I’m a bit of a coffee snob. This benefits me pretty often in my capacity as beverage blogger here, but never as much as a couple of weeks ago when Yvo brought over a Nespresso machine of happiness. She’s not much for coffee, so it naturally fell to my shoulders to bear the burden of putting this espresso machine through its paces.
First off: this is not an inexpensive machine. Not that espresso machines in general ever are, but judged solely as a machine to make espresso and froth (and heat) milk, the Nespresso is fairly pricey. This is of course in the eye of the beholder; if you drink lattes all week before work, this machine will pay for itself pretty quickly. Right?
The good people at Nespresso tossed in a bunch of complimentary “capsules” along with the standard starter pack of all sixteen flavors. These might look familiar to half the offices in Manhattan. They’re not the size of the Keurig cups because, well, it’s espresso, not coffee, so they are sized accordingly. This is the standard sampler pack, each of which is explained in the fancy book included with the machine, and are rated in intensity from 1 to 10. There are espresso-sized capsules, and lungo capsules, which make a larger espresso shot, useful when making coffee drinks. And of course, there are decaffeinated options.
One thing to note: Nespresso controls the entire capsule market. You can’t even order more, which range from 55 cents to 62 cents per capsule, without your machine serial number. It’s a club. Fortunately for New Yorkers, and a few other cities, there are brick-and-mortar locations in addition to the website and phone orders. I would hope some day this will change, but espresso machines are a funny lot: as pressurized vessels, they’re more prone to ugly failure if something upsets it, so maybe keeping tight control with what goes in it is a good idea.
But seriously, 55-62 cents per espresso would weigh on me over time, especially since I can, and do, make a pot of coffee for far less than one little cup of Nespresso.
Using the machine is fairly straightforward. After filling the reservoir — it seems to hold enough water for at least a dozen cups of espresso — the machine is turned on, and when it’s ready, the user inserts a capsule of choice and selects espresso or lungo. Be aware that the lungo capsules are packed fuller, and so can make a real double espresso, whereas using the lungo setting on a normal espresso capsule will result in a thin, crummy espresso.
Nespresso recommends preheating the cup by running straight water into it (and dumping that) prior to inserting a capsule and brewing, but I find it stays warm enough without that step.
One thing to note: the Nespresso is LOUD. And it vibrates a bit, too. I have a towel under the unit in these pictures just to damp some of the noise, but this is not a machine you can ever hope to use for a surprise latte in the morning. Fortunately it’s over pretty quickly.
I made a lot of straight espresso. This picture also captures another minor annoyance: after brewing is done and espresso dispensed, it drips. A lot. It doesn’t stop for several minutes. Cleanup is simple enough, but I kind of don’t want to have to deal with that every single brewing cycle. But look at the crema it produces! It’s a beautiful espresso.
I’ve gone through most of the flavors so far, and while I haven’t enjoyed everything — I’m not that much of a coffee Barney — some favorites:
Arpeggio: Rated a 9/10 Intensity by the Nespresso folk, and one of two flavors of which Nespresso gifted us with a 10-pack sleeve of capsules (Dulsão was the other), this is a good everyday espresso. Lots of roasted bean, a good dose of acid, not fruity at all, and intensely rich mouthfeel.
Roma: Another rich espresso (8/10), this one was quite a bit more bitter than the Arpeggio, but it’s a powerful flavor, and it seems like it would hold up to milk. I suspect a light sprinkle of sugar would make this work for less-intense coffee people, also.
Ristretto: The most intense capsule offered (10/10), this was indeed massively roasty, bitter, powerful, clearly the most aromatic cup I brewed as well, but surprisingly without rough edges. A real pleasure to drink, this reminded me the most of drinking espresso (café, really) in Paris. (Yes, I know that would likely have been French roast coffee.)
Volluto: Less intense (4/10), this was a revelatory surprise, as it was bright and focused, fruity and full-flavored without any acrid off-flavors, and with a big roasty finish. This would probably be my first choice for refills, if I were to somehow manage to retain possession of the machine….
Cosi: The fruit really pops in this capsule. Another rounded, less-roasty espresso, almost dainty, really, but a relaxing flavor. Only of mild intensity (3/10).
None of the Nespresso flavors turned me off, but some seemed destined for mixing with milk. Oh, right — the Nespresso has quite the milk-processing accessory!
Here’s where the Nespresso separates itself from the standard home espresso machine: the frother/heater. While it looks like it holds a lot of liquid, 3/4 of the height is motor and other electromechanical devices. A frother and stirrer fit on a magnetic post inside, and if you just want hot milk, as in a latte, use one; if you want to whip your milk into a froth as well as heat it, you have that option too. You can even cold-froth, but I had no interest in that.
Time to make the milky drinks! I’m not one to purchase these at the local coffee shop, preferring just coffee in my coffee. But I have this cool new machine that’ll do all the work…. Using the frother attachment, I pour in a few ounces of milk and give it the minute-plus it requires to heat and froth my milk. Pouring that into my Decaffeinato espresso (in a larger cup), spooning the froth on top, and presto! Instant capuccino. I’m impressed with how thoroughly the Nespresso heated and frothed the milk to near-perfection.
Obviously it tasted like hot milk to me, with some coffee notes to it; I used the Decaffeinato since I can’t see why I’d ever care to purchase caffeine-free espresso capsules.
To note, and to its credit, the milk canister rinses clean with virtually no fuss. I have an old espresso machine which has to be disassembled to clean the milk goop completely, which severely limits my interest in frothing milk with it. The Nespresso rekindles an interest in creating milky drinks for others.
Macchiatos were by far the most fun to make. I don’t have proper clear-glass coffee drink holders, so Belgian beer glassware was employed to great effect. The macchiato starts with the hot milk and froth, and the espresso is poured sloooowly down the side to create an espresso-colored gradient in the glass. I think for a first try, this went quite well, and with a little less milk — and a rich, roasty Arpeggio capsule — this was a definite winner, and a coffee drink to impress houseguests.
Using another of the decaf capsules, I created a decaf latte. Using just the standard stirrer — if you don’t stir the milk, I expect it films up the inside and tastes a bit burnt and gross — I let the Nespresso heat a little milk, added it to my regular-size coffee cup, and in a minute and a half, I had a pretty good decaf latte.
Overall? I like the Nespresso machine. I really like it, and as Yvo mentioned in her recap of our latest potluck, it would make a great centerpiece to a coffee bar at any gathering. For my realistic use, though? I think at a retail price of around $349, I’d have to really dedicate myself to espresso and lattes. Maybe if I lived with someone who constantly went to the local chain coffee shop for a daily latte, this would appeal more. Maybe if there were a way to procure cheaper, high-quality espresso capsules, I would be swayed. If you do, however, drink an espresso after dinner, before work, et cetera, then a Nespresso is a fairly foolproof way to deliver a very good shot to you every time. It is definitely a luxury item, but at least a luxury item that performs a useful task consistently and wonderfully. I thank Nespresso and its PR agency for their generosity, and I’ve had a wonderful month of enjoying espresso courtesy of them.
Please note that the espresso machine and all ancillary products were courtesy of Nespresso and their PR. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor was I obliged in any way to post about the machine and its abilities, positively or otherwise. This is my own opinion and I feel it was unbiased; you are free to take from this what you will.