Good article on capsule espresso systems in Coffee Review

Ken Davids has this excellent article comparing capsule-based home espresso systems from Starbucks and Keurig with Nespresso, the market leader. The short summary is there is no comparison - Nespresso remains the gold standard.

Where the article falls short, in my opinion, is in looking realistically at alternatives for the consumer who'd like to enjoy espresso-based drinks at home. Davids mentions a minimum ante of $700 for a home espresso set-up, but clearly a decent doser-grinder and a machine capable of producing the high pressure and precisely controlled temperatures required is going to cost more like 2-3 times that amount, plus of course entailing either previous training on commercial equipment or a lot of trial-and-error.

For the rare consumer who drinks primarily straight espresso it's probably worth it to just buy a small commercial machine and grinder, but for the other 98% who just want a tasty caffe latte or cappuccino in the morning there two time-tested alternatives that work a whole lot better. The first is a stainless steel stovetop espresso maker like this one:
Add a decent conical-burr grinder like Bodum's for around $100 and a stovetop milk frother ($40) and you have a simple, durable way to make very good drinks for under $200 total invested. Most people have no idea just how formidable a cup these stovetop machines can make. It takes attention and skill, but by using a fine (but not commercial espresso) grind, tamping the basket tightly (use a water glass) and above all watching the brewing like a hawk and turning the heat off once the coffee is flowing into the top (and long before it gets overheated) you can, with truly fresh (a week or less from roasting) coffee get results from one of these machines that are far superior to what you'll get out of any capsule machine, and better than a lot of espresso made on commercial machines by less-than-optimally-skilled baristas. 

For less hassle still, more versatility (since it makes superb drip-strength coffee as well) and lower costs, get an Aeropress ($25) and the same stovetop steamer. You can even get by with a blade grinder in this case, though a burr grinder is certainly superior. Using a heaping Aeropress scoop of beans per shot of espresso-strength coffee you can brew a very tasty cappuccino in minutes. 

Better still, take a chunk of the hundreds of dollars you just saved over both a true espresso machine and a lifetime of 70 cent a shot Nespresso mediocrity and invest it in a Behmor roaster and some great green coffee from Sweet Maria's. You'll soon be drinking better, fresher coffee than you can buy from almost any roaster-retailer, and at a fraction of the price. 







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