December 1, 2010

Review: Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa Espresso Machine

NescafeDolceGustoCreativa.jpg

The Nescafe Dolce Gusto line was recently expanded to increase its appeal and increase the footprint in the US by offering a wider array of features and price points. Ranging from about $89 - $169 the Nescafe Dolce Gusto makers hit a sweet spot of single serve coffee/espresso machines that are easily affordable at the low end for higher quality pump-driven espresso machines. Yes, the Nescafe Dolce Gusto line uses a pump-driven system that develops up to 15-bar of pressure to extract coffee in a very espresso-like manner.

With the pump driven system, and the wide array of espresso based drinks, I wanted to understand how the Nescafe Dolce Gusto stood up to other espresso machines and brewers. We were supplied with the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa machine by Nescafe, which sits at the top of the line of four products: the Piccolo, the Circolo, the Melody, and the Creativa.

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Regular readers are of course familiar with the Nespresso line of brewers, also by Nestle, that offer a wide variety of espresso capsule blends. The Nespresso line comes in above the Dolce Gusto line and is more targeted towards espresso aficionados while the Nescafe Dolce Gusto is targeted at people who want a simpler approach to making coffee house drinks at home.


Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa Features

Overall, the Creativa offers a large water reservoir (51-ounces), quick heating thermo-block heater, an adjustable water tray and a way to program your favorite drinks. Amazingly the Creativa is ready to brew in under a minute - making drink preparation a lot easier and quicker than a non-single serve coffee maker, or most competitive brewers. The Creativa adds an LCD screen for easy navigation and help with dispensing the right levels of water for each of the different drinks.

The LCD screen is limited in size, but offers a selection of drinks to choose from, which then dials up a pre-set recipe for brewing your drink. The LCD screen allows you to not only pick your drink, but also perform some maintenance functions like rinsing the machine and descaling (once every 3-4 months is recommended).

The main advantage of the Nescafe Dolce Gusto line is their 15-bar pump driven extraction system allowing you to create more authentic espresso and espresso drinks. This is the key advantage for the line versus competition like K-Cup machines, Tassimo and Senseo machines, which all brew their coffee at pressures just above atmospheric pressure; ~1-bar.

Auto Shut Off/ Eco-Mode - A feature that I like in my coffee machines is auto-on and auto-off. I can't tell you how many times I used to leave the house, forgetting to shut off the old drip coffee machine. By setting the clock and then the auto-shut off duration, you can make sure that you have the machine off when you leave the house. The Creativa offers an Eco-Mode of operation which automatically shuts the machine down as little as 5-minutes (user selectable) after use. Given that the Creativa takes less than a minute to warm up, I left mine on the pre-prgrammed 5-minute duration. This seemed to give ample time to the next person using it to make their drink; and if not, the Creativa heats up so quickly that any stragglers can still have a cup ready quickly.

You can disable this function: "When the machine is off, press and hold the power button for 30 seconds until the machine turns off again (ignore light signals and wait until power button is no longer illuminated). The auto shut off function is now disabled and the machine will stay on when you next press the power button. You can turn off the machine simply by pressing the power button again. Unplugging the machine will restore the auto shut off function."



NDG_Choices.jpg

The Menu offers several drink choices, leaving your recently brewed ones at the top of the list.

Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa Performance

Ease of use - The Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa is easy to use after a bit of a learning curve. Using the left side and right side of the main buttons to toggle up and toggle down takes a bit of getting used to. It is not intuitive. All told though it is a small hurdle, and one of the very few blemishes I found on the machine's design.

To make things easier, the Creativa learns what drinks you drink regularly, and leaves them at the top of the LCD menu. The result is near instant access to your usual drinks.

The Creativa comes pre-programmed with the line of Nescafe Dolce Gusto drinks in its menu. If a new one comes out, you can add it to the menu through a fairly easy process (see below). Brewing something like an Americano or an Espresso, you can select your drink, add the capsule to the tray, bring the lock down (which pierces the top of the capsule) and hit the Brew/OK button.

Multi-capsule drinks - When you select a multi-capsule drink from the menu, the Creativa prompts you to pick one capsule first, brew it (usually the milk capsule) and then insert the second one to finish off the drink. It's obvious and easy. It's also important, because the Creativa will brew the milk capsule with about 6 ounces of water and the espresso capsule (For a Latte Macchiato) with about 2 ounces of water. Getting it backwards won't make for an awesome drink!

NDG_DualCap.jpg
First brew the Milk capsule and then the coffee capsule

Customize Your Drinks - The Creativa offers a way to customize your drink recipe by adding a little more water to the standard recipe through a series of steps involving the LCD screen. Residing NDG_TimerSet.jpgsomewhere in between a TiVo and an old-school VCR on the difficulty scale, the Creativa can walk you through a series of steps to customize the water volumes on your drink, allowing you to create a "My" version that will reside on the menu for you to choose from. The resulting "My Latte Macchiato" or similar will now reside on the menu of drinks available for you to choose from. WHile I played with this for a bit, I tended to leave the recipes where Nescafe set them; they were pretty good and they tasted really off if I strayed too far from the pre-programed amounts.


Pre-Programmed/Timed Drink Making - The Nescafe Creativa is the only one in the Dolce Gusto line to offer pre-programmed drink making. For those of you who are very schedule driven, the Creativa, can brew at a pre-set time a single capsule drink. Set the timer, pick your drink, add the capsule, and add your cup to the try. The Creativa confirms your timer setting with a timer icon; ready to brew on schedule. I tried this out a few times and it works well; brewing up a cup of coffee when needed. It simply turned on, and when hot it brews up your drink; that easy and quick. I used the Bodum Pavina double walled glasses to keep the coffee warm if I was a few minutes late when I was hanging around, and a travel mug when I was shooting out the door. (My travel mug fits nicely when you remove the drip tray from the machine.)


Line of Available Drinks

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The Nescafe Dolce Gusto line has a set of ready to make drinks available covering a nice space in the espresso drink world, including: Espresso, Lungo, Latte Macchiato, Vanilla Latte Macchiato, Latte Macchiato Decaf, Cappuccino, Cappuccino Skinny (50-calories), Mocha, Cafe Americano, a Grande Intenso Dark Roasted Americano, and a Chococino (Hot Chocolate). The line also includes a cold Peach Flavored Iced Tea and a Cappuccino iced flavor that I haven't tried.

I used the Creativa to explore most of the espresso based line-up, making everything from the Espresso right through the Latte Macchiato Vanilla. Overall, i think that the Nescafe Dolce Gusto does a better job at the cafe drinks where there are a couple of capsules involved, than the straight Espresso, or even Lungo. The Milk based capsules have non-fat dried milk plus sweetener in them (and sometimes a flavor - like the Latte Macchiato Vanilla) that actually brew up to be a respectable drink. Topped off with the espresso shot, and the result is a lighter flavored coffee house drink.

The Espresso and Lungo drinks were surprisingly good. They brew up well, giving a nice crema layer that sits atop the espresso shot (see picture). I would like to try some darker roasted varieties beyond the standard espresso version. The UK Dolce Gusto site offers Espresso Ristretto and Espresso Intenso flavors which I would like to see come State-side to boost the appeal for bolder flavor likers. (Can't I have them in the US mail order store?)

We also tried the Chococino drinks and enjoyed them; both the adults in the family and the kids too. It worked well at recent family gatherings to have the machine ready to dole out hot chocolates as the adults were enjoying coffee-based drinks.


Ready for Expansion - Adding New Drinks to the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa

With pre-programmed drink recipes in the Creativa pre-set at the factory, one might worry that it won't expand as needed when new drinks come out. How does the Creativa handle new drink recipes? The answer is pretty easily. The LCD screen offers an option to add a new drink recipe to the menu (and delete ones you don't want). By navigating to Options --> Add New --> New Product, you can use the product code printed inside every Nescafe Dolce Gusto capsule box to program the machine. Toggle through letters and numbers to tap out the code and the Creativa will know what recipe to use. You need to type in the name of the recipe when prompted, but overall the process is easy.

NDG_AddFlavor.jpg
Adding a New Flavor - "Dark Espresso" for instance would be a good place to start. The Code comes from inside a new flavor box whenever one is introduced. The machine then learns the recipe from the code.

Review Summary - Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa

I think that the Nescafe Dolce Gusto line and the Creativa are a viable alternative to consider when looking for a way to brew single service coffee/espresso drinks at home. The quick heating, easy to use Creativa make very respectable drinks that will please a wide variety of users. The true aficionado may be a bit constrained by the lack of flavor/blend diversity in the espresso line, but the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Creativa is a nice bridge between a plain old drip machine, and a more involved espresso machine. The 15-bar pressure that propels the Nescafe Dolce Gusto line makes it a real contender and a machine to consider if you are looking to brew more coffee house drinks at home.

Available at Amazon:

- More information at Nescafe Dolce Gusto Site

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Posted by Scott Martin at December 1, 2010 7:00 AM
Recent Comments

For those who really want a bold espresso option, I have found that most end up pleased by using a Cafe Lungo or a Cafe Grande Intenso capsule and brewing it as an espresso. It creates that very intense espresso flavor with slight bite which seems to be more in tune with what true espresso drinkers prefer. I personally find that the DG espresso is a very smooth, mild espresso. I own several DG models and love them all! My Creativa is probably my favorite, but I would love the new Genio model for my office!


Posted by: Christa at December 20, 2011 8:05 AM

Yes, owning two upper models of Tass, if more choices were added the company would take off like a rocket. But I think those of us who own our Bosch Tassimos will need to be consigned to Gevalia and MH. Actually, now that I have the DG Creativa, I believe the DG could take off like a rocket if DG added more to their inventory of capsules. Maybe even more so than the Tassimo, since it has more utility as far as the brewer goes in the 15 bars of pressure and the ability to brew both hot and cold. Too bad Nestle doesn't add a few nespresso capsules and nestea capsules to the DG capsule line-up. What a hit that would be. In my opinion the DG specialty drinks taste so much better. But DG is lacking in other drinks -- coffees & teas. Still I have to admit, I'm not very fond of the coffees and teas left in the Tassimo inventory. Enjoying my Creativa so much more ; )


Posted by: Bekka at April 24, 2011 9:53 AM

We are talking the Creativa here, and I find this little machine to be an excellent brewer. I bought the Creativa so I can brew up my specialty drinks without guesswork on my part. No muss, no fuss, and the caps and lattes are heavenly. I own 2 Tassimo(s), an assortment of Grind & Brews, regular brewers, coffee bean grinders, and now my Dolce Gusto Creativa. I love my coffees LOL. This little brewer does every thing the Tassimo does, and a bit more. DG brews hot and cold, and has the 15 bars of pressure that makes incredible dense froth. That's something my Tassimo doesn't do. The caps, lattes, & hot chocolate, in my opinion taste a lot better from my DG Creativa than my Tassimo. I have a grind and brew on the countertop so I can brew up any coffee I want, including the departed from T starbucks for regular joes. For a great cap, latte, chococino, and peach tea, I'd much rather break out the Creativa, and my company agrees.


Posted by: Bekka at April 24, 2011 9:41 AM

The tassimo makes a great cup o' joe, good latte's and cappuccinos. The downside is Krafts handling of the available t-discs in the states. They really need to pair with premium coffee makers now that starbucks is leaving. If they would expand they're selection of brands, they'd take off like a rocket.


Posted by: Peach at March 6, 2011 7:08 AM

I agree 100% - thank you for not letting me be the only Piccolo hater on this site. In my opinion, the mocha and cap are worst tasting than the gas station varieties. (And I personally hate gas station mochas) I'll be trading in my Dolce Gusto today and testing out the Tassimo


Posted by: Kasey at December 27, 2010 10:57 AM

Just tried the espresso pod from a Maxwell House cappuccino pack, and i even thought IT was better than the DG espresso!


Posted by: Davos at December 1, 2010 10:08 PM

I recently picked up the smallest entry, the Piccolo from a local WalMart, thinking that with the 15 bars of pressure, at a good price ($89), I might be able to get a decent espresso without breaking the bank.

What a mistake.

I found the espresso pod to be VERY sour, and basically tasted, to me, like dark coffee. it did not have that nice mouth feel or the nuttiness that i like. now...granted...it may just be that the coffee packaged in the Nescafe espresso pod is mediocre...and trust me, i'm no coffee snob...but since the other varieties aren't available in the US yet, I decided to take this machine back and try a Tassimo.

I figured that with it, at least I'd be able to try out different varieties and maybe find an espresso that I like. I picked up the T20 and a box of Starbucks Cappuccino pods at walmart and went home and brewed up the espresso pod from that kit on its own...and i have to say, i'm VERY impressed.

the espresso had a MUCH better flavor, or was at least more suited to my tastes, and while the crema was not QUITE as good as the Dolce Gusto (which was VERY good)...it was still impressive.

I've now ordered the Mastro Lorenzo and Carte Noir espresso pods to try them out, but so far...I'd say the Tassimo beats the Dolce Gusto hands down, mainly because you have OPTIONS.


Posted by: Davos at December 1, 2010 2:16 PM
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