The Best Nespresso Machine
Should You Buy a Nespresso Machine?
The coffee pod revolution might seem like a recent phenomenon: in 2005, a mere 1% of US homes had a single-cup coffee machine; by 2020, four out of every 10 homes had a single-cup brewer—most of them pod brewers, those easy-to-use coffee machines that seem to work like magic: insert a small, sealed cup of ground coffee, fill the tank with water, and press a button. And just like that, coffee appears.
But Nespresso has been in the pod coffee brewing game for a long time—since 1976, to be precise. And even with the proliferation of other competitors, they continue to be the leader in this market. The word “Nespresso” feels like it’s becoming synonymous with single-cup pod brewers, much as brands products from like Band-Aid and Kleenex have entered the generic lexicon.
However, just because something has been around for a while—and has become ubiquitous within the at-home coffee brewing market—doesn’t mean it’s good. So we decided to test one of Nespresso’s most popular models, and see if it’s worth your hard-earned money.
How Do Nespresso Machines Work?
It’s kind of a wild story: “In 1975, a young engineer named Eric Favre took a trip to Rome that would change the history of coffee,” writes Ed Cumming for The Guardian. Favre, who worked for Nestlé, noticed a crowd of people at a particular coffee shop in the city and realized that the baristas were pumping the piston of their espresso machine repeatedly (this was likely with a lever machine, where baristas have to pull down a lever to pressurize the brewing water and force it through a puck of coffee).
“This meant they forced more water and air into the ground beans, which meant greater oxidization, which drew out more flavor from the beans and produced more of a crema,” Cumming writes. “In the history of at-home premium coffee, this is perhaps the closest anyone has ever come to a eureka moment.”
Farve used the observation in the cafe to develop the brand’s first single-serve coffee brewer. All pod brewers work slightly differently, but their technology is based on relatively the same idea: Coffee grounds are preserved in a sealed container usually made of aluminum. A small needle is inserted into the capsule, pressurized hot water is added, and out comes espresso.
In 2012, a number of Nespresso patents expired—specifically, their patent for the actual pods themselves, the little aluminum canisters filled with coffee. That allowed other brands to make pods compatible with Nespresso machines and helped usher in a new era of at-home coffee brewing. Now, pod-based brewers are as important an amenity in hotels and AirBnBs as running water and WiFi.
What’s particularly confusing about this, however, is how Nespresso achieves “crema” in their drinks. Traditionally, crema is trapped carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules—CO2 is produced during roasting, but dissipates over time so the fresher the coffee, the more CO2; you generally don’t see crema on coffee unless it’s brewed using a pressurized brew method like espresso (most of the CO2 is released when brewing with a pour over set up when water hits the brew bed—that’s why you’ll see bubbles pop out during the first initial pour, particularly for fresh coffee).
But the Nespresso pods are not fresh and yet, every single drink, from their single espressos to their coffee-sized sippers, has crema. The coffee was ground who knows when, and when you try actually brewing them—like, ripping the pods open and using the ground coffee on a pourover brewer—there’s no crema. I have to imagine this centrifusion has something to do with the resulting crema, but I’m not sure.
If making coffee with a pourover setup or on a manual espresso machine is like making toast by baking bread from scratch, then using a Nespresso is like buying a loaf of pre-sliced bread and throwing a few pieces in the toaster; there’s absolutely no “craft” to the process: all you do is select your pod, pop in into the machine, and press go.
I write the above sentence with absolutely no disdain. Sometimes you’ve got all weekend to make a dough, simmer a sauce, and lovingly put together a homemade pizza. Other times, you want to throw something frozen in the oven and have dinner ready in 20 minutes. If your main objective is to simply get coffee delivered to you hot, quickly, and consistently, then the Nespresso is a pretty good investment.
First off, this Nespresso Machine is fast. Like, scary fast. When I brewed one of the smaller pods—the ones meant for espresso-style drinks—it took one minute and three seconds for the coffee to brew. That’s wild considering that the water in the brewing tank is about room temperature, so the machine is able to get water to around 200°F absurdly fast. Coffees brewed with the larger pods didn’t take much more time than that: every drink was done within two minutes of pressing the brew button.
This Nespresso Machine is a well-designed machine. The brew tank is fully detachable and adjustable, so you can finagle it to fit whenever you’d like on your counter. Operating the brewer is also straightforward: all you do is press a lever , put a pod in, and press go. Once you open the lever again, the pod automatically slides into a disposal chute located behind the brewer. Honestly, these design touches feel a little excessive, but also fancy, like you’re working with a high-tech piece of equipment.
Lastly, the brewer offers a variety of coffee styles, so you can easily shake things up if you want to try something new. Most brewers can be divided into two categories: they either make espresso or they make drip coffee, but this Nespresso Machine seamlessly jumps between both. You don’t need to change any of the parameters on the brewer to pull a shot of espresso in the AM and a cup of filter coffee to round out your afternoon.
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