The Best Nespresso Machine (But It’s Not for Everyone)
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The Best Nespresso Machine (But It’s Not for Everyone)

Sep 16, 2023

The Instant Pod, our pick that also worked with K-Cups, has been replaced by the Instant Dual Pod Plus. You can find more details in What to look forward to.

After making and tasting over 100 espressos, lungos, latte macchiatos, and cappuccinos, we’ve determined that all Nespresso machines make identical drinks.

We don't love the flavor of Nespresso, but for those who prefer espresso drinks to drip coffee, a Nespresso machine is the fastest and most convenient way to make something like them at home—though if you want to make real at-home espresso, we recommend these beginner setups instead. We like the compact Nespresso Essenza Mini because it makes the same quality coffee as machines that cost hundreds more, without any extra frills.

The Essenza Mini makes the same espresso as $400 Nespresso machines but has a smaller footprint and no unnecessary features.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $175.

The Essenza Mini is small and mighty, capable of making the same ristrettos, espressos, and lungos as any other machine in the Nespresso line. Its slim, attractive frame can fit in even the smallest kitchen, and its simplicity makes it the easiest Nespresso machine to use and clean. Don't be bamboozled by the wide array of machines that make you pay hundreds of dollars more for features that won't make your coffee taste any better, such as Bluetooth technology or a latte art wand. The Essenza Mini offers the most bang for a still-sizable buck.


This larger-capacity machine can also brew Americanos, making it a good option for households that want both espressos and more diluted coffee drinks.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $260.

Most people need only the Essenza Mini, but the larger Essenza Plus is a more versatile machine that can brew two sizes of Americano in addition to the regular Nespresso repertoire of ristrettos, espressos, and lungos. This machine takes up a bit more counter space than the Mini, but its expanded water tank and used-capsule drawer make it a better option for brewing drinks for large groups of people. Even if you’re brewing for one, you won't have to empty capsules or refill water as frequently. The Essenza Plus also includes two additional features—a hot water button whose results aren't quite hot enough for tea, plus app connectivity that allows you to order new capsules with the touch of a button—that we find less useful. But its ability to brew preprogrammed Americanos makes it a solid upgrade, especially if you enjoy both concentrated espressos and less-concentrated coffee drinks.

Big but inexpensive, the Instant Pod is the only machine that can brew both Nespressos and K-Cups.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.

The CatDog of pod coffee, the Instant Pod brews both Nespresso capsules and Keurig K-Cups, making it a good option—and the only option—for households that want both in one machine. Made by the company responsible for Instant Pot multicookers, the Instant Pod can make Nespresso drinks in 2-ounce, 4-ounce, and 6-ounce sizes, which are roughly equivalent, respectively, to a Nespresso espresso, lungo, and larger lungo—everything our main pick can brew, except the ristretto. And it can brew 8-ounce, 10-ounce, and 12-ounce Keurig coffees. Nespresso's line of Vertuo machines ostensibly make espresso and coffee, too, but we found the Vertuo coffee, which is capped with a thick layer of crema, unpleasant. We don't like the watery taste of Keurig coffee much, either—and we don't recommend those machines—but if you want the option to brew K-Cups, the Instant Pod offers the versatility to do both, while taking up less space on your counter than two machines and costing less than the cheapest Nespresso. It also has a cavernous water tank that makes back-to-back brewing easy, as well as an accessible interface friendly to first-timers.

The Essenza Mini makes the same espresso as $400 Nespresso machines but has a smaller footprint and no unnecessary features.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $175.

This larger-capacity machine can also brew Americanos, making it a good option for households that want both espressos and more diluted coffee drinks.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $260.

Big but inexpensive, the Instant Pod is the only machine that can brew both Nespressos and K-Cups.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.

For guidance on what a real espresso should taste like, we consulted Sprudge associate editor Liz Clayton, who has worked on our guides to coffee makers and coffee grinders. We also interviewed several colleagues at Wirecutter who swore by their Nespressos to learn what they loved (and didn't love) about their machines. We visited two New York City Nespresso Boutiques to examine and handle each machine in real life, as well as to attend a tasting of drinks made from several different Nespresso models. Writer Sabrina Imbler is an avid coffee drinker and also wrote our guide to the best French press.

The real appeal of Nespresso is its ease, speed, and consistency. The machines are alluringly simple to use, requiring nothing more from you than the placement of a capsule and the push of a button. They make a hot espresso-like beverage in a matter of minutes. And they can't be beat for consistency. No matter the model, the machine delivers the same quality drink every single time.

A Nespresso machine brews coffee drinks by forcing hot water through a small, single-use aluminum capsule filled with finely ground beans. The result resembles an espresso: a strong shot of coffee with a cap of foam. But Nespresso isn't the kind of espresso you can buy at a coffee shop. Although a café produces espresso in a similar way, by forcing hot water through a compact clump of grounds at high pressure, the resulting drink should have a thicker, syrupy body. As Wirecutter head of photography and video (and coffee nerd) Michael Hession explained in a Gizmodo article years ago, a good espresso should be concentrated, rich, and sweet, not bitter or sour. A Nespresso machine comes somewhat close, producing a thin, concentrated shot of coffee with a high crown of crema (the aromatic froth formed by air bubbles combining with coffee's soluble oils) that sticks and stays. But "it doesn't have that thick, syrupy texture of real espresso," coffee writer Liz Clayton told us.

The real appeal of Nespresso is its ease, speed, and consistency.

Throughout our testing, the flavor of Nespresso drinks left much to be desired for us. We tasted dozens of different capsules in the Original line and found that all of them tasted burnt and overroasted to the point where we could detect notes of carbon. Most Nespresso coffee does not taste like the fancy coffee you might find in an artisanal coffee shop, with flavors such as fruits or nuts or toffee. Instead, Nespresso resembles dark roasted coffee at Starbucks.

If convenience is your thing, a Nespresso machine is the fastest, most effortless way to make an espresso-like drink. Nespresso recommends cleaning the machine after every use, which is as easy as rinsing the parts with dish soap. If you clean a little less frequently—we are guilty of this—some sludge can build up in the drip tray, but it's still fairly easy to clean. Nespresso also recommends descaling the machine (video) every three months, which requires a kit that you can buy. Other methods of brewing concentrated coffee can be more complicated and messy after each use: For example, a moka pot, which can make stovetop espresso, requires a stove and careful cleaning after each use. An AeroPress has a slight learning curve and multiple pieces to clean.What you get from a Nespresso machine is not quite espresso but more a thin, ultra-concentrated, espresso-size coffee drink. Making real espressos at home is an expensive and time-consuming culinary craft, and if you want to learn, we recommend this espresso machine for beginners. It makes significantly better espresso, and its steam wand produces a dense microfoam that's perfect for latte art. But it's typically over twice as expensive as our priciest Nespresso picks and requires brewing knowledge, time, and effort to pull a single shot of espresso. You also need to get access to finely ground beans, either by using an excellent burr grinder yourself or by asking a local coffee shop to grind them for you. Nespresso, in contrast, is nearly impossible to screw up.

Nespresso isn't the same as drip coffee, and a Nespresso machine's reliance on single-use capsules means it can't make a pot for multiple people. It's great if you want an ultra-concentrated espresso-like drink or a morning latte. But if you just want a big cup of coffee, plenty of other setups will serve you better. The trade-off is the time and effort those other methods require: Although easy to use, our favorite coffee machine brews a full pot in just under seven minutes. Any French press takes around four minutes to brew. Pour-over, too, takes several carefully attended minutes during which you need to add hot water. You also have to clean all these devices after each use.

What you get from a Nespresso machine is not quite espresso but more a thin, ultra-concentrated, espresso-size coffee drink.

A Nespresso drink is cheaper than anything you can buy at a local coffee shop—which probably sells an espresso for $3 or $4—but it's not the most affordable coffee you can make. At this writing, capsules in Nespresso's Original line cost between 80¢ and 85¢, and capsules in the Vertuo line cost 98¢ to $1.65. With either line, drinking a daily cup of Nespresso for a year saves you over a thousand dollars compared with buying an espresso in a coffee shop every day. On the other hand, sticking with Nespresso is more expensive than brewing a regular pot of coffee at home. For example, 10 Nespresso Arpeggio capsules cost $8, and each capsule contains 5 grams of coffee. That works out to $72 for a pound of coffee, around four times more expensive than most fancy single-origin beans.

Another thing: Nespresso has historically faced criticism from environmentalists for creating huge amounts of waste through its single-use capsules. The company has since expanded and upgraded its recycling program, which lets you ship used capsules back to Nespresso to be recycled for free (if you live in New York City, you can toss the capsules in with your regular non-paper recycling, but we haven't heard of any other cities that allow that). But if sustainability is a priority, you might steer clear of Nespresso in the first place. Read more about the environmental case against Nespresso below.

Nespresso has two separate lines of espresso machines: the Original line and the Vertuo line. The Original line uses standard-size Nespresso capsules to make espressos (1.35 ounces), lungos (3.72 ounces), and ristrettos (0.84 ounce). Original-line machines brew coffee by piercing the capsule and pumping hot water under high pressure through it, allowing the brewed coffee to trickle down to a cup.

Nespresso's second, newer Vertuo line can make a wider range of drink sizes, including 8-ounce and 14-ounce cups of coffee, as well as espressos, double espressos (2.7 ounces), and lungos. Accordingly, the Vertuo line has three capsule sizes: small for espresso, medium for double espresso and gran lungos, and large for coffees and their 14-ounce altos. Vertuo capsules are slightly more expensive than Original capsules and include barcodes that tell the machine what kind of drink to make. These barcodes ensure that you do not need to press a button more than once—and conveniently for Nespresso, they preclude the use of third-party capsules with Vertuo machines.

The Vertuo machines also brew differently, spinning the capsule 7,000 times per minute to create a centrifugal force that extracts the coffee. Nespresso calls this technology centrifusion, a term that's a portmanteau of "centrifugal fusion." This process creates crema that is overwhelmingly thick and unevenly bubbly, more of a bitter foam than a crema, on any beverage brewed with a Vertuo machine. We found this effect unpleasant, as normal coffee does not have crema; Liz Clayton found it less desirable than the crema produced by Original-line machines. Crema on its own is a bitter substance, and too much of it can overpower your espresso.

Considering all that, we decided to focus our testing efforts mostly on machines from the Original line. To narrow down our list for our original tests, we compared all 14 machines available in both lines at the time, noting features such as heating time, tank size, and brewing options. We also read a slew of coffee and espresso blogs, Amazon reviews, and heated Nespresso discussions on Reddit before settling on four models to test. From the Original line, we chose the Essenza Mini and CitiZ, affordable machines still capable of producing Nespresso's staple drinks. We also chose to test the Lattissima+, the least expensive machine that came with an integrated milk frother, to see how well its latte macchiatos and cappuccinos compared to versions we could make on our own. From the Vertuo line, we selected the VertuoPlus, which was the newest machine in the series at the time. For the 2020 update to this guide, we tested the Vertuo Next, the smallest addition to the Vertuo line, and the Essenza Plus, an inexpensive addition to the Original line.

To test the machines, we made every single drink possible with each machine we tried. We also conducted side-by-side tastings of espressos and lungos produced by each Original-line machine with an Arpeggio-blend capsule. With the VertuoPlus, we made drinks with two capsules from the Vertuo line: the Altissio blend for espressos and the Odacio blend for coffee. To test how well the machines held up to repeat use, we made six back-to-back batches of espresso in each machine. To test the milk-frothing capabilities of the Lattissima+, we made lattes and cappuccinos and compared them against drinks we made with a combination of the Essenza Mini and a milk frother. We also compared milk frothers, using Nespresso's standalone Aeroccino frother and a popular model from Capresso, another coffee company.

For our 2020 update, we brewed espressos and lungos with the same capsules using the Essenza Mini, Essenza Plus, Vertuo Next, and Instant Pod. We conducted side-by-side tastings of Essenza and Vertuo Next espressos brewed with similarly intense (per Nespresso's intensity scale) capsules, as the two lines do not have the same capsule offerings. We compared coffee drinks brewed by the Vertuo Next's capsules and the Instant Pod's Green Mountain K-Cups, as well as pour-over coffee brewed with the Kalita Wave 185 Dripper and Counter Culture's Big Trouble beans, a medium-dark roast. We also tested the Americano and hot water functions of the Essenza Plus and directly compared that machine with the CitiZ, our former upgrade pick.

In our original testing, we also held a tasting panel with six Wirecutter coffee drinkers and Sprudge associate editor Liz Clayton to see which capsule blends people liked best. We asked each tester to taste (but not swallow) 19 different brewed Nespresso capsules from the Original line and Vertuo line. They ranked their favorite and least favorite capsules, recording tasting notes for each blend. For our 2020 update, the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for us to convene as large a tasting panel, so we had a tasting panel of three coffee-drinking people.

The Essenza Mini makes the same espresso as $400 Nespresso machines but has a smaller footprint and no unnecessary features.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $175.

In terms of the quality of the drinks they make, all Nespresso machines are basically the same, so the least expensive model is your best bet. The Nespresso Essenza Mini is our pick because it makes the same espresso-like drink as any other model in the Original line for a fraction of the cost. You can even program it to brew your preferred volume of coffee. The Essenza Mini's slim, tidy frame takes up less space than a hot water kettle and can easily squeeze between kitchen appliances with countertop to spare. Plus, it comes in two shapes and five colors to blend in well with any kitchen.

The Essenza Mini is a fully functional, if basic, Nespresso machine. A Nespresso representative confirmed to us that the brewing technology inside the Essenza Mini is exactly the same as that of every single other machine in the Original line. So when you buy a more expensive Nespresso model, such as the CitiZ (which typically starts around $280), what you’re actually paying for are glossy steel parts or milk-frothing capabilities. Sure, more expensive machines also offer larger water tanks and the ability to hold more used capsules. But refilling the Essenza Mini's water tank or emptying the waste container takes mere seconds, and we don't think the extra storage is worth a hundred dollars more.

The compact machine doesn't take up any unnecessary space. With a footprint of 4.3 by 8 inches, it's smaller than a toaster. Its removable water tank still contains around 20 ounces, enough to make 10 or 11 espressos or four lungos without needing a refill. And in our tests, its used-capsule container filled up after five or six drinks, which didn't feel inconvenient. We like that the Essenza Mini lacks some of the space-filling features of other Nespresso machines, such as the bulbous heads of some machines in the Vertuo line or the blocky milk containers of the Lattissima series. These omissions make it not only smaller but also easier to use and clean.

With just two buttons (one for an espresso and one for a lungo), the Essenza Mini is especially simple to operate. And if you want to adjust the size of your espresso or lungo (or make a smaller ristretto), you can easily reprogram each setting to produce your preferred volume. Nespresso offers handy video instructions, but essentially you just hold down the espresso or lungo button, rather than pressing and releasing it, when brewing: Let go of the button to stop brewing when your drink is the size you want, and you set the machine to brew that amount every time.

The brewing technology inside the Essenza Mini is exactly the same as that of every single other machine in the Original line.

Like any other machine in the Original line, the Essenza Mini makes espresso with a richer crema than the machines in the Vertuo line do. The crema produced by the Original line is impressive, with an even layer of tiny microbubbles. The Vertuo line, however, produces a ridiculously aerated hat of bubbles that can reach a quarter of the height of the espresso—it's less of a froth and more of a foam. The presence or size of crema does not indicate a better espresso, and many baristas aim for a layer of crema around one-tenth of the espresso drink, according to The Spruce. The Vertuo line's undesirable crema, as well as its nonnegotiable heft and persnickety barcodes that restrict you from using third-party capsules, made the Original line an easy top pick for us.

The Essenza Mini comes with a one-year warranty and lifetime assistance from Nespresso's technical hotline. Nespresso will replace or repair your machine at no cost to you for the duration of the warranty; after the warranty expires, it charges a flat fee for repairs. The Nespresso site also includes instructional videos that explain how to clean and descale your particular machine, which the company recommends you do every three months. You can buy descaling kits online.

Unlike more expensive Nespresso models, the Essenza Mini has an exterior made entirely of plastic, and its removable drip tray has nothing underneath. So to make a lungo or a brew with a regular-size coffee mug, you have to place your cup directly on the counter instead of on a secondary drip tray, meaning any drips land directly on your counter. Our other picks are better for accommodating taller cups, which may not fit the Essenza Mini at all. In exchange for its compact size, the Essenza Mini has a 20.3-ounce water tank and a reusable tray that can accommodate just six capsules, the smallest capacity of any Nespresso machine. But then again, both are easy to refill and empty.

The Essenza Mini did struggle slightly in our testing after brewing dozens of back-to-back espressos. This may be a problem if you plan on churning out lungos from your Essenza Mini for a large dinner party. But if an Essenza Mini sputters or stops, resting for a minute should make it good to go again.

This larger-capacity machine can also brew Americanos, making it a good option for households that want both espressos and more diluted coffee drinks.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $260.

If you want a Nespresso machine that can make a wider variety of espresso drinks, we recommend the Nespresso Essenza Plus. This slightly larger machine can brew espressos, lungos, and ristrettos—everything the Essenza Mini can—but it can also brew two sizes of Americano (5 ounces and 6.8 ounces) by adding hot water to your espresso, so it's an excellent option for households that enjoy different coffee drinks or for people who may want something more similar to regular coffee. The Essenza Plus also boasts a larger water tank and used-capsule tray than our top pick offers, and thanks to its few extra inches of height, it can accommodate taller cups than the Essenza Mini can.

To brew an Americano with the Essenza Plus, you simultaneously press the hot water button and either the espresso or lungo button, depending on the size of Americano you want. The hot water button also works on its own, as the water comes out of a separate spigot. Though this hot water feature initially struck us as an exciting option to brew tea, we found that the Essenza Plus's hot water comes out, at its hottest, at around 160 °F—not hot enough for most teas. And if you’ve just brewed coffee, in order to avoid a muddied cup of water you have to wait several minutes for the spigot to stop dripping its final brown droplets before you can brew the hot water.

The Essenza Plus can also pair with a Bluetooth app, where you can set your ideal drink sizes for the machine to brew, as well as program a replacement capsule order and place that order by pressing a button on your machine. The latter feature seems convenient, though the button is somewhat nondescript, which could lead to a child or a confused houseguest accidentally placing a large capsule order for you. But we found the app easy to use, and we liked that it allows you to set your ideal drink sizes digitally by dragging a dial on sliding scales. In contrast, to program drink sizes on the Essenza Mini, you have to hold down a button until the desired amount of fluid comes out, which is far less precise.

At full price, the Essenza Plus costs $80 more than the Essenza Mini, and its all-plastic exterior doesn't make it look much fancier. If you just want espressos from your Nespresso machine (or don't mind occasionally heating water separately to make an Americano), the Essenza Mini is the best option. But if you like Americanos or will be brewing coffee for groups of people with varying preferences, the Essenza Plus may be worth the upgrade. Like the Essenza Mini, the Essenza Plus comes with a two-year warranty and lifetime technical assistance from Nespresso's hotline.

Big but inexpensive, the Instant Pod is the only machine that can brew both Nespressos and K-Cups.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.

The company that brought you the Instant Pot has a new, nearly rhyming foray into coffee. The Instant Pod aptly brews both Nespresso capsules (from the original line) and K-Cups, making it a versatile machine for households with fans of both Nespresso and Keurig, as well as a handy way to outfit an Airbnb kitchen. The Instant Pod isn't particularly fancy and takes up a good hunk of space on a counter, but it's usually cheaper than both of our Nespresso picks.

As far as we could tell in our tests, the Instant Pod produced the same caliber of espresso as the Essenza Mini—a hot, reliable cup with smooth crema—and the same watery coffee as you might expect from a Keurig. The Instant Pod uses capsules from Nespresso's Original line, which means you can use third-party capsules for both the Nespresso and Keurig slots. The machine is also more user-friendly to beginners, with a grid of one-touch buttons on the top of the machine specific to each brew size. For us, it was hard at first to tell that the buttons were touchscreen buttons, which led us to press them hard several times to no effect. But if you press the button lightly, it begins blinking to indicate the machine is warming up, and then the Instant Pod brews your coffee.

The Instant Pod's biggest downfall may be its size. With a footprint measuring 7 inches wide and 16 inches long, the machine is approximately the size of a large stand mixer and sits on your counter like a drab, black tank. But it's still a more space-efficient option than storing both a K-Cup machine and a Nespresso model. The machine's height means you can brew coffee directly into a thermos, an option not afforded to lower-to-the-ground Nespresso machines. And its large water tank means you can brew cup after cup without needing to refill.

The Instant Pod has a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturer defects, a pretty standard policy for a countertop appliance in this price range. (Though Nespresso also offers a toll-free hotline for pressing questions about your machine.)

The Instant Pod has been replaced by the Instant Dual Pod Plus. The new model has a "Bold" button for a longer brewing time and offers a mode for high-altitudes (above 5,000 feet). We’re planning to test the Instant Dual Pod Plus to see how it compares to the Instant Pod, and whether the brew adjustment really makes a more flavorful cup.

We tried a couple of Nespresso devices designed for people who want to make their own coffee drinks with frothed milk, but we didn't love any of them. In addition to selling several standalone milk frothers, Nespresso has an entire series of Lattissima machines in the Original line that boast integrated milk frothers. The cheapest in the series as of spring 2023 is the Lattissima One, which came out after we finished testing models. We tested the Lattissima+, a now-retired machine that, at around $400, was the cheapest milk-frothing option at the time of our testing. Even though the Lattissima+ is no longer around, we believe its performance is still indicative of the Lattissima line.

Like our picks, the Lattissima+ was capable of making a ristretto, espresso, and lungo. But it also had a built-in milk frother that could make lattes at the touch of a button. The frother was removable, so you could store it conveniently in the fridge along with any unused milk. You just filled up the milk container and replaced it on the machine, plopped in the capsule, angled the frothing spigot toward your cup, and awaited your cappuccino. But in our tests, the machine produced underwhelming cappuccinos, as the milk we frothed had little volume. The cappuccino wasn't bad but also wasn't exactly a cappuccino.

Machines in the Lattissima series can also make a latte macchiato, which is just slightly different from a latte you might get in a coffee shop. The machine adds the espresso after the frothed milk, which means the espresso rests on top of the milk for a bolder first sip, according to this Starbucks infographic. The latte macchiato we tried wasn't bad but seemed diluted. The machine also made awful sputtering noises while frothing the milk and while cleaning the milk wand.

Our biggest beef with the Lattissima+, however, was how difficult it was to clean the milk compartments. Basic Nespresso machines such as the Essenza Mini or CitiZ are easy to clean or leave alone because the only thing that passes through their guts is water or coffee. But models in the Lattissima series invite milk, and with it, an overwhelming dread of spoiling. The Lattissima+ had a self-cleaning function (PDF), in which hot water passed through the wand and, hopefully, steamed out the milky innards. But you couldn't see inside the frothing contraption, so you had to trust that it did indeed clean itself. And if you forgot about the milk in your fridge long enough for it to curdle, as we did inadvertently, it was a pain to confidently clean the slim intestine of the tube and know that there weren't flecks of spoiled milk trapped inside our Nespresso—though a pipe cleaner might have worked. Also, the water tank of the Lattissima+ was narrow and book-shaped, not round, making it hard to refill.

To make lattes and cappuccinos on our own, we tested Nespresso's Aeroccino Black, the company's most affordable standalone milk frother, against a milk frother from Capresso. We chose this Capresso model over other frothers popular on Amazon because it came from a known coffee-gear company and because the shape looked easier to use than other, cylindrical models. We didn't love either frother. The Aeroccino heated up the milk and made an even microfoam so fine, we could barely tell it was there. The Capresso, on the other hand, produced a froth that was pleasantly thick but made up of large, uneven bubbles. We did prefer the mug-shaped Capresso frother and its easy-pour spout over the Aeroccino's cylindrical shape, which offered no spout to prevent spilling.

You can buy Nespresso capsules on the company site or on Amazon, as well as at brick-and-mortar stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, and Target. It may be easier to buy capsules on Amazon, but they cost the same or less on the Nespresso site. If you want to buy off-brand capsules compatible with your Nespresso machine, Amazon is your best bet.

Nespresso ranks all its capsules—in both the Original and Vertuo lines—on an intensity scale from 1 to 12. If you like brighter, more acidic blends, we recommend trying capsules with an intensity of 4 or 5. We liked the light, citrusy Volluto and the fruity Colombia in Nespresso's single-origins series. If you want a quintessential Nespresso espresso, we recommend something in the middle of the intensity scale; our favorites were the full-bodied Vivalto Lungo and floral Tamuka mu Zimbabwe. If you want something dark, we recommend anything rated 8 or above on the intensity scale, though some of our tasters found that these capsules tasted burnt and carbony. We recommend the Kazaar or Arpeggio.

Individual tastes vary, and many of Nespresso's blends and flavors are limited edition, so you may not agree with or be able to find our favorites. Luckily, Nespresso capsules are cheap enough that ordering a tasting sample doesn't break the bank any more than buying a Nespresso. Every Nespresso machine comes with a 16-capsule tasting pack, and we recommend trying them all to see what you like. You can also find more targeted sample packs on Amazon, such as this tasting pack with Nespresso's best-selling flavors or this medium-roast capsule pack, which includes the Volluto and Vivalto Lungo we like.

If you care more about energy than flavor, the caffeine content of Original-line Nespresso capsules varies depending on the blend, but most range from 50 mg to 80 mg of caffeine per cup. One outlier is the Kazaar blend, which packs a whopping 120 mg of caffeine. In comparison, a double shot of espresso, as you’d buy in a coffee shop, has around 80 mg of caffeine. And a 12-ounce cup of drip coffee has around 120 mg, significantly more than espresso.

We also tasted drinks from three companies that sell Nespresso-compatible capsules for a fraction of the price. Unlike Nespresso's aluminum capsules, the cheaper third-party capsules are generally made of plastic and not recyclable—so if you’re concerned about plastic waste, these capsules aren't for you. After researching 10 third-party capsule companies on Amazon and reading dozens of reviews, we decided to test capsules from three companies: Bestpresso (32¢ a capsule), Gourmesso (50¢ a capsule), and Jones Brothers (49¢ a capsule). Jones Brothers now makes compostable capsules, but we haven't tried those out. Of the three, we found Gourmesso to be the least offensive. It made espresso that was flavorful, albeit noticeably less strong than the results from Nespresso's capsules. The Jones Brothers capsules made a bright but disappointingly weak espresso, and the Bestpresso capsules made a watery, stale brew.

We found minimal research on how the carbon footprint of a Nespresso capsule compared with that of, say, filtered coffee. Nestlé, which owns Nespresso, hired a consulting firm to analyze the lifecycle of a capsule; the resulting 2009 report found that drip filter coffee, per cup, resulted in a greater excess of boiled water and wasted coffee than both capsule and instant coffee. But we don't necessarily trust that study. An independent report in 2011 determined that the two most eco-friendly coffee brewing systems were filter coffee, if you drink the whole pot, and instant coffee, if you boil only the necessary amount of water. The researchers found that capsule coffee and the materials and processes required to make and dispose of its packaging caused more environmental damage, and they noted that the kind of coffee involved was the most important factor. The study also determined that aluminum capsules had a smaller footprint than plastic ones but only if recycled.

Luckily, Nespresso offers a program that recycles the aluminum capsules and composts the coffee grounds. (If you live in New York City, you can recycle emptied pods along with your regular recyclables, but we haven't heard of other cities where that's possible.) You can order up to two recycling bags at a time from the Nespresso website and have them shipped to your home for free. Each bag can hold up to 200 Original-line or 100 Vertuo-line capsules, which means that although the bags don't need to be replaced too often, you do need to find a place to store them. The used capsules can give off a faint coffee odor, so we recommend plopping the bag in a freezer if you have enough space. The bags can also leak when full; one suggestion, from former Wirecutter senior editor Nathan Edwards, is to leave recently used capsules in a bowl to dry out for a week or so before adding them to the recycling bag. Once the bag is full, you can ship it back free of cost to Nespresso recycling facilities at any UPS drop point (unless you live in Hawaii, Alaska, or the US territories). You can also drop recycling bags off at a local Nespresso Boutique or participating stores such as Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table.

But the recycling program isn't perfect. Everyone who buys Nespresso capsules in the US has access to the recycling plan. But just because something is made of recyclable material does not mean it's being recycled. Capacity means nothing if it's not being used, and Nespresso has not released any data on how many capsules it's actually recycling. Also, people who love the ease of a one-touch coffee maker may not feel compelled to collect their used capsules for four months and then ship the batch out to a recycling facility.

If you’re really worried about the environmental impact, don't buy a Nespresso so you avoid creating the waste in the first place.

Outside of the Nespresso program, there's no guarantee you can recycle capsules on your own. Even if you manage to separate the lid and scrub out all the grounds, your local recycling center probably isn't equipped to process anything that small. So if you try to recycle a capsule on your own, it may slip through the filtering screen or jam the processing machines.

If you do choose to buy a Nespresso, taking full advantage of the recycling program will ensure your capsules don't pile up in a landfill. Reusable capsules are also an option, but not a great one, since they’re tricky to use and don't yield the same results as an actual Nespresso pod (more on that below). If you’re really worried about the environmental impact, don't buy a Nespresso so you avoid creating the waste in the first place. All methods of making coffee create some amount of waste, such as filters and the bags that hold your beans. But you can minimize those effects by composting grounds and using paper filters.

We also tested Sealpods, reusable steel capsules that offer the greenest way to use a Nespresso machine. We chose Sealpods over several other reusable Nespresso-compatible capsules, such as WayCap and BRBHOM, because Sealpods had the highest ratings on Amazon at the time of our research and were readily available in the US. To use a Sealpod, first fill the open steel capsule with grounds and tamp it down tightly. Then, cover the filled capsule with a one-use sticker and, sealing it tight, pop the capsule into the machine to brew an espresso like normal. It's not a terribly difficult process, and we got the hang of it in just a few tries.

But the process still isn't convenient enough for us to fully recommend reusable capsules like the Sealpod. First off, you need to have beans ground fine enough for an espresso, meaning you need a premium coffee grinder or access to a coffee shop that will do the job. You may also be able to find ground espresso coffee at your local grocery store—just make sure the grind setting is extra-fine and avoid grounds that are labeled as "espresso" but are coarsely ground. Second, you probably won't be able to save yourself time in the morning by prefilling a bunch of capsules. At around $40 for a two-pack on Amazon and about $140 for a 10-pack from the company site, the capsules are too expensive to rationalize buying a dozen to fill and store. Although filling the capsule isn't hard, it is messy, and the slew of extra steps kind of nullifies the one-touch allure of a Nespresso machine. Also, the stickers aren't reusable, and replacements will of course need to be shipped to you, so you’re not exactly producing zero waste. Third, no matter how tightly we packed the grounds, our Sealpod espresso came out consistently under-extracted.

Since all Nespresso machines can make the same quality espresso, if you buy a more expensive machine, you’re not paying for better coffee. Instead, you’re paying for the ability to make coffee at the press of one button instead of two, or a touchscreen menu instead of raised buttons. Instead of discussing each Nespresso machine individually, we’ve compiled them in several comparison charts—one for Original machines without milk frothers, one for Original machines with milk frothers, and one for Vertuo machines—so it's easier to see their differences side by side. For reference, note that machines with a small footprint take up about as much space as a hot water kettle, medium machines approximate a two-slice toaster in size, and large machines approach the size of a coffee maker.

For our 2020 update, we tested the Vertuo Next, which is the slimmest machine in the Vertuo line at 5.5 inches wide. The Vertuo Next brewed espresso, double espresso, and coffee exactly as promised, but we still do not recommend the Vertuo line's coffee, as it has a thick, coarse, off-putting layer of crema on top. But if you are interested in a Nespresso machine that can brew a drink approximately the size of a small coffee, this is the Vertuo model we recommend.

In the 2020 update, we also replaced our former upgrade pick, the CitiZ, with the Essenza Plus. Although the CitiZ is a sturdier, larger, and better-looking version of the Essenza Mini, we prefer the Essenza Plus because it can brew two sizes of Americanos and allows you to program the size of your drinks on an app.

Since our initial tests in 2017, Nespresso has added several new upscale machines to the line. The VertuoPlus Deluxe is an engorged version of the VertuoPlus and Vertuo Next we tested, featuring a larger, 57.5-ounce water tank and a chrome finish. But we already found both Vertuo models we tested to be an intrusively hulking presence on our counter, and a chrome finish doesn't make better coffee. The Creatista Uno is a smaller, scaled-down version of the milk-frothing Creatista. It offers fewer milk textures and temperatures than its big cousins, the Creatista and Creatista Plus. Although it does boast a steam wand for latte art, we think anyone who wants to get artistic with their espresso would prefer a Nespresso with more capabilities—or a real espresso machine. The Gran Lattissima (typically $650) can prepare nine types of drinks with a single touch. And at the highest end, the new Creatista Pro (typically $850) seems to be a Creatista Plus outfitted with digital touchscreens and the ability to produce hot water. We’ve added these new machines to our comparison charts below.

The coffee company Illy makes similarly priced capsule-based machines that can make espresso or coffee at the press of a button. We didn't think Illy's machines were worth testing against Nespresso's because the capsules were slightly more expensive, at around 95¢ each. The Illy capsules are also made of plastic and thus worse for the environment than Nespresso's aluminum ones, even if you recycle them with Illy's own program.

Illy also makes the Easy Coffee Machine, which uses Easy Serve Espresso (E.S.E.) pods. These pods, originally designed for use in traditional espresso machines, are just coffee grounds packed in paper, and easily compostable. We haven't tried it, and it's significantly more expensive than our picks, but it's an option if the capsule packaging turns you off.

This article was edited by Winnie Yang and Marguerite Preston.

James Pergola, Nespresso Coffee Ambassador, in-person interview, January 30, 2018

Bryan De Luca, Compare Nespresso Machines: Complete Guide to All 17 Models, The Coffee Maven, January 31, 2018

Oliver Strand, With Coffee, the Price of Individualism Can Be High, The New York Times, February 7, 2018

Coffee & Tea 101 | What is Crema?, Seattle Coffee Gear

Mark Gunther, The good, the bad and the ugly: sustainability at Nespresso, The Guardian, May 27, 2015

Empa, Taking a close look at the eco-balance of coffee capsules,, May 10, 2011

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Sabrina Imbler is a former staff writer for Wirecutter, where they covered kitchen tools and HVAC.

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