Let me preface this by saying I recently sold my LaCimbali Junior D/1 espresso machine and Mazzer Mini grinder - commercial, professional equipment both - because I found Nespresso was sufficient. The small footprint and quality shots were enough to let me sell the top notch equipment I had without any regret whatsoever.
As I said in my first review page - for K-cups - it doesn’t take an expert to know what is your favorite type of coffee. Your tastes are perfectly valid for you.
As such, my opinions are only mine, so they may not be right for you. But if you notice that some of mine ARE right for you, there’s a pretty good chance more of mine will be as well.
Still, distinctive characteristics are objective - not subjective, and experienced cuppers at least have more of a basis on which to evaluate coffees and beans. That said, I now present my opinions of Nespresso capsules I've been cupping over the past few months.
Espresso is NOT simply strong coffee. It’s a completely different beverage. Coffee uses water to wash through grinds and only release their water-soluble flavors (the “solubles”). Espresso is made with a small amount of water forced through the grinds at extreme pressure, thus releasing their oil-based flavors (the “insolubles”).
Caffeine, incidentally, is soluble, so coffee has more caffeine than espresso.
Background - I've written articles on cupping and blending coffees, and created the "BASH" technique to invent espresso coffee blends.
My espresso preferences are quite different from my coffee preferences - Medium-dark or Dark roasts, maybe some medium roasts that have a particular flavor characteristic and isn’t sour. Also, some robusta adds body, crema (that delicious tan layer on top), and a pleasant bite for milk espresso beverages.
I rate these capsules on the four star movie scale - 1/2 to ****. Nespresso accurately rates the strength of each capsule (scale of 1 to 10) without attaching any quality meaning to it whatsoever. I used the default amounts of 1 1/3 ounces for a regular and 3 3/4 ounces for a lungo. IMPORTANT: Cutting off the lungos at 2 1/4 ounces generally adds a full star to their rankings! My “always-haves” are those in Blue and the “sometimes-haves” are those in Red.
One other note: Many of the low-rated espressos would make fine Americanos (i.e. “coffees”) by adding hot water, but I’m only rating them on their espressos.
**** THE BEST OF THE BEST!
Crealto - (espresso strength: '8') - LIMITED EDITION - Fall 2012 - There are several aspects to interpreting the qualities of an espresso. I put more value on flavor and body in an espresso than other coffee qualities such as brightness and complexity. In those two important categories, Crealto has hit the sweet spot for my tastes with one of the finest espressos I have ever had. Its long roast brings out the low tones, the roundness, the fullness of this espresso. The body is thick, creamy, and - my favorite quality - buttery. The all-Arabica blend is a nice general one, and with its long roast seems much more like a '9' than its advertised '8' in my interpretation of its intensity. The flavor also hits my sweet spot with a sense of sweetness hinting at vanilla and - my favorite coffee quality - dark chocolate. It's not particularly bright, nor is it very complex. The crema is very nice as is the depth of its aftertaste, but it doesn't reach what one would get from Kazaar or Indriya. I've been tasting Crealto along with its closest comparisons - Dhjana (yes, I still have some!) and Arpeggio. Dhjana is still amazing in its smoothness, but it's silky, not deep. While Arpeggio is approximately equal in intensity to Crealto, it's also brighter, fruitier, and doesn't have the high quality of beans evident in Crealto. If I could only have three espresso blends forever I could make do with these, but I'd pull at least 2/3 of the shots with Crealto. It's that good.
Napoli - (espresso strength: 11) - LIMITED EDITION - Spring 2013 - This is a terrific, bold espresso with a woody, nutty flavor, good crema, HEAVY body, decent brightness for its dark roast, and an amazing beautiful aftertaste. What brings out the flavor so strongly is the extra coffee grounds Nespresso is apparently stuffing into the capsule. It seems to have an extra gram above what a typical Arpeggio capsule has. It compares to a Ristretto capsule in strength, but the extra grounds give it more boldness. It also lacks the robusta edge Ristretto brings to the table, but makes up for that in intensity. Besides straight-up espresso greatness, this makes the most perfect cappuccino I've ever had in a Nespresso capsule.
Dhjana - (espresso strength: '8') - LIMITED EDITION - This Fall 2011 limited release is silky, silky, silky smooth. It doesn't have the overall characteristics and brightness of Arpeggio, and tasted side-by-side with Roma (also espresso strength '8') it wasn't as woody and light. The quality of the beans is clearly better with Dhjana, which is why I'm sure it can only be a limited release. The beans are also roasted a little darker than with Roma. I'd probably call this espresso strength an 8.5 (or Roma a 7.5) if they had half-point increments. The robusta in Dhjana adds enough body, but it's a good quality robusta so the smoothness remains. In fact, I'll bet it's a rich Brazilian base that provides most of its good mouthfeel. Because it's so soft I can't imagine it would make an outstanding milk drink, but as an espresso I'm calling this one of my all-time Nespresso favorites.
Note: Big Drop Off to the Rest of the four-stars...
Arpeggio - (espresso strength: 9) - This is a wonderful Mediterranean blend of arabicas that is thick and strong. It’s rich with a lingering aftertaste, maintains a little brightness and just great. This is similar to the standard American espresso blend.
Indriya - (espresso strength: 10) - This is an entirely Indian coffee blend with plenty of robusta. This exotic blend is smooth with a nice spiciness. Works with milk, but better straight.
Ristretto - (espresso strength: 10) - “Ristretto”, in this case, only refers to the name of the capsule, not to the size of the recommended espresso. This is a traditional Italian espresso blend in that it contains robusta. This one is especially great for cappuccinos, but also gives you a crema bomb for straight shots.
Kazaar - (espresso strength - 12!) - LIMITED EDITION for Winter 2010 and Winter 2012, then made permanent in Summer 2013 - An amazingly rich, dark, strongly robusta blend that combines a thick mouthfeel with a peppery, biting flavor and a huge, BROWN layer of crema! When beans are roasted this dark, you are generally carmelizing the sugars and thinning the oils to the point that you can't get as good a crema as you can with a full city+ roast. This shot makes up for that by adding additional robusta with its naturally thicker body, biting taste, and larger crema - the darkest of which I've ever seen! The smoothness of the crema softens the wonderful bitterness of the robusta immensely. It's a creatively brilliant blend and one that seems so perfect after the fact that it's amazing no one ever thought of doing it before. The flavor will last in your mouth an unbelievably long time. I hope they can duplicate the beans to make this one a regular. Update: It came back as a Limited Release for Winter 2012, and then as a permanent capsule in Summer 2013! I've never seen a limited edition capsule come back for an encore run, so I suppose it was inevitable that this one would stick around.
***1/2 EXCELLENT - I’d recommend any of these in almost any order.
Naora - (espresso strength: 5) - LIMITED EDITION - This Spring 2012 release is a fruity and floral bomb. In the espresso intensity (5) and flavor categories evoked (fruity and floral) it is similar to the Spring 2011 limited release, Onirio. In every other way, shape, and form it is absolutely, positively, completely different. Whereas Onirio was delicate, Naora is wild. Whereas Onirio had a lighter side of medium for both body and crema, Naora has a heavier side of medium in body and crema. But the most obvious and important difference is the contrast of Onirio's soft fruit/floral flavor to Naora's sharp fruit/floral flavor. It comes down to personal preference as both are of very good quality beans and roasts. For me, I preferred the deeper, South American flavor of Naora to the more delicate Moka type of Onirio, but each is a very good example of their regions. I sometimes make unusual aroma comparisons, and here is mine for Naora: it smells like walking into a store that sells potpourri, namely, my local World Market store. Well, it does!
One unusual note - Naora has been priced 3 cents more per capsule than the usual single origin and limited release capsules. I haven't delved into the story behind the coffee to see if Nespresso explains why they did that for this particular release. I'm OK with it if it's a fair trade or organically produced rationale, but I hope it's not a permanent premium on limited releases in the future.
Dharkan - (espresso strength: 11) - Is it possible for an espresso rated this high to be disappointing? Dharkan definitely is a letdown. With an intensity rating of 11, one would think dark, rich, buttery... Instead, we get dark, but we also get silky, a medium-light body, much of the brightness roasted away, and a flavor profile that is somewhat cereal and woody. The reason it still ranks so high is the nice lasting aftertaste due to the good quality of beans used and the more generous amount of grinds in the capsule - for which you pay a premium price. In the end it's a fine espresso, but underwhelming. I tested it side by side with the incredible-but-no-longer-made Napoli, another 11 intensity, and Napoli blew it away. At my next tasting I tried it side by side with Arpeggio (intensity 9), a less premium capsule with 0.7 grams less grinds, and it still lost. On to tasting #3 against the good-but-also-no-longer-made Trieste (another intensity 9), which had also previously underwhelmed. There I found two tremendously different espressos, but similar in quality so here is where is gets placed. Dharkan is probably most similar in lightness of body to Dhjana, but in no way, shape, or form approaches how good that one was. The top three all-time Nespresso capsules are so far above the rest in a league of their own I really should give them their own rating tier.
Trieste - (espresso strength: 9) - LIMITED EDITION - Spring 2013 - Milk chocolate seemed to be the closest comparison I can come up with for this new Limited Release. Released at the same time as Napoli, this seems to also have a half gram or so more coffee in the capsule leading to a rich espresso with OK crema and medium body. I felt the intensity was more like an 8.5, but it had a pleasant flavor with a hint of unsweetened vanilla in the aftertaste. It's a worthy limited release, but not one that excites me enough to want to stock up on.
Hawaii Kona - (espresso strength: 5) - LIMITED EDITION - Fall 2012 - You have to congratulate Nespresso on finding a nice Kona crop to turn into this most expensive and indulgent limited release capsule, but also have to question the timing of this choice. At a time when Kona beans are very hard to find due to a coffee mite that has hurt this past year's crop and the rise in coffee prices overall this makes one wonder why they wouldn't wait for a more abundant supply to make it more accessible and affordable to the public. In any case I come to this capsule with some experience - not just in drinking and loving Kona coffee above all others, but also in having home roasted and pulled many a shot of Kona espresso as well. It's important to remember that espresso is not merely strong coffee. It's an entirely different beverage that simply comes from the same source. While I find that Kona makes OUTSTANDING coffee, it's not at all my first choice for espresso. This particular capsule is of a very high quality Kona crop - crisp, clean, bright, and full of piney goodness in its medium-light roast. This is as good as Kona espresso can get, but Kona just doesn't make the best espresso. If Dulsao and Livanto are your Nespresso capsules of choice, you will go out of your mind over this one. The crema is slight, but the flavor is crisply delicate and longer lasting than you would expect making this a must try if you're willing to meet the outrageous $20.00 per sleeve price point.
Onirio - (espresso strength: 5) - LIMITED EDITION - This Spring 2011 release features wet-processed Ethiopian beans producing a floral shot with a secondary soft fruit finish - think jasmine flowers and soft apricots. It had more body and crema than I thought it would. I thought this was going to be another "Tanzaru"-type release (** 1/2 - espresso strength: 4), which was tasty enough, but too light for me to recommend. Onirio is far different - much richer and, frankly, seemingly more like a 6 or 7 strength than a 5 due to its heavier mouthfeel, but not its medium roasting. I could tell this by tasting it side by side with a Rosabaya (*** - strength: 6). The Rosabaya was darker, but I found the body less than Onirio's. This isn't to say Onirio has the body of, say, Singatobu (*** - espresso strength: '8') or the four four-star espressos I've rated at the top, but the wonderful and rich, lasting flavor make me want to get more before they run out of this limited release.
Cap'Mundo Ebene - (espresso strength: 5 out of 5) - This is a nice Italian-style blend with chocolate and berry notes. Cap'Mundo suggests a 25ml ristretto-size pull for this. I tried it both at 25ml and standard 40ml strengths. It worked well both ways. Compares well with Nespresso's Ristretto capsule with its touch of robusta, and is actually a little smoother than Ristretto although not quite as intense. I suppose that's the reason for the reduced 25ml recommendation by Cap'Mundo. Still, it works nicely either way.
Roma - (espresso strength: '8') - This is a sweet, woody shot. It can work with milk, but is much better straight. Roma’s natural sweetness leads it to one of my favorite uses for espresso - as a topping for ice cream!
*** STILL QUITE GOOD - I’m still happy drinking any of these.
L'Or Sontuoso (espresso strength - 7) - First, I found the espresso strength of this one to be more like "8" than its listed "7". I was initially disappointed in the crema of this pull, but the earthy and nutty flavors made me forget that right away. The body is above average with a low acidity. This is a richer, maltier espresso than Forza, which Sara Lee rates at 9 intensity. I think Sara Lee is confusing intensity with darkness of roast. While less dark than Forza, Sontuoso has the richest flavor and best body of them all. It also has a great lingering aftertaste. This medium-dark is definitely the best of the three regular L'Ors I have to try, and I'm confident is better than the one or two weakest intensity L'Ors I don't have. This one has more Sumatra than Forza and likely has a Bolivian or Brazilian as well. It's yet another simple blend from L'Or, but I would be happy to buy a box of this one regularly and keep it in my rotation.
Singatobu - (espresso strength: '8') - LIMITED EDITION. Every now and then, Nespresso finds a particularly nice estate it makes into a special edition release such as this one for Winter 2009. This is an entirely Sumatran coffee that works well in milk or straight. It has deeply earthy, low tones with a very heavy mouthfeel. Too bad this won’t stay around long.
Rosabaya - (espresso strength: 6) - This is an entirely Colombian coffee blend. This has a medium body and maintains a nice fruity, leather-y flavor long after you’ve downed it.
Decaffeinato Intenso - (espresso strength: 7) - Surprisingly nice decaf with milk or for straight shots.
NOTE: Given all of the espressos listed above this allows for lots of variation in flavors and types of recommended capsules.
**1/2 DECENT, BUT NOT MUCH MORE
Cap'Mundo Copaiba - (espresso strength: 3 out of 5) - This had a nice fruit flavor and some brightness. I'm guessing it's a South American blend as it compares well with Nespresso's Rosabaya, but without quite as high a quality bean/blend involved. Still, it's pleasant enough to give a try. Perhaps a slightly shorter pull than the full 40ml shot would get it up to the next level.
Dulsao - (espresso strength: 4) - Reengineered in Winter 2012 from a "5" to a "4" intensity level. This Brazilian based pure origin is roasted light! Light Brazilian in an espresso??? Brazilians roasted dark are usually the bold, round base of good espressos. The newer 2012 version is even lighter than before with a little less honey taste and is more cereal-like in nature. I'm dropping the new version to a **1/2 rating from its previous *** version. The crema is surprisingly decent and the bean quality is still very good, but the flavor doesn't last. It's just less interesting now.
L'Or Splendente (espresso strength: 7) - This one smelled very clean coming out of the wrapper. The pull looked nice with a decent crema, certainly better than Forza's. The taste was very noticeably caramel-y. The body was medium-light with an average acidity. "Soft", I think, is the best description for it. It's sort of a relaxing, honey-like espresso. It wasn't an overpowering flavor, but it lingered long enough to make it enjoyable. While it's nothing to knock your socks off, it's pleasant enough to be worth an occasional drink. My guess is this one's medium-dark and an all South American blend - likely ether Brazilian or Bolivian with a secondary Colombian.
Livanto - (espresso strength: 6) - This has a round, velvety, and decent body, but also has a plainness that brings down its score for me. The lack of boldness in this one makes it the perfect base to flavorize, which Nespresso does regularly.
L'Or Decaffeinato (espresso strength: 6) - L'Or's only decaf is a more subtle decaf than Nespresso's Intenso version, but far better and more pronounced than the Nespresso regular version. L'Or's gives you a smoother, yet still full-bodied decaf compared to the Intenso. It also has a less-pronounced decaf flavor. For milk drinks the Intenso wins handily, but for straight espressos the L'Or decaf is a nice, occasional change of pace. They're so completely different there's no reason not to have some of both for times you prefer boldness or smoothness. L'Or's crema is decent for a decaf and it's very clean. This is very nicely done and is one I would definitely keep in my cabinet if it were available here. Keep in mind, my ratings on these decafs are compared to any espresso. For decafs, they're both at or near the top.
Fortissio Lungo- (lungo strength: 7) - The best of the regular lungos at 3 3/4 ounces, but add 1/2 star if cutting it off shorter than the long 3 3/4 ounce lungo. This blend of Central and South American beans adds robusta for nice body. Great for a long cappuccino or latte at the long pull, but it's more like an Americano (espresso plus water) when pulled long.
Decaffeinato Lungo- (lungo strength: 7) - This is basically a toned down Decaffeinato Intenso. Add 1/2 star if cutting it off shorter than the long 3 3/4 ounce lungo. Great for a long cappuccino or latte.
Tanzaru - (espresso strength - 4) - LIMITED EDITION for Spring 2010 - This Tanzanian-Peruvian blend has a wonderful citrus-y brightness and grassy quality reminiscent of a good Sauvignon Blanc wine. Unfortunately, the crema is non-existent on this one, so the mouthfeel is thin and weak. Still, the quality of the beans come through for a nice, light espresso if that's your bag.
** - MEH
L'Or Forza (espresso strength: 9) - The L'Or capsules are all clear plastic, so they come individually wrapped in the box to identify them. Forza is the strongest capsule of the L'Or line. Out of the wrapper, it smelled smoky and spicy - almost a cinnamon-type spice, but not exactly. The regular espresso pull shows fairly little crema. Hmmmm. It didn't come out watery, so it has nothing to do with any Nespresso machine design to thwart third party manufacturers. Besides, I bought my CitiZ right after it came out, which was well before Sara Lee announced the L'Or line.
My initial taste was sweet and cocoa. That's pretty nice, but it didn't last - perhaps due to the lack of crema. The acidity is kind of low perhaps due to the dark roast. The body is only medium and may be due to it being 100% arabica, but Arpeggio, its closest Nespresso equivalent by that measure, has better body, a long-lasting flavor, more crema, and has a much different and somewhat brighter flavor profile. Forza's flavor is closer to maybe Roma or a dark version of Rosabaya. Given that flavor profile, I'm guessing this has mostly a Colombian base and a secondary Sumatra for its sweetness and definitely not the best beans available. It's decent, but I'm really not that impressed. If it wasn't for the dark chocolaty flavor, this might even be lower rated.
Capriccio - (espresso strength: 5) - This is a mild one with dense, but delicate crema. The density comes from added robusta, but the mildness of the rest of the beans means the robusta is made more prominent. It’s not so bad, but I don’t think the robusta is enough to make it into a milk drink.
Cosi - (espresso strength: 3) - This one is light, floral and bright with hints of lemon. My guess it’s light-roasted Centrals. This, in particular, might make a fine Americano.
Vivalto Lungo - (lungo strength: 6) - Intense mix of dark and light roasted, and with floral undertones. this one might be OK with milk when pulling a shorter shot. Straight up at 3 3/4 ounces it’s not that wonderful.
Cap'Mundo Umbila - (lungo strength: 3 out of 5) - Despite a little raisin-y fruitiness this one's rather flat and dull. Maybe an espresso 40ml pull instead of the recommended 110ml lungo would improve it some, but I wouldn't count on it.
Linizio Lungo - (lungo strength: 4) - Pleasant enough medium roast lungo blend, but very weak in the end result. Not exactly bland, and, in its favor, not at all bitter given the long 3 3/4 ounce-pull, but it's just not very exciting to have a drink that watered down. Could be finer at a shorter pull.
*1/2 - I’LL JUST PASS ON THAT, THANK YOU.
Caffe Vergnano Intenso (advertised espresso strength: 5 out of 5, not out of 10 like Nespresso rates) - Like the L'Or capsules, Caffe Vergnano's are all clear plastic, so they also come individually wrapped in the box to identify them. Intenso is the strongest Caffe Vergnano capsule. My first red flag about this capsule came upon opening the wrapper. The aroma from the capsule was, well, "chalky" for lack of a better word. Of course, the proof is in the pull so in the Pixie it went and out came the espresso that turned blonde too quickly. That could easily be due to the capsules not holding as much coffee as the regular Nespresso fare. Fine. Unfortunately, the final pull didn't look so great, either. The crema was slight, too bubbly, and rapidly dissipating. The taste confirmed what all these factors - chalky aroma, slight crema that's overly bubbly, weak and disappearing - pointed to. It's stale.
It's also obviously made from cheap, poor quality beans that cost next to nothing after the good beans are sold to better roasters. OK, it's kind of raisin-y in flavor and kind of bland, so it's not really offensive. It's just not good or fresh.
Volluto - (espresso strength: 4) - This is a blend featuring light-roasted Brazilian, which, as I said in the Dulsao, is not my preference. The Dulsao’s single origin outperforms this one.
Cap'Mundo Zabrano - (espresso strength: 3 out of 5) - Dominated by a rather unpleasant, stale, or over-extracted woody, cereal flavor this added an odd metallic, brassiness that really left a bad taste in my mouth.
Cap'Mundo Dabema - (espresso strength: 2 out of 5) - Not completely awful decaf, but absolutely fails in a side-by-side with Nespresso's Decaffeinato Intenso. It's really not worth the bother.
* - NO, JUST... NO.
Finezzo Lungo - (lungo strength: 3) - This Central American, South American, and African blend is too light and over-extracted at the regular 3 3/4-ounce size. Consider the added robusta besides and I can’t find anything really to recommend about this one at all. Still, it has some floral undertones and actually has decent body to keep it from the very bottom of the ratings heap. I haven't had the opportunity to try this one at a shorter pull, but it would only likely add one star at best.
1/2 - MAY BE GOOD FOR REMOVING PAINT OR KILLING UNWANTED VEGETATION
Decaffeinato - (espresso strength: 2) - It’s decaf and thin so it can’t hold up as a straight shot or stand up to milk. There’s simply too much argument to have the Intenso or Lungo versions rather than having to put up with this one.
Last edited by dsharp88
on Mon Sep 09, 2013 8:41 am, edited 75 times in total.