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Nespresso vs Espresso: The same, or two different things?

Nespresso and espresso may sound similar but they’re actually quite different. Do Nespresso machines make espresso? Or are they different things? Learn more in our Nespresso vs Espresso comparison.

Nespresso Essenza Mini Original Espresso Machine by De'Longhi, Black
Breville the Barista Express Espresso Machine, BES870XL

Nespresso Vs Espresso Compared

To look at the differences and similarities between Nespresso and espresso, we’ll look at 5 aspects: brewing method, shot and taste, flexibility, ease of brewing, and cost.

Machine

Nespresso

Nespresso machines are technically espresso machines, but they’re also not! Nespresso machines use 19 bars of pressure to brew a shot of coffee from grounds packed in a capsule.

Nespresso and other manufacturers make a large variety of capsules that contain different coffee blends. The grind size is typically similar to that of espresso, but the amount of coffee is much less. Nespresso capsules contain between 8-10 grams of coffee per capsule.

You just pop the capsule in the machine, press a button, and 25 seconds later, you’ll have a shot of (N)espresso in front of you ready to be enjoyed.

Espresso

Espresso is a lot more complicated! The end result is the same volume of coffee: 1.5 to 2 ounces per shot, but there is a lot more involved in the brewing process.

According to Coffeeresearch.org, espresso is defined as:

Espresso coffee brewing is defined by four “M’s”: the Macinazione is the correct grinding of a coffee blend, Miscela is the coffee blend, Macchina is the espresso machine, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista. When each factor of the four M’s is precisely controlled, the espresso beverage that is produced is the ultimate coffee experience.

Brewing espresso requires getting the four M’s right. You need to grind the coffee to the correct consistency, tamp the coffee with the right amount of pressure into the portafilter, and finally pull the shot.

The minimum required pressure for espresso is 8 to 9 bars. Most home machines use 15 to 19 bars, though. Original espresso is pulled manually using a lever machine, though electric brewers are also considered to be legitimate.

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The main factors are the coffee beans, the grind consistency and size, and the tamp. Then either the machine takes over or the barista’s technique takes over.

Resulting shot and taste

Nespresso

Nespresso shots look like a typical espresso shot to the unassuming observer. Indeed, they may also taste quite similar, as the shot is much stronger than a typical dripped coffee and there is a thick layer of crema on top.

However, ask a coffee enthusiast or a professional barista and they’ll say that the Nespresso coffee is less bodied and less acidic than a proper espresso.

Some even consider the flavors of a Nespresso machine shot to be a little off. Again, it depends on who you ask: a coffee professional will be able to pick up on much more sensitive nuances than someone who is not used to it and does not know what to look for.

Espresso

A shot of espresso will look quite similar to a shot of Nespresso coffee. Indeed, if I were to pull both shots and put them in front of you without telling you which is which, you may not be able to tell the difference.

Generally, quality espresso is a much more full-bodied coffee than something made from a Nespresso machine. There’s also a lot more acidity, and a good espresso will have the signature crema on top, too.

Crema is sometimes considered to be the hallmark of a good espresso, but in reality, it does not do much to contribute to the taste. In fact, many people remove the crema before drinking!

Flexibility

Nespresso

Nespresso machines are quite rigid and once you buy one, you’re locked into their ecosystem. OriginalLine machines are compatible with third party pods(you’ll void the warranty, but they work) and refillable pods, but VertuoLine machines are locked into Nespresso-only pods for the most part.

You’ll have to get your coffee from a very limited number of suppliers, too.

As far as the machine itself is concerned, there’s not much you can do besides use the pre-set buttons to brew coffee.

Espresso

Espresso machines are far more flexible as you have much more room for experimentation. You can tweak the kinds of coffee beans you use, the fineness of the grind, the intensity of the tamp, and with manual machines, the time taken to pull the shot.

There’s a lot of scope to experiment and customize.

Ease of brewing

Nespresso

Here’s where Nespresso has a huge advantage, and this is their main selling point: the convenience and ease of use. There’s almost no margin of error to make espresso in a Nespresso: all you have to do is pop in the capsule, push a button, and that’s it.

You don’t have to worry about coffee beans, the consistency of your ground coffee, the pressure of your tamp, or anything else.

As far as convenience goes and beginner-friendliness, Nespresso wins.

Espresso

As you read above, espresso is a much more involved brewing process and there are a lot of variables you can tweak and play around with to really customize your shot.

This also means that there are that many more things that can go wrong!

Did you choose a poor coffee bean? Your espresso will turn out bad.

Did you grind too coarse? Your espresso will turn out bad.

Did you tamp unevenly? Your espresso will turn out bad.

Did you pull for too little or too much time? Your espresso will turn out bad!

However, if you can get the variables right, espresso will be the most magical and exquisite cup of coffee you ever drank in your life.

As a beginner, so many variables can be overwhelming. Experienced coffee brewers will relish the amount of control that a proper espresso machine gives them, though. To them, there’s no way to make espresso besides having as much control over the variables as possible.

Cost

Nespresso

As far as espresso machines go, most Nespresso machines are on the cheaper side. An entry level machine costs around $150.

Even the higher end machines such as the Latissima go for around $600 or so.

The real cost of Nespresso is the capsules, which can become very expensive. One capsule is between $0.70 to $2.00 depending on the type of coffee you’re using.

Yikes!

That’s a lot more than buying coffee beans and grinding them yourself.

There’s also an environmental cost, as each spent pod goes in the trash. Nespresso and other companies have started recycling their pods, so you can collect your spent pods and send them back to the company.

Espresso

Espresso machines come in a wide variety of price ranges. A simple espresso machine can be found for less than $150, whereas a higher end super automatic espresso machine will set you back $600 or more.

With an espresso machine, you get what you pay for. Semi automatic espresso machines are the sweet spot between budget and control, but a super automatic espresso machine will afford you the best mix of control and being hands off.

A super automatic espresso machine will grind the beans, let you adjust the size of the grind, the strength of the shot, and the amount of water used.

You can also opt for manual espresso machines which you operate with a lever and this is the most hands on method.

These can be found for $150 all the way up to $1000.

With an espresso machine, the initial cost is high, as you’ll also need accessories like a grinder and a tamper, but the residual cost is low as coffee beans can be found for relatively budget prices.

Conclusion

Nespresso and espresso are similar in some ways, but very different in others. Folks who prefer convenience and not having to worry about the manual aspects of a brew will welcome the ability to brew a shot of decent espresso quickly and without much effort from a Nespresso machine.

Coffee enthusiasts and hobbyists who want more control and want to learn more about coffee and espresso will enjoy using an espresso machine and the control and flexibility it affords.

Frequently asked questions

Do Nespresso machines make espresso?

Nespresso is not real espresso by definition, as proper espresso must be made from freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee beans, tamped into a portafilter, and pulled using 9 or greater bars of pressure. There’s no room in the definition of espresso for capsules.

That said, the shot pulled from a Nespresso machine is remarkably similar to espresso and an undiscerning observer may not be able to tell the difference.

Which Nespresso capsule is best for espresso?

Espresso tends to work best with medium-dark to dark roasts, so choose a Nespresso pod that uses medium-dark to dark roasts. On the Nespresso intensity scale, go for something above 6.

Last update on 2020-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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About Shabbir

Shabbir is the Chief Caffeine Officer at Coffee In My Veins. When he's not weighing out coffee beans for his next brew, you can find him writing about his passion: coffee.

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