Bean- vs. Capsule Espresso Machines

In today’s world, we tend to emphasize convenience more than anything else. We try to do things quickly and adequately more often than doing them correctly. That isn’t a criticism, just an observation, and it is something to think about when making a decision regarding what can be a significant purchase.

While I appreciate things that are fast and able to save me time and money, I know cutting corners isn’t always the way to go. I think if we continue doing so, we eventually won’t remember how to do things the way they should be done and we’re going to lose the simple joy of subtle nuances which can only be enjoyed when things are done correctly.

Old Fashioned Isn’t Bad

Espresso is kind of like pasta. You can go to the store and buy dry pasta that tastes decent and only takes a few minutes to make. Before you know it, you have a delicious dinner with all the side dishes and other goodies you made to go with the pasta, and everyone is happy. So why are there still restaurants and chefs who make it from scratch? Because it’s better. It gives them more control over the process. You can taste the difference between fresh, homemade pasta and the stuff that comes in a box.

In my world, the same can be said for espresso. Now, the capsule espresso machines are a great development. They’re quick and they make some good espresso. They don’t, however, make great espresso. Great espresso requires skill, and it requires time to perfect. Great espresso requires a real espresso machine and freshly ground beans because, no matter how hard they try, espresso capsules just can’t match the freshness of espresso straight out of the burr.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

Look, I know I’m a coffee purist, but I’m not a masochist. I don’t want to spend extra time working to make my coffee perfect every day of the week just because I can. Sometimes I have to take the easy way out because I basically have 5 seconds of free time, which means making espresso drops down on the list of important things I have going on and have to do.

For that reason, the machines that make espresso from capsules or pods, like the Nespresso machines, really have brought us a long way. They aren’t perfect, but the espresso IS really pretty good. Maybe even great, depending on your definition of great. No, it’s not perfect espresso, but we don’t always have the time for perfect.

Cost Comparison

Capsule machines certainly cost less than fully automated machines that do all the work for you, but they can cost about the same or more than many semi-automatic espresso makers. You might save money on the machine and the tools needed to use the machine, however, you will not save money on the coffee. Espresso pods are WAY more expensive than a bag of either pre-ground espresso or whole beans you throw into a grinder before using them. You will pay for the convenience. While it may be worth it if you’re particularly busy or not particularly skilled with an espresso maker, you are definitely going to get upcharged to be part of the 21st Century machinery.

Now, I don’t know if you need a wake-up shot only or if you’re an all-day all-year kind of espressionado (not to mention that I don’t know your family situation), so it’s impossible for me to do your math. What I CAN tell you is that you’ll have to pay anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 per capsule, depending on the brand and amount you buy, and that you will get an average of 120 espresso shots out of a standard 2.2 Lbs bag of espresso beans. Espresso beans range from $10 to $50 per 2.2 Lbs, so (for the sake of easy calculating) let’s say your favorite brand costs $24, which means $0.20 per cup.

From here you can do your own math, just calculate your monthly need and multiply by the cost of an espresso shot versus the cost of a capsule. Most likely the money you save from buying a capsule machine will be nullified within the year, although this also depends on the machine.

Going Old School

Using an actual espresso machine will cost you a lot less in terms of the coffee itself, but the machines can be quite spendy. There is a huge variety in the price of espresso machines. An inexpensive steam-driven machine, which isn’t really an espresso machine, can be purchased for about $50. At the other end of the scale is a top of the line super-automated machine which comes in at $1,000 and more. So a lot depends on your budget and the amount of work you’re willing to do, as well as how much time you have.

Other Things You Might Need

The other tools you’ll need to use with your old-fashioned espresso machine might cost a whole lot more than you realize. You may need a coffee grinder, if your espresso machine doesn’t have one, which can cost as little as $20 or as much as $200. You may also need a milk frother, if your machine doesn’t come with one or the one that it has doesn’t do the best job. You might need tools like frothing containers, jiggers for measuring, or tampers that fit how you like to do things. These additional tools don’t have to cost a lot, but they do add to the overall price of the espresso experience.

Bean My Friend?

The bottom line is, while there are pros and cons to each option, you can only get true espresso from a real, well-made (and sometimes expensive) espresso machine. You will have to learn the skill of pulling a good shot, and you will love the result. If you just really don’t have the time, though, the capsule machines have come a long way to being real, genuine espresso machines, and you can even get one with the milk frother on board, so it’s a totally different kind of super-automated machine. You may save on the initial investment in purchasing a Nespresso or capsule machine, but you’ll end up spending more money in the long run due to the price of the pods.

The rest is just a matter of preference, my friends. How do you like your beans?

Reviews you might be interested in…

DeLonghi EC155

Sometimes I think coffee pods are taking over the world. It seems like every company is making them now even though they're much more expensive to use than grounds or beans. This machine is great for anyone, though, because it can work with either grounds or pods so you can get your espresso however you like it.

Gaggia 90500 Titanium

The Gaggia 90500 a fully automated option that does all the fun things I love in a mega powerful espresso machine, and it makes a heck of an espresso, but it doesn’t hit the highest notes for me. It does a really good job, but I want a machine that's pretty much perfect.

KRUPS Espresseria

In my quest to find the best machine with the most going for it (and the smallest possible price tag), I have come across a lot of different options that almost work, but are just missing a little something. They’re all pretty fancy, but I think the KRUPS EA8250 takes fancy to the next level.