Like other reviewers of Nespresso machine, I was skeptical of the whole capsule system. I did not like the expense of it nor having to purchase exclusively through Nespresso. I didn't like the idea of only being able to use Nespresso coffees, either. There are local roasters here in Seattle that I would prefer to support and with the Nespresso system, I can't buy their coffees. I seriously never thought I would buy a Nespresso. However, I was at a high-end Italian furniture store in my neighbothood and they had a brand new Richard Sapper-designed Alessi Coban for half price. My only excuse is that I am easily seduced by good looks, I guess. The machine is stunning, and beautifully made (in Switzerland). One thing you really have to give Nespresso is that they care about design. Their line includes some real lookers, but this one to me is the most beautiful. Also, the body is enameled aluminum and the whole thing has a solid feel (without being overly heavy) the finish is really nice. I had tried a shot from one of these machines before and I was pretty impressed...so I thought "why not?" and bought the machine. I have had it for a week now and I am happy to say that I do not regret it at all. I have never made so much coffee in a week and since I can't sleep anymore, I figured I'd write a review!
The machine comes with four boxes of 10 capsules each for you to sample. It would have been nice to have a sampler of all 12 of the premium blends available so I knew which to order. Instead for my first order I ordered a sampler of all the blends. I figure after that I'll narrow it down to my favorites. The package also includes two Alessi espresso cups and saucers, and a tool kit for maintanance/de-scaling.
The machine makes it so fast and easy to pull a very good shot, I still can't quite believe it. One other review said that this was a great thing for her, not because she's lazy, but because she is very very busy. Well, I'm not too busy, but I'm very very lazy. And I don't really like all the effort and especially the clean-up involved with making espresso (especially milk drinks) at home. With the Nespresso, you just pop in the capsule, pull the shot, toss away the capsule, and that is about it. It is so simple to use I don't really feel the need to comment on the instruction booklet, which is quite good anyway. You'll be pulling perfect shots on this machine within minutes. And there is almost no clean-up. Also the machine heats up so quickly you can easily pull a bunch of shots successively if you have company. The temperature is perfect and the shots are completely consistent. And if one of your guests wants to try another blend, or wants decaf, or whatever, it is no problem at all as long as you have the capsules on hand. So that is great. Of course the capsules costs 50 cents each, so you pay for the convenience. But Nespresso makes it very easy to order them, and they come to you fast. In Europe, and NYC I think there are Nespresso boutiques where I assume you can go pick up your capsules. That would be nice but there are no boutiques in Seattle. There are twelve blends for short or long espressos, and there are special seasonal varieties available as well. The capsules are aluminum and sealed to keep the coffee very fresh. They also insure that you will always have a perfect grind. I think that is the best thing about them. There are a ton of fancy-shmancy accessories available through Nespresso if you want to really get into it -- this product is clearly meant to have some snob-appeal. That doesn't impress me much but the quality of the coffees and the shots really does. The crema is lovely, the temperature is just right, and the coffee is just rich and flavorful. I won't say it compares to the best out there but it is very enjoyable and better than you'd get at most cafes by far.
I am less impressed by the frothing...although there is plenty of steam power there, and no waiting time after you pull your shot. But I don't get the microfoam that I want. Not sure if this is because of this frothing attachment on the wand? Mind you, the frothing isn't bad, it just isn't perfect. But I think my lattes and cappuccinos are better than any that I've made at home before. All in all, a great machine!
A couple of things I didn't mention -- the heating system is thermablock. The system heats up fast and is ready again almost immediately after pulling a shot or frothing. The pump has 19 bars of pressure. The water container holds 1.1 liters and is very easy. It sits on top of the machine and is a very pronounced design element. It has a cap which pops off if you want to fill it while it is on the machine, or you can very easily remove it from the machine by just lifting it up and you can pour the water in from the tap or a pitcher. The Coban doesn't have a heating plate for cups which is too bad. It has plenty of room for one, but I think it wasn't included because it would complicate the look of the machine, which is rather minimalist. I have seen this machine for sale on websites that say the machine has a cup heating tray, and I have no idea what they are talking about. The manual recommends running water through the machine into the cup before you pull a shot, which pre-heats the cup. The portafilter is quite nice and hefty, with a chromed capsule holder and a built-in filter. I think it has a good feel in your hand. The drip tray is a decent size, as it runs the length of the machine, although it is not especially deep. It is covered in a attractive and substanial stainless steel grid. It is very easy to remove and clean -- so easy I've been doing it each time. I'm not sure what kind of system is used for the steam pump but it certainly is powerful and requires no waiting time -- it's always ready to go. The water for the steam is not pulled from the water supply but rather it uses the water that is already inside the machine from the warm-up. So the machine will produce steam on demand but when the water inside the machine runs out, you must pull a blank shot to reprime the pump and then you have another supply of water for the steam. It does take a while to run out of the steam, and you probably would not need to go through that unless you are making a large number of lattes. On the first usage (with each use of the machine) water comes out of the steam wand for a second before the steam kicks in, so you have to let it do that before you put it in the milk. It can't do large amounts of milk at a time, unfortunately. It tells you to do 3 or 4 oz. of milk maximum. So you do the milk for each shot separately.
UPDATE: I had a chance to experience Nespresso customer service because I wanted to ask about the milk frothing. They can be reached by email or by phone, and when I emailed them, I heard back within a couple of hours with a detailed response. They suggested a technique for frothing the milk. They told me that the proportions of the milk to the size of the pitcher are significant, and Nespresso has designed a pitcher that is specifically for use with their machines to get the best frothing. I hope I'm not a sucker but I just ordered it!
I gave this machine the highest marks for quality and aesthetics, which I think are well-deserved. The usability is fantastic, and I only marked it down a notch because you can't just go down the street to get the coffee. It's not a huge hassle to order the coffees but it would be better if you didn't have to. I wasn't sure how to grade the cost vs. value category because I got a good deal on the machine, but if I had to pay full price, maybe it would seem too high of a price! But it's a really cool machine and I'm thrilled with it.
UPDATE: I have been using the Nespresso recommended frothing pitcher for a few weeks now and I have been practicing quite a bit. I think the advice I was given on how to foam from the Nespresso rep wasn't so good. Like I was told, you did need the right pitcher and the right proportion of milk. Then you tilt the pitcher and so you can get the frothing wand in deep in the corner of the pitcher. I have been getting awesome microfoam every time! I have to say I am really impressed with the frothing ability of this machine now. I recommend getting this pitcher from Nespresso, and once you get the hang of it, the results are great.
Here are the coffees I am partial to -- obviously a matter of taste but for what it's worth, I think the Ristretto is great for cappuccinos. I like the Livanto and Volluto for shots. I also get the Vivalto for long shots.