In this post I’m exploring the idea of Nespresso machines being an alternative brewing method for speciality coffee, via Nespresso compatible pods, and I’m sharing my very recent experience of having started to do this. Some of the discoveries I’ve made have really surprised me, and I hope it will make for an interesting read.
Nespresso pods are not something I would usually associate with speciality coffee. Pod / capsule machines are designed for mainstream coffee lovers, folk who just want to slide in a coffee capsule and press a button, aren’t they?
Speciality coffee lovers like us on the other hand are enthusiasts, coffee is a hobby for us, we’re not the mainstream. Not only do we not mind spending time to get the best possible taste we can from our coffee, but we want to do it, it’s part of what makes coffee special for us, and I think most speciality coffee lovers would agree with that. We’re also more willing to invest in the cost of prosumer equipment, and give up big portions of available kitchen worktop space to bigger machines.
Speciality coffee enthusiasts are the thin end of the wedge, and the roughly 35 to 40 BILLION coffee pods / capsules that Nespresso alone have reportedly sold so far (an estimate based on a report produced a few years ago) I think is enough evidence that Nespresso customers represent the mainstream, and if it isn’t then their nearly 6 million Facebook followers, and their several million (about 8 million I think, that figure may be out of date) Nespresso club members are also good indicators.
So why am I thinking about Nespresso machines?
I like spending time making my coffee, and much to the annoyance of my wife ;-), there is little room for anything else on our kitchen worktop with the space taken up by the espresso Machine, my Sage smart grinder pro, bags of coffee, and all manner of other coffee brewers & peripheral equipment. I will never grow tired of opening bags of freshly roasted coffee beans, and the aroma that comes from grinding them, and I wouldn’t like the idea of opting for more convenient pre-ground solutions.
But I have seen Nespresso machines in action, and I do understand the attraction when it comes to convenience. Press a button, the machine is on, 25 seconds or so later it’s warmed up and ready, stick the pod in, press the button, walk away with your coffee a matter of seconds later. While I wouldn’t want to do this all the time, there are situations in which being able to do this would be very handy.
What has always put me off the most about coffee pod machines is that I don’t want to drink commodity coffee. My opinion when it comes to any of the coffee pods or capsules coming from any of the coffee giants, is that it’s commodity coffee grown, purchased and roasted in immense volumes, and stored for who knows how long before it even ends up on a shelf anywhere to be purchased. I don’t want to drink this kind of coffee, I don’t usually enjoy it much when I do, and the kind of coffee I prefer to drink is high quality freshly roasted coffee beans roasted recently by a small batch coffee roaster.
But the reason I began to think about Nespresso machines, is that some speciality coffee roasters are also beginning to aim at this huge market by offering their great quality coffee in compatible pods, which has made me begin to view Nespresso machines in a different light, as potentially another great convenient brewing method for speciality coffee.
I’ve been using my new Nespresso machine for the past few days, with compatible pods, and this is what I’ve figured out so far.
Nespresso is a brewing method in it’s own right.
One thing I realised as soon as I started using my new Nespresso machine, is that actually although capsules are referred to as espresso or Lungo pods, Nespresso machines don’t actually produce espresso. This is probably going to be a contentious issue, but as far as I’m concerned Nespresso is similar to espresso, it has crema, it looks and tastes similar, but it’s not espresso. I’m not saying it’s not as good as espresso, I’m saying it isn’t espresso, it’s different.
The pressure is actually higher in Nespresso machines than espresso, the temperature is slightly lower, and the percentage of coffee is lower. The result is that what Nespresso is a brewing method in it’s own right. It’s an alternative way to enjoy coffee, but it’s not an alternative way to make espresso, it’s a different drink.
In the video below, three times UK Barista Champion and World Barista finalist Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood talks in depth about the difference between Nespresso and espresso, and gives some great info on brewing speciality coffee via Nespresso.
Cost. Nespresso pods are both cheap and expensive at the same time.
When you calculate the actual dry weight of the coffee in a pod & ignore the cost of the pod and the production cost of grinding the coffee and filling the pods etc., it works out very expensive per kilo. The Nespresso 200 capsule assortment available from Nespresso.com is £67.20, which is 34p per coffee capsule. Nespresso coffee capsules contain around 6g of coffee on average, so 200 coffee capsules will contain a dry weight of around 1.2 kilo. £67.20 for 1.2K, is £56 per kilo. £56 / 4 = £14, so that’s fourteen quid per 250g.
This price is nearly double the average price of great quality speciality coffee beans from a small batch roaster, but actually you’re not just paying for the coffee, you’re paying for the pod and the cost involved in filling the pod. Also, Nespresso coffee is different as I said earlier, there is a smaller ratio of coffee to water, so if we were to compare the price per coffee instead, the figures would look much different.
If we say that a double espresso usually takes 18g of coffee (I only ever make double espresso), and there’s on average 6g in a pod, Nespresso pods are about 3 times more economical in terms of how much ground coffee beans are being used per coffee. This is why I say that they’re cheap and expensive at the same time, it just depends on what you focus on. If you were to focus on dry weight of coffee, then it seems very expensive in terms of the per kilo cost, but if you were to look at the price of a coffee made via Nespresso, it works out cheap.
When I look at the cost of most of the Nespresso compatible pods that are being sold with speciality coffee, the pricing makes them fairly reasonable when compared to the price of a cup via espresso or Filter.
Are compatible pods legal?
Yes. In the same way that a toaster manufacturer can’t license the user to only toast their bread in it, or a tea pot manufacturer can’t force the user to only brew tea in it supplied by the manufacturer, or a car manufacturer can’t force a user to only use one brand of petrol – as much as they would like to (and tried to), Nespresso can’t restrict the freedom of consumers by stopping others from producing pods which fit their machines.
This was basically (in more plain English) what the judge said in a high court ruling, where they were trying to use their patent to stop Dualit from supplying compatible pods. See Nespresso Patent Roasted in the High Court. So you have nothing to worry about when it comes to using compatible pods. They can’t void your warranty for use of compatibles either, they did try for a while but in 2014 there was another ruling which makes it clear that it is anti-competitive for Nespresso to void warranties due to the use of compatible capsules.
I’m not slagging Nespresso off for this kind of behaviour by the way, it’s exactly what you would expect from a mammoth company like this, they will use all the muscle they have to protect their market share against competition for as long as they can. The big printer firms got away with this kind of behaviour for decades, and in fact some of the printer firms are still getting away with voiding warranties for using compatible inks, I know this from experience.
Availability. Who is supplying compatible pods?
I’ll do reviews at a later stage, at this point I’m just sharing the info ref who is currently supplying compatible Nespresso pods in the UK.
Real Coffee specialise in compatible pods, and they look really interesting. They’re a Scandinavian firm who’ve done well over there from what I can see. They seem to have a really good variety of compatible capsules.
Pact coffee launched their compatible Nespresso pods a few months back, they have a limited range currently but I’m assuming this will increase over time.
Roastworks in Devon offer freshly roasted speciality coffee via Nespresso compatible pods, their range looks nice.
Colonna Coffee, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood’s (who you can see in the video above) company offers Nespresso compatible pods.
Volcano Coffee Works in Brixton offer compatible pods which are listed as 100% compostable, and they seem to have a really nice variety.
I’m sure there are more, and over time I’ll be trying them and sharing my thoughts.
Are Coffee Capsules Bad for the Environment?
Coffee pods (including but not exclusive to Nespresso) have had some bad publicity within the past year or two because of their impact on the environment due to used pods hitting landfill, so this was something I considered when I was thinking about getting one.
A massive amount of capsules are consumed each year, in fact it’s estimated that by 2020 there will be more coffee pods being used in the UK than tea bags, and that’s really saying something! Many suppliers of coffee pods are keen to state that their pods are 100% recyclable, but this doesn’t mean that they will be recycled. In fact somewhere in the region of 12,000 – 15,000 non biodegradable coffee pods hit landfill per second, worldwide. That’s, er… a lot!
Volcano coffee advertise that their pods are 100% compostable, and that’s interesting, just emptying the box of used pods into the compost is very quick and easy to do, but even then it’s hard to guess at what percentage of users will put in the small amount of effort required to do this. Having said that, if a 100% compostable pod does end up in landfill I would assume that it will just turn into compost and won’t have the negative impact that it would if it wasn’t made from biodegradable material?
But this is a complex issue, packaging waste isn’t the only consideration when it comes to environmental impact. Other things to take into account are the amount of coffee being used, the amount of brewed coffee being wasted, electricity usage, lifespan of the machine and other factors. The report Life Cycle Assessment of coffee consumption: comparison of single-serve coffee and bulk coffee brewing, concludes that at least when it comes to electric drip machines, capsule machines come out on top in terms of environmental friendliness even taking into account the increased packaging waste.
I’m not sure what the results would be when comparing to Espresso, but the fact that there is more coffee used to make Espresso would be at least one factor that would tip the scales to some degree in terms of overall environmental impact. Growing, picking, processing, transporting & roasting coffee beans I would imagine account for a big chunk of the overall carbon footprint of coffee consumption, so how much coffee is used per cup I am sure is important when it comes to working out the impact on the environment of any particular brewing process.
What I think of the Nespresso machine so far.
This isn’t a review, I’ll create a separate review post when I’ve spent a bit longer using the machine, this is just my first impressions after having had some use of the machine over the past few days. The machine I have is the Nespresso CitiZ in Piano Black, it’s a lovely looking little machine, it feels very nice quality, the silver bits on it are metal rather than plastic, and it all feels very good quality for such a comparatively inexpensive coffee machine.
It’s amazingly simple to use. 1: Take out of box 2: press button. Other than plugging it in and cleaning the water tank prior to filling it, there wasn’t anything else to do. I’ve never had a Nespresso machine before, but still I didn’t need to read the instructions. I did just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I really didn’t need to as it was obvious what I needed to do, really straight forward.
The warm up speed is just incredible, about 25 seconds. Using the machine is very fast, slap the pod in, press one of two buttons (espresso or lungo), and coffee ready in approx 20 seconds.
Programming the machine in terms of volume for the two coffee options is just a case of pressing and holding the button until you’ve got the amount of coffee you want with that option, and it then remembers your choice, and you can easily re-set it back to factory settings if you wish. I really like the way the tank just pulls out to be filled, I find it very easy to get the tank off and back on again without being able to properly see what I’m doing, which is handy if you’re using this machine in a small slot in a cramped kitchen, as I am.
The taste of the coffees I’ve been trying have far surpassed my expectations to be honest. As I said earlier, it isn’t as strong or intense as espresso, but most of the compatible pods I’ve been trying so far have tasted very nice. The first compatible pods I’ve been trying are from Real Coffee, and I’m very impressed.
Talking of the machines, there are a lot of options, some of the Dualit machines look very nice, and it’s largely down to Dualit that we have this opportunity now when it comes to compatible pods. It was Dualit who stood up against the mighty Nestle’ in a David and Goliath-esque court case, which Dualit won. The Dualit Classic machine in particular looks very nice!
Sage by Heston Blumenthal offer the Nespresso Creatista machine, which is a very classy looking machine and comes equipped with steam wand! I know from first hand experience how great Sage products can be, I’ve had my Sage smart grinder pro now for over a year and it’s a brilliant grinder for the money, and I spent a week with the oracle about 18 months ago, which is a very clever semi auto Espresso machine.
Conclusion: Nespresso machines are a different way to drink speciality coffee, via compatible pods.
They’re relatively inexpensive, they’re fast, they’re compact, they heat up fast, & they’re environmentally economical in terms of the electricity they use (the CitiZ machine I have comes with an auto off setting, and seeing as it only takes 25 seconds to heat up I think that makes sense) and thanks to compatible pods, they can be used to enjoy high quality coffee.
I also think they represent a HUGE market for small batch coffee roasters, and I would imagine that the number of roasters offering their great coffee via pods will increase a great deal over the next few years. In 2013 this is money stated that there were around 2.5 million Nespresso machines in the UK, I can’t find any official figures but I would imagine this number has increased in the meantime. This is millions of people who could be enjoying fantastic quality coffee via their machines from small batch roasters rather than being locked into buying from Nespresso. While I expect that some of these consumers have really bought into the Nespresso brand, I would expect that a good percentage of users would be interested in trying compatible pods if they were made aware of their existence.
My plan with the Nespresso machine is to continue to use it as yet another great brewing process. I brew with my espresso machine, The Oomph (my main brewer of choice in the office), V60, Aeropress, Cafetiere, and now I have the Nespresso machine as another string to my bow.
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