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Since when I bought a Nespresso Coffee Machine, I’ve been on a quest to try all their capsules and understand how to use them (with milk, with an espresso or a lungo etc.) and which ones were my favourites. Having just completed such a quest, finally but not without great satisfaction in between, I’m sharing my observations on each one. For more lengthy reviews, info and updated news on the Nespresso coffee world, head to Nespresso Guide
A short introduction to the Nespresso capsules classification
Nespresso itself helps us a lot by having a default classification of the capsules according to use, intensity and origin. Coffee connoisseurs will have thus an idea of the taste of a capsule without even tasting it already. For everybody else, let’s break it down what the classification means.
Espresso capsules. These are the standard ones, the ones you probably want to use when you’re looking for a short cup of coffee (so either an espresso or a ristretto, by using the conventional sizes of any Nespresso coffee machine). Usually a blend of different coffees in order to make the final taste just as described.
Intenso capsules. As the espresso ones, these are blended from different origins to make an usually more intense coffee. If you are like me in preferring coffee with a high intensity, these are your first bet.
Pure Origin capsules. These are coffee that have a single origin, not blended. For instance, if you have already tried many coffees from Ethiopia and liked them, you will probably enjoy the Pure Origin capsule that Nespresso has selected from that country (Bukeela).
Lungo capsules. As per name, these capsules are meant to be used in longer cups of coffees (or americano), as their flavour has been selected to keep its intensity even when adding a larger ratio of water. They’re a blend too.
Decaffeinato capsules. “Decaffeinato” is italian for “decaf”. Thus, coffee without caffeine. Self-explanatory.
Variation capsules. These are flavoured capsules, vanilla, caramel or chocolate, that give an usually not long cup of coffee a twist. I don’t personally think they’re that great nor needed in the offer of Nespresso capsules but to each his own.
This is then the main classification of Nespresso capsules. Within each category there are a lot of differences which I’m now going to explain.
(Intensity: 5/12). Mostly Arabica with some Robusta. Light in acidity, “doughy” in its mouth feeling (think of cereals), dry and with a very pleasant smell of “espresso”. Overall, pretty balanced.
(Intensity: 4/12). South American Arabica for this grand cru. It is definitely one of the sweetest Nespresso capsules so if you like it sweet you may first try this one. Not strong, no pronounced smell. Not one of my favourites.
(Intensity: 6/12). Arabica from Central and South America. A stronger version of the Capriccio, same “espresso” smell, same cereal notes but with a thicker foam and slightly more bitter (probably due to the longer roasting). Very well balanced still, I like this one a lot.
(Intensity: 4/12). Costarican and Kenyan Arabica, making a nice mix. Not a strong flavour but decidedly more delicate than the other Espresso capsules. Dry and cereals like for Capriccio and Livanto but weaker and with a more bland smell. It’s not one I drink often as I find it a bit dull.
(Intensity: 8/12). Central America Arabicas also for this italian-inspired Nespresso capsule. Not very intense but more aromatic, with lots of subtle hints of cereals, wood and roast. On the sweet side. I find it marries very well Latte and all “macchiato” drinks so pair up with milk when you fancy it.
(Intensity: 10/12). Mostly Arabica with some Robusta, from South American and Eastern Africa. It is THE capsule for a ristretto cup, thus the name. If you like a very short coffee, that’s the capsule you’d like to try first. As you can guess, it’s pretty strong and intense, bitter and with hints of chocolate. Not a light roast by any means. I like it but not among my handful of favourites.
(Intensity: 11/12). A mix of 4 different origins. Strong smell, quite bitter due to the long roasting on low heat. Silky in mouth and chocolate notes for this very intense capsule. You can’t really go wrong with a cup of Dharkan if you like your coffee strong. A personal favourite.
(Intensity: 12/12). Robusta from Guatemala and Brazil. The most intense capsule of them all, strong smell and a persistent foam. Bitter as hell but creamy too. My very favourite, it beat every coffee I’ve ever drank in my life but for a very close bunch that can be counted on the finger of one hand. Unless you really dislike dark roasted coffees, this is close to perfection.
(Intensity: 3/12). Arabica from Ethiopia. One of the less intense among the offer of Nespresso capsules, it makes for a very delicate cup of coffee. Hints of flowers and wood can be discerned. Nice smell. Not my cup of coffee (pun intended) but can be nice as a light drink.
(Intensity: 10/12). Robusta intensely roasted and Arabica lightly roasted from India. The result is a roasted, bitter, intense, foamy and with hints of spices cup of coffee. It is more variegated than the Intenso capsules but somehow comes out less strong. Nice origin nonetheless.
(Intensity: 6/12). Only Colombian beans. Nice smell of “wine”, good acidity, nutty. The aftertastes borders the dry and medium bitter. Overall another well balanced capsule.
(Intensity: 4/12). Pure brazilian beans. Not very intense, it is a successful mix of sweet and bitter flavours. Good acidity. Lacking in aftertaste. The least distinct of the Pure Origin capsules.
Master Origin capsules
Nespresso recently removed the above series of Pure Origin, introducing 5 new capsules, Master Origin pods. Until the Pure Origin stock lasts they can be still be found but soon only Master Origin ones will be available. Be aware that all the new Master Origin capsules are marketed to be brewed as espresso or lungo only, not ristretto.
(Intensity: 4/12). 100% Arabica from Ethiopia. The weakest of the series, it is fruity, a bit floreal, with good cream, nice smell that permeates the room and a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. Typical ethiopian coffee, it will please those looking for a flavourful and light coffee.
(Intensity: 5/12). Another 100% Arabica. It is slightly flavoured with honey and that makes it sweeter than the Ethiopian one, more on the cereal-side in terms of taste, no perceived bitterness, medium smell. A good choice for breakfast or for coffees with milk (albeit not much milk as the flavour will be submerged by it).
(Intensity: 6/12). A surprisingly wine-y coffee from Colombian Arabica beans. It is categorized as a “ripe red fruits” flavour but it does actually remembers you of red wine at a first sip. Fascinating capsule, neither strong nor weak, with medium smell and cream. I wouldn’t pair it with anything, drinking it straight, not even with sugar to not lose any of the subtle hints this capsule can offer the drinker.
(Intensity: 8/12). Sumatran Arabica beans for this gem of a coffee. An incredible smell and aftertaste of tobacco, persistent too, for a tropical woody coffee. Cream is intangible yet it generates a strikingly semblance with a stout beer, in consistence and taste. Truly an experience, may not be your favourite ever but I bet it will grow on many.
(Intensity: 11/12). A Robusta and Arabica mix from Indian beans. It strongly reminds me of the Pure Origin Indryia, unsurprisingly. Well-roasted, spicy, woody, bitter flavour for a perfect and without compromises cup of espresso. Quite strong, I wouldn’t drink it as a lungo or with milk it came out amazing with a dash of almond milk in it.
(Intensity: 9/12). Mexican and Indian green beans for this capsule. The strongest characteristic is a flavour of gingerbread, unlike any other Nespresso capsules. Perfect for those winter mornings with snow outside or close to Christmas.
(Intensity: 6/12). A vanilla-flavoured capsule. The vanilla flavour is marked and makes for a velvety, sweet cup of coffee. It obviously dampens the proper coffee flavour but I guess you can’t have everything.
(Intensity: 6/12). The added caramel makes it quite sweet. Stay away from it if you like your coffee bitter (like me…). It keeps a stronger coffee flavour than the Vanilio. With added sugar is like a candy.
(Intensity: 6/12). Chocolate dominates this capsule. Perhaps too much as it tastes 50% as a coffee and 50% as a cup of chocolate. Nicely some hints of bitterness remember you that it is indeed coffee what you’re drinking.
These are the standard Nespresso capsules as they’ve been sold for many months now. From time to time there’s a new one, a special edition of some sort, coming out for some weeks and then removed from the market. In the past, but may still be available from third-party resellers, there was Cafezinho Do Brazil, Milano, Robusta Uganda, Ethiopia Harrar, Ispirazione Salentina and others. Most of them are pretty good too so grab them when they’re out to test and stash them if they meet your tastes as they usually don’t last much.