fully automatic, and they eliminate almost any chance of human error. 

Nespresso machines use specific Nespresso pods to work. The pods are hermetically sealed and contain pre-portioned single-use servings of coffee beans — 5 to 7g of ground coffee. They come in many versions. You can choose between standard, flavored, and decaf capsules. 

You insert the Nespresso capsules into the machine and press the brew button. The Nespresso machine pumps water from the water tank. The boiler heats the water in a few seconds. The machine punctures a hole in the capsule and injects the hot water through the hole at high pressure. 

Nespresso capsules

The water goes through the coffee in the capsules and extracts the flavor from the fine coffee grounds. The coffee grounds are dissolved in water and forced out the other end of the capsule as coffee. Nespresso says all their machines can reach 15 bars of pressure, which is enough to give the espresso shot nice crema. 

You don’t have to dial in, measure, grind the coffee beans, tamp the puck, and attach the portafilter when using Nespresso machines. All you have to do is insert the pod and press a button.

Nespresso Machines come in two versions: OriginalLine and VertuoLine. Both versions use Nespresso capsules. However, there are several third-party capsule manufacturers that are compatible with either Original or the VertuoLine.

OriginalLine

OriginalLine Nespresso coffee makers use about 19 bars of high pressure to pull espresso coffee. It works like I’ve described above — a needle pierces the capsule, the machine forces hot pressurized water through the ground coffee, and the coffee comes out at the other end of the capsule.

OriginalLine Nespresso
An OriginalLine; the traditional pods are cone-shaped and more like other pod machines

The OriginalLine process is conceptually similar to regular espresso brewing but with more bars and pre-ground coffee pods instead of a portafilter.

These machines brew single or double espresso. Some can even froth milk, but most need a separate milk frother for milk-based espresso drinks. OriginalLine espresso machines are only compatible with OriginalLine capsules.

VertuoLine

Nespresso came up with VertuoLine in 2014 to appeal to the demand for bigger coffee servings.

It works differently compared to OriginalLine. VertuoLine machines use Centrifusion technology, which means the machines use centrifugal force to brew coffee. The pod spins 7,000 times per minute for the best flavor extraction and rich crema.

VertuoLine
The Vertuo machine with the VertuoLine pods; notice the pods are dome-shaped with unique bars codes along the bottom rim

Each VertuoLine pod has a barcode, which the machine automatically reads and brews the drink accordingly. You don’t even have to press a button for a coffee drink (espresso, latte, etc.). The machine does it for you based on the barcode.

VertuoLine machines brew espresso or drip coffee-style drinks and are only compatible with VertuoLine capsules. Nespresso has a patent on VertuoLine pods, so third parties aren’t allowed to manufacture pods with their brand of coffee.

How Does it Taste?

Nespresso espresso flavor is somewhat of a controversial topic. Does Nespresso brew a good espresso? It depends on you. My opinion is that Nespresso pulls a decent shot. It’s less intense than regular espresso, and the flavors are a little muddied.

It doesn’t reach the same heights of flavor you get from a traditional espresso machine. However, you also don’t have any frustration, as there’s no way to mess up the brewing process.

Overall, the Nespresso shot has a medium body, rich flavor, moderate aromas, and some acidity. It’s less intense compared to espresso from a regular espresso machine. But, it’s noticeably stronger compared to dark drip coffee.

About Nespresso

Nespresso is part of Nestle Group corporation, based in Switzerland. Nespresso got its name from the combination of espresso and Nestle. 

Eric Favre, a Nestle employee, was tasked with making a machine that combines Italian espresso with the convenience of domestic coffee in 1975. He got his inspiration from a coffee shop in Rome, which pumped the espresso machine lever several times instead of just once. This ensured their espresso had more air and water, resulting in a richer crema.

Favre came up with the first Nespresso machine in 1986. Initially, the machine didn’t take off. The history gets a little complicated following the launch, but within a few years, the device was modernized to what we know today, and the Nespresso brand moved upscale, eventually starting the George Clooney ads we’ve all seen, and…the rest is history. Millions of machines have been sold worldwide.

The original Nespresso ads with George Clooney – it was pitched as a luxury brand!

Nestle has three coffee capsule factories in Switzerland, and all pods come from one of these factories. The company sells coffee pods and machines worldwide. Today, Nespresso is found in 500 cities over the world. The brand has its own Nespresso capsule shops and cafes where you can walk in and get a brew from Nespresso capsules.

Espresso

How Does the Machine Work?

There are three kinds of espresso machines: a super-automatic, semi-automatic espresso machine, and manual espresso machine (we’ll ignore manual options for now). These machines use coffee beans, not pods, and work by forcing hot water through a puck of finely ground coffee beans.

A super-automatic espresso machine is also called a bean-to-cup. It brews coffee with a press of a button. The machine takes care of grinding, tamping, and brewing. Regarding how much work is required on your part, it’s similar to Nespresso machines — you press a button, and the machine makes coffee. 

A semi-automatic espresso machine requires a lot more work to learn but gives you much more control over the final product. 

Espresso Machine
Semi-automatic espresso machine; many more controls and options over the output

There’s a lot to the brewing process with a semi-automatic espresso machine.  First, you have to get the correct grind size. Then, you have to distribute the grounds in the filter basket and tamp down the puck correctly.

You need to get this right so water doesn’t flow too slowly or too quickly. You also want to avoid common puck issues, such as channeling, where the coffee finds a way through the puck and doesn’t go through all grounds evenly.

Then you attach the portafilter to the brew head. You also decide the coffee-to-water ratio and brewing time to ensure there’s an even extraction.

The workload is on you, but the potential is high. Once you perfect your technique, you’ll love having control over the brewing process, and you’ll have high-quality shots.

How Does it Taste?

Regular (or proper) espresso has more body, is more intense, has bolder flavors, and a bigger acidic punch compared to Nespresso. 

More importantly, there’s a lot more variance in flavor from traditional espresso. Since there’s so much room to change the inputs, there’s a lot of room to get different flavors. That can be great, but it can be inconsistent.

Espresso taste from a regular machine is richer, but it’s contingent on your experience and skill.

Comparing Nespresso vs. Espresso

Nespresso vs espresso comparison table
Comparing Nespresso Vs. Espresso

Difficulty and Learning Curve

An average espresso machine has a much higher learning curve compared to a Nespresso machine. 

Espresso machines take longer to use. The machine has to warm up, then you have to grind the beans, tamp them, and pull a shot. Chances are, you’ll have to fiddle with the settings — make grind adjustments, add more coffee, tamp, and more. Also, you should clean and wipe down the portafilter and the machine before turning it off.

The entire process of making traditional espresso takes me about three to four minutes in the morning. 

On the other hand, Nespresso doesn’t have a learning curve. The machine warms up in about a minute. You insert the pod and press a button. The machine pulls a shot. You don’t need to dial in a pod. 

Nespresso machines are also easier to maintain, and many models have built-in containers for used pods. 

If you want a challenge and aren’t afraid of putting in the work, then an espresso machine is a good choice. But, if you want convenience and don’t want to invest time in learning how to use espresso machines, go for a Nespresso one.

Taste

Overall, Nespresso has a somewhat milder taste, is less acidic, and doesn’t have the rich flavors espresso machines have. That’s because the coffee ratio is lower than espresso with coarser coffee grounds in the pod.

The traditional espresso flavor is rich, bold, intense, and has a perfect balance of sweetness, richness, and acidity. 

However, taste comes back to the ease of use and learning curve. If you’re a beginner barista, there’s a high chance your Nespresso shot will be tastier than a regular espresso because good espresso requires skill and experience.

Price

In terms of price, Nespresso machines can’t be beaten. They are significantly cheaper compared to espresso machines. You can get Nespresso machines starting at $100.

However, keep in mind, Nespresso machines require an ongoing expense — Nespresso coffee pods. The price of these depends on which pods you buy. You’ll spend less money at first, but if you drink a lot of coffee, the price of pods will quickly add up.

However, while Nespresso pods are pricy, many third-party manufacturers sell more affordable varieties (for OriginalLine), so you’ll have room to experiment and find pods you like best.

Also, you’ll probably have to get a separate frother for a Nespresso machine if you want milk-based espresso drinks.

On the other hand, a good super-automatic espresso machine will cost around $1,000. You may find a decent semi-automatic machine for a couple of hundred dollars less, but it’s a much bigger investment compared to a Nespresso machine. You also may have to buy a grinder, scale, and sometimes a tamper.

While there’s a decent selection of espresso machines under $200, these are “starter” machines. They don’t produce the same level of espresso as more expensive machines. If you’re a beginner barista and want to get serious, I recommend a budget of at least $500, or if you’ve got some more leeway, spend up to $1,000.

Nespresso vs. Espresso: What’s the Best Espresso Coffee Machine for You?

If you want convenience, have a small budget and little counter space, and want a quick caffeine fix, go for a Nespresso machine. If you’re an experienced barista with more budget, countertop space, and want a more flavorful espresso, choose a real espresso machine. 

If you want to learn more about Nespresso coffee makers, check out our guide on how a Nespresso machine works. 

Marina Maletic

Marina Maletic

Marina comes from a family of coffee addicts, but she started to appreciate java fairly late — around 25 years old. Her coffee journey began by writing coffee articles. This led to buying her first coffee machine, where she fell in love with the drink that means so much to people all over the world. For the last five years, she starts every day by brewing a cup of coffee. Nowadays, if she’s not writing or thinking about coffee, she can be found trying out the latest social media coffee trend.

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