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If you’re a coffee drinker who lacks time in the mornings, you might be thinking about a single-serve coffee maker.
And if you’re thinking about it, there will only be two names running in your mind: Keurig and Nespresso.
The industry front-runners have been vying for top spot for some time, and around the world the appetite for each brand varies.
Before you decide on a new machine, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions.
Are you an espresso aficionado, or do you prefer to sip on something flavored?
Are you after sleek style, or just solid quality?
And finally, what’s your budget?
Before we dive into the differences, let's have a look at the similarities between both brands.
Keurig and Nespresso: The Similarities
Single-serve brewers all do pretty much what they say on the tin. Coffee comes in pods, or in the case of Nespresso, ‘cups’.
These are sealed containers of coffee and sometimes flavorings and milk which you pop into the machine to brew just one cup. They are popular because if you’re looking at the effort to quality ratio, they deliver consistent, hot, rich, quality coffee every time very quickly and easily.
Both Keurig and Nespresso offer a range of machines at various price-points, with Keurig more popular in the USA and Nespresso in Europe.
Now onto the real differences between Nespresso and Keurig!
Keurig K-Cups vs Nespresso Pods
So, both Keurig and Nespresso use very similar methods to brew coffee.
The biggest difference between the two brands is that Nespresso machines are smaller, and use a centrifuge brewing system. As a result, the company focuses on espresso pods, and tends towards richer, darker flavors. There are some American brew and longer coffees available, but not loads.
K-Cups, on the other hand, come in a huge range of flavors. They are designed for long drinks, which really opens up the possibilities. There have long been plenty of K-Cup options from popular retailers.
This means, of course, that the quality of the beans, grind and flavor profile is more consistent through the Nespresso line. It can be seen as more of a ‘prestige’ experience - but is this necessary for your quick morning coffee, or the brew you sip during the workday? I’d guess that depends on a whole load of factors.
Variety of Brews
At this point, you can get most brews with both Keurig K-Cups and Nespresso Pods if third-party pods are included.
Nespresso is built for stronger, espresso-style drinks while Keurig, as mentioned, lends itself to more variety, including hot chocolate and other non-caffeinated beverages.
K-Cups have more of a selection of flavors available, while Nespresso is more quality-driven in terms of the bean and strength. There are 100s of both on the market.
Quality of Coffee
Nespresso is agreed to be the richer, smoother brew when compared to Keurig. It’s built for espresso, and largely it delivers. Nespresso seem to know their coffee - they use a scale to explain strength and flavor profile, and country of origin is available for the coffee in every pod.
Since 2003, the company have also touted their sustainability credentials by creating the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program with the Rainforest Alliance.
If you want a long coffee, however, and are maybe rushing out to work and want to sip during your drive, then a Keurig might make sense. K-Cups from brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts don’t scream ‘quality coffee’, but they might provide the comfort of a favorite mass-produced cup of joe!
In addition, if you want anything other than an espresso-based coffee, then you need a K-Cup! For flavors and real uses of milk, then Keurig wins.
The only real difference between the Keurig and Nespresso brewing methods is the Nespresso centrifuge.
Both systems require you to insert a cup or capsule, push down to pierce it, and activate the machine. At this point, boiling water extracts the coffee within the pod or capsule.
In Nespresso machines, the pod is spun to extract every ounce of flavor.
Aesthetics and Design
Nespresso machines are built with an eye on second-to-none European design. These machines seem not only sturdy, but also almost bespoke. They are definitely solid appliances rather than cheap gadgets.
Keurig, of course, is catching up. While many of their products have the classic black and silver coffee machine aesthetic, they’re beginning to imitate the single-button Italian scooter-inspired look of their competitors.
Nespresso machines come in every option from cheap to deluxe. The most high-end even have milk frothers.
Overall, a Keurig tends to be larger - and therefore take up more space on your kitchen counter. They have bigger water reservoirs, which means they make long drinks with ease and also that you have to refill less often. This is, in my opinion, another plus for the Keurig for day-to-day usability and practicality.
Nespresso machines are more compact and stylish and usually take fewer button-pushes to use. I’m always impressed by the look of new models. In fact, Nespresso, according to their own website, work with a design company on all their machines.
They also employ a branding agency to handle their boutiques. Obviously, this adds a slight premium, though as they’re mass-produced it isn’t too bad on balance (if you already have the money for a single-serve coffee maker, anyway).
Keurig is the cheaper brand, but it is also the more rough and ready of the two.
In particular, the design quality of Nespresso machines wins out. As you will have noted, Nespresso also makes a ‘fancier’ espresso-style coffee. The question is, do you want that out of your every morning brew?
Maintenance and Cleaning
As I may already have implied, Nespresso machines come with a higher build quality than Keurig. They tend to last longer, with fewer breakable plastic components involved.
That being said, all the single-serve machines tend to be pretty solid and new machines should last at least a couple of years.
In terms of cleaning, Nespresso and Keurig and neck and neck. Apart from the obvious washing of the reservoir and wiping down of the outside and base of your machine, both Keurig and Nespresso advise descaling with vinegar either every three months or three-hundred drinks.
The process is simple - you just need to add white vinegar to the reservoir with water and run the machine. I’ve done it a bunch of times with no hassle, and have found there are plenty of tutorials and guides online.
Generally, single-serving machines have been critiqued for being environmentally unfriendly.
Originally, neither the pods nor capsules were recyclable. These days, Nespresso are working really hard to revamp their image. They are part of a recycling program which not only ensures that their pods become new aluminium products, and also helps fund coffee farming in South America.
Keurig, unfortunately, use several plastics that are difficult to recycle, and even recycling Nespresso pods means signing up to have them collected rather than just tossing them with the rest of your recyclable trash.
Third-party producers sell ranges of either more easily recycled or even biodegradable pods or cups for both types of machine. There are also reusable pods, again from third parties, and if you buy these you also have to buy coffee of a specific and suitable grind. It all works out as quite a lot of work if you ask me, which kind of defeats the purpose of the single-use quick and easy system!
Top Rated Models
Nespresso machines on the more affordable end of the spectrum are called Pixie. They’re small and simple, but in my experience still deliver excellent coffee. They don’t come with a lot of bells and whistles, but if you need milk frothed then why wouldn’t you buy a wand and do it separately when you have time for that kind of thing?
Personally, I usually want to drink my coffee and get out, so these compact machines with only a few buttons and a small reservoir have always worked for me. They’re also reasonably priced, often available for under 100 dollars.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Nespresso products like the Creatista. This machine is a beast -- it’s semi-professional, doing an at-home job of the espresso machines I spent hours perfecting latte art with during my years working in coffee shops.
For the record, I miss the free coffee but not the burns or the over-caffeinated sleepless nights! Creatista models like Creatista Sage include a pressure gauge and foaming nozzle, and run from 400-600 dollars.
Keurig come out swinging with coffee makers for every occasion. If you’re looking to replace you day-to-day or work coffee machine, they’ve got something for you.
The K-Cafe Maker makes decent fancy coffees -- I’ve impressed people with them, for sure. But it will also make you your daily brew. Their machines tend to be more programmable. Again, I always advice Keurig for a step into a more modern coffee maker from your standard programmable drip affair.
The K-Cup machine does the job quickly and easily, and I’d definitely use it if I tended to sleep late then rush out to work with barely enough time to tie my shoes… you know… if that ever happened…
But that’s an overview. Let’s look at a couple of the most popular lines for these single-serve giants and how they differ.
The VertuoPlus is really good. But only if you have a hankering for espresso and only espresso.
There’s no doubt about it -- Nespresso has won the battle for espresso making. The VertuoPlus pours a smooth shot time after time, and in under a minute. It can even handle making longer drinks, but personally I don’t love them.
The extraction with just an espresso or double espresso level of liquid seems to keep things tasting more intense and well rounded. However, the machine will do up to a 414ml pour (espresso is 80ml).
The VertuoLine was designed with the US market in mind, and that longer, weaker coffee is really an American phenomenon.
The pods come in different sizes, according to how long the drink should be, which means that bleary-eyed pod-choice can be a lot in the morning (you know, before you’ve had your coffee).
The machine has no milk prepping additions, so you have to simply add a splash of half and half or break out other equipment to get frothing if you do want to add it to your drink. As with all Nespresso machines, this is an attractive bit of kit. It’s small and would easily fit on any countertop, plus it feels very sturdy and I’d hazard a guess that it should last years.
K-Cafe is Keurig’s direct competition for Nespresso, hot on its heels in the espresso stakes and arguably a better all rounder. These machines, which vary from the value 100-ish dollars range to premium price, deliver 6, 8 and 12 oz coffees.
The special edition K-Cafe also froths milk for cappuccinos and lattes. The design is refreshingly simple and shots are thick, rich, and complex if you use a good K-Cup.
The temperature is well controlled; the coffee doesn’t get burnt and neither does the well-frothed milk if you happen to be using a higher-end Keurig with a foamer. In fact, I have been told the micro-foam is almost coffee-shop quality.
Why Should Choose Keurig
Keurigs are for adventurous coffee drinkers. You can get cups from various companies and experiment with what you want. They suit a family with mixed taste in hot drinks, or anyone used to a drip coffee machine.
Why Should Choose Nespresso
The brand is loved by Europeans for a reason -- these are the single serve machines for coffee snobs! Sleek, stylish and good at making smooth espresso in a flash.
Price points are largely similar, with Nespresso going higher and Keurig dipping lower.
Overall, I see Keurig and Nespresso as barely competing with one another.
Both have a corner of the premium single-serve and day-to-day home coffee markets, but Keurig is for people who like variety, expediency and some fun in their morning brew.
Keurig can do fancy, sure, but the company’s bread and butter is improving the at home or in the office coffee experience of day-to-day people.
Nespresso, on the other hand, are about the luxury of premium quality espresso in the home.
If you had to choose between these two, just ask yourself: Are you a double espresso kind or a coffee drinker, or do you want to sip a really good cup of the stuff?
If you have 100-250 dollars for a coffee setup, you could get a midrange machine from either company.