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Keurig, the biggest single-serve coffee brand on the market, has won over much of America's caffeine appetite since it took off in the early 2000s. With new competitors emerging, Keurig has been upping its game by adding more flavors, functionality, and smart-home programs to its convenient units. But the competitors have kept up—Nestle’s recently-launched Nespresso VertuoLine has worked out a way to add a layer of depth and sophistication to the pod approach, making its coffee more aroma-rich, luxurious, and as a result, expensive.
After weeks of testing the best pod coffee makers, we decided that the Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville is the best investment for most people, while the Keurig K-Cafe is a formidable option if you're interested in versatility.
But what really sets the two brands apart? And which is right for your daily cup of joe? Read on to see how the single-serve coffee machines compare.
If you opt for in-home brewing over a daily trip to your nearest coffee shop, you probably take pricing pretty seriously. Most of the non-commercial Keurig machines retail from $80 to $160 with a range of selections that cater to different needs.
The Nespresso machines used to come with a much higher price tag, but the newer VertuoLine has became more affordable. This is undoubtedly part of Nestle’s strategy to acquire more of the market share from its pod coffee competitors. But its not a discount line by any means—the higher-end models and bundle deals that come with a milk frother (an addition that one of our editors adores) can cost over $200.
After purchasing the machine, you have to factor in the cost of the coffee pods. The Keurig K-Cup pods are less expensive, averaging from as low as $0.35 to as high as $0.65 per serving. Due to its larger pod sizes, the Nespresso VertuoLine now costs $0.90 to $1.35 per serving. With Keurig, you’ll have the option of a reusable filter, which allows you to brew with you own ground coffee.
Ultimately, using K-Cups is going to be the most effective way to cut spending. A one-coffee-per-day user would spend around $4 on coffee at the shop, and that's at least $120 per month. The most expensive Keurig is $160, and the pods would cost about $15 per month. So even if you're forking over $175 for the first month, your coffee budget goes down to $15 per month after that. Using a Nespresso machine and capsules, in comparison, will cost you $230 up front for the most expensive machine, and $30 per month for capsules in the months following.
The variety of brews
As of 2015, Keurig’s K-Cup pods offer more than 400 beverage varieties from 60 brands, including the top ten best-selling coffee brands domestically. These beverages include coffee, hot chocolate, tea, lemonade, and fruity drinks. And all the Keurig-owned and third-party K-Cup pods are compatible with the K-series brewing systems. You can even fill the coffee of your choice into a reusable K-Cup filter to cater to any highly-specific needs. Reusable filters are the more environmentally-friendly approach, as single-stream recycling often results in contamination.
The Nespresso VertuoLine, which features a bar-code scanning technology, has only 17 different types of coffee at the moment. This lack of variety might be a disadvantage for some, but coffee aficionados may be able to overlook the limited selection due to the high quality of the coffee that is available.
As indicated on the Keurig website, Keurig Green Mountain has been making an effort to produce recyclable coffee pods in past years, and as of late 2020, all K-Cup pods are now 100 percent recyclable.
To recycle K-Cups, you simply need to peel the lid open, then empty or dispose of the grounds. Rinse the pods under water and throw them into a recycling bin.
The Nespresso capsules are advertised as easily recyclable, but you can't always toss them in your bin and call it a day. The company encourages customers to use its own recycling channels, because not all towns recycle the type of aluminum that the pods are made from—and because dumping out the coffee grounds can be kind of a pain.
If you’re a capsule service subscriber, you can exchange your used pods for fresh ones right on your doorstep. The company also offers free pod-recycling bags with prepaid UPS shipping labels. Those bags can be mailed back to Nespresso from any UPS store or dropbox. If you prefer, you can also bring used pods to a boutique retailer or a collection site and the company will do the rest. To find the closest recycling partner, use this Nespresso map tool.
The centralized recycling system that Nespresso offers guarantees all capsules are properly recycled. Although you can manually recycle some K-Cups, contamination in the single-stream recycling process seems to be inevitable, so it’ll be difficult to make sure your clean pods aren’t wasted. For now, Nespresso wins the environmentally-friendly badge.
Like traditional drip machines, Keurigs adopt a simple approach: pressure brewing. The machine punches two holes in the center and the bottom of the K-Cups, and coffee gets squeezed out by pressure. It takes about 45 seconds to one minute of brewing time to produce an eight-ounce or ten-ounce cup of coffee.
While the traditional pod machine uses this rudimentary pressure method of coffee brewing, the Nespresso machines have adopted centrifusion to increase the contact of coffee beans and hot water, which leaves a layer of foamy crema on top of each cup.
The Nespresso VertuoLine—not to be confused with Nespresso Pixie, the espresso machine—uses this advanced centrifusion technology. It combines centrifugal action and water fusion to spin the capsule at around 7,000 rpm. The machine penetrates each capsule in the center and around the edges, after which the water is injected in the middle and pressed out from the 20 openings on the edges.
When it comes to brewing method, time and temperature are the main factors that can determine the quality of the coffee. Nespresso uses barcode scanning technology so the machine can read what temperature and time combination should be used upon brewing. The result? The Nespresso machines simply brew much better coffee than most Keurigs. The thin layer of crema produced by Nespresso's centrifugal approach further enhances the aroma and taste experience.
Design, storage, and ease of use
When Nestle unveiled its first-generation single-serve espresso maker, the Pixie, people raved about its sleek and luxurious design. The second-generation model for coffee, the VertuoLine, continues this legacy with its stylish appearance and range of color options to suit almost every kitchen.
Keurig models are larger and take up more countertop space—in part due to their much larger reservoirs. When it comes to brewing large cups of coffee, the Keurig K-Elite is able to handle more than eight cups of eight-ounce coffee. In comparison, the Nespresso only brews six cups of the same-sized coffees.
Both companies have incorporated intuitive design into the machines’ control panels, so they’re equally easy to use. A small difference is that Nespresso VertuoLine ejects used capsules automatically into a container, so you won’t have to replace the hot pods by hand.
Another detail to note is that all single-serve coffee makers need routine cleaning and descaling once every six months. To descale the machines, you can simply add descaling solution to the water tank and press a button.
The final verdict
Though Keurig's single-serve coffee makers offer a huge variety of beverages to choice from, Nespresso's machines make coffee that simply tastes better, brewing a rich, aroma-filled cup every time. And it's not just me subjectively deciding that the Nespresso coffee is better—brewing technology dictates that a Nespresso produces more full-bodied coffee than a Keurig.
Since I live in a household without split opinions on dark and blonde roast, I would lean toward investing in a Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville for its consistent performance and ability to produce luxurious crema.
For people in big households or for office use, a Keurig might be better at fulfilling all coffee drinkers' demands. In those instances, I’d recommend this Keurig K-Cafe—the most versatile machine in our single-serve pod brewer roundup.