May 23, 2011

Part I: Comparing Espresso and Single Serve Coffee Capsule Systems - Nespresso, Lavazza, FrancisFrancis X8, and CBTL


We've prepared for you a multi-part article that gives a comparison of the Nespresso, Lavazza, FrancisFrancis X8, and CBTL (Coffee Bean Tea and Leaf) espresso and single serve coffee systems (a special thanks goes out to JAR for all of his efforts on these articles). We'll have 4 experience articles, followed by a conclusions about all four systems. In this article Part I we compare the four systems to each other.

Comparing Espresso and Single Serve Coffee Capsule Systems

Prepackaged single serve espresso system are becoming increasingly popular. They offer consistent dosing, tamping, easy cleanup, reliable and most of all, repeatable performance. There are two basic formats, the ESE pod and capsules. In this series of comparisons I will be looking at four of the capsule systems available today.

Probably the best known example is the system from Nespresso.


Nespresso is one of the Nestlé's companies and they do a great job of marketing their product and in their personal customer service. They sell directly and through a series of Boutiques found in many major cities. Online or phone ordering is easy, their people are polite and knowledgeable and delivery is fast. If you call them you can even specify a preferred carrier if one gives better service in your area.

Internally, the Nespresso machines are all functionally the same, a claimed 19 Bar (remember that espresso requires a 9 Bar or higher pressure so don't get too hung up over claimed pump pressures) pressure claims. There are both manual and automatic volume machines available and ones with and without a steaming wand or milk frothing attachment.

In these comparisons the Nespresso machine will be an older Essenza D100, an automatic machine that has two programmed shot sizes, the standard and a longer Lungo or double shot. Buttons to select drop size are located on the top surface and are easy to reach. The power on off switch is in the right rear.

The water tank is on the rear of the machine and must be removed to fill, but it fits my hand securely and is very easy to use. It has a nice finger grip and is well balanced. It holds about 34 ounces of water.

Nespresso offers 16 different capsules as well as seasonal special editions.

Next We Take a Look at Lavazza


Lavazza is an Italian Coffee roaster that specializes in commercial espresso. Their machines are solid, heavily built, engineered towards the commercial market and so very reliable. The machine being reviewed will be their Lavazza Blue 1010, a manual espresso machine using a 15 Bar pump system, pre-infusion cycle and equipped with a conventional steam wand. It has a separate boiler dedicated just to making steam and so switching to steam is quick and easy.

Unlike the Nespresso Essenza D100, the Lavazza has an adjustable cup rack and can hold a cup up to 4 1/4" tall. The control for espresso or steam is located on the right front of the machine and the power on off switch is on the right near the front.

The water tank is on the right side of the machine and can be refilled in place. It has a well designed cover and is easy to fill and can also be removed if desired during refill, but I always use a pitcher. It holds about 50 ounces of water and so can make quite a few espressos or steamed drinks before needing a refill.

The Lavazza system offers 9 varieties of espresso as well as 8 teas and a veggie consommé.

The FrancisFrancis X8 from Illy


Illy is another old Italian espresso company. Illy though has just one blend of coffee, and has been maintaining the distinctive Illy taste for about seventy years. The coffee is available in medium and dark roast as well as a decaf version.

And it is GOOD!

The machine in this review is the FrancisFrancis (founded by Francesco Illy and now owned by Illy) X8. Like the Lavazza this is a manual machine that incorporates a steam wand and has a "pannarello" type fitting. A "pannarello" does make foam creation easier than the conventional wand as found on the Lavazza and except when compared to what an expert might be able to do, produces a great steamed and foamed milk drink.

It incorporates a power save function and goes into low power mode after about an hour. When in power save the light flashes green and it takes 45-60 seconds to heat up. Lifting the handle to insert a capsule takes the machine out of power save mode as does pushing the steam button.

One issue with the FrancisFrancis X8 is that it uses a common boiler for both making steam and espresso, so after using the steam wand you need to wait while the temperature drops back down to make coffee and that takes about 15 minutes or press the steam button a second time, turn the dial counter clockwise to the steam position and flush the excess steam and hot water. That method only takes about 30 seconds.

The water tank is the smallest of the machines reviewed, only holding about 22 ounces or enough for 14 normal shots. It is very easy though to remove and refill.

The drip tray can be easily raised or lowered and is a wide open platform so even very large cappuccino mugs or a tall glass can be accommodated. It can also be adjusted up or down in steps.

One other observation concerns noise and vibration and I find that I need to hold small espresso and demitasse cups in place or they tend to walk off the drip tray.

Controls are located on the right side and are simply to use. The power on off switch is in the rear.

The CBTL System from CaffiItaly - Contata Model


The new kid on the block is the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Caffitaly (CBTL) Contata (S03).

The Caffitaly system is quiet different from the other three, where each of them are a proprietary capsule and machines, the Caffitaly capsule system is an open standard, designed to encourage individual roasters and machine manufacturers to create their own unique wares. In Europe there are now over 100 large and small roasters that have adopted the Caffitaly standard and package their own unique blends in the capsules.

On this side of the pond the only player so far is CBTL, a LA based chain and one of the oldest and first of the modern coffee house chains.

The system is also unique because it incorporates two different pumps pressures, a high pressure 15Bar system for espressos and a lower 3.5Bar system for coffees and teas.

The CBTL Contata is an automatic machine with three preset drop sizes, single and long espressos (4 ounces) and also an 8 ounce coffee setting. There is room under the spout for my 4" tall mug and the spout itself can be extended to minimize splash when an espresso or demitasse cup is used.

The controls are at the top and the on off switch is on the left side.

The water tank holds 40 ounces so plenty even when doing coffees and it can be refilled in place without removing the tank through a small door that opens in the top of the machine.

Of the four, it is the loudest during start up and operation but has less vibration than any but the Lavazza Blue.

Coming up - in depth with each of the 4 systems listed above, and a wrap up conclusion next week on our thoughts on all of these machines.

Read More in: Lavazza | Nespresso | Single Serve Coffee Machines

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Posted by Jay Brewer at May 23, 2011 7:33 AM
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