While capsule brewers aren’t the first thing we reach for when browsing coffee tools, we understand that come lifestyles and budgets demand the convenience and price points of these machines. So today, we’re taking a look at two brands that dominate in the global market, but you may not have seen too much of in the States: Illy vs Nespresso.
Both of the brands have their merits and pitfalls, so today we’re going to break down everything from their pod lines to their top machines to help you decide which one has a better fit for you!
Founded in 19933 by Francesco Illy, illycaffè is till led today by the Illy family with Andrea Illy as the Chairman and Massimiliano Pogliani as the CEO. Additionally, Anna Illy Jr handles relations with coffee growers.
The company is known for their unique, velvety coffee that comes from 100% Arabica beans. They have four quality certifications and one sustainability certification. Additionally, improvement, transparency, sustainability, and people development are at the top of their values, which speaks to the quality of the brand.
Nespresso is a unit of the Nestlé Group based in Switzerland. In addition to producing their own line of pod-based brewing machines, they also partner with other well-known brand such as Breville and De’Longhi.
All of Nespresso’s coffee is roasted, ground, and packaged on one of three factories in Switzerland, though their machines are manufactured both in and outside of the country. Overall, the company strives for sustainability by producing fully recyclable pods and partnering with organizations including The Rainforest Alliance, Fair Labor Association, Fairtrade International, and Fairtrade USA.
Illy vs Nespresso
Illy iperEspresso Brewing System
So before we talk about Illy’s pods, we need to take a look at the system that’s brewing them. The iperEspresso capsule system ditches the usual one-stage brewing system in favor of a two-stage one. The result is rich, full-bodied espresso with *gasp* a nice, long-lasting crema on top.
Now, moving on to the pods themselves, which are as responsible for the quality you’re receiving as the brewing system itself. The grounds inside all of their pods are 100% Arabica, rather than the Arabica-Robusta mix used by many other pod manufacturers.
Illy iperEspresso Capsules
The iperEspresso capsule line includes the basic Medium Roast, Dark Roast, Decaffeinated, and Lungo options. The Medium Roast has a pretty balanced taste with notes of caramel and chocolate, while the Dark Roast is more robust and intense with deeper cocoa notes. Decaf is., of course, decaf and has some caramel-y notes to it. Lastly, the Lungo has a similar profile to the medium roast, except you get more coffee.
Aside from the standard line-up, Illy offers their iperEspresso capsules in another line called the “Arabica Selection Origins of Taste.” These are essentially single-origin blends that feature a variety of different varietal profiles including Ethiopia, Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia.
Lastly, there are the idillyum capsules, which have a different packaging style the other two lines and have a distinctive taste with notes of fruit, caramel and chocolate. The beans are sourced from El Salvador and are supplied exclusively to Illy.
In all, the Illy capsule lines are a bit less robust in offerings than other brands. This is especially limiting as the iperEspresso brewing systems are only compatible with these capsules. Contrastingly, you are able to buy from third parties with other capsule brewing systems. However, while you are trading in variety, you are also ensuring that you will always get the top-of-the-line pull of espresso that Illy is known for.
Nespresso Brewing System
Nespresso machines use single-step, pump or centrifugal-based pressure extraction systems, which is pretty standard as far as capsule brewing systems go. This is the gist of how both the Original and Vertuo line machines function at a pretty basic level.
However, where they really set themselves apart is with there Vertuo brewing system. While it has the same basic functionality as the Original machines, the Vertuo system introduces a barcode reader that works specifically with the Vertuo capsules.
The barcode on each capsule type is unique and is read when inserted into the machine. IT dictates the extraction parameters for you, including water flow and volume, temperature, infusion time, and capsule rotation speed. The result is precisely brewed coffee with minimal effort exhausted on your part.
Moving onto the actual capsules sold by Nespresso, these are also sold in the two main categories: Original and Vertuo. To start, the Original line includes Intenso, Espresso, Lungo, Reviving Origin, Master Crafted Single Origins, Decaffeinato, and Flavored lines. Combined, these make for a pretty extensive line-up.
Additionally, if you’re brewing with a machine that uses the original capsule style, you can also buy from third party sources like Maud’s. On the other hand, there are few to no alternatives for the Nespresso-brand Vertuo capsules. Also, the pods are fully recyclable, and you can even mail them back to the company to have them reused.
However, the Vertuo line is decently expansive with 24 different Vertuo compatible pods. 10 of those are specifically designed for brewing espresso. Additionally, there are 12 pods intended for brewing the standard 8 oz coffee. There are also the Alto XL, Master Crafted Single Origins, Reviving Origins, Crafted for Milk, and Nespresso Exclusives collections ranging from 2-4 options each.
In sum, the espresso capsules are capable of brewing decent shots. However, both the Original linen Vertuo line espressos still seem to fall a bit short of the ones sold by Illy. However, the range you have access too does decidedly beat out the competitor.
Illy Francis Francis X7.1 iperEspresso
Another feature that are worth noting are the panarello system wand that allows you to froth your own milk. There is also a steel internal thermoblock, 15 bar pump pressure, automatic volume stop, auto-decalcification indicator, and power saving mode with an auto-off feature.
As far as customizability, you have the ability to adjust the temperature and coffee volume. Plus the steam wand isn’t automized, so you can perfect your milk frothing technique. Once you have your settings straight, you’ll have your shot within 30 seconds, which is pretty efficient.
On the down side, the steaming wand isn’t exactly top-of-the-line quality, which is to be expected at this price point. Also, this isn’t going to be a machine to last you a lifetime, though you will get a few years out of it. However, for the time you do have it, you can count on nearly barista-quality espresso shots, which is why many people continue to come back to this machine.
Nespresso Creatista Plus
This is the perfect option if you don’t want to commit to a full-blown espresso machine but would enjoy combining the convenience of pod brewing with some milky experimentation. It features 8 coffee brewing options, 4 froth settings, and 11 temperature settings. All of these are accessible from he LCD display menu.
On the downside, the Creatista Plus is priced significantly higher than Illy’s X7.1. However, thanks to their manufacturing partner, Breville, you can count on a much longer lasting machine. Additionally, while still pretty good, the Nespresso’s actually espresso isn’t as high quality as the Illy machines.
Illy Francis Francis X9 iperEspresso
Part of the slim profile is thanks to the placement of the water reservoir, which has a 23 oz capacity, is partially removable, and sits at the bottom of the machine. On the programmability front, this machine has 2 programmable coffee settings and can brew 1 or 2 cups at a time.
Additionally, unlike the previous Illy option we discussed, the X9 has a used capsule drawer that can hold up to 10 used capsules. However, like it’s companion, this machine also include an auto-off feature, power-saving technology, and automatic fluid measurement (aka auto-volume control).
Furthermore, you can still expect the best espresso you’re going to get with a pod machine from the X9 model. The brew is smooth and rich with the distinctive cap of crema that indicates a decent pull. Lastly, the machine is really simple to operate, but some users may be frustrated by the lack of customizability or flexibility offered by this one.
Nespresso Vertuo Plus
Beyond the shift in brewing, the Vertuo plus also brings their A-game when it comes to user-friendliness. With a simple touch, you can drop the pod in and get things going. From there, the Vertuo Plus, reads the barcode on your pod and automatically brews it accordingly. While this is a huge win for convenience in brewing, it also limits the number of options you have when buying.
Nonetheless, Nespresso does offer a number of pod options for this machine. There are 28 different Vertuo compatible pods, 10 of which are specifically designed for brewing espresso. Additionally, the unique brewing process leaves a thick, rich cream on top of the drinks, giving them a great taste and mouthfeel.
The main downside, aside from the limited range, is that the Vertuo pods are typically more expensive than the other Nespresso pods.
As per usual, choosing a machine really comes down to figuring out what you need it to do. Because you’re here, the first assumption is that your lifestyle or budget requires the convenience of a pod-brewer, which you’ll get with any of these machines. What really separates them is the kind of coffee you plan to drink.
Illy: Style and Simplicity
If you crave the feel of an espresso machine and don’t care too much about milk frothing, the Francis X7.1 for Illy is a great choice. It’ll pull a shot that lands above pretty much any other pod brewer in quality and can function as a great transitional machine if you are saving up for a full blown semi- or super-automatic.
For something sleeker and simpler that still pulls the same quality shot, go for the Francis X9 for Illy. Plus, this machine seems to be a tad more durable than the other Illy option.
Nespresso: Convenience and Versatility
On the other hand, if you do care about the milk frothing capabilities of your pod brewer, you should be looking at the Creatista Plus, This machine is more durable and can function as your primary brewer for years to come thanks to the Breville manufacturers. The shots won’t be as great as Illy’s, but if you’re primarily brewing milk-based drinks, you likely won’t even notice.
If you are really looking for the utmost in convenience, the Vertuo Plus is for you. This machine can brew several different types of coffee with essentially no input on your part. Plus, it pulls a better shot than the Creatista, which is a must considering the absence of a steaming wand.
In sum, if you are looking for a close to perfect shot, go for an Illy machine or just save up until you can buy a real espresso machine. If you’re looking for the convenience of a pod machine with some stepped up features from the baseline, look at the Nespresso options instead.