Nestle's Nespresso system is the caffeinated version of the Apple ideology: user-friendly, compact, high-quality, superb design, but ultra-proprietary.
It's not often that I look at kitchen appliances on this blog, but when Nestle's Nespresso division contacted me about a week ago and asked if I'd like to look at their new ultra-compact Pixie Electric Titan espresso machine, which they are targeting for sophisticated office cubistas and as graduation presents for kids being sent off to college, I couldn't resist.
I mean, let's face it, high octane coffee drinks are what really drives Information Technology. Geeks are fueled on cappuccinos and lattes and macchiatos. I suspect that without the IT industry, Starbucks wouldn't nearly have become the giant they are today. After all, the company is headquartered in the same metro area as Microsoft. Coinkydink? I don't think so.
The Swiss Nespresso system (produced by Nestlé Nespresso S.A.) has been around for quite a while, particularly in Europe, where it has enjoyed a considerable amount of success since its introduction in the late 1980's.
Essentially, Nespresso is a patented, foil-sealed proprietary capsule that contains ground espresso coffee, and when inserted into a Nespresso-compatible machine, produces a very rich, high quality espresso shot.
While there are other types of espresso systems on the market, such as ones that use E.S.E. pods, and certainly many general-purpose machines (that use regular coffee and have to be hand-tampered) Nespresso is one of the most compact, user-friendly and mess-free systems and one of the least expensive at least in terms of initial investment.
The Nespresso Pixie (Photo from Amazon.com)
And it does produce very good coffee shots. The crema is fantastic and if I didn't know that it came out of this machine, I'd be inclined to believe a professional barista pulled the shots.
The "problem" with Nespresso as that it is really, really proprietary. Unlike Keurig, which uses a similar type of proprietary coffee shot, and has licensed its "K-Cup" manufacturing process to wide variety of companies which distributes those pods to a wide variety of resellers, only Nestle makes and sells Nespresso pods.
You have to get the pods directly from Nespresso via their "club" after registering the unit, and flavors are limited to Nestle's "Grand Cru" selection of espresso and lungo (long shot) formulations.
There are a small number of Nespresso authorized resellers in retail, and you can get them from Amazon as well (and I've also found them on eBay) but essentially, you're locked into Nestle as the supplier.
If you order the supplies from Nespresso directly via their online club (which requires registration) work out to approximately 62 cents per pod after shipping. If you buy the supplies in retail, they will cost more.
[Note: In the video, I state that the pods cost about a dollar each, that's incorrect. I hadn't actually registered the unit during my evaluation and was basing my pricing on Amazon and other retail sources. I appreciate the readers contacting me for the correction.]
Now, if you're thinking about "Jailbreaking" your Nespresso pods, forget about it. Although there are numerous videos that show you how to do this on YouTube, I can assure you that none of these methods will work with Nespresso's latest generation machines such as the Pixie or the Citiz.
The company has re-engineered them so none of these DIY-refills work. I've spent several hours on trying to replicate the results and what appears to happen is that the foil doesn't get punctured properly and you end up not getting optimal pressure and you get a big spillover mess.
There are companies out there that are working on new refillable pods, but it's a patent nightmare and I wouldn't count on being able to home-brew Nespresso pods anytime soon.
So we've got a very compact espresso making machine that's affordable ($250.00) that's easy to use, that's virtually mess-free, and produces a very good espresso shot but you're completely locked into their ecosystem.
If this system hadn't been created in the mid-1970's, I'd swear that Steve Jobs designed it himself. It's the veritable Mac Mini of espresso machines.
The fact that you can only really get coffee from Nespresso directly and no other 3rd-party supply options really exist is not my only problem with this system.
Both my wife and I felt the instructions were woefully inadequate and there isn't a "safety" mechanism that prevents shots from being pulled when the main lever isn't in the locked position or if the disposal tray is removed.
The first time we tried to pull a shot we made one heck of a mess because of the aforementioned issue. And there isn't anything in the instructions which tells you how to remove the disposal area -- you simply pull the front straight off, but that isn't obvious.
So if you're still inclined to buy one of these units, watch my video demo above.
You're probably wondering about cappuccinos and macchiatos and lattes. Yes, you can make them with this unit, but you'll want the separate $99.00 Aeroccino milk steamer/frother which like the Pixie comes in an assortment of matching colors.
I like the fact that it's a separate unit because it reduces the bulk of the main espresso system and it can be easily stored as well as cleaned.
Like the main unit, the Aeroccino is very easy to use, and it produces fantastic frothed milk. Thank heavens you don't have to buy the milk from Nespresso!
Are you longing for an easy-to-use, compact, high quality espresso machine but are willing to tolerate Nespresso's walled garden? Talk Back and Let Me Know.