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Nespresso Vs Espresso: Which One Is Better?

Nespresso vs espresso – the same thing by a different name?

Not quite.

One is a type of machine that makes a convenient coffee at the touch of a button. The other is one of the most popular coffee drinks in the world.

In this article, I’ll break down all my barista knowledge of both Nespresso and espresso.

I’ll explain how they are similar and what makes them different.

Let’s get to it!

What is a Nespresso?

nespresso coffee

Nespresso is a company that makes capsule coffee machines.

They’re based in Switzerland and have been around since the 1980s.

If you’re familiar with the Keurig machine, Nespresso is very similar. Nespresso focuses on express-like drinks instead of mugs of coffee like Keurig.

Nespresso coffee maker uses pods to produce a drink that resembles and tastes similar to espresso.

The big selling point for Nespresso is the convenience.

All you have to do is insert a Nespresso capsule, close the lid, and press a button.

What is an Espresso?

espresso coffee

Espresso is the name given to a coffee drink that is small, intense, and brewed with a lot of pressure.

The trademark of the espresso is the crema. That’s the thin layer of light brown foamy coffee that sits on top of the espresso.

It comes from Italy and has been served in cafes for over 100 years. 

Espresso has come a long way in the last century. From thick, intense, and kind of tarry coffee to the sweet and subtle espressos of specialty shops today.

Espresso is the base for the most popular coffee drinks in the world today.

NOTE
Drinking espresso every day is healthy. However, if you overindulge in espresso shots, it can be mild to very unpleasant.

Nespresso vs Espresso: Differences and Similarities

Despite the similar-sounding names, Nespresso and espresso are actually very different things.

Let’s dive into what separates Nespresso from espresso.

The Machine

A Nespresso coffee machine is a small, countertop appliance. It uses coffee pods that are inserted at the top of the machine, just like Dolce Gusto coffee maker.

The lid closes and the coffee capsule is punctured. Pressurized hot water is forced through the capsule and into your cup.

There are a few different sizes you can choose from depending on which model you have. Choosing a different size determines how much coffee you get and how strong that coffee is.

Espresso machines come in a wide range of sizes. You can find espresso machines that can sit on your counter up through to huge industrial machines you would find at your local coffee shop.

These machines have a ton of technology and special parts inside of them that make espresso.

But you don’t really need to know all the inner workings of high-end espresso machines.

Instead, you should know that espresso machines mainly use steam to build up pressure. That pressure forces water through a finely-ground puck of coffee.

I like to use car analogies when I describe coffee machines, so here’s one to help understand the difference:

A Nespresso coffee machine is like a Toyota Carolla: reliable, convenient, and (relatively) simple.

An espresso maker is like a Mustang: more powerful, flashier, and specialized.

In a nutshell: Nespresso machines are intended for easy use at home. They are meant for anyone who wants the convenience of an espresso-like drink without much work. Espresso machines are more specialized. They require some background knowledge of how coffee extraction works.

The Drink

man tasting coffee

With two similar-sound names, you might be asking yourself, “Are these just the same drink?”

You’d be forgiven for assuming so.

The reality is these drinks are very similar. But they aren’t exactly the same.

An espresso is a very particular kind of coffee. It has a strong and intense taste and is generally about 2 oz.

The hallmark of an espresso is the crema: the light brown foamy layer at the top. The crema is full of oils that get extracted from the coffee because of the high pressure of the espresso machine.

You need the crema to create latte art and find a good texture for drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

A Nespresso comes very close to being espresso. But it doesn’t quite get there.

Yes, Nespresso produces a small and intense coffee. But it doesn’t produce enough pressure to have a full, delicious crema.

In my experience, Nespresso produces a coffee more akin to a Moka pot than an espresso.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

Nespresso coffee is delicious. 

There was a period in my life when I drank nothing but Nespresso. But the reality is that it just isn’t quite espresso.

Brewing Process

pouring coffee from machine

The biggest difference is that the Nespresso coffee maker uses coffee pods while espresso uses loose coffee.

What is a Nespresso coffee pod?

Glad you asked.

It’s a small, sealed capsule that contains pre-ground coffee. Nespresso makes all its own pods and sells a wide variety of flavors and coffees.

A Nespresso pod is placed into the machine and the lid closed. When the lid closes, the machine punctures the coffee pod. 

That opens up a channel for pressurized water to run through the coffee in the Nespresso capsule and out to your cup.

How is that different from espresso coffee?

Well, technically any coffee bean can be made into an espresso shot. It just matters how you brew it.

You first have to grind the coffee beans (if you aren’t using pre-ground coffee). It should be a very fine grind, much finer than you grind for a standard brewer.

Then you pack the portafilter (the handle-looking thing baristas use) and press the coffee into a puck.

That gets attached to the espresso machine and you pull the shot. Pulling an espresso shot means you allow pressurized hot water to run through the coffee ground and into the cup.

What makes these brews so different?

Nespresso takes all the guesswork out of coffee extraction. You don’t need to know anything about grind size, pressure, timing, or anything else that baristas have to worry about.

Brewing coffee with Nespresso is easy: you insert the pod and press a button.

Traditional espresso coffee takes a lot more work. You have to know the right grind size, amount, and temperature of the water, and how long to let your shot go, among other things.

But the end result is a more satisfying espresso.

In my opinion: Nespresso is great for its convenience. The machines are easy for literally anyone to use. But they don’t produce the best possible coffee. Espresso coffee, on the other hand, is really hard to get right and requires a ton of work. But it produces an incredibly delicious drink.

Taste

When I was first starting out as a barista, I wasn’t allowed to make drinks for customers for about four months.

That’s because I was training and learning how to craft perfect and consistent drinks. 

But the other big part of that was developing my palette.

I spent entire days sipping different coffees and espressos so I could start to differentiate between them.

Why do I bring this story up?

Because tasting coffee is important to me. My story might help you understand the taste difference between Nespresso and real espresso.

Nespresso tastes like coffee. Like your average diner’s coffee. A coffee you get for $0.25 at a gas station. There isn’t much complexity, not much sweetness.

They have a medium body, mild acidity, and okay aromas. Basically, it tastes smooth and standard.

An espresso, on the other hand, can taste incredible. It all depends, of course, on how it’s prepared and if quality coffee has been used.

Espresso can taste sweet, like pink lemonade. Or smooth and bold, like a bar of dark chocolate.

A good analogy is to think of cheese. I know I know – but bear with me.

Nespresso is like a slice of American cheese. It just tastes like, well, cheese.

Espresso is like a nice aged cheddar. It has more character, more flavor, and a unique experience.

In a nutshell: Nespresso has much less variance in quality, you always know what you’ll get. It tastes good, but there isn’t much room for it to get better. Espresso can taste great, or terrible, depending on the barista, the coffee, and so much else. But it has the potential to be a mind-altering cup of coffee.

Price

Nespresso is generally much more affordable than an espresso machine.

Good espresso machines easily cost you hundreds of dollars for the most basic features.

Nespresso machines top out at a couple hundred. (There are more expensive models, but these are cheaper than entry-level espresso machines.)

Why the difference in price?

Because there are just so many moving parts in an espresso machine. There’s a ton of technology under the hood of an espresso machine that just isn’t needed in Nespresso.

Nespresso found a way to produce consistent results while taking a lot of the work out of espresso machines.

That’s why they are so much cheaper.

My opinion: If you only have a couple of hundred dollars to spend, please don’t buy an espresso machine. You need to spend a lot more to get an espresso machine that can produce a mind-blowing espresso. (Not to mention how much knowledge and work each shot takes.) Buy a Nespresso machine for the consistently good coffee it produces, especially if you don’t plan on learning a lot about coffee.

Verdict

Nespresso isn’t just another name for espresso. It’s a company that makes pod-based coffee machines.

The coffee it makes is solid, tastes fine, and wins my heart for the convenience it offers.

Espresso is the name given to small, intense, and bold coffees made from pressurized water.

The coffee produced from Nespresso and espresso is similar. But Nespresso makes a drink more like strong brewed coffee than the smooth and velvety espresso.

Now you know the difference!

Interested in making espresso at home?

Check out our article on the best espresso machine for beginners!

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Craig Carey
Craig spent a year as a barista in Denver's specialty coffee world. He spends his days rock climbing, cycling, drinking espresso, and hanging around the Rocky Mountains. He still lives in Colorado.