The Nespresso Vertuo system
Today, we’re going to talk about the Nespresso Vertuo system. It’s ridiculous, gloriously ridiculous in some ways, just bizarrely ridiculous in others, but I think it’s interesting and definitely worth talking about.
Now, if you’re not familiar with the Vertuo system, you are probably familiar with the classic Nespresso capsule system.
You had these little things, five to six grams of coffee in them, and you could make a sort of espresso thing with them, and they were, let’s just say, popular. The world has changed and they have their new thing. It came out 2014, but really no one talks about it, and it’s just so weird that I kind of want to talk about it, and this is the system.
So these pods are the Vertuo pods and they look quite different to the old ones, and they come in three sizes of hump, I guess, three dome sizes.
You’ve got the little one, which is for an espresso type thing. You’ve got the medium hump for, I suppose, a Lungo, and then I suppose most interestingly to me, you’ve got this, a big dome for a filter coffee.
There’s kind of the why of this whole system. Now, before we get into the sort of technical stuff, you should just see how this thing works, because you’re going to have some questions.
Completely unnecessary touch there. This goes in the middle here, and it drops into a little pod holder, and when you drop this down, you’ll hear it puncture.
Now, when I press go, it’s going to do a bunch of different stuff.
Firstly, it’s going to spin it around and read a barcode that is on the underside of the capsule. Then it’s going to pre-infuse a little bit, right? And then it’s going to spin the capsule at several thousand RPM while pumping water through it, and what we get is kind of weird.
I don’t find that weird layer of foam. I’m not going to call it crema because it seems to be a whole other thing. I mean, look at the way it breaks down. It just gets weird and bubbly. If you read the patents, the reason for the system is that they wanted to be able to build a machine that made filter coffee with a thick layer of persistent crema that wasn’t over-extracted, right?
Then they would say, if you did this with an espresso machine, it would be over-extracted and taste very bitter.
Our system allows you to brew a big cup of coffee with a thick layer of coffee foam on top that isn’t over-extracted.
Now, you might well ask, why would you want a lot of coffee foam, a lot of crema-esque stuff, on top of your drink?
Nespresso have done research in the past to do with how that layer of foam in their beverages elevates the sort of taste sensation from a tactile as well as aromatic perspective.
So maybe that’s the kind of play here, but that is wild, right?
Like, that is a very weird drink to me to make, and that, it’s lasting. I think, in the patent, they said it would last for at least 180 seconds to retain a certain percentage of its original volume. Should we have a taste?
Also in the patent is a reference to the fact that this system works much better with dark roasts, and that is a darker roast. Right, like, that’s much darker than I would choose to drink, and it has this very intense bitterness.
Would I say it tastes over-extracted?
Honestly, probably, no, I wouldn’t say it tastes over-extracted. It just tastes of very dark-roasted coffee, pretty well extracted.
How the system is working
Let me get the capsule out, ’cause that’s also interesting. So, you can start to see how the system is working.
So this thing drops in and it punctures it from above and it simultaneously punctures all the way around the edges.
When you spin this, obviously, there’ll be some compression as the centrifugal forces kind of push the coffee outwards, and the theory here is if you pump water in, it goes through this coffee and then out, and you have this very even extraction, because you’ve got all this kind of centrifugal force pushing the coffee out the whole time.
It does some weird stuff.
If we just cut this open and have a look inside, secondly, you can see this giant hole where the water would have sort of gone in, and also the space that would have been left by the centrifugal force.
Why? Why would you do this? Why is this the solution? And I suppose the answer is a couple of things.
Firstly, there is the thing that they claim, right?
This is an innovative way of brewing because you get this crema on top of your big beverages and they don’t taste over-extracted, and that’s kind of an interesting claim, right?
And we can test that in a little bit and sort of play with that a little bit more. Obviously, the second part of this whole puzzle is that
Nespresso has had a taste of what it’s like to have a defensible technology and to rule a marketplace, to completely dominate.
Let me just clean up a little bit.
Let’s talk about these again.
Now, this was Nespresso’s beginnings, right? Their whole company began with this kind of thing here, the pod, but this pod does not have their coffee inside.
This has some delicious specialty coffee inside. Now, how you feel about specialty pods. Go back to 2013, and there’s a court case between Dualit in the UK and Nespresso, because Dualit were making their own Nespresso pods, and you know, they make the machines too, but they were making pods and Nespresso said, no, that’s naughty.
We’ve got the patent. You can’t do it. And Dualit said, well, we think we can.
We think that you don’t actually have protections around some of this stuff, so we think we can make pods, and it went to court, and Dualit won.
Now, if you want a tiny piece of coffee trivia, when Dualit went to court, they brought an expert witness, a guy called Martin Nicholson.
That name may be familiar to you, because he’s the guy that invented the Niche Zero Grinder.
It’s a small world.
Back on topic, Nespresso no longer dominates these things. You can get everything from just nice washed coffee through to fancy, fancy, natural process Geishas. The world of these little pods has gone crazy. Now, Nespresso aren’t really trying to defend these the same way that they were back in 2013.
They’re still a bit defensive, but they’re also kind of pushing this much harder. Now, I should quickly mention, in the world of spinning coffee things, there is a machine apparently called The Spinn.
You might’ve seen it on some bigger tech channels. It’s popped up a couple of times.
They have offered me a unit, but because they’ve been on backorder, they’ve been taking pre-orders for I think six or seven years now without really shipping, I have said no to it, but it does look like they’re doing something a little bit similar with that.
So maybe there is something in this whole centrifugal thing. That is something I want to look at a little bit more. If you go into the patents, Nestle say that they’re actually brewing under relatively low pressures inside there, and you can’t really convert centrifugal force to a pressure, to a brew pressure, right?
Because brew pressure, well, that requires a resistance. You might have a force of water hitting the coffee, but the pressure it builds up is kind of to do with the resistance of the coffee.
So it doesn’t create a fixed pressure necessarily, but it is still pushing water through coffee in this weird and interesting way.
What I want to do now just quickly is show you one thing that I find super interesting. We’re going to track the flow of a brew, right?
I’m going to brew another of those big, long coffees onto a little Acaia scale.
The smart espresso
I’m gonna use the smart espresso profiler app that will let me track the output flow.
If you think about traditional espresso, your initial flow is quite slow, and then it picks up speed towards the end, because you’re eroding the coffee, right?
You’re destroying the resistance, and so if you’re having like a fixed force in, you’d have a faster flow out, and you’d also have a lower pressure, but we’re getting off topic.
Let’s brew a big cup of coffee and see what happens. I’m going to show you the screenshot of the brew as it happens, ’cause it’s interesting.
So we’re holding really steady at like 2.6, 2.7 grams a second, coming out. Like, really steady. We’ve crept up a little bit to like 2.8, but really, it’s sort of where it is. Barely any increase in this entire brew. That’s weird.
Now, you heard it spin up at the end there, I think to just dry out the capsule, to get as much liquid out as is possible.
I mean, that is a weird brew. I’ve never seen anything like that in an espresso type system. We should see how an espresso brews, actually.
Let’s check that. Now, that sounds like a much lower RPM, but the flow rate is holding just really steady. Now, that’s interesting to me,
because that is that kind of classic Nespresso profile of taste where they’ve got more coffee in the capsule, so they’re pulling a longer shot.
That’s like 36 grams of espresso out, but from still a relatively low coffee dose. In fact, let’s just quickly weigh that now.
Let’s weigh the three sized capsules and see what the difference is, see what the kind of dose is for each of them. Show me your secrets. Now, this espresso is pretty fine. That is still a small pod. That is seven and a half grams only in that capsule, which is more than a traditional Nespresso capsule, but not by much.
Now, for your Lungo, your 150 ml beverage, but you’ve got a bit more coffee. You’re at 10 and a half grams, 10.6 grams of coffee, and then again, it’s pretty, pretty dark.
And so to get a full cup, to get a 230 ml cup, you know, I would be brewing, you’d be brewing 14 or 15 grams of coffee.
What are they brewing?
That’s not ungenerous, but it’s 13 grams, so 13 in 230 out, that’s obviously more liquid in, but you would, you know, think about liquid out. If we know the weight of coffee in, and we know the weight of liquid out, and we’ve got a refractometer to measure the speed of light through coffee, then we can know if their promise is true.
How much of this are they extracting, right? We can measure it. We can calculate it. We have the technology.
Okay, so we’ve got 230 grams of beverage. We’re going to push it through a little filter to make sure there’s no undissolved material in the way.
Now, I’m not going to lie. This looks quite weak. Now, I was actually wrong on the strength. I was kind of thrown by it. The strength is reasonable. It’s about 1.3% coffee in terms of the beverage. If you imagine like a beer is 4% alcohol, this is 1.3% coffee, the rest is just water, and that means, you do the maths.
The extraction is around 23%, right? Like, we can get into the offsets for moisture and CO2. I don’t want to do that.
We can just say that’s very extracted, not absurdly extracted, but thoroughly extracted, and I wouldn’t describe that as being over-extracted necessarily.
Now, the question that I have, really, is, how much of this is just the coffee itself? It’s very well-ground. It’s roasted in a certain way. It’s going to be soluble
How much is the tech? How much is the machine? How special is the machine?
So, in just a minute, I’m going to take the machine. It’s going to be man versus machine, and then also machine versus machine, but before that is a short ad for this video’s sponsor, Surfshark.
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So, here’s how it’s going to work. I’ve got 13 grams of coffee in here that I cut out of one of the capsules. I’ve got some water at about 85, a little bit lower, actually, because I checked the outlet temperature here, and it was sort of 78, 79.
I don’t think they’re losing much heat, and I think they do have a patent for heating the kind of collection area around the pod as well.
So I think they’re brewing low eighties.
I’m going to try and brew a V60 of this coffee, and then the machine can brew, and we’ll see, how much does the extraction vary?
How much does the taste vary? How much is technology doing? Looking at this, it’s really not blooming very much.
There’s very little CO2 in here, and the more I think about it, the less I believe that the foam from this machine is caused by CO2.
It would seem possible, perhaps even likely, that it’s sort of foaming it with air rather than CO2 from the coffee. Let’s get this brewing.
Hey! So we’ve got both our beverages. Now, I made this one with the V60. The machine made this one, obviously. They’re the same recipes. Brew time’s almost identical too. So, 13 in, a total of 230 grams out. We know this one is going to be about 1.33% strength, because the other ones were. So, if we measure this, we’ll know, have I done a comparable job of extraction?
Okay, so some big differences here. This one is 0.1% lower in terms of strength. If you reverse the calculation for extraction, that’s about 2% less extraction.
So, clearly the machine, the spinny spinny, has given us a bump in extraction. Now, I’ll taste them in a second. This is not really a filtered beverage, right? Like, there’s no paper filtration here. This is sort of bad filtration happening. It seems to be pretty effective, but I expect the texture to be notably different to the paper-filtered coffee.
Let’s start with a benchmark. Quite a lot of texture, a ton of bitterness, no acidity, really.
I wouldn’t say much in the way of sweetness in terms of what I think coffee is capable of in terms of sweetness, but the texture is quite nice.
I’ll give it that. It’s got some texture, but let’s compare it to the V60. It’s mostly worse, but in some ways, a little bit better. It really misses that texture from both the additional strength, and also from being paper-filtered in comparison to not paper-filtered, and it felt like that texture was good because it sort of distracted you from the bitterness that is kind of a little clearer here.
That is actually less bitter, more texture. One-nil to the machine. That’s definitely a machine win.
So, now, I want to go machine versus machine, and for this, well, it might be complicated, but I think it can be done.
I’m going to program my Descent to try and match the flow rate of these capsules. I’m going to program it to do a similar kind of pre-infusion, which might be a mistake, but we’ll see, and then to try and hit that same 2.7, 2.8 grams of liquid a second, until we get to 230 grams of beverage, Let’s see what happens.
So, here’s the brew from the Decent.
It was really interesting, quite easy to dial in, because you can dial in by flow, and it turns out you didn’t need much pressure to have the kind of flow that we need through that impacted bed of coffee. I’m going to measure the extraction of this while we brew a comparative version of this.
We have an identical strength, 1.33, once again. Same beverage mass out, same dose of coffee in, very similar brew time, same flow rates through this.
This was pulling at like half a bar, so in the patent, they talk about relatively low pressures. That does seem to be the case. How do they taste?
Now, another advantage here in the comparison for the Decent is that, like this, it’s not paper-filtered. It’s, I suppose, metal-filtered.
So you’d expect more texture, more body from the Decent. Really interesting, flavor, very comparable. I brewed the Decent at 82 Celsius through the whole shot, which I think is close to this.
Flavor-wise, they’re really similar, but obviously, the texture is different. This feels fluffier, unsurprisingly. That coffee foam is adding texture in a really interesting way.
These were brewed identically. They were extracted identically. Why does this have all of this foam? What is this doing to make foam?
I am more convinced than ever that this is aerated coffee foam, right? Like, if I get a blender and I put this in a blender and I blend it, I’ll get some aerated coffee foam too. I should get a blender. Oh yeah, look at my crema. Not so special now, Nespresso.
I mean, this is not necessarily an accusation, because clearly, like, it’s not like, “aha, I gotcha.” Though, I gotcha, but I mean, look at it.
The whole spinning thing is doing something like this to the coffee, and does it change the texture?
I would find these very hard to tell apart now. The quality of foam as it breaks down doesn’t look like crema when it breaks down, but neither does this. In summary, I don’t think the Nespresso Vertuo system is doing anything particularly unusual in terms of extraction, right?
Water is going through coffee at a kind of flow rate, at a relatively low pressure, and it’s extracting pretty well, and you can mimic that and get very similar results at similar brew temperatures with similar flow rates and pressures.
That spinny system is hard to replicate. It’s about locking you as a consumer or a customer in. This whole technology is around locking you in, not letting you buy coffee from anywhere else, making sure that you’re spending your hundreds of pounds or dollars or euros or anything a year with them and no one else, and yeah, they’re trying to offer you an unusual beverage in terms of a foamy filter coffee, and it does taste pleasant, but it’s not special in terms of extraction.
That coffee can be brewed other ways.
You know, you can create a very similar result quite easily. If you’ve got a stick blender at home, you’re not far away from the same experience if you want to know what fluffy, nice-tasting filter coffee is like without having to use a system like this, but now I want to hear from you.
Have you tried this? Do you have one of these? What do you think? Do you like a big, foamy, foamy kind of filter coffee?
Does that please you? Do you like the texture? Have you enjoyed that? Do you like the coffee, or do you just like the convenience?
I really want to hear from you down in the comments below. I think this was originally just available in the US when it launched, but I think it is now worldwide, so hopefully some of you have the chance to experience this, and I know we didn’t get into the whole “Nestle is evil” thing, and I’m not going to defend them for the indefensible things they’ve said and done, but I just wanted to talk about coffee brewing tech, because I think it’s interesting.
For now, I’ll say thank you so much for watching, and I hope you have a great day