If you love espresso and want to start making it at home, you can easily become overwhelmed by the choices on the market, not least between buying a standard espresso machine or a Nespresso machine. Indeed, what even are the differences between the two, aside from the letter “N” prefixing the latter?
In reality, there are far more profound differences between the two than their names. This article compares the coffee makers side-by-side, examining the types of coffee each uses, the quality of the beverages they produce, and the long-term value for money of each. By the end of the article, you should have a far clearer idea of whether your espresso-brewing journey should – or shouldn’t – begin with an “N”!
Nespresso vs Espresso Comparison
At a glance:
- Cheaper than an average espresso machine
- Easier to use
- Quicker brewing time
- More compact
- Not authentic espresso
- The coffee choice is limited to Nespresso capsules
- More expensive per serving than using coffee beans
- Brews authentic espresso, including more appealing crema
- A wider choice of beans encompassing region, flavors, and roasts
- Potential for a cheaper cost per serving
- You will need barista skills
- Uses more counter space
- More expensive than Nespresso machines
- You’ll require an espresso grinder
Nespresso vs Espresso Machine
The beverages produced by Nespresso and espresso machines may look and taste similar, but the ways each gets your coffee from the machine to your cup are markedly different. Let’s explore those differences with a closer look at both types of machines.
How Do Nespresso Machines Work?
Nespresso single-serve coffee machines are easy to use. Simply put your Nespresso capsule in, press a button, and it will pull an espresso shot. In other words, it’s fully automatic.
There are many models of Nespresso machines. However, they all fit into one of two categories – OriginalLine and VertuoLine.
Nespresso OriginalLine Machine
Nespresso OriginalLine machines, including CitiZ, Essenza, and Inissia, and more, use approximately 19 bars of high pressure for pulling espresso shots. A needle punctures the capsule, which forces pressurized water to the grounds when brewing coffee. They usually brew either single or double espresso.
Nespresso VertuoLine Machine
Nespresso VertuoLine machines, including Vertuo Plus and Vertuo Next, adopt Centrifusion Technology that makes the capsule spin at high speed for flavor extraction and creating the crema. These machines brew either espresso or drip coffee-style beverages.
A few OriginalLine models froth milk, but for most of them, you’ll need a separate milk frother if you require milk-based espresso coffees.
Nespresso machines are significantly cheaper than traditional espresso machines. For example, a mid-priced Nespresso coffee maker is cheaper than an entry-level home espresso machine.
Also, most Nespresso machines are compact, making them ideal for people with limited kitchen countertop space. Take a look at our best Nespresso Machines reviews for more information.
How Do Espresso Machines Work?
Standard espresso machines have boilers that generate steam, pressurize the water, and force hot water through the coffee puck. To do this, they use between 9 and 15 bars of pressure. So, a real espresso machine extracts the flavor and produces the crema very quickly.
There are predominantly three types of espresso machines:
Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker
To pull great espresso shots with a semi-automatic machine, you’ll need some experience. You’ll also need to grind your beans to the correct size, tamp properly, and attach the portafilter to the brew head. Finally, to dial in the perfect shot of espresso, you’ll need technique and expertise.
Popular machines include the Gaggia Classic Pro, Breville Barista Express, and Rancilio Silvio. You can read our review of the top 10 semi-automatic espresso machines here.
Super-Automatic Espresso Maker
Fully automatic espresso machines are similar to Nespresso machines. However, one key difference is that the traditional espresso maker uses coffee beans, whereas the Nespresso machine uses capsules. At the push of a button, the super-automatic espresso machine grinds, tamps, and pulls your shot. Meanwhile, the entire brewing process uses the appropriate pressure. These machines are usually significantly more expensive than regular espresso machines or Nespresso coffee makers. Examples of this type of coffee machine include De’Longhi, Jura, and Saeco Xelsis. For more information, see our fully automated espresso machines reviews article.
Manual Lever Espresso Machine
Manual espresso machines are harder to use but offer greater control over the process. There is a more complex workflow and a steeper learning curve. However, in recent years, the availability of less expensive, easier to use manual espresso machines has increased. Examples include Flair and Rok. However, more established machines, such as those manufactured by La Pavoni, remain very expensive.
Most electric espresso machines have a steam wand, allowing you to steam and froth your milk to produce cappuccino, latte, and other milk-based espresso drinks.
There are many considerations when choosing an espresso machine. For example, the prices vary considerably, while there is a wide choice from entry-level machines to prosumer machines. As we mentioned earlier, another factor is their size. Most espresso machines are significantly larger than Nespresso machines, so you’ll need to consider the amount of space you have, as well as your budget.
The Coffee – Nespresso Pods vs Ground Coffee
Nespresso requires coffee capsules (or coffee pods), while espresso makers use coffee grounds. Let’s look more closely at how that makes each differ.
OriginalLine Nespresso machines use capsules that are all the same size and are well-sealed. You can find Nespresso compatible capsules from both Nespresso or third-party roasters, and there is a wide range of flavors.
VertuoLine machines are compatible with coffee capsules of assorted sizes. However, these capsules are only available from Nespresso.
Using coffee capsules is straightforward. You don’t need a coffee grinder, and there’s no need to worry about things like grind size and dosage.
They are also easy to transport and hassle-free. However, that convenience brings a cost – literally – as they are more expensive than using coffee beans. Your choices are also more limited than those offered by coffee beans.
Espresso usually requires fine coffee grounds for proper extraction. You can use any whole bean coffee you prefer and grind it to the appropriate size to achieve this. The catch? You’ll need an espresso grinder. If you grind the espresso beans too finely, the grounds will clog. However, too coarse, and the coffee will be under-extracted. So, to pull a perfect shot, you’ll need the perfect grind size.
You can get away with using pre-ground coffee if you use a pressurized portafilter, but the taste will be compromised compared to a non-pressurized basket.
Quality – Nespresso Coffee vs Espresso Coffee
Is Nespresso coffee authentic espresso? Can Nespresso even produce premium-quality coffee? Let’s try to answer those questions.
Nespresso coffee machines can correctly extract the coffee flavor using the appropriate pressure. They also create that appealing, all-important crema on top. However, due to the lack of freshness in the coffee and the brewing method, Nespresso coffee is not as tasty as a beautifully made espresso. The crema is also bubbly, and some coffee lovers find Nespresso beverages weaker and less flavorful – sometimes even a little watery.
On the plus side, Nespresso machines offer consistency, even if you’re a newbie, and the coffee is still decent – just not as good as espressos made with traditional machines.
If you brew espresso correctly using the proper grind size, brewing time, pressure, and temperature, you should have a coffee that will be intense, complex, and balanced. Undoubtedly, premium-quality espresso is far tastier and more satisfying than Nespresso.
However, if you don’t have the experience, or your grinder’s not up to the necessary standard, the espresso may be inconsistent, and the coffee’s flavor may suffer too.
Crema – Nespresso vs Espresso
Crema is a vital part of espresso. It forms when air bubbles interact with finely ground coffee’s soluble oils in the brewing process. Both Nespresso and traditional espresso makers produce crema that makes espresso more appealing and elevates the flavor.
Nespresso creates artificial crema via its pressurized brewing methods. However, its consistency is bubbly, so it doesn’t last for long in the cup.
The VertuoLine range produces crema from spinning the capsules. This creates thick crema on a large cup of coffee, which appeals to some coffee drinkers.
Espresso machines that have pressurized portafilters produce bubbly crema as well. However, it is more common in cheaper espresso machines. In contrast, more professional espresso makers that use standard filter baskets produce gorgeous, smooth crema that lasts for longer.
Required Skills – Nespresso vs Espresso
Pulling a shot with a Nespresso machine is so easy that you don’t need any barista skills. It’s as straightforward as inserting the coffee capsule and pressing a button. Then, the Nespresso will do the rest.
If you are using a completely automatic espresso machine, brewing an excellent espresso is as simple as using a Nespresso machine. However, you will pay more for the machine than a Nespresso machine.
If you’re using either a semi-automatic or manual-lever machine, it’s a far more complicated process pulling the ideal shot. To achieve this, you need to get several things just right, including grind size, dosage, brewing time, temperature, and pressure. For this reason, we don’t recommend that you try this if you’re a beginner, and, if you do, be prepared to encounter plenty of frustration and failure along the way!
However, once you have perfected your technique, having control over the brewing process is one of the most fulfilling experiences in domestic coffee brewing. Not only that, but your espresso shots will be coffee-shop quality.
Because of their compact sizes, Nespresso machines are a great option for anyone with limited kitchen countertop space. They are also affordable if you love espresso, want to make it at home, but don’t want to invest too much in a more expensive traditional espresso machine and high-quality grinder.
Nespresso machines are neat and compact, and there’s no real learning curve to brewing decent-quality espresso consistently. In other words, it’s an affordable, hassle-free option for beginner home brewers if you’re happy to compromise on some of the quality you can potentially get with a high-end traditional espresso machine.
Making espresso is one of the most complicated brewing processes you’ll ever encounter. However, suppose you have your heart set on a traditional espresso machine (rather than a Nespresso machine). In that case, you can take away much of the hassle with a fully automatic espresso machine. Like the Nespresso machines, these don’t require barista skills, so they are beginner-friendly. Better still, they save money on coffee over the long run as grounds are cheaper than Nespresso capsules.
If the idea of improving your barista skills is appealing, a semi-automatic espresso machine is a good option, as you can experiment. However, when considering your budget (and countertop space), keep in mind that with this option, you should also ideally invest in a separate, high-quality espresso grinder for the best results and consistent espresso.
If this describes you, your investment and effort to master your technique will be rewarded in the form of perfect, coffee-shop level shots of espresso.
We hope that this article has clarified the main differences between Nespresso and traditional espresso machines and that you now have a firm grasp of the advantages and disadvantages of both.
As we have explained, there are several things to consider before making your choice, from cost, countertop space, and learning curve, to the quality of the crema and choice of coffee flavors. However, ultimately, it will come down to your preference and priorities.
We have both! So, when we desire a hassle-free, quick and easy espresso, the Nespresso offers a perfectly decent option. However, when we have the time and inclination to make a higher-quality espresso shot, or if we’re trying out some premium-quality beans, the espresso machine gives us the best results.
Whichever you choose, hopefully, we have reassured you that regardless of experience, budget, and availability of space, making good espresso at home doesn’t need to be out of reach. Which option will you go for?