Espresso vs Nespresso vs illy iperEspresso – Capsule Espresso Machines vs Semiautomatics

You are on the quest to getting the best shot of espresso, and naturally, you need to compare Espresso vs Nespresso. Even the most fervent Nespresso enemies have tasted it, just to have an idea. Whether they like it or not, Nespresso is here to stay, and it will serve millions of happy customers. The question is “Is it good enough for you?”

See the differences between pod and classic espresso machines. Compare Illy vs Nespresso vs Espresso to reveal the best solution for convenience, price & taste.


side by side espresso and portafilter and tamper

I know you want to buy an espresso machine right now, whether it is a regular semiautomatic or a capsule-based one. You would like a simple answer to your question, but the answer is not that simple, because taste is subjective. There are a few factors to consider: what kind of drinks you like, or how expensive it will be in the long run. Bare with me and I’ll explain everything.

If you are in a hurry and only want to know what’s the taste difference between the two, take the shortcut, otherwise, read on.

Nespresso vs Espresso Comparison - Perfection Brewing vs Convenience


The biggest debate in certain coffee connoisseur circles is whether Nespresso delivers the same great taste as an espresso machine. While this is a perfectly valid question, for most of us it’s not the most important one. We’ll discuss taste in a bit, but let’s talk convenience now.

For most people the convenience of popping in a capsule and pressing a button is everything. Some of us can’t function that well before the first few sips of coffee.

Let’s take a semi-automatic, the standard when we are talking espresso. Measuring, grinding, tamping, timing, etc… Seems like a long journey to that first elusive coffee sip. That’s why a capsule based espresso maker is so convenient.

A super automatic espresso machine is a great alternative, but still, it’s not quite as convenient as a Nespresso machine, and they are a few times more expensive. The conclusion is very simple, from a convenience perspective, Nespresso is the winner.

Nespresso Inissia

Inissia is the least expensive brewer from Nespresso and is a best seller on Amazon. The machine is easy to use, reliable, and give you a great cup of coffee.

Inissia doesn't come with a milk frother like other more expensive machines do, but you can buy one separately. If you are looking for one, take a look at our article about milk frothers.

Inissia is the winner of two categories: convenience and cost. The cost is almost a tie with the cheap semiautomatic/grinder combo if you only drink a couple of beverages per day. If you need more than that, the capsule cost will be higher. A great alternative for unpretentious espresso lovers.

Nespresso Inissia Exclusive Review


This is where a lot of people have a hard time deciding. On one hand, the upfront cost of a Nespresso machine is decent, and it won’t break the bank. In the long run though, capsules are going to be more expensive.

On the other hand, a good espresso machine is more expensive, but you’ll save money on coffee in time.

Many people think: “Oh I’ll buy this inexpensive espresso machine, that is around $100.” But in reality, you need more than a cheap semi automatic. You also need a decent tamper, and you also need a good coffee grinder. Espresso brewing needs precisely ground beans, and your blade grinder is just not right for this. Take a look at our article on how to make espresso, for more explanations on the subject.

We can’t decide a winner in this one, but if you want numbers, here they are:

  • Inexpensive semiautomatic espresso machine: $100 espresso machine, plus $100 decent grinder, plus $20 decent tamper. That’s a total of around 220 to 250 dollars on the cheapest budget possible. Coffee will cost you around $20 per month, assuming you drink one double shot every day. The calculation is this: 15 grams of beans for a doppio times 30 equals 450 grams, and that’s a pound of coffee. In a year, that’s $240. So the total amount for the first year is around $500.
  • Nespresso machine: The Nespresso Inissia will cost you about $100. The capsule for the first year will cost you $504 unless you get a deal. The calculation is this: 30 days times 12 months times 2 capsules per day, (a doppio), time $0.7 per capsule. So the total amount for the first year is around $600.
  • Other capsule-based espresso machines such as Francis Francis from Illy, or AEG - Lavazza. The machines are more expensive, at around 250$, but the cost per capsule is lower. A Modo Mio, the Lavazza capsules are around $0.6 per count. IperEspresso capsules are the most expensive ones, around $0.8 per count.

So what do we learn from this simple calculation?

The price is relatively even within the first year. But we chose really cheap espresso-making equipment. Most espresso enthusiasts will buy more expensive equipment.

With a semiautomatic, if you need a single shot, it’s not that easy to pull it, you need the pressurized basket filter, which gives you faux crema. With a Nespresso pulling a single is the natural way. With Nespresso, coffee only is about double the price, so you can estimate your calculations that way. The more coffee you make, the more expensive Nespresso becomes.

Gaggia Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic is one of the most popular choices for the low budget home barista. The espresso enthusiast doesn't care about convenience, he doesn't even care about the cost per coffee, though this is a clear win for the semi-automatic machine. All the espresso enthusiast wants is great coffee.

Sure not everyone can afford to buy a Breville BES980XL, which is around $2000. Gaggia Classic is a workhorse, very reliable, the perfect starter for the espresso geek. People have owned these machines for years, and some upgraded to better machines, as their knowledge and technique improved. Take a look at our article about semiautomatics, if this is your choice.

From an expert's perspective, Gaggia is missing on some aspects, but nothing to stop you from getting great espresso shots. Once your technique improves, your quest of finding the "God Shot" will be slowed down by the Classic. You will find out then that you "absolutely" need a PID and a dual boiler.

2011-01-11: PID'd Gaggia Carezza; 2nd shot after modding

The Taste

The taste is very subjective, as we said it before, so that’s why it's important to take this section with a grain of salt if you are not an espresso expert. If you are an espresso expert, I appreciate the visit, but you probably have your opinion on this.

Capsule based espresso machines pull good shots, that are very close to the real stuff. For the untrained coffee lover, there is no difference, and in fact many prefer it. As I said, “De gustibus non est disputandum”.

In a nutshell:

  1. Capsule based machines pull decent shots consistently, but shots are never great, from an expert perspective. They are always great, easy to pull, and you’ll never pull a bad one.
  2. Real espresso machines can pull awesome shots, provided the barista is an expert. You can also pull bad shots, but greatness can be achieved.
  3. With pod based espresso machines, your coffee beans choice is somewhat limited. If you want to use some great espresso beans, you can't. Or you will need to use aftermarket reusable capsules, which defeats the purpose of using a pod espresso machine.

How Are they Different?

One of the most important aspects of espresso is crema. Great semiautomatics brew great coffee. If you have the right beans, and you get all brewing parameters right, you can have a thick layer of crema. This will translate into a great taste. We recommend you look at the DeLonghi La Specialista and Breville Barista Express.

Capsule based espresso makers make faux crema. That means the crema is obtained by injecting air bubbles into the shot. Faux crema is made of coffee, a lot of air bubbles, and some coffee oil. Real crema is a mix of oils, espresso, CO2, and very little air. The two have almost the same composition but in different proportions.

The most important is the amount of coffee oils, which are what make espresso special. Nespresso, in particular, has fewer fines than a regular espresso. Jim Hoffman has a post where he lays out his findings about it. His conclusion is mixed, he doesn’t side with either of the solutions, but he rather critiques the world of specialty coffee for not offering a convenient alternative to capsule-based systems.

large realistic size of nespresso vs espresso 640

The Beverage Type

If you mostly drink milk-based beverages, such as lattes, the taste won’t matter to you, because it will be masked by the milk anyway. So you can go either way. Even with cappuccinos, which are made with less milk, is hard to distinguish between a real espresso and a capsule based one.

If your drink is a straight espresso, and you are very picky about your shot, a semiautomatic is the way to go. If you like to customize your shot, to pull lungo shots or ristretto, the semiauto is your choice. A capsule-based machine will only restrict your ability to have a custom shot, although, there are capsules for ristretto and for lungo.

Nespresso vs Illy IperEspresso vs Dolce Gusto vs AEG

Nespresso is the most famous capsule-based espresso machine, but it is not the only one. Sure their marketing machine made Nespresso the most known product on the market, but is it the best one? Some of the competitors are Illy, with their iperEspresso, Dolce Gusto, and AEG for Lavazza capsules.

Francis Francis for iperEspresso, (Illy), and AEG for Lavazza are the best capsule-based espresso machines. They pull shots that can compete with classic espresso makers. Dolce Gusto and Nespresso are not bad either, but their coffee is injected with air to produce more crema. This gives your coffee a different texture and taste. This taste is not bad, is just different from espresso. Some people like it more because they find it smoother than a regular espresso. Espresso lovers don’t like it.

If you wonder why Tassimo is not on the list, is because Tassimo is not an espresso machine. Their machine has a 3.3 bar pump. The pressure needed for an espresso is 9 bar. The Keurig is even lower than that at 2.5 bar. Yes, the Keurig Rivo has a 15 bar pump, however, we haven’t tested it yet.

Francis Francis X7.1 for illy iperEspresso

The Francis Francis is an Italian capsule-based espresso machine. If you want uncompromising quality espresso, and you want the convenience of pressing one button, this is your choice. The machine looks great, with a modern unique design, it will integrate into most kitchens. But that's not the most important feature of it.

X7.1 has a stainless steel thermoblock, and it has a panarella, like any other semi-automatic. This means you don't need another piece of equipment for frothing milk.

The Francis Francis X7.1 has a two-stage extraction system, with a pre-infusion stage, and the extraction stage. The capsule actually goes into a portafilter, so it does look like any other semiautomatic.

The iperEspresso technology is a patented innovation to deliver high-quality espresso from a capsule.

If Francis Francis is your choice, Amazon sells it cheaper than illy's shop, but on illy's website, you can get discounts sometimes. Check them out here.

Crew Review: Francis Francis X7.1 iper Espresso Machine


All these options give you a strong cup, with a full body. Just in case you didn’t already draw a conclusion, here is what we recommend.

  1. If you want a rich espresso and you want the convenience of a pod coffee maker, Francis Francis, or AEG Lavazza are the best options.
  2. If you love to tweak your beverage, or you make a lot of espressos, a semiautomatic espresso machine is the best solution. It will save you money in the long run.
  3. For great coffee, decently priced equipment and capsules, and lots of coffee options, Nespresso is a great option.
  4. Dolce Gusto is a coffee with a thick foam layer and tastes amazing. It’s not espresso, but still great tasting coffee.

1 thought on “Espresso vs Nespresso vs illy iperEspresso – Capsule Espresso Machines vs Semiautomatics”

  1. Great article. I’m passionate about espresso and I agree with everything about semi-auto espresso. I only wish I had a Gaggia Classic. I spent more on my grinder ($250) than my espresso machine.

    I started around 10 years ago with a DeLonghi EC155 and used pods, but later discovered Nespresso, which was good, but something was lacking. Then I discovered Lavazza Blue. I still use my Lavazza machine when in a hurry, but after watching a lot of videos about making espresso I had to try a semi-auto again.

    I then bought another cheap semi-auto and started grinding my own. It was a progression. As others have posted the Capresso Infinity series is probably the best sub $100 grinder that can get the job done. If I were starting out I would also spend a little more than the Infinity and go Breville. They can grind directly into the portafilter which I prefer. The key is to use non-oily espresso beans because all of these grinders will clog (because of how fine you have to grind). That said, with the pressurized baskets that come with cheap espresso machines, grind and tamp is less important. It matters, but not as much. Cheap semi-auto owners would do well do ditch the pressurized baskets and buy some unpressurized ones that fit. Flavorwise it makes a world of difference. I replaced my stock pressurized 51mm baskets with double shot unpressurized ones for $5 each available on Amazon.

    As far as capsule systems, the Lavazza Blue system is fantastic. Lavazza Blue was designed for commercial use, but they make countertop office/hospitality models such as the LB 910 that are very reasonable. If cost is the issue Lavazza Blue capsules are cheaper than “ANY” name brand capsules. Sure you can find cheap Nepsresso compatible capsules, but they don’t hold a candle to Lavazza Blue capsules. I never pay more than $29.99 for 100 capsules of Lavazza “Intenso” capsules. Nothing but great coffee in hermetically sealed capsules (amazing shelf life). What separates Lavazza Blue from “every” other capsule system is: 8g (12g for Bi-Dose caps) of coffee in each capsule, proper 9 bar pressure (not 15 or higher), 25 second extraction, and correct temperature of 152F. Lavazza engineered Blue machines to make true Italian espresso. I haven’t had Illy IperEspresso and I’m sure it tastes good, but they charge so much. IMO they are overpriced on everything they sell. Some espresso fans swear that it’s Illy or nothing, but I just can’t accept that. What about Kimbo, Danesi, Covim, Gimoka, Ill Caffe, Bristot, etc. All of these are great Italian espresso coffee purveyors.

    Unfortunately, Keurig Rivo is a dead system as Keurig gave up on it. I guess it didn’t sell because most Keurig drinkers don’t understand what espresso is. Lavazza still makes capsules, but they’re a lot harder to find now. Some people actually force Lavazza Blue capsules into their Rivo machines. I guess they get them to work, but it’s not recommended, and Rivo capsules cost more than Blue anyway.

    Let’s not forget about superautos. On other blog sites I’ve been taken to task more than once from owners of superautos in regards to capsule systems. Superatos bridge the gap of the convenience of capsule systems. You press a button and they do it all, grind, tamp, brew, and dispose the puck, so you get the convenience along with fresh ground flavor, and long-term cost savings of just filling them with quality beans. I just recently bought one on Ebay, but haven’t received it yet. Ebay is a great resource for everything espresso. You can find great commercial quality gear for a fraction of new. The only catch is the initial cost. They are at least $400 for a low level model such as a Gaggia Brera, but they go much higher. Mine cost $300 used, but it’s a $1500 machine brand new. There are nice refurbs on Ebay and sites like WholeLatteLove and SeattleCoffeeGear for around $500.

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