I’m convinced that making the most of life’s wide array of pleasures is by finding the right personal balance of the highbrow and the lowbrow. There is no reason why being a Terrence Malick fan should preclude one from also experiencing great enjoyment from 90 Day: The Single Life, nor should reading Tom Robbins novels mean you can’t pick up a few trashy tabloids at the airport Hudson News. Sometimes, you’re having an Erewhon green juice day, and sometimes you’re having a Taco Bell day. When it comes to coffee, though, a helluva lot of millennials have become pretty particular about their beans ‘n’ gear, retching at the thought of those dry, instant crystals our parents held so dear and developing strong opinions about the superiority of Intelligentsia vs. Blue Bottle.
I’m not sure who’s responsible for this; maybe David Lynch. However, this writer bypassed this whole hullabaloo—not intentionally, but because I didn’t drink coffee for 13 years (long story involving panic attacks and a macchiato-fueled pseudo-manic episode during a college art class). When I finally poked my head up last year and thought, hey, maybe I’m ready to try coffee again to see if it’s chill or if I will once again lose touch with reality after having a latte, I’d missed the peak of the NWOACS (New Wave of American Coffee Snobbery). I was starting at square one—decidedly not a place of pretension. To my surprise, I was first able to successfully drink CBD-infused coffee. Then, after some acid reflux troubleshooting, I discovered that cold brew and drip coffee are a no-go for me, but espresso drinks seem to be A-OK.
There’s just one problem: There’s just too much to learn about coffee at this point, as far as I’m concerned. I’m in my 30s now, and too lazy to get up to speed on beans, grinders, pour-over kettles, and all that. I just want espresso that tastes good and doesn’t require buying a ton of new equipment and learning eight new skills.
In August, I stayed in a Vegas hotel room that had a Nespresso machine, and after experiencing how idiotproof it was, a light bulb went off above my (hungover) skull: I’m a pod coffee machine person. No longer imprisoned by the chains of having to know WTF I’m doing or talking about when it comes to coffee, I’m free to just buy some espresso pods and put them in a machine that pulls perfect shots in 30 seconds. Some people are made to hand-pull their espresso shots with the storied Flair Pro 2; others are destined to blow their paycheck on $7 lattes at the corner cafe every morning or spend a couple hundred bucks on a robotic barista. I am in the latter group.
This brings me to the Essenza Mini Espresso Machine, which I’ve been blessed to use not only in Vegas, but during my current long-term tenure in a hotel while my apartment is repaired from a freak sewage water flooding incident. This honest review is for the Nespresso-curious and the beginner-level home espresso drinker, as I was until fairly recently.
It makes sense that hotels love the Essenza Mini, since it’s one of the most affordable models of Nespresso machines and the least complicated (making it surely easier to maintain, clean, and repair). Its countertop footprint is teeny, scarcely wider than a copy of The Joy of Cooking. It has the vibe of an Easy Bake oven; large plastic parts puzzle together, making it feel a bit toy-like but certainly durable, like those giant DUPLO Legos. The simple, all-black design might not have the aesthetic appeal of a stainless-steel, barista-grade machine, but it’s also visually unobtrusive and sleek. The machine weighs just five pounds and holds 20 ounces of water and up to six empty capsules; this means it’s compact enough that you could even bring it on vacation if you wanted to, or keep it on your office desk.
As far as I can tell, there are only two hinges on the entire machine (the lid to the water tank, and the lid to the pod holder), and only two buttons: one for a single espresso shot, and another for a double. You could absolutely train a reasonably smart breed of dog (German shepherds and border collies are a go; sorry, but probably no dice on Boston terriers) to use this machine and pull you an espresso shot in the morning.
To make an espresso shot, you simply press one of the buttons, wait until it stops flashing (about 30 seconds) and remains green, and insert a pod into the top of the machine. Put your espresso glass under the spout, and press the button again, and voila—a gorgeous espresso shot.
The capsule is automatically released into a chamber that you can then empty by simply pulling out a drawer at the front of the machine (it holds up to six capsules, so you don’t need to empty it immediately—maybe once every few days or so). The experience is truly a breeze.
What’s great about the Essenza Mini Nespresso machine
First of all, ease of use is major. You could not mess up making an espresso with this machine if you tried, as long as you’re using the correct capsules (Nespresso Original, not Vertuo) and have water in the tank. Compare that to a traditional high-end espresso machine, where you’ve got to worry about loading the beans, grinding, cleaning out multiple individual components, and ensuring that all of the settings are optimal to accommodate multiple variables, and you’re saving yourself a lot of time and brain juice, both of which are in short supply in the modern age. Its small size is also major for those living in apartments or who have limited counter space.
While features and customization are somewhat minimal, the buttons do enable you to customize your own shot size and water ratio (just press and hold the brew buttons and release at your preferred point, and it will save that configuration for the future). Because Nespresso Original pods do not use a barcode system, you don’t have to worry about compatibility with third-party pods as long as they’re sized for Nespresso Original machines.
How do Nespresso coffee pods taste?
The espresso is delicious—while individual flavor notes vary depending on which capsules you’re using, all come out at the perfect temperature (warm and steaming, but not scalding hot), toasty and rich, and with that lovely, creamy head that makes espresso so craveable.
While Nespresso’s own pods are superb, you have a decent number of options for third-party capsules as well. I’ve used Nespresso brand (which cost about $1 per pod), Peet’s (a little cheaper), and Bestpresso capsules (even more affordable) in it, and all had amazing results. At $169, that’s about the cost of 28 six-dollar lattes, so it pays for itself quickly. Brands such as Woken now make biodegradable Nespresso pods, which are an option if you’re concerned about the environmental impact and don’t feel confident that you’ll always have the motivation to recycle your aluminum pods; more on that below.
$41 at Amazon
$27.99 at Woken
Is the machine hard to clean?
Clean-up is a snap as well. Nespresso machines use a brewing technology called Centrifusion, which combines centrifugal action and water infusion to spin the capsules 7,000 times per minute. This results in not only a quick, smooth extraction, but also leaves the capsules dry, meaning that the machine does not collect a ton of moisture even if you leave the discarded capsules in the chamber for a few days. All of the plastic parts can be simply poured out and wiped dry.
But wait, isn’t pod coffee horrible for the environment?
It’s time to address one of the biggest concerns about pod coffee: Like many things, it’s an environmentalist’s worst nightmare, filling landfills with Everest-high piles of forever plastic that will collect and remain for an ungodly amount of time. My intent is not to greenwash or sugarcoat that any machine that relies on single-use receptacles is not great for our planet. However, recent studies (that were conducted by legit agencies and groups) have found that—this is genuinely shocking, or at least was to me—pod coffee is actually better for the environment than drip coffee and traditional espresso. I know. WTF? I’ll let you read that whole WIRED article linked above to understand exactly how and why, since it’s a lot to unpack, but there’s significant evidence that in the grand scheme of coffee production’s impacts, pods aren’t that bad, relatively speaking, especially aluminum Nespresso pods.
Nespresso can and does recycle its aluminum pods, which I consider a huge plus—although you have to either give them to your mailperson in a Nespresso recycling bag (available free on Nespresso’s website) or drop them off at a collection point or partner store. (There are apparently more than 122,000 such locations worldwide; my closest drop-off is a nearby Sur La Table store.) In some cities, including New York, you can simply toss your aluminum pods in the recycling bin along with your cans and such. As far as pods go, Nespresso is still significantly more environmentally friendly than its top competitor in the pod-coffee world, Keurig. (Keurig changed its pod plastic in 2020 to a form that is accepted in recycling programs, but that plastic has largely just been shipped to China and ended up in landfills.)
What’s tricky about it (and other things to consider)
While Nespresso’s house brand of espresso is widely considered better than Keurig coffee, Keurig has more partnerships with third-party coffee companies. (This, of course, may change in the coming years as Nespresso machines continue to grow in popularity.) Nespresso’s own blends are really, really good—again, peep that five-star rating on Amazon—but its partners aren’t quite as vast, though they do include Peet’s, Lavazza, Café Bustelo, Illy, and several other top coffee brands.
To revisit the pods issue: With these machines, you’re absolutely creating some waste each time you use a coffee pod, and the processing of that waste has negative impacts on the environment. Unfortunately, only about one-third of Nespresso machine users keep up with recycling their pods (although that number is actually higher than I expected, because most people are lazy). Consider, though, that 1) a pod is still significantly less waste than a plastic coffee cup like you’d get at St*rbucks for your iced latte, and 2) again, you do have the option of collecting and recycling your Nespresso pods. You may wish to check out Nespresso’s map of drop-off locations before ultimately deciding whether that’s something you want to commit to—but you may not care that much, or could simply go for biodegradable pods like the ones from Woken.
Finally, if you’re looking for a machine that creates complex espresso drinks automatically, this machine is bare-bones—it’s simply there to decant and warm your toasty, tiny cup of espresso, not whip up flat whites or whatever. There are Nespresso machines on the market with built-in frothers, automatic latte-making settings, and beyond, but this little guy is basic by design.
For an espresso n00b like myself, the Essenza Mini is a dream to use, thanks to its minimalist, intuitive design and delicious, near-instant results. It pours a frothy, gorgeous little glass of espresso in seconds that can be sipped alone or added to hot milk or water for an instant Americano or latte. It’s easy to clean, which is massive for a somewhat disengaged coffee drinker like me who doesn’t want to be disassembling and scrubbing multiple parts every day. Additionally, the brand’s pod recycling system is surprisingly good and assuages some concerns about single-use coffee pods. If you’re lazy but committed to a gourmet espresso experience every morning, this is likely the best entry point you’ll find for under $200. But recycle those pods, mate.
The Essenza Mini Nespresso machine is available at Amazon, Breville, and Walmart. For more help choosing a pod espresso machine, check out our guide to the best Nespresso machines.
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