In the past, when someone offered me a Nespresso coffee, my answer was always ‘no thanks’. Not because I didn’t want a coffee, but simply because it never tasted any good.
However, Nespresso is the world’s most popular capsule coffee brand. Surely this is for a good reason? Have I just had a bad run? How much room for error is there when all that’s required is pressing one button?
We received a machine at work one day so I decided to break down the process step-by-step and figure out exactly what makes a great Nespresso coffee.
Here are 5 surprisingly simple tricks to get your Nespresso coffee to taste like a pro’s made it.
Tip 1 – warm up your machine
This is a simple yet effective habit to get into every time you run your Nespresso machine.
The ideal espresso pulling temperature is between 92 and 95°C. Nespresso has reportedly set their machines to heat to exactly 93°C – smack bang in the middle of our ideal range. Great right? Well, this is fine in principle but there’s a catch.
The heating mechanism in the Nespresso machines is called a Thermoblock. Water still needs to travel from the Thermoblock through some pipework into the capsule holder mechanism. his is our problem. If this route isn’t piping hot, then the perfectly produced 93°C water will get cold (well, less than 91°C by the time it hits the coffee beans).
So, what’s the solution?
Before you pop a pod in your machine, be sure to run it a couple of times (with the lid down) to flush some fresh hot water through. This does two things:
1. Cleans the machines, rinsing out any residual grinds
2. Heats up the capsule mechanism and spout
This means the hot water is guaranteed to be at the ideal coffee extracting temperature when it hits the coffee capsule, ensuring maximum flavour is extracted.
Tip 2 – warm up your cup
A barista never pours coffee into a cold cup so why would you?! To warm yours up at home, simply add boiling water and leave for a short period to heat. This trick can be combined with tip 1 above to save a little time – by rinsing your machine into the cup you plan to drink from! Once the cup is hot, tip out the water and extract your coffee into the warmed cup.
This not only improves the experience of drinking a warm coffee, but also affects the flavour. Have you ever forgotten about your cuppa, only to come back to a cold brew that tastes nothing like it did 30 minutes ago? Well it’s not actually the coffee’s flavour that changes, but rather the way we perceive it to taste.
Our taste receptors are most sensitive in the range from 20°C to 35°C (68 to 95 degree fahrenheit). That is, we taste things better that are around room temperature. The taste receptors in question don’t always register flavours that are much hotter or colder than this range, and thus we don’t taste them.
Bitterness is one of these flavours that is attenuated at high temperatures. What this means is at hotter temperatures we can ignore a lot of the bitterness while still getting the aroma and flavour of the coffee!
Tip 3 – lower the intensity
When reading up about this, everything I thought I knew about Nespresso went out the window. I thought the ‘intensity’ rating of the pods was an indication of how much caffeine each pod contained. I assumed the higher the rating the more of a caffeine I was getting and because they were all a similar price, logic says I was getting more ‘bang for my buck’ (even though I didn’t actually like the taste of them).
The intensity is actually more aligned with the taste of the pod. This is altered by what beans are used, the blend of beans and the type of roast. As a rule of thumb, the capsules with a higher intensity rating have a higher ratio of Robusta coffee, which gives a stronger, more bitter and roasted taste.
Now if you’re like me and live in Australia or New Zealand, our cafe coffee (which we’ve come to know and love) is very aromatic and sweet. This is because baristas tend to use 100 percent Arabica coffee which lends itself better to espresso-based coffee like flat whites and cappuccinos.
I tried switching to lower intensity pods which I enjoyed much more. The Nespresso Ristretto and Nespresso Cosi are two of my personal favourites.
Tip 4 – less is more, kinda…
My next discovery relates to long (lungo) shots, i.e. that big cup icon on your coffee machine! I assumed I was getting more value by using the long shot instead of a short shot. I was getting more coffee for the same price, right? Wrong. So completely wrong.
Cafes only use around a 30ml shot of coffee and the rest is milk or hot water added seperatly.
This process extracts all the best elements of the coffee (oils, aroma and flavour) and this can actually ruin a good coffee – releasing tannins which result in an unpleasant bitterness.
Tip 5 – double down on a good thing
A single shot from a commercial coffee machine is made from 7- 12 grams of powdered coffee. Your Nespresso pod only contains 5 grams. Now while Nespresso tries to compensate by using stronger beans, its hard to make up the shortfall – there’s still less coffee in your coffee.
The easiest solution is to use a second Nespresso pod. Of course, this isn’t the most economical choice if you decide to make this a habit, but still works out cheaper than a cafe coffee. Win!
I’ve also found out that if you order a long black or a flat white in a cafe they use a double shot basket (twice the amount of ground coffee). This means we’re used to drinking almost four times the amount of coffee than what’s in our humble Nespresso pod.
Bonus tip – caffeine hack
If you’re a caffeine fiend like me and want the best value possible, then there’s one Nespresso original line pod that offers over twice the caffeine content of the others. What you want is the dark blue (almost black) pods. They go by the name of Kazaar and contain a whopping 142mg of caffeine per serve!
If you try the Kazaar capsules and find them too bitter, the brown Envivo ones are almost as good with 100mg of caffeine but must more aroma.
If you are absolutely fearless and enjoy the feeling of being shocked with a defibrillator first thing in the morning, then refer to trick number five above. When using two capsules, remember not to over-extract them as you’ll pull through a lot of extra bitterness.
You can read our complete study on the caffeine content in Nespresso pods here.
Nespresso cheat sheet – The perfect flat white at home
So with all that said, here is our bullet-proof cheat sheet to making the perfect espresso that tastes just as good as your favourite barista-made coffee.
- Place your cup in the machine and run it at least two times through. This will clean and heat up the machine, while also heating your cup. Pour out the water afterwards.
- Select a light and aromatic capsule such as the Nespresso Cosi.
- You’ll need to use two pods to get the same amount of flavour as you would from a barista made coffee.
- Extract using the single shot (small cup) setting to pull through only 30 – 40ml of espresso per capsule. Any longer and it will bring through unwanted bitterness.
- Top up with hot water to make the perfect long black, or foamed milk if you’re after a flat white or cap.
So what’s the verdict?
Coffee is a complex topic and an entire profession by itself.
We’ve found that by using lower intensity pods and only extracting 30ml (or a single shot) at a time we can extract the very best flavour. We’ve also discovered the importance of making sure the machine and cup is hot when you’re ready to go.
However, at the end of the day taste is subjective and how you make your coffee is completely up to you.
I highly recommend experimenting and making your pod coffee a few different ways. Also, test the same thing more than once. It will taste a bit different to what you are used to at first, but I’m confident you’ll enjoy your coffee even more after a few tries.
Please let us know on Facebook or in the comments below if you agree or disagree after a few days of trying this. We’re always very interested to hear what you think : )