Nespresso is supposed to take all the fiddly bits out of making great tasting coffee at home, but what are you to do if you don’t like what’s in the cup? Marketed as a premium product, and with a high price point to match you’d expect every cup to taste perfect. Surely there’s a simple explanation why my Nespresso doesn’t taste as good as it should do?
We’ve surveyed our customers, and combined this with over 10 years of drinking Nespresso coffee in the office and at home: Here are our top 10 reasons why Nespresso tastes bad, and exactly how to fix it:
- Weak coffee? Use another pod.
- Under extracted coffee? warm-up your machine.
- Warm-up your cup and warm up your senses.
- Broken seals
- Expired pods
- Third-party pod issues
- It needs a good clean!
- It needs a descale
- Check the extraction times
- The temperature is set wrong
1. Weak coffee – Use a better capsule!
All Nespresso OriginalLine pods contain exactly 5grams of ground coffee, with the exception of the lungo capsules which contain 7grams.
Ask any barista how much coffee they use at their cafe, and the answer will likely be around 9grams for a single and 18 for a double shot. That’s almost twice as much coffee per serving!
Now, consider that often you’ll get a cafe beverage with a double shot by default, and this means your taste buds are getting 4 times less coffee at home than when you’re at a café. No wonder the Nespresso taste weak..
Solution 1: To solve this, we recommend using 2 pods for 1 cup of coffee. Yes, I know this isn’t the most economical of solutions – but it’s the best way to get strong café quality coffee at home
Solution 2: Switch to a 3rd party Nespresso compatible capsule brand. Since Nespresso released the patent for their capsule design in 2012, there are plenty of other brands making Nespresso compatible capsules. Brands like Strong coffee and Deathwish Coffee get a whole lot more flavour in every capsule.
You can check out our list of the best 3rd party Nespresso compatible capsules here.
2. Underextracted coffee – Warm up your machine.
This is a simple yet effective habit to get into every time you run your Nespresso machine.
The ideal espresso pulling temperature is between 92 and 95°C. Nespresso has reportedly set their machines to heat to exactly 93°C – smack bang in the middle of our ideal range. Great right? Well, this is fine in principle but there’s a catch.
The heating mechanism in the Nespresso machines is called a Thermoblock. Water still needs to travel from the Thermoblock through some pipework into the capsule holder mechanism. This is our problem. If this route isn’t piping hot, then the perfectly produced 93°C water will get cold (well, less than 91°C by the time it hits the coffee beans).
So, how do I make sure my Nespresso comes out at the right temperature?
Before you pop a pod in your machine, be sure to run it a couple of times (with the lid down) to flush some fresh hot water through. This does two things:
- Cleans the machines, rinsing out any residual grinds
- Heats up the capsule mechanism and spout
This means the hot water is guaranteed to be at the ideal coffee extracting temperature when it hits the coffee capsule, ensuring maximum flavour is extracted.
3. Warm up your cup and warm up your senses.
A barista never pours coffee into a cold cup so why would you?! To warm yours up at home, simply add boiling water and leave for a short period to heat. This trick can be combined with tip 1 above to save a little time – by rinsing your machine into the cup you plan to drink from! Once the cup is hot, tip out the water and extract your coffee into the warmed cup.
This not only improves the experience of drinking a warm coffee but also affects the flavour. Have you ever forgotten about your cuppa, only to come back to a cold brew that tastes nothing as it did 30 minutes ago? Well it’s not actually the coffee’s flavour that changes, but rather the way we perceive it to taste.
Our taste receptors are most sensitive in the range from 20°C to 35°C (68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit). That is, we taste things better that are around room temperature. The taste receptors in question don’t always register flavours that are much hotter or colder than this range, and thus we don’t taste them.
Bitterness is one of these flavours that is attenuated at high temperatures. What this means is at hotter temperatures we can ignore a lot of the bitterness while still getting the aroma and flavour of the coffee!
It’s a problem with the pods:
Most of the time, bad coffee has more to do with the coffee itself and less with the machine. Here are the top 3 reasons why bad pods are making your cuppa taste bad.
4. Broken seals
Ground coffee goes stale in mere hours. That’s why your favorite coffee snob looks at you with disdain when you tell them you buy it pre-ground. Guess what’s in a Nespresso coffee pod?
If the seal is not compromised in any way, everything should be fine. The coffee in the capsule has no contact with light, air, or humidity, and as such has a shelf life of months or even years. But if the seal is broken, it becomes stale coffee by the end of the same day.
Both Virtuo and classic capsules have a similar makeup, with the top part being the most “fragile”. Check the top of each pod and look for tiny holes, and check the rim for any signs that the lid has separated from the rest of it.
If the seal is broken, there’s not much you can do but feed the coffee to the plants or try and exchange it if this is the issue with more than one pod in the box.
5. Expired pods
In theory, as long as the seals are not broken, pods will remain usable long after the expiration date. That is if they were also stored properly in a dry and airtight container, and in a dark corner somewhere.
Bad storage can make the coffee go off even before the listed date. Do you keep the pods in the kitchen? If so, how close are they to the stove or the microwave? Or are they sitting in direct sunlight where they will heat up and cool down every day with the sunlight?
Heat is not the only enemy. Did you put the pods into the freezer to “preserve” them? No matter what format the coffee comes in, it should never go into the fridge or the freezer since they will make it go stale.
Your pantry is probably the best place for them, and in the lack of it, a dry and cool cupboard will do.
This means those whacky capsule racks that Nespresso sell are actually a bad idea. Sorry.. you’re better with a Tupperware container in the pantry.
6. Issues with using 3rd party capsules.
Nespresso is notorious for making it as difficult as possible for you to use anything but their pods, even after their patents were publically released.
Now the market is awash with compatible third party capsules that are designed to ‘hopefully’ fit in your Nespresso machine. Some of these are designed to be biodegradable, and even fully compostable and that can be a problem.
Firstly, the biodegradable capsules have a semi-permeable shell which means it won’t store for as long as the proper ones
The only solution is to experiment, experiment, experiment, and experiment. As long as there are no physical issues with the eco-pod (ie it doesn’t open on its own in the middle of brewing), you can make the coffee taste better by playing with the amount and the grind size.
Also, beware of compostable and biodegradable pods not staying fresh as long as their aluminium counterparts. Since they are designed to break down, they won’t last as long in the cupboard – especially in damp and humid conditions.
It’s a problem with the coffee machine?
Well, it doesn’t have to mean that your machine is broken, though don’t rule it out just yet. Here are 3 very common reasons why your machine might be making the coffee taste bad.
7. It needs a good clean
One of the biggest reasons your Nespresso tastes bad is all the stale coffee that’s mixed into your brew.
Here’s the thing, if you are not cleaning the machine properly, there will be some buildup of old coffee around the spout and the pod chamber. For an average coffee drinker, you will have to detail those bits at least once a week.
If the machine serves a lot of people, ie in the office break lounge, that cleaning will have to happen every day.
8. It needs a descale
Descaling solution removes the calcified buildup inside the pipework of the machine to ensure the machine doesn’t operate with technical issues.
By running the right cleaning chemicals through the pipework of your machine it gets rid of the chalky magnesium and calcium. These minerals accumulate in the interiors of the coffee maker, blocking the pipes, ruining the element, and tainting the coffee. It also cleans out all the old coffee residue that’s built up over thousands of coffees.
Nespresso recommends you descale your machine at least every 3 months or 300 coffees – whichever comes first – though this will vary based on the hardness of your local water supply.
Checkout our descaling guides here for your Nespresso machine.
- How to descale your Nespresso Inissia
- How to descale your Nespresso Pixie
- How to descale your Nespresso CitiZ
- How to descale your Nespresso U
9. The extraction time needs to be reprogrammed
Talk to any expert barista and they will tell you the perfect espresso shot takes 25 to 35 seconds to extract.
Use the timer on your phone and see if yours is taking the correct amount of time. If it’s outside these bounds, it may be due to normal wear and tear on your machine, but also may be because you accidentally reprogrammed the extraction timer on the onboard computer.
You can reprogram this yourself on most models of Nespresso machines. Read your machine’s user manual as every machine is different.
10. The thermostat is not working properly
The other half of proper coffee extraction is temperature. It being either a few degrees higher or lower than the sweet spot will leave you with bad-tasting coffee. Too hot and it will taste burnt, too cold and it will be weak and under-extracted.
The thermostat is far more likely to malfunction instead of the heating element itself. And without it, there’s no precise temperature control which is so vital for a good brew.
It’s time to break out the thermometer (instant-read preferably, laser will be fine). The optimal temperature for coffee brewed in Virtuo machines is about 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and other machines should be in the 180-185 range. Bitter coffee is the result of temps that are too high while going low will lead to weak coffee.
If the temperature and the taste test come to the same conclusion, you’ll need to either repair or replace the thermostat.