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There’s no denying the remarkable popularity of espresso in the United States. This potent style of coffee, long a beloved tradition in France and Italy, can now be found just about everywhere in America, thanks to local artisanal shops and ubiquitous chains like Starbucks.
But because espresso beverages can be pricey, true devotees seek out ways to get their fix at home, and the Nespresso machine (which uses pre-loaded capsules of espresso to create coffee drinks) makes that process extremely easy and user-friendly.
Nespresso offers a wide array of different capsule types to use with its machines. So, I did the research and taste-tested a few of my picks. I brewed up the pods in my Nespresso machine, slurped and sloshed the espresso like it's a fancy wine, and rated them on the classic coffee elements (bitterness, acidity, saltiness, and sweetness). I also noted the espresso's final crema and any flavors that came through in the taste tests.
Here are the best Nespresso pods available on the market.
Best Overall: Nespresso Ispirazione Ristretto Italiano
What We Love: Intense espresso flavor, can be enjoyed alone or with milk, a blend of South American and East African Arabica beans
What We Don't Love: Bitter and sour notes may not be to everyone’s taste
Strong, bold, and full of intense coffee flavor, Nespresso Ristretto Italiano serves as the gold standard for Nespresso espresso. It’s part of the Original Line and consistently receives some of Nespresso’s highest customer ratings, thanks to its nuanced and multilayered flavor profile and its ability to shine both on its own or in the context of a latte or a cappuccino.
During my taste test, I definitely agreed with Nespresso's 10 out of 10 on the intensity scale. The dark roast of the espresso imparts a warm and toasty taste to the finished brew. As I sipped, the flavor notes included dark berries and dark chocolate, punctuated by a zippy acidity that balances and highlights the other flavors. The light-to-medium layer of crema that floats on top of the brewed espresso has a rich caramel color and provides a pleasant textural contrast. All in all, Nespresso Ispirazione Ristretto Italiano is an ideal espresso for drinkers who value boldness and intensity.
Series: Original | Intensity: 10 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces | Roast: Dark
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Nespresso Vienna Linizio Lungo
What We Love: Easy-drinking and palatable; pairs well with desserts; produces a larger “lungo” pour
What We Don't Love: Less suited to espresso drinks than more intense varieties
Some coffee aficionados prefer a gentler flavor and a less-potent drinking experience, but they don’t want to compromise on quality. For those drinkers, the Nespresso Linizio Lungo represents a dream realized. Nespresso ranks it as a 6 on the intensity scale, and I wholeheartedly agree after my taste test.
When designing this blend, Nespresso took inspiration from the bakeries and pastry shops of Vienna and it specifically calibrated Linizio Lungo as an ideal drink pairing for sweet treats. This Nespresso variety is easy to drink and easy to enjoy, but it still delivers enough complexity to be a fully engaging style of java. While I sipped, I found the medium roast to make for a smooth espresso without much residual bitterness or a lengthy finish. Flavor notes include caramel, malt, and black cherry, and this espresso includes relatively low acidity. Also, a brewed cup of Linizio Lungo espresso comes topped with a medium amount of light-brown crema.
Series: Original | Intensity: 6 | Serving Size: 3.7 ounces | Roast: Mild
Best Variety Pack: Nespresso VertuoLine Variety Pack
What We Love: Longer pours; has both medium and dark roasts
What We Don't Love: Only works with VertuoLine machines; produces coffee that’s less suited to lattes and cappuccinos
Nespresso’s Vertuo machine can produce both top-notch short espresso pours and longer pours for those who need a little extra java in their cups. The VertuoLine Variety Pack offers three different coffee styles (medium-roast Melozio, medium-strong Odacio, and strong Stormio), but all provide users with a 7.8-ounce serving, which makes for leisurely and luxurious drinking experiences.
Series: Vertuo | Intensity: 6 (Melozio), 7 (Odacio), 8 (Stormio) | Serving Size: 7.8 ounces | Roast: Medium and Dark
Related: The Best Coffee Makers
Best Light Roast: Nespresso Master Origin Ethiopia
What We Love: Lightweight but flavorful; pairs well with breakfast and dessert
What We Don't Love: Only works with OriginalLine machines; only provides a 1.4 oz pour
An espresso that’s light, drinkable, and multifaceted all at once, Nespresso Ethiopia Master Origin serves up beautiful fruit and flower aromatics, resulting in a coffee that feels like a treat, even on the most hectic of workdays.
This blend is made from dry-processed Arabica beans, and its lighter roast lends Ethiopia Master Origin a top-tier balance of deep aromas and delicate flavor notes.
Series: Original | Intensity: 4 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces | Roast: Mild
Best Dark Roast: Nespresso OriginalLine Ispirazione Palermo Kazaar
What We Love: Strong and complex; can be enjoyed on its own or with milk
What We Don't Love: The intense flavors may not suit all Nespresso users; only works with Original Line machines.
If you like your espresso dark, bitter, and in-your-face, then Kazaar Intenso is the Nespresso match for you. This blend includes Robusta beans from both Guatemala and Brazil, along with Arabica beans for counterbalance.
The result? A mega-intense coffee with a velvety mouthfeel that commands immediate attention.
Series: Original | Intensity: 12 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces | Roast: Dark
Related: The Best Espresso Machines
Best Decaf: Nespresso VertuoLine Altissio Decaffeinato
What We Love: Equal in flavor to Nespresso’s caffeinated capsules
What We Don't Love: Only comes in 1.4-ounce pods; only works with VertuoLine machine
Since espresso is so closely associated with an invigorating jolt of caffeine, decaf espresso often finds itself shunted to the side of any discussion about this style of coffee.
However, Nespresso makes an excellent decaffeinated espresso for its Vertuo machine. It features a medium roast with a mixture of Costa Rican Arabica and Brazilian Robusta beans, which creates a clear and concentrated flavor with a silky texture.
Series: Vertuo | Intensity: 9 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces | Roast: Medium
Best for Lattes: Nespresso OriginalLine Ispirazione Firenze Arpeggio
What We Love: Strong espresso that can stand up to steamed milk; complex flavor profile
What We Don't Love: Bitter and bold, which may not suit all tastes
When selecting an espresso to use in a milk-based beverage like a latte, it makes sense to opt for a dark, bold roast that can hold its own and maintain a strong balance with the mild flavor and rich texture of the milk.
The Nespresso Arpeggio Intenso fulfills all of these requirements, along with hints of malt and fruit from the Arabica beans, as well as savory smoky notes.
Series: Original | Intensity: 9 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces | Roast: Dark
Related: The Best Milk Frothers
Best Nespresso Alternative: Lavazza Espresso Capsules Variety Pack
What We Love: Wide range of intensities; made by a respected espresso roastery; pod selection that provides both short pours and longer “lungo” pours; affordable
What We Don't Love: Pods might not precisely fit in the Nespresso machine
Several brands make espresso pods with Nespresso machine compatibility, and one of the finest alternatives comes from Lavazza, a heritage Italian roastery with enormous popularity in its home country.
Lavazza produces a wide range of pods to suit any espresso preference, and its variety pack offers a quality sampler of its espressos with each roast featuring a different intensity and flavor. Of course, I taste-tested each and every one. There's Leggero, a low-medium intensity roast with floral aromas, fruit flavors, and low acidity. Medium intensity Avvolgente presents notes of cocoa powder and black pepper. Decaffeinato Ricco gives high-medium intensity with flavors of dark dried fruits. Armonico has high intensity and tastes like chocolate caramel and toasted grains. The highest intensity goes to Deciso which delivers flavors of dark cocoa, leather, and spices.
The Lavazza Variety Pack represents a phenomenal value for those who live in shared households, those who entertain regularly, and those who just like a bit of variety in their own espresso habits.
Series: Original | Intensity: 4 to 10 | Serving Size: 1.4 ounces, 3.7 ounces | Roast: Dark
Related: The Best Single-Serve Coffee Makers
Traditional espresso drinkers will be entirely satiated with a sleeve of Nespresso Ispirazione Ristretto Italiano (view at Amazon), which scores a 10 for intensity and has delicious dark cherry and dark chocolate notes. If you're more of an after-dinner drinker or like a cup with afternoon sweets, a sleeve of Nespresso Linizio Lungo (view at Amazon) is right up your alley.
What to Look for When Buying Nespresso Pods
Nespresso uses a proprietary range of “intensities” to denote which of its coffees have the darkest roasts, the fullest body, and the most concentrated flavors. The intensity range starts at a 1 (for a very mild coffee) and tops out at a 12. The 4 to 10 intensity range is where you’ll find most of Nespresso’s capsule varieties.
Nespresso capsules aren’t made with one single coffee roast across the board; different pods feature different roasting styles. Nespresso offers Light Roast, Medium Roast, and Dark Roast capsules, allowing them to appeal to a wide range of coffee drinkers.
While most of the recommended capsules on this list don’t include flavored espresso, Nespresso does offer flavored pods for both its OriginalLine and VertuoLine machines. Flavors include Chocolate Fudge, Coconut, Caramel, Hazelnut, Vanilla, and more for those whose taste buds like more.
How much caffeine is in a Nespresso capsule?
The caffeine content of Nespresso pods varies depending on the type of coffee in the capsule and the size of the pour. According to Nespresso, OriginalLine espresso capsules contain between 55 and 65 milligrams of caffeine, while the Lungo capsules contain 77 to 85 milligrams. As for VertuoLine capsules, the single espresso pods have 60 to 150 milligrams, the double espresso pods have less than 200 milligrams, and the Gran Lungo pods have 120 to 200 milligrams.
Can I recycle Nespresso capsules?
Nespresso takes pride in its efforts at sustainability, and it designs capsules with recycling capabilities in mind. Customers can bring their used pods to a local collection area (the Nespresso site provides a list of recycling points), and the aluminum used to make the pods can then be used to make anything from car engines and bicycles to soda cans and new Nespresso capsules.
Can Nespresso machines accommodate reusable capsules?
If your interest in green coffee brewing extends beyond recycling Nespresso’s aluminum pods, then you may be wondering whether you can purchase refillable capsules for your Nespresso machine that can be filled with your espresso of choice. The answer is yes, but it’s a slightly more involved process than you may expect. Nespresso doesn’t produce its own refillable capsules, so you’ll need to buy a version made by a different brand. The good news? Plenty of third-party vendors make these products, so your options are extensive.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
This article was written by Taylor Tobin, a freelance journalist who specializes in recipe testing and deep dives into popular dishes, ingredients, and beverages. She appreciates convenience in her at-home coffee brewing, but she refuses to cut corners on quality; that's why her Nespresso Original machine has an honored spot on her kitchen counter.
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