When I use an espresso coffee pod, I'm a little skeptical that it qualifies as real espresso. The contents of the cup don't seem to be compressed or 'tamped' in any way, and obviously there's no portafilter involved. As far as I know, steam is simply pumped through the capsule to produce coffee.

It does come out very strong, and with a decent amount of crema, but is it actually espresso?

1 Answer 1


Akin to the simultaneous fates of Schrödinger's Cat, answers to your question include no, maybe, and it doesn't matter. I have furthermore been unable to avoid philosophical diversion and hypothetical questions in this answer; please forgive me. :)

As @EricPlaton noted in comments, the answer depends on a slightly different question: What characteristics define real espresso? Here I merely compare the beverages produced by the following:

My answers:


In simple point of fact, espresso is not traditionally made with a coffee-filled capsule, so the beverage produced by capsule-based machines might be disqualified from being called espresso on that trivial issue alone. :)

If you subscribe to the INEI being a benchmark of espresso production standards (PDF), capsule systems may not meet INEI parameters... so if they don't, they're not an espresso on technicality alone, with regard to "Certified Italian Espresso" at least. For example:

  1. quantity of coffee (e.g., Nespresso might be light);
  2. hot water should be used for espresso (some do use pressurized water; but it's not INEI espresso if the capsule system uses steam);
  3. Some capsule systems (as noted by @EricPlaton below) do produce espresso-machine pressures, but there could be benefit (or problems) by using pressure that is too high, or on the other hand too low for extraction and crema. That said, it seems that AeroPress can create crema at lower pressures, so perhaps the capsule systems produce a beverage more like AeroPress than espresso.[1]


There have been several taste-tests of questionable "legitimacy" between capsule-based machines and traditional espresso machines. One four-subject test gave higher marks to the beverage produced from a capsule-based machine than a traditional espresso machine. This one agrees. Another test disagreed, giving a capsule-based machine a scathing review. Maybe there are better reviews out there; these are mostly useful for anecdotes.

As you note, the resulting beverage from a capsule-based espresso system is similar to traditional espresso, crema and all. However, if you ordered an espresso from a proper cafe, and they gave you a beverage that was brewed using a capsule-based machine, would you feel cheated on principle? What if the beverage was indistinguishable from traditional espresso... or if you like the capsule-based system's result better?

It doesn't matter.

This is my personal conclusion. The result of the beverage produced by a capsule-based system is a decent replica of proper espresso. Capsule systems also are likely to produce a consistent result. If you like the beverage that results (see above...), what difference does it make if it's "real" espresso or not?

[1] Is AeroPress espresso? I think not (and @Chris in AK agreed and notes "Aerpresso" in comments!), but that's a separate question also...

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    As the answer to your footnote, no. The AeroPress produces Aerpresso which is not actually espresso, but isn't exactly drip coffee either. It shares similarities to both but really belongs in it's own category. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 17:30
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    In short, "it depends" on how one defines "espresso". Great answer except one point: Reading it over, there is a mixture of Nespresso, espresso, and pods that may be a bit confusing. For example, I have a pod machine that delivers 16 bars (for a good price)... Anyway to make more explicit what is what? +1 already, though :-) Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 1:00
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    @EricPlaton - Good points on clarity; I restructured the answer a bit and tried to clarify language (more uniformly and explicitly referred to "capsule-based" versus "traditional" espresso machines); LMK if I can improve it more. Also: are you saying that your capsule machine creates 16 bar (~230 psi) of hot water pressure? Maybe I'm sorely mistaken on that point...
    – hoc_age
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 13:00
  • Great changes, thank you. Remarks: (1) Nespresso's capsules seem made of aluminum or something like that. Are you sure it is plastic? Also, I am using "pods", but they usually are kind of paper (like filters wrapping ground). (2) the pod machines I have are one 19-bar advertised Delonghi machine, and 16-bar advertised Handpresso device. I have never thought about measuring the actual pressure---I may be fooling myself here. The coffee out of these machines is nice, though. Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 0:14
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    @EricPlaton - Good points again! Thank you for correcting me. Some capsules are plastic, but the Nespresso ones (for example) are lacquered aluminium. I swear this is my last edit before marking this Community Wiki ;-) Clearly, I was mistaken on a few points; I tried to make everything as correct as possible. Probably not worth actually measuring the pressure; besides being difficult and dangerous, it's not meaningful except in technicality. :) Thanks again!
    – hoc_age
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 12:53

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