I’m a Coffee Expert and I Tried 39 Different Nespresso Pods — These Are the Ones I’ll Be Buying Again
If you’re going to taste test every single Nespresso capsule (or “pod” as they’re referred to in coffee vernacular), please take this advice above all else: Pace. Your. Self. Lucky for you, there’s actually no need to over-caffeinate yourself to such extremes — because I already did the legwork for you! Just in time for Kitchn’s coffee week, I, a trained coffee expert, sampled 39 different varietals* of Nespresso capsules and determined which I will be buying again in the future.
*Note: The machine that I have is only capable of brewing the original espresso pods, not the Vertuo pods (the Essenza Mini Piano). If you count Vertuo, there are more than 39 capsules to choose from. I got every pod that my machine could make.
Why You Should Trust Me
As a coffee professional with more than 20 years of experience, I’ve worked in (and helped people open) cafés, worked for roasting companies in account maintenance, taught countless classes about coffee making and the supply chain, led visits to farms in Central America, sold green coffee for an importer, and even wrote a coffee-history book. As you can imagine, I’ve tasted a lot of coffee over my career so far, but up until now the wide world of Nespresso’s single-serve capsules was new territory for me to explore.
How I Gathered and Tested All of the Capsules
To source all of the capsules, I ventured to a local Nespresso boutique and ordered “one of everything.” (Side note: I’ve always wanted to do that!) Once returning home, I made a massive spreadsheet and got to work exploring the different product lines that Nespresso sells. There are the classic espresso blends and single-origin coffees, which showcase beans from around the world; the Barista Creations, which are proprietary blends meant to make you feel like your own at-home barista; and the Inspirazione Italiana collection, comprised of coffees inspired by the different regional styles of Italian espresso.
To prepare myself for this Nespresso tasting marathon, I applied the techniques I’ve learned from my professional training in sensory analysis. In the coffee industry, we slurp coffee liquid into our mouths and roll it around on our tongues as if we’re sommeliers. Along the way, we note observations such as sweetness, acidity (AKA “brightness”), texture/body, and the amount of bitterness in each cup. These are the areas that I evaluated the Nespresso capsules upon as well.
I tasted each coffee brewed as a 25 milliliter espresso. I also followed any special preparation instructions listed on the package, whether that meant tasting it as a lungo (a longer shot), or topping the shot off with either frothed milk or a handful of ice cubes. Now that my hands have finally stopped shaking and I’m no longer seeing double, I’m pleased to tell you which of the capsules I sampled received the highest marks.
I love an approachable, versatile espresso, and the Heath bar-like graham and dark chocolate notes of the Volluto, along with its rich and creamy body and hint of lemon, make this the most crowd-pleasing of them all. It is nicely balanced, and the perfect base for a dollop of foam or a bit of hot water for a longer, luxurious cup.
Buy: Volluto, $7 for 10 capsules
2. Ristretto Italiano Decaffeinato
You know that Inspirazione Italiana collection I mentioned? Well, these transported me right to Italy, where I once traveled from north to south in search of the essence of espresso. My favorite (would you believe?) was decaf! The Ristretto Italiano Decaffeinato’s intense dark-chocolate notes are layered over toasted almonds, clove, brown sugar, and a pop of acidity that keeps things lively without the rush of caffeine.
Buy: Ristretto Italiano Decaffeinato, $7 for 10 capsules
3. Freddo Delicato
Despite the name, Freddo Delicato packs a nice punch: As a lighter and brighter base for an iced coffee, it brings a lot of fun and exciting flavors, perfect for warmer months. Spiced tropical fruit like pineapple or mango with cinnamon and a little bit of something piquant hit really nicely on the ice, making the finished drink taste more like a vacation treat than a grab-and-go morning necessity.
Buy: Freddo Delicato, $7.20 for 10 capsules
4. La Complida Refinada
The rich and enveloping flavor of cooked fruit and molasses over a hint of applewood smoke and dark chocolate made the La Complida Refinada a true standout. I also enjoyed learning the story behind this brew, which was the result of a processing experiment centered on fermenting the coffee cherries at the farm. Note: This is limited edition, so if you love it, maybe get a few sleeves.
Buy: La Complida Refinada, $12 for 10 capsules
5. Master Origins Ethiopia and Colombia
I’m sorry to disappoint those who were looking for a definite, end-all-be-all winner, but I have to report that it was a tie between two Master Origins single-origin pods: Ethiopia and Colombia. Each one is a fantastic expression of coffees from those beloved growing regions. Ethiopia has a honeyed sweetness with delicate fruit and floral flavors like orange and Meyer lemon, jasmine, and coffee cherry. Colombia’s sweetness is more like panela or sugar cane, with a lively acidity and beautiful soft spice notes over a red fruit, dark chocolate, and orange peel flavor.
Ultimately, this experience got me to understand what the hype is all about: Nespresso machines and their accompanying pods are fast, convenient, and boast such a wide array of options that it seems impossible to get bored. That said, it is very possible to get over-caffeinated.
What’s your favorite Nespresso capsule?