Serious Eats / Ashely Rodriguez
Both Nespresso and Keurig machines are more popular than ever. These single-cup brewers have a devoted following, whether it’s for the speedy drip coffee from a Keurig or the no-fuss espresso from a Nespresso. And, while we don’t recommend either if you value brew quality (an automatic drip brewer or espresso machine can make tastier coffee), there are some key differences between the two that are worth highlighting, if you’re considering buying one.
What’s the Difference?
Keurig machines were launched in 1998 as a single-serve option to eliminate pots of coffee sitting on the burner in an office setting, while Nespresso debuted in 1986 as an alternative way to prepare espresso without the need for expensive equipment and extensive training.
Keurig machines can brew a variety of drip coffee volumes from the same size capsule, while the Nespresso Vertuo makes espresso shots and drip coffee, and some models even come with a milk frother for making cappuccinos or lattes.
And while many different coffee companies offer their own version of a K-cup (the name for the style of capsules used in a Keurig), including reusable options, only Nestle makes Nespresso capsules, limiting users to a handful of coffee styles.
How Do They Work?
Serious Eats / Isaac Nunn
Keurig and Nespresso machines operate similarly: you place a capsule in the machine, hit start, and the mechanics inside do the rest. As fully automated single-cup brewers, all you need to do is fill the water reservoir and replace the capsule: the machine takes care of all the measuring for you.
Both Keurig and Nespresso machines use pressure to speed up the brewing process, but they go about it in different ways. Keurig machines employ a low-power water pump to lightly pressurize each K-cup, while Nespresso Vertuo machines use centripetal force to create high pressure inside each capsule.
Serious Eats / Ashley Rodriguez
In order to produce an espresso-strength beverage, the Nespresso Vertuo line operates at much higher pressure than a Keurig machine, spinning its capsules up to 7,000 revolutions per minute. It’s a unique approach, and much more efficient than high-pressure pumps that were included in Nespresso’s earlier machines.
The one main difference in operation between Keurigs and Nespressos is that most Nespresso Vertuo machines dump their spent capsules into a bin, allowing you to dispose of them later rather than having to manually remove a spent capsule to add a fresh one, like in a Keurig.
What About Price?
Most Keurig machines run between $70 and $150, while the Nespresso Vertuo (their newer style of machine) hovers between $150 and $200. Both are generally more expensive than the average drip coffee maker, though our favorite brewers tend to run a little higher.
The price per serving, however, is much higher with Keurig and Nespresso machines compared to drip coffee. The average Keurig capsule costs around $.75 per serving, while Nespresso capsules are around $1.20 per serving. Most coffees from specialty coffee roasters price out around $.50-.60 per serving. If you drink at least two cups a day, you’ll end up spending hundreds of dollars more a year on coffee with capsules.
Serious Eats / Ashley Rodriguez
There’s no getting around it: single-serve coffee machines produce a lot of waste. While Keurig’s K-cups are now made with a more recyclable plastic, there’s very little evidence that plastic is ever recycled. Nespresso pods are aluminum, and while aluminum is much more recyclable than plastic, the pods have a silicone lining and need to be mailed back to Nespresso who manages their own recycling program. Even then, there’s evidence that many pods are just tossed in the garbage, anyways.
Neither brewer is a great option if you’re looking to reduce your waste. Keurig does offer reusable capsules that you fill with your own coffee, but they create the type of work most people wanted to avoid by buying a Keurig in the first place (and you’re still left with a low-quality brew). Nespresso still wins on this front for users who take the time to collect their pods and return them for recycling.
Which One Brews Better?
Serious Eats / Ashley Rodriguez
While Keurig machines tend to brew a weak, bitter version of drip coffee, most of the Nespresso capsules were strong and bitter, and tasted very darkly roasted. Neither machine can brew a great tasting coffee when compared to drip coffee makers, pourover, or espresso machines.
There are a wider variety of K-cup options available, which means that people can find a roast style that appeals more to their flavor preferences. This is not so for Nespresso, which features limited options. One saving grace for the Nespresso is that its dark, bitter tasting espresso stands out well in milk, making a fair approximation of a latte, similar to what you might find at a chain like Starbucks that uses dark-roasted coffee and superautomatic espresso machines.
What’s a Good Alternative?
The Spinn Coffee Maker solves a lot of the issues both machines have—but it’s expensive. We really liked its built-in grinder, which gives users more freedom in the coffee they want to use, and doesn’t rely on pricey capsules. It also offers a variety of coffee styles, including espresso, drip coffee, and cold brew, making it a great swap for either capsule coffee maker. Overtime, the savings on coffee could potentially pay for the price difference between a Spinn and a Keurig or Nespresso machine, but it is a higher investment up front.
People who want to invest more time and education into their coffee can find a number of manual single-serve coffee brewers as well. The Aeropress, especially when paired with a Prismo attachment can make great coffee for those who don’t mind a little tinkering. And the Kalita Wave 155 is a great pourover option designed for smaller brews.
There are also single-cup options that aren’t reliant on machines. Steeped Coffee offers pre-packed steepable filter bags (with a 6-month shelf life) that brew just like a teabag would. And then there is high-end instant coffee, like from Swift Coffee. Both companies have their own branded options and produce packets for other specialty coffee roasters—if you have a favorite local roaster already, there’s a chance they might have one of their single-serve options available. These tend to be more expensive than Nespresso capsules and K-cups, though, so they might not be best for everyday use—though they are great for camping.
Is a Nespresso machine better than a Keurig?
Nespresso machines and capsules are both more expensive than Keurig machines and K-cups, and there aren’t as many options to choose from. However, Nespresso does produce espresso-style coffees (which Keurig can’t), and its pods are more recyclable. In the end though, neither machine is capable of producing coffee as good as a high-end drip coffee maker or espresso machine.
Is there a better option than Keurig?
We like the Spinn Coffee Maker and think it brews better coffee than Keurigs or Nespressos, though it’s more expensive than both of them combined. There are also single-serve instant-coffee options, like Steeped Coffee and Swift Coffee, that don’t require any new equipment—just add hot water.
Why Are Nespresso pods so bitter?
Nespresso capsules are made with darkly roasted coffee, which verges on charred, making them taste bitter. Nespresso capsules also create bitter coffee because of the ratio of coffee to water—pre-portioned capsules are often brewed with too much water, which extracts more of the bitterness from the coffee.