March 11, 2014

Review: Nespresso VertuoLine Espresso and Coffee Machine

Nespresso_New.jpg

The Nespresso Machine Line has grown in a direction that is a move to take on the US Market; one that is just recently dominated more and more by the K-Cup, with incredible growth in the past 4-5 years. Nespresso has a market share dominant position in Europe, where the classic Nespresso capsules account for well per half of the single serve coffee market. Yes, Espresso is the cup of the day for many Europeans.

To take on the US Market, Nespresso reportedly worked on this innovative machine for a decade; with a new "Centrifusion" extraction technique that spins the dome shaped capsule at 7,000 RPMs while pumping hot water into the middle of the capsule, and spinning it out the perimeter of the capsule. The technique is novel, and produces a full bodied cup of coffee and a good espresso.

There's a lot to like about the VertuoLine machine and a fees things to dislike. Will they see success in the US market, or will it become an also-ran that barely makes its mark?

Full review is after the jump….

Machine Design and Brewing Experience

The machine is well designed, both from a functional and aesthetic standpoint. The size might look imposing in pictures, but it stands about the same size as a Keurig B-70 machine on the countertop, and is absolutely acceptable in terms of footprint.

The reservoir is accessible on the left side of the machine; and is a little small coming in at just 40-ounces. If you are brewing 8-ounce coffees, you'll want a larger one. The mirror image "tank" on the right side is the spent capsule bin where about 10 Nespresso Capsules can go to die. I found I emptied this infrequently, and the size is fairly accommodating for the two coffee drinkers in the house.

On/Off/Brew - the machine has no on/off button, and instead waits for you to lock in a new capsule, then heats up to brew temperature, and goes from blinking to a solid glow on the sole button on the machine. It's prominent on the top of the machine, and can't be missed. The heating happens in about 10-15 seconds; incredibly fast; with the machine sitting down after about 9-minutes idle time. Pleasant and easy.

Brewing the capsules takes about a minute for a full coffee, and just about a blink of time for an espresso. Enough time to grab a spoon and sugar if you wanted, and bam, it's done. In rarity, it's about 30 seconds.

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Sound While Brewing - so while this thing has some parts spinning at 7,000 RPMs, and it sounds like it might just take off, it is actually quieter than the Latissima Plus that sits next to it on my counter; a whole 10 decibels quieter at one foot distance (65DB vs 55DB) according to some app I downloaded on my smartphone. It reinforces that I noticed too as I brewed the first few; odd new sound, quieter than a typical Nespresso machine. This 55DB is in the range of normal conversation in the home, or a suburban street according to some online sources. I think that because it isn't pumping at 15-19 Bar, it has an advantage over the pressure based systems.

Crema - the Crema on espresso and a cup of coffee, yes, a cup of coffee is thick and inviting. The extraction method may not develop from a 15-19 bar pump, but instead emulsifies the air into the extracted solids and oils to create an inviting topping. It starts to make an event out of "plain old" coffee. In my Bodum Pavina 12-ounce cups, I got a full to the brim brew, with only about 8-ounces of coffee, and the rest crema. The crema lasts a while, but subsides in 10-15 minutes (if you really can wait that long).


Nespresso_CoffeeBrewed.jpg
Coffee brewed - eight ounces of coffee; four ounces of crema


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A little less dramatic, but no less good - an espresso brewed from the VertuaoLine Brewer


Drip Tray - there is a drip tray and round cup holder on the machine. The chrome cup holder grate has a tab on the back that allows you to slide the cup holder UP the curvature of the machine into a notch, which allows you to easily set the cup holder to a good height for an espresso shot. The whole tray slides out form the machine to accommodate a travel mug sitting right on your countertop. Drips, if any, go right on the counter…. The drip tray is thin, but over a week+ of use, I really didn't need to empty it.

Milk Frother - the machine doesn't have one; but you can buy an Aeroccinno to create "steamed" or "Frothed" milk. If you want hot milk, you'll need the add-on equipment, sorry.

VertuoLine Taste

The coffees were very good, and a small gift box-like sampler comes with your machine. My deco is that if you are going to buy this machine, pick out a few sleeves of capsules along with the machine. They are $9.50 each for the coffee capsules, and you'll rip through the stingy number of samples in no time.

The capsules brew according to the little bar code that surrounds the rim of the capsule. The heartier capsules, like Stormio brew up with a very full body, and a classic Italian espresso flavor. The lighter Elvazio is lighter in roast, lighter aromatic notes, and lighter in body. The starker brews have a body to them that is impressive. There are vanilla and hazelnut capsules, so it will be interesting to see if Nespresso comes out with Variations flavors for this format also. I think they will want to spice the line up with the excitement too.

Brewing up espressos is equally rewarding, with a good solid body to them. I was skeptical overall, but the espressos are respectable. They are not as full-bodied as a properly pulled ristretto in your favorite coffee shop, but for ease and simplicity, it's not a bad little cup.

NespressoVertuoCapsules.jpg

Grab some extra capsules if you order a machine; you'll probably work your way through the few samples that they send.

Spent Capsules - On the right side of the machine, the VertuoLine captures spent capsules in the translucent bin. I counted about 13 coming out of mine in a mix of espresso and coffee capsules. That's pretty good, and the water reservoir (same size, left side of machine) drains a heck of a lot faster than the capsules build up. In the picture below, you can see the pattern the machine makes on the capsule as it punctures the middle, and pumps in the water while spinning. On the perimeter, the brewed coffee drains as it spins. Clever.


Vertuo_LineSpentCapsule.jpg


Love-Hate Relationship

After a week+ of brewing with the VertuaoLine machine, I came across a few things I don't like and a few things I love. In no particular order, here are a few:

Stuff I don't like….

Foam/Froth - yes, I know that I liked the effect of crema, and raved about it, but I think this might be too much. As you sip your coffee your foam starts to subside, and you tend to sip a little off it. As you do, it turns into this dark brown streaked stuff that is reminiscent of roadside snow covered in road grime during the spring melt. Is this still a good thing?

Roadside_crema.jpg

After a while, the crema isn't so attractive, or rich looking.

Another issue, and this is minor, but I add milk to coffee on occasion. I figure out how much by color of the coffee; its subconscious, and took me a while to adjust to having crema hide my coffee. When the crema is on top you can't see how much you are adding. I actually have to pay attention now, vs. going on autopilot from decades of subconscious metering due to color of the coffee. My solution? Brew in a clear glass Bodum Pavina glass; you can see through the side.

Capsules are Huge - Yea, I know, some will just say, "Suck it up". These take up some real estate and you can rip through a few a day no problem, so that means you need a bunch on hand. Good luck if you like a half dozen different variations…. meaning you'll want them all on hand. Plan on some cabinet real estate for your new capsule collection.

Won't accept large diameter cups - the indentation in the front of the machine prevents you from using a cup that necks in at the top because the spout only sticks out a bit, and as such dribbles down the side of your mug. Go for straight sided mugs here.

Stuff I Love

Nespresso Vertuo Machine Heats up in under 15 seconds - yea, that's right, That's faster than the Millennium Falcon jumping to hyperdrive.

Body in the Coffee - The cups of coffee have a solid amount of body to them. Nice, full-bodied coffee.

Crema - The coffee and espresso really go beyond crema. Is the US ready for this? Not sure, but it's more foamy than that tight firm foam of a nice steamed milk.

Flavor - the flavor is really pretty good for a single serve coffee or espresso. The convenience of a single machine for both is killer.

Will it work in the US Market?

Nespresso is pretty successful, and they are not launching this without plenty of research is my guess. They have some well understood issues stacked against them:

The K-cup head start; with a huge head start, and a commanding share in the marketplace, is there room for a new single cup brewer that does coffee with an espresso on the side? How many different K-Cups are available now; somewhere north of 100 different varieties, I would say, and with every major coffee player in the mix, this format is going to continue to roll.

Cost - the Machine isn't outrageously expensive at $299, but it is definitely upscale. The capsules are a fair bit higher than the $0.50 you can find K-Cups for, so for roughly twice as much, will Americans go for it? I think in reference to a $2 dip and a $4 latte, Nespresso might be taking this in-between product of not quite coffee and not quite a latte as a new and unique product offering. Sure, I know it's all coffee, but this will be a different drinking experience for most Americans.

Premium Product - In order to gain acceptance, Nespresso has to create a product that both expands the overall appeal of their product, but they have to do it in a way that is a premium experience. I would say that the coffee brewing experience is definitely premium to a boring K-Cup, but will it grab people who want Coffee and Espresso from Nespresso?They can't just replace the machines for those who have already bought a Nespresso or Espresso machine. I would expect that they will use this machine as a basis for product expansion once it is on a firm market footing, upping the ante and premium product offering.

Review Summary

In considering the question of who does this machine go after in the US market, and will it be a success, you have to think that there are some audiences who are less cost conscious. My hunch is that you are looking for younger coffee fans who like higher quality coffees from a coffee shop, and want to have a premium experience at home. They are willing to splurge on a machine like this, and make it a part of their style conscious lifestyle. The other target I would expect is an older set, who are making six figures and want a premium coffee experience, while flirting with espressos every now and then.

The Nespresso VertuoLine Machine performed well for this review, and it's definitely a premium coffee brewer that also does a good job at an espresso. It's well designed, and brewed up a consistently good cup each time. The convenience, and sub-15 second ready time makes this a winner in my book for impatient coffee fans. This is not for the perfectionists who enjoy the labor of a great shot; you'll need something different. If you want a new coffee experience, and one that can crank out consistently good espressos on a daily basis, and don't mind paying a bit more than a lower-end K-Cup machine.

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Posted by Scott Martin at March 11, 2014 1:02 AM
Recent Comments

Erik,

Answering a few questions:

So the whirring is definitely there, but 10db lower than a Latissima+ at the same distance according to a sound meter App on my smartphone (doubtful accuracy most likely). The sound to may ear matches the sound meter on the smartphone; it is quieter than an espresso machine from Nespresso.

As for vibration - it doesn't vibrate when it spins/brews.

Erik - regarding glasses; you'll want bigger glasses; the 12-ounce juuuuuuuust barely holds the typical coffee. I add milk a minute later or so when I have milk in my coffee and by that time the crema settles down just enough to add some. Also, the crema has a lot of body to it, so it's not like cheap beer that flows over a glass when it comes up; it's more like a quality beer poured in Germany from the tap.


Posted by: Scott Martin at April 13, 2014 7:55 PM

Nice review! Just a couple of questions though. How hot is the coffee compared to the Vue or other single-serve machines? Also you showed that in your 12-ounce Bodum glass, the crema came up to the very top. Is the coffee/crema going to run over the top of a smaller mug? I typically use an 8-ounce Bodum coffee mug.


Posted by: Erik G. at March 13, 2014 1:48 PM

SH,

Excellent question - added a section to the review above. Thanks. SM


Posted by: Scott Martin at March 12, 2014 9:35 PM

What about machine sound/vibration during the brew process? If it spins up to 7000rpm, doesn't this result in a rather loud "whirring" noise which would also cause the counter top to vibrate? (Or have Nespresso figured out a way to reduce noise/vibration?)


Posted by: SH at March 11, 2014 9:38 AM
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