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How Does a Nespresso Machine Work? (Behind the Scenes Guide)

Nespresso Prodigio with capsules

Nespresso has carved out a niche in the espresso world by creating a line of machines that make delicious, rich coffee without the high prices and complexity of traditional espresso machines. Nespresso coffee is not always authentic espresso – which has a strict, pressure-related definition – but it comes pretty close in flavor and mouthfeel. No matter what you call it, Nespresso coffee is high-quality, and many people use their machines due to their simplicity.

Even the most hardcore Nespresso fans might not realize that Nespresso machines are fundamentally different from other coffee machines. Most coffee machines use the same operating principles with only slight differences between brands, but Nespresso turns the game on its head and uses a unique process to brew the smooth, flavorful coffee fans of the brand love. So how does Nespresso work?

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Behind the Scenes: How Does Nespresso Work?

All coffee machines require two fundamental ingredients: coffee and water. Extraction is the process of extracting flavor from ground coffee. When hot water comes into contact with ground coffee, the chemical compounds and oils that give coffee its flavor dissolve and ride along with the water until they wind up in your cup, where you can enjoy them.

There are many ways extraction can take place. There is immersion brewing, where coffee grounds soak in water as in a French press. There is percolation brewing, where water passes through ground coffee like in pour-overs. Finally, there is espresso, which uses extremely high pressure to force hot water through tightly packed coffee grounds. These are the most commonly used methods, but there are lesser-known options as well.

Nespresso Prodigio

Nespresso VertuoLine machines use a completely different process that they’ve dubbed “Centrifusion”, which is an amalgamation of centrifugal and fusion. Centrifusion works by rapidly spinning ground coffee and water at 7,000 revolutions per minute to mix them evenly. The result is an extremely even extraction that can produce espresso-like crema without a high-pressure environment.

OriginalLine Nespresso machines are authentic espresso machines and use a 19-bar pressure pump to brew genuine espresso. OriginalLine machines don’t have the capsule-reading technology that VertuoLine machines have, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

The Front End

Knowing how your Nespresso machine conjures up your morning cup is an interesting piece of trivia but is ultimately removed from the user experience. Practically speaking, how Nespresso works at the customer level is also useful to know if you’re in the market for a new coffee machine and are thinking of buying one from Nespresso.

There are many different Nespresso machines that all have a slightly different set of features. Irrespective of these small differences, all Nespresso machines use Nespresso capsules, and these capsules are the core of the Nespresso brand.

Nespresso capsules

A Nespresso capsule is a small container of coffee, but it’s not just that. Nespresso capsules come with barcodes printed on them that let compatible Nespresso machines read brewing instructions and automatically adjust the brewing parameters to optimize the extraction of the specific coffee inside.

The barcode design means that, with the push of a button, you can make coffee that isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe but is flexible. In other words, you can make a wide variety of coffee without having to agonize over tweaking the parameters yourself. This is a huge advantage over other similar one-button brewers that only have a single brewing mode. Different coffees require different water temperatures and coffee-to-water ratios to get the most out of them, and Nespresso does all the fine-tuning for you.

Nespresso Coffee

We mentioned earlier that Nespresso coffee isn’t technically espresso, but it does have a similar taste. For coffee to be called espresso, it must be brewed under at least nine bars of pressure. Why nine bars? Not always, but most often, nine bars of pressure is the minimum pressure required to consistently get crema, the velvety layer of microbubbles that espresso fans crave.

Brewing Nespresso coffee
Image Credit: ERROR1K, Shutterstock

Machines from Nespresso’s VertuoLine don’t have pressure pumps and opt for the Centrifusion technology instead. If you are shopping for a new coffee machine and aren’t sure if OriginalLine or VertuoLine is right for you, try to decide if making authentic espresso is more important to you than having the capsule-reading technology’s convenience.

If you want traditional, by the book espresso, go with the OriginalLine. If barcodes and automatic setting adjustments sound appealing to you, make sure you buy a VertuoLine machine since OriginalLine Nespresso machines can’t read capsule barcodes.

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Nespresso has set itself apart from the competition by creating easy-to-use machines that make delicious coffee without the need for messing with all kinds of knobs and levers. Nespresso’s VertuoLine introduced machine-readable capsules that make it easier than ever to quickly and easily brew many different blends. If you want access to Nespresso’s impressive line of capsules but want the authentic espresso experience, you can purchase an OriginalLine machine to get the genuine high-pressure espresso experience.



Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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