Modern-day couples must make many difficult decisions: What religion to raise the children, whose family to visit on Thanksgiving and whether to record the game while watching Masterpiece Theater or vice versa. Perhaps no question is as fraught with caffeinated tension, however, as “Should we buy an espresso maker or a regular coffee machine?” Sure, there are coffee machines out there that split the difference. DeLonghi offers a combination steam espresso and drip coffee maker. So do Krups and Emerson, as well as other fine purveyors of kitchen gadgets. But our fictional couple is like millions of Americans – or actually 12 percent of all households: They just want to wake up, stagger over to their coffee machine, drop a pod in and mainline a cup of java.
The VertuoLine is Nespresso’s latest entry in the single-serve coffee machine market and may just make marriages happier across the land. The VertuoLine, which launched this spring, offers a first for Nespresso: a machine that makes both espresso and coffee. I was glad, then, to get my hands on the VertuoLine to test Nespresso’s ability to make a cup of coffee. Prior to this, the Swiss-based company only sold espresso-based machines in the U.S. Nespresso wised up to a market opportunity and realized Americans enjoy a large cup of brewed coffee. And the market is there: In 2013, single-serve coffee achieved $4.9 billion in sales in the United States, and $8 billion globally.
Even with my opportunities to test the best of the high-end manual coffee machines, I get my daily quick fix from a Nespresso Citiz machine. Some die-hard coffee fiends say pod coffees lack the subtle nuances of freshly ground coffee. Yet I happily trade those flavor notes for the Nespresso’s ease of use and the ability to get a first-class, rich and full-bodied demitasse of espresso in my desperate little paws in under a minute. The cleanup is easy: All you have is a spent pod to throw away or recycle. I absolve myself of my First World guilt by collecting all those little aluminum cups in a resealable bag and hauling the rather stinky sack of spent capsules to Bloomingdale’s every once in a while, where they collect them for recycling by Nespresso. (Oh, and tell me you’re above buying a new lip gloss as a reward for saving the earth!)
I liked the coffee brewed in the Vertuo better than the watery brews other capsule coffee machines churn out. Or as my English husband might mutter: “It’s like chalk and cheese.” The machine uses an extraction process that’s different from the company’s other machines. Once the lid is locked and closed, a laser scans a UPC code printed on the edge of the capsule and adjusts its brewing cycle, water temperature and flow, as well as rotational speed, to suit the type of coffee you are making. There is a quiet whirring as the capsule is spun, which sounds rather like the machine is preparing for liftoff. The whirring resumes again at the end of the cycle, spinning at up to 7,000 rotations per minute. That’s enough, according to Nespresso, to extract every drop of caffeinated goodness and to create that frothy crema that really makes this coffee stand apart from the other pod-produced coffees out there. I’m talking about you, Keurig.
The VertuoLine coffee is finished with a thick head of light brown froth. It looks as if you’ve just pulled yourself a pint of Guinness, and tastes rich enough to make you wonder if it actually contains dairy. But even for a hardened coffee-with-a-lot-of-milk gal like myself, that layer of crema lets me down a cup with merely a splash of milk. I will go out on a limb and say it made this espresso drinker like brewed coffee.
My issues with the machine are few. To clear a spent capsule, the chrome lid is unlocked and lifts up. The spent pod slides down a Rube Goldberg-like chute into the used-capsule container. Usually. Two times out of 10 it doesn’t quite make it and ends up almost on top of the water vessel on the opposite side. I think it’s meant to feel kind of playful – the first time I saw it in action I giggled – yet for a machine that uses “revolutionary” new techniques, this feels a bit clunky.
If you are interested in swapping your current Nespresso machine for the VertuoLine and are hoping to use that apocalypse-worthy stash of capsules you have collected, forget it. Like a new iPhone that won’t work with your old charger, the Vertuo has its own line of dome-shaped capsules. Brewed coffee requires more ground coffee than an espresso, naturally, so the pods needed to be bigger, and I guess that accounts for the 95 cent price tag on each one. The espresso pods are also 5 to 10 cents more expensive than your average Nespresso pods, at 75 cents a pop. It’s still cheaper than going out for coffee, but the minute I can start calculating my coffee addiction by rounding up to a dollar, my frugal self gets twitchy. That said, I could have three of these coffees for the price of one over-roasted Starbucks latte, and that is the soothing mantra I keep repeating.
The machine, with its smallish footprint and chic art deco looks, puts the rest of my tired, poorly painted kitchen to shame. And while I love the look of the machine’s sleek chrome dome from across my kitchen, up close the rounded surface acts like a funhouse mirror, and one morning I found myself startled by a pale, unkempt Gollum-like creature staring out at me.
You can believe I brushed my hair and put on a little mascara before I had my second cup. This machine looks good and wants you to as well.