How to use a Nespresso machine – this may seem to be obvious, you just stick the pod in and press the button? Well yes, if you’re a typical everyday coffee drinker and you’re not interested in fine-tuning to get the very best tasting coffee you possibly can from your Nespresso machine. But if you want to know how to REALLY use your Nespresso machine, for the best possible results, then keep reading.
1: Try Specialty Coffee Pods.
Yes Nespresso do a good range, but there is a huge range of compatible capsules out there now, meaning lots of choice, so you can try lots and discover your favourites. If you want premium, speciality coffee – these pods are available – if you want much cheaper Nespresso pods, these are available too.
By the way, if you’re looking for premium, speciality coffee pods – Pact coffee offer some lovely Nespresso compatible speciality pods – and I should know, I’ve consumed more than I can count ;-). Fancy trying some? Pact are offering coffee blog readers a fiver off! Click here to redeem the offer, or enter the discount code PODSNOW at pactcoffee.com.
I’m not saying, by the way, that there’s anything wrong with genuine Nespresso pods. On the contrary, I’ve tried dozens and dozens of their pods, and I’ve really enjoyed many of them. All I’m saying is that there is choice, there are many different pods out there that you can try, so you can figure out which are your favourite.
2: Ignore the Nespresso Factory Presets.
Your Nespresso machine is factory set in terms of the amount of water dispensed. The factory settings are usually 25 ml for Ristretto (if your Nespresso machine has a Ristretto setting), 40 ml for Espresso and 110ml for Lungo.
This preset setting isn’t necessarily spot on for all capsules though especially if you’re using compatible capsules, and there’s another way. Well, there are two other ways actually.
Alternative no1 – With Scales.
Get yourself a set of coffee scales, zero the scales with the mug in place and then weigh as you’re holding your finger on the button for the pod you’re using, stop when you reach the stated volume, which will re-set that program (Espresso/Lungo).
If you want to reset back to factory settings, with most machines it’s just a case of turning the machine off, then pressing and holding the Lungo button for approx 5 seconds, until the lights start flashing.
Alternative no2 – By Colour.
Make sure the room is well lit so you can clearly see the colour of the flowing coffee. Use a lamp, or your phone torch if needs be, as this method only works if you can very clearly see the colour of the coffee as it flows from the Nespresso machine.
Start the flow, and then stop it according to the colour changes as described below. You can either do this by pressing and holding the program buttons, which will reset them to the new volume, or press to start then press again to stop.
When the flow begins, you’ll see that the colour is a red/brown colour, this is the Ristretto colour.
The colour will then change to a lighter brown caramel colour, which is the Espresso colour. When the colour changes to a blonde/bright yellow colour, the extraction is finished and you’re just flushing water (and a small amount of residual over extracted coffee) through the pod and into the cup.
So if you’re using a Ristretto pod, simply stop the flow when you notice the change from dark red/brown to a lighter, caramel colour.
For Espresso, stop the flow when the colour changes from the Espresso caramel colour to the blonde colour.
I will admit though, this is harder to do with Nespresso than with traditional Espresso, as the Nespresso flow rate is faster, you really have to watch the flow carefully, and it will probably be sooner than you would assume.
Here’s something even more revolutionary ;-). Make Americano instead of Lungo…
For Lungo, use the lungo pod, but only hold the button until the flow changes to blonde – then stop. Use a kettle (off the boil, around 90 C ideally, easy if you have a temperature control kettle) to top up to the desired volume, just stop and taste so you don’t over dilute. If you use your machine in an office or somewhere else without access to a kettle then another option is to expel the pod and continue to top the cup up with hot water from the Nespresso machine without going through the pod.
If you do this, technically you’re making Americano, not Lungo. Try it, and see which you prefer.
The difference is, that with Americano, you’re diluting Espresso with fresh hot water, while with Lungo or “long black” you’re continuing to extract coffee, meaning that you’re extracting some of the bitter compounds that we wouldn’t usually be extracting.
I’m not saying that either one is better, I’m just saying that they’re slightly differnt, so you can try both and see which you prefer.
With lungo pods you’re pouring additional hot water through a finished (extracted) puck of ground coffee in the pod. Yes there is a bit more coffee in a Lungo pod than in a Nespresso Espresso pod, but not a great deal more – the main difference between a Espresso and Lungo from a Nespresso machine, is more water.
The other benefit of this is heat. One of the complaints some people have with Nespresso is that it’s not quite as hot as they would like, as the brew temp is lower than with Espresso. If you top up with hot water from the kettle at around 90 degrees C, this is warmer than the water which would be topping up your coffee via the Nespresso machine if you did it the standard way, so your coffee will be hotter as a result.
If you press and hold your program buttons, this will reset them for the next one, but I’d recommend doing it manually like this whenever switching capsules.
After a while you’ll get a feel for how long it usually takes for the different sized pods, but keep watching the colour especially when you change to a different capsule.
3: Prime Your Nespresso Machine
Nespresso machines have a ridiculously fast heat up time. Most are 25 seconds, the Sage Creatista Plus is a crazy fast 3 seconds! However what I’ve found is that the first coffee from a cold machine that has just woken up, isn’t quite at full temperature. I think this is because although the boiler has reached the full temperature, the other parts of the machine in between the boiler and the cup (nozzle, spout, filter, etc.,) is still cold, which probably slightly lowers the temp of the first second or two of the flowing coffee.
So what I do, is I put my cup under as if I was about to make the coffee, and I press the button to turn the machine on, and without a pod in, I press the Espresso or Lungo button (depending on whether I’m in a rush or not). Once the water has stopped flowing, I open the machine to put the pod in, while the cup is still under, because I find when I open it, a bit more water falls into the cup, and I’d rather it go into the cup than to fill up the drip tray. I then empty the water from the cup – the cup is now warmed, the group etc., is all warmed and clean, and now I put the pod in and press the button.
So this warms up the group head, it warms up the cup, and it gives the group head a rinse too.
4: Rinse After Use.
Although if you follow the above you’ll be rinsing the group head before each coffee, rinsing it again after each use is good practice to prevent a build-up of coffee oils. So just press the Espresso button again after making your coffee (with a cup under so you don’t overfill the drip tray) to rinse it again.
5: Use Filtered or Bottled Water.
This is great advice, which is usually given by coffee experts, for the health of your coffee machine, for your health, and for the taste of the coffee – even more so if you live in a hard water area, as limescale is not good for coffee machines.
When it comes to taste though, don’t forget that 90% of your coffee, or more, is water, so the quality of the coffee is always going to relate to the quality of the water. You can use a Brita filter, or good quality bottled water. By the way, if you don’t think water tastes of anything, just go buy a bottle of high quality still spring water, and taste test against tap water, and see if you can detect a difference.
6: Shake it to wake it
I’ve seen some advice from compatible pod suppliers that either gently shaking the pod or giving it a light tap, helps. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, but I do it anyway ;-).
7: Check the foil.
Nespresso capsules usually have a slight bulge in the foil. If the foil is completely flat or looks saggy, just inspect the foil for holes, and contact the supplier if this is the case. I’ve had a few capsules like this, and if I’ve tried to use them the flow of coffee seems to be different, and the resulting coffee doesn’t taste as good so I’ve thrown it in the sink. I think this is the result of the foil having being pierced and the airtight seal being lost.
Priming and rinsing is good practice to help keep things clean, but even with this, after a while there will be some build up of coffee oils which you can’t flush with water alone, and which you’ll struggle to clean by hand as you can’t get to the parts you need to clean. So just run a cleaning capsule every so often to give everything a deeper clean.
It’s good practice to descale your Nespresso machine at least once a year, and more often if you’re using unfiltered tap water. Just get some Nespresso descaler, and then follow the instructions from the descaling solution, and from your Nespresso machine manual in terms of how to get it into the descaling program (with many machines you press both buttons for three seconds).
10: Experiment With Other Brew Methods.
Nespresso machines are ultra convenient, they’re great for drinking fairly decent Espresso style coffee on the fly, and I think they’re a great option for when convenience is required. This morning, for example, I didn’t quite have the time to wait for the La Pavoni Europiccola to heat up (even though it only takes about 7 mins, I was in a bit of a rush) and I needed coffee, fast, so I turned on my Nespresso machine (I have the Magimix Citiz, great little machine), and had my coffee fix within a minute.
But I always know that when I’m firing up the super fast Nespresso machine, I’m not drinking Espresso.
Nespresso is Nespresso, Espresso is Espresso – they’re similar, but they’re not the same. Nespresso machines brew slightly cooler than Espresso, and under higher pressure, they use far less coffee to water – I’m not saying it’s not as good, I’m just saying it’s not Espresso, it’s Nespresso – it’s not a brand of Espresso machine, as some people seem to think, it’s a different kind of brewer which produces a short intense coffee which is similar to Espresso.
Lavazza machines are another option too, and again, I think Lavazza are great for convenience. Oh, did you know the Lavazza machine was invented by the same guy who invented the Nespresso machine?
There are lots of other brewing methods, including inexpensive manual options for brewing amazing coffee – such as V60, Kalita, Chemex, The Oomph, Aeropress, Cafetiere – just ensure that you’re using freshly roasted coffee beans from one of the great UK small batch roasters that we’re lucky enough to have in this country, and for the best results, grind just before brewing, with a hand grinder or electric coffee grinder.
If you want true Espresso, then see Espresso machines reviews. Like I’ve said, Nespresso machines are a convenient way of making a great short intense coffee which is similar to Espresso, but if you’ve experienced a great Espresso made by someone who knows what they’re doing such as a professional Barista at a speciality coffee shop, then you’ll know that there’s nothing else which quite compares. Having said that though, it’s also very easy to make terrible, inconsistent Espresso with an Espresso machine whereas Nespresso machines don’t require any particular skill. For more read Nespresso Vs Espresso.