How to use a Nespresso machine to make espresso drinks at home

Nespresso machines are perfect for those looking for an easy way to make espresso-style drinks at home.
It’s the closest you’ll get to a true espresso without having to invest in a full espresso system.
Nespresso machines use coffee capsules and allow you to prepare coffee in various sizes.

An expertly prepared espresso is a work of art, but it usually requires training and a traditional espresso machine that uses steam and a great deal of pressure to produce the ideal shot. If you don’t have the space or budget to invest in a true espresso machine, a Nespresso machine could be an ideal alternative.

“A Nespresso machine works the same way as an espresso machine, using pressure, but on a much smaller scale and potentially less consistent,” says Owen Burke, resident espresso expert at Insider Reviews. “It’s incredibly easy for someone to use, and while it doesn’t produce espresso by definition, it’s as close as you’ll get with as little effort as possible.”

According to Burke, the “espresso” that comes out of a Nespresso machine doesn’t have enough TDS, or total dissolved solids, to qualify as a true espresso. That said, it makes a fantastic base for espresso-style drinks like lattes and cappuccinos and is a reasonable substitute for those who crave a demitasse of this rich, intense decoction.

How does a Nespresso machine work?

Nespresso makes a few different models, but most of them have the same basic structure for making espresso. The body has a slot to insert a Nespresso-compatible capsule, and when the lid is then closed, the espresso-making process begins.

The capsule is pierced, and the external tank feeds heated water into the capsule chamber under high pressure, eventually creating a crema-topped shot in the selected size. The spent pod is then ejected into a container below the capsule chamber to be discarded later.

Setting up a Nespresso machine

Before its first use, it’s important to rinse and clean the water tank, filling it with fresh drinking water. Switch the Nespresso on and let the machine warm up for about 25 seconds — its lights will blink green as it’s warming up then turn solid green when it’s ready.

Place a cup under the spout and once the light is steady, run the machine without a capsule using the Lungo setting — the one that uses the most amount of water, symbolized by the tallest cup — in order to clean the machine. Repeat three times, throwing out the expelled water. It is then ready to use.

What do the settings mean?

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Nespresso machines typically have three settings for making espresso, with each button representing the size of the resulting shot.

Ristretto (Italian for “restricted”) uses the least amount of water and is the most concentrated. It produces a shot of 25 milliliters or 0.84 ounces and is symbolized by a small cup of espresso.

The Espresso setting will give you a 40 milliliter or 1.35 ounce pour and is represented as a medium sized espresso cup.

Lungo pours are 110 milliliters or 3.72 ounces and have a large amount of water added, making them more similar to an Americano. It is symbolized by the largest espresso cup of the three.

Some older models in the Original line, such as the Pixie, Essenza mini, and Citiz, only have the Espresso and Lungo configurations. The new Vertuo line includes all three settings, plus additional options for regular drip coffee, symbolized by a tall cup of coffee. And the Latissima line, which has a self-contained milk frother, offers additional one-touch settings like latte, macchiato, cappuccino and flat white, each with distinctive symbols showing their respective milk-to-espresso ratios.

What pods should I use?

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Nespresso makes its own brand of aluminum capsules intended for use with its machines, available directly through its website or through various department stores and retailers. The range of coffees ranges from single origin to flavor blends, with seasonal releases and special editions throughout the year. There are two types of pods:

The original capsules are compatible with Le Cube, Citiz, Essenza, Pixie, Lattissima, Maestria and Creatista machines.
Vertuo capsules are compatible only with the Nespresso Vertuo line.

Burke says there are also several other alternatives that make the pods compatible with Nespresso Original, as well as reusable versions that can be refilled at home, such as Seal Pods. He does note that Keurig K-Cups, Vittoria Espressotoria, K-Fee and softgels will not work in a Nespresso machine.

The best coffee and espresso pods

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How to make coffee with a Nespresso machine

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    1. Turn on the machine and insert the Nespresso pod. Leave the cover open as the machine heats up and lights blink green. Place a cup under the coffee spout.
    2. Choose a beverage size. For a traditional espresso pour, select the Espresso button. For a more concentrated shot, pick the smaller Ristretto setting, and for a more diluted shot, opt for Lungo.
    3. Once the light is a steady green, close the cover. It will automatically start brewing, sending the desired sized pour into the cup below the spout.
    4. Wait until you hear the capsule ejecting. Some coffee may continue to flow out of the spout until the spent capsule drops, so a cup or the drip tray there until the machine has stopped completely. Some models, like the Pixie, require manual ejection of the capsule. Simply open the pod chamber again and it will fall to the waste bin.
    5. Dispose or recycle the used capsule. The aluminum capsules can be saved for recycling or thrown away.

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