Wake up your taste buds, because we’re finally going to do something that we’d been planning for a long time: to compare the new and exciting Nespresso vs the classic and renowned espresso.
With Nespresso advocated becoming a more common sight these days, hardcore life-long Espresso drinkers are gradually coming to terms with the fact that there might be a worthwhile challenger out there.
To understand these two, we’re going to go back to their roots and see what separates them and also, ironically, what makes them very similar to each other.
Let’s Start with the Oldest of the Two: The Espresso
The espresso was, in its time, the true convenient coffee. Unlike other brewing forms, which involved numerous tools and several minutes of just brewing, the espresso was seen as something “instantaneous.”
Coffee could now be consumed with ease, being able to order and get your drink right away instead of having to wait for someone to make the drink through infusion methods or others, such as pour-over.
Although the Espresso machine’s invention was something quite revolutionary, it did not make its way into popular culture until decades after the technology had been available. It wasn’t until people started seeing the potential of this technology for serving many people at once that “espresso bars” started appearing, first in Italy, forming a culture created around coffee, but more specifically about the espresso drink.
The History of Nespresso
It was invented, at first, to rival the convenience of coffee shops. The technology was invented to make espresso without operating any tools or machines; instead, a capsule with an appropriate dose for a single espresso would be inserted into the machine. With the push of a button, it would make an espresso.
Though the technology was excellent and the quality very good, the idea was not well received at first. It took about 30 years for capsule coffee to be seen as an option for consumers. (Meanwhile, though, a capsule system was available but restricted to industrial use, such as for coffee vending machines made by Nespresso)
It took decades until, through marketing. Due to a rising need for quick and easy ways to drink coffee, the general public embraced the capsule coffee system—and even more convenient coffee than the king of fast, suitable coffee.
If you’re new to the Nespresso world, be sure to view our guide on How to Use a Nespresso Machine with Ease.
Extraction: Espresso vs Nespresso
The brewing principle is pretty much the same with these two: Use extreme pressure to make hot water pass through your coffee grounds. The raw force accelerates the time you need coffee to brew; If you wanted to get such a high concentration of coffee in the same amount of water, you would need to steep for more than five minutes. And it wouldn’t taste the same.
So, pressure: both machines rely on pump pressure to pass hot water through the grounds.
Espresso machines usually have two or more group heads where the hot water/steam comes out. You attach the portafilter there. The portafilter is a basket full of grounds with a metallic filter at the bottom and one single exit for the coffee. It has a handle so it is easy to carry around and you don’t burn yourself.
Nespresso capsules are, more or less, the same as this. Capsules have ground coffee inside and, at the bottom, there is a filter. At the top, where the portafilter would be completely open, small holes are poked in the case of capsules. When hot water is passed through the capsule, the bottom lid ruptures, letting your brewed coffee pass through.
Taste: Nespresso vs Espresso
Espresso was very famous in its day because its taste was regarded as far superior to any other method of brewing coffee.
Though very similar in taste, since it is a very identical brewing method, there are many variables in making espresso that are entirely out of Nespresso’s game.
First of all, to make espresso, you need coffee beans. What’s best about this is that you get to choose from a vast range of coffee beans, or, if you buy ground coffee, pretty much also an extensive range of ground coffee.
Then comes the grind: You can almost always tweak the grind setting a little finer or coarser, depending on your taste. After it’s done, you pour it into the portafilter, and it’s time to tamp: this, too, is a variable. You can choose to leave grounds a little loose or make it tight in there– whatever you choose. Both will have an impact on flavor.
Aside from this, there are also variables like the type of machine, the water temperature, and other trivial things.
Nespresso vows to eliminate any variables: Capsules all the same. The machine will brew each capsule the same, at the same (optimal) temperature, in the same amount of time. Every time.
Still not convinced to try Nespresso? Here are 14 reasons why you need a Nespresso machine.
As much as this is a good thing to optimize the quality of the coffee (since you are not giving room for human error), they say that variety is the spice of life, which is very restricted when it comes to Nespresso. It also seriously alienates you from your coffee.
One step in a very good direction for Nespresso is their recent Vertuo capsules. These capsules not only come in different sizes, containing different amounts of ground coffee each, but they also come with a barcode that they special VertuoLine machines will read. The barcode contains information about brewing this particular kind of coffee: According to that information, it will change water temperature, water flow and volume, infusion time, and revolution per minute (which we’ll take about in a sec).
Let’s lay down and compare the process of making an Espresso vs that of making a Nespresso. That way, it will be clear how many variables are there really, while also taking a look at the differences when making each type of coffee.
This is, more or less, the way espresso is prepared in most serious coffee shops:
- Grind coffee beans to a fine grind.
- Weigh grounds. It should be approx. 7 grams of ground coffee.
- Pour into the portafilter basket.
- Level and distribute evenly with your finger or tool.
- Tamp grounds until compact.
- Attach portafilter to the espresso machine. Start the machine.
- Place a coffee cup under the portafilter.
- Stop the shot after about 10 seconds.
Note: When to stop the shot is a very controversial topic among baristas. When in doubt, place a scale below your cup and tare it. The espresso drink should be about 30g in weight: stop the shot when you’ve reached that weight.
How a Nespresso coffee is made:
- Insert the desired capsule.
- Turn on the machine. Wait for it to heat (around 25 seconds)
- Press button.
See the difference between Nespresso vs espresso?
But to get to the bottom of the whole taste issue, we need to drink coffee. Since any excuse for drinking coffee is a good one, we sat down and had each cup of espresso made with ground coffee, and one cup of Nespresso made with Nespresso’s India capsules.
Since some of us started with the latter, others espresso; we compared notes, and this is, more or less, what we thought of each after having tasted both:
- Having chosen these two because of their intense, dark roasting, we found Koffee Kult’s coffee to be much stronger, although not unpleasantly so. The Nespresso was dark, but not as much as expected.
- Though Koffee Kult’s coffee had a pleasant cocoa/cinnamon aroma, the India Monsoon Malabar coffee was a clear winner here. It has a lot of aroma and flavor that kick in all of a sudden. Though the first one had a much richer, more lingering taste, the Nespresso one was more sophisticated and unanimously tastier.
- Koffee Kult’s body was very, very good. It has an incredible mouthfeel, making you reassured that you’re drinking the good stuff. However, Nespresso’s India lacked in that department, leaving no real impression on anybody regarding its body or texture.
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VertuoLine: Nespresso, but better
As we said before, the method of brewing a cup of espresso and a Nespresso coffee is, give or take, the same.
But in recent efforts to better their capsule system, Nespresso has developed a new, better method of making capsule coffee.
The idea starts with the capsules: with a flat lid but a different shape which is much more round, like a semicircle, they come in five different sizes, to accommodate five different coffees: Ristretto, espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, Americano, and Alto.
But the real magic here happens during the brewing process. Now, VertuoLine capsule coffee cannot be brewed in any single-serve machine: You need a specially equipped machine that only Nespresso makes (VertuoLine coffee makers).
Once you insert the capsule, a whole new method takes over: This brewing method, called Centrifusion, relies on the centrifugal force –which means it spins the capsule instead of using pump pressure to extract the coffee- and infusion.
These new machines can reach velocities of up to 7,000 spins per minute, depending on what the capsule calls for.
Learn more about the Vertuoline in our article Nespresso VertuoLine and Original Compared and Reviewed.
Was it Necessary?
Yes, and no. Capsule coffee is already comparable to espresso as it is. There isn’t a need to develop a whole other kind of machine that can only work with a whole different type of capsule; it can seem as though it’s just for the sake of exclusivity.
On the other hand, the capsule coffee system is minimal. You can only make a certain amount of coffee at a time because all capsules contain pretty much the same amount of coffee, while VertuoLine capsules come in five different sizes, which expand the list of coffee drinks you can make.
Its limitations extend to brewing too. In brewing, you usually adjust to the specific type of coffee that you want to drink. If you’re brewing from a very dark roast, you’ll be extra careful not to let it brew longer than it needs because you’ll end up with an undrinkable cup of coffee, and Vertuo machines make up for this. Each capsule has a barcode imprinted on it.
The machine will read this barcode, which provides information regarding five brewing variables: Revolutions per minute, infusion time, water temperature, flow, and volume.
This is, without a doubt, an excellent improvement for single-serve coffee because it allows a necessary adjustment to the needs of each coffee; you wouldn’t brew specialty coffee the same way you’d brew cheap ground coffee from the store, right? And that’s the point of Vertuo.
Final thoughts: Espresso vs Nespresso
Espresso could never be replaced by another method, no matter how good it may be. It was the espresso that gave way to coffee culture, as well as a whole world of espresso-based drinks.
But Nespresso is not here to replace anything; it just wants to offer good quality espresso, which is, at the same time, convenient. If you see a Nespresso machine in your future, learn our proper Nespresso machine maintenance tips in our article Definitive Guide to Proper Nespresso Maintenance. Check it out now!
Making a good espresso requires a lot of practice, knowledge. More importantly, it requires an investment that many people are not prepared to make: A coffee grinder, an espresso machine, etc.
For people who unfortunately don’t have the time and energy to learn how to operate (and take proper care of) these machines, making espresso at home -much less a good one- is just something they would only dream about.
And that’s where Nespresso comes in; you don’t need to learn how to work a complex machine because Nespresso coffee maker rarely has more than just a couple of buttons. And the coffee comes already grounded and ready to be put in the machine. But, above all of this, it’s the quality. Because you could just as well make instant coffee; it’s much cheaper, quicker, and easier. But Nespresso coffee tastes like something made by a barista, like a coffee you would get at a good coffee place.