Nespresso vs espresso – tested for taste, cost, and technical differences

The iconic single-serve brand even has 'espresso' in its name, but can it brew as well as it's branded?

Nespresso vs espresso: Sage Nespresso Vertuo Creatista on a countertop with a range of coffees and pods around it
(Image credit: Amazon)

Nespresso and espresso machines sound almost identical, but they're completely different coffee makers. If you're wondering which is best for your kitchen and your caffeine fix, look no further. 

As a former barista, I've spent a lot of time with the best espresso machines on the market. These close-to-commercial machines are hard to beat; they can reach temperatures and pressures like no other coffee maker. They'll guarantee you a greater-than-gourmet cup of coffee. However, they can get expensive and overwhelmingly technical, which is when you might be tempted to look elsewhere. That's where you'll find Nespresso.

The iconic coffee maker brand quite literally has espresso in its name. Their machines are some of the best single-serve coffee makers on the market. Even though I would normally class myself as a coffee snob, I have to admit, Nespresso does an excellent job of speedy coffee.

Having tested both the best Nespresso makers and the best espresso machines on the market, I'm well-placed to help you choose which is the best for you. I've compared them for taste, value, usability, style, and more. I've even given you my expert recommendations further down.

What's the difference between Nespresso and espresso?

A portafilter being filled with coffee grinds

(Image credit: Skaman 306 / Moment via GettyImages)

Even though there's almost no difference in their names, Nespresso and espresso machines have very little in common. Nespresso's site says that "in order to understand the differences between these machines, you first need to understand the difference between espresso and coffee". Of course, they all come from the same bean, but the flavor extraction process is completely different.

The classic, quintessential Italian method for making coffee uses espresso machines. These put freshly and finely ground coffee under high pressures and temperatures. The machine then 'pulls' water through the espresso grounds, making an espresso 'shot'. This has a bold, rich, and creamy flavor and is often thicker than filter or French press coffee. These shots form the base of all coffees: cappuccino, latte, Americano.  

KitchenAid espresso machine in grey on a countertop pulling espresso shots into two cups

(Image credit: KitchenAid)

Nespresso do not class themselves as an espresso machine, even though they have pods which make espresso-like drinks. Rather than use high pressures and temperatures, Nespresso compares their machines' brewing processes to drip coffee. Therefore, Nespresso machines are considered to be coffee machines.

Observant coffee drinkers might ask "why do Nespresso coffees have a crema and drip coffees don't?". Nespresso has some clever 'centrifusion' technology which spins the coffee around inside the machine, creating a thick crema-like foam. The difference between this and an authentic crema is that Nespresso's foam isn't indicative of the quality or quantity of coffee oils extracted.

Coffee purists will say that espresso machines make more authentic coffees. You can't make technical adjustments to your Nespresso, so if you want to switch-up the flavors, you'll need to select one of their different colored pods. On espresso machines, you can 'dial in' your machine to suit your flavor preferences. 

Given that there are quite a few differences, I've created a table to help you compare the two.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Nespresso single-serve machineEspresso machine
Brewing methodInfusion (water infusing coffee oils)Extraction (using pressure or temperature to extract coffee oils)
Coffee formCapsules (Nespresso needs specific varieties)Ground coffee
Bean typeAny, often lighter roastDarker, richer, more oily roast
Bean grindTends to be coarse(r)Superfine, powdery grind
Brewing time30 seconds-3 minutes25-30 seconds
PressureLower pressure, reliant on gravityHigh pressure
PriceMuch cheaper than espresso machinesMore expensive, but often more durable
DisposalCapsules (recyclable)Coffee grounds (compostable)


Before we dive deep into the details of what makes a Nespresso a Nespresso and an espresso machine a speciality option, here's a quick comparison of the two. Most of the differences are more general than model specific, so don't worry if these aren't the specific coffee makers you were considering.

Everything you need to know about Nespresso

Nespresso Vertuo Pop+

(Image credit: Nespresso)

Nespresso coffee machines are some of the most expensive single-serve options on the market. They use pre-packaged capsules and high pressure to extract a coffee which is much stronger than regular drip coffee. 

You can choose between a range of pods. Some make intense shots of 'espresso' which you can treat as such. You can use this as a base for making lattes and cappuccinos (as long as you own a milk frother, especially the brand's own Aeroccino, available at Walmart). Other pods can produce a cold brew coffee, Americano, or any other non-milky you fancy.

You'll often see Vertuo in the name of Nespresso's machines. This is their main product line and really tells you which of their pods you can use in your machine. For example, you can only use 'Vertuo' pods in a Vertuo machine, because it has clever barcode scanning technology which can detect the exact type of coffee you've selected. 

Whilst detection technology means that every Nespresso perfectly extracts the pod's flavors, it can also be a little limiting. Nespresso machines are incompatible with re-usable pods, K-cups, and other options: you have to buy their proprietary pods. I use limiting in a loose sense though, because there's a range of 30 different flavors in the Vertuo line, excluding specialty, limited-edition releases. You can subscribe to Nespresso Plus, which means you regularly receive their pods. Alternatively, you can buy them as and when you need them. Either way, there's plenty of options, just within a relatively restrictive range, if that makes sense.

I've tested a range of the best Nespressos on the market, but these are my three favorites.

Everything you need to know about espresso machines

KitchenAid espresso machine in grey on a countertop pulling espresso shots into two cups

(Image credit: KitchenAid)

Espresso machines are the creme-de-la-crem(a) of coffee makers. They're the ones which you'll see in your local coffee shop of café. They work using 8-10 grams of finely ground coffee and will extract the coffee oils by forcing hot water at a high pressure, through the grounds.

Alex Spampinato, barista trainer, says 'there's nothing quite like making coffee in an espresso machine. There are plenty of really good, relatively compact models on the market. Ask any barista which coffee maker they have and it'll probably be the Breville Bambino Plus. It's incredible'. 

There are other brands which make good espresso machines. Breville are a reliable option, but so is De'Longhi and La Pavoni (a more specialist brand, aimed at baristas). We've tested some surprisingly good models made by household names, such as Smeg and KitchenAid too though. They'll surprise you. 

Of course, espresso machines are some of the most expensive coffee makers on the market. They're also some of the biggest too, so you'll want to be sure that you'll use yours regularly and stay on top of maintenance.

Some machines come with an integrated grinder, but, for other models, you'll need to buy one separately. This is an added expense, which you might want to account for.


Is Nespresso the same as an espresso?

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You can achieve almost identical flavor profiles to an espresso in a Nespresso. They won't be as rich and deep as a fresh espresso would be, but they'll come close. Plus, you can treat an 'espresso' made in a Nespresso like you would a shot. If you have a milk frother, you can pour in steamed milk and create some beautiful latte art. 

Whilst Nespresso coffees can tick a lot of the same boxes as an espresso, they're also different. You can select enhanced toffee and watermelon flavors and make cold brews, Americanos, and drip coffees from your Nespresso. Whilst the flavors might not be as specialist as an espresso machine's, there's a chance that it will be more versatile. 

Does Nespresso coffee or espresso have more caffeine?

According to Nespresso's measurements, their "regular espressos and lungos in the Original and Professional ranges vary from 40 to 130 mg of caffeine per cup, while Vertuo coffees range from 60 to 200 mg per cup. The intensity of a coffee does not refer to the amount of caffeine it contains".

A single shot of fresh espresso contains 63 mg of coffee. If you were to make an Americano or cappuccino with just one shot, it would be on the lower side of caffeine levels in comparison to the Nespresso's coffees. However, most coffee makers will produce a double shot, making it relatively similar to Nespresso caffeine content.

Laura Honey
eCommerce Editor

Laura is our eCommerce editor. As a fully qualified barista, she's our expert in all things coffee and has tested over thirty of the best coffee makers on the market. She has also interviewed Q-Graders and world-leading experts in the coffee industry, so has an intimate knowledge of all things coffee. Before joining Homes & Gardens, she studied English at Oxford University. Whilst studying, she trained as a master perfumer and worked in the luxury fragrance industry for five years. Her collection of home fragrance is extensive and she's met and interviewed five of the world's finest perfumers (also known as 'noses'). As a result of this expansive fragrance knowledge, she always puts quality and style over quantity and fads. Laura looks for products which have been designed simply and with thoughtful finishes.