Espresso Machines Go Small

Size matters. Smaller can be better. I’m talking about espresso machines.

“I think it puts out a good little espresso,” says John Doherty of his Nespresso machine. Doherty is the former executive chef at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Now a consulting chef, Doherty takes his espresso with him when he visits clients. Doherty explains that the Nespresso is superior to most of what he finds on the road. He also uses the machine at home.

“The espresso I make doesn’t stand up to the big machines,” Doherty explains. “But it’s so convenient.”

You don’t have to go to a coffee shop and spend two dollars or more on a double-shot. Just put in the capsule and press the button. No grinding, no tamping, no maintenance. Compared with a “big machine” at home, though, there are sacrifices in choice, economy and quality. Still, if you don’t already have a traditional espresso machine, the capsule systems can be much less expensive overall.

All the capsule systems require using their own espresso. While the machines are relatively inexpensive, the capsules cost between 57 cents and a dollar each. Each capsule is one shot. Which system works best for you pretty much depends on how you’re going to use it and whose coffee you like best.

All the machines worked well, but I wanted to see if one was compact enough for travel. After testing one-ounce shots on several (including the Starbucks Verismo and the gorgeous Bialetti Diva), the espresso I liked best came from the illy Francis Francis Y3 iperEspresso and the Nespresso Pixie, in that order.

The Y3, at $230 and 9.7 pounds, is the sleekest illy capsule machine yet (3.94" wide by 12.21" tall by 10.43" deep). Eleven different blends are offered. The iperEspresso capsule, about 85 cents, is shaped like a small barrel, and the espresso enters your cup at 175° F., seemingly using more pressure than the other systems. The crema was very good. The brew comes closest to the approximating shots from my “big machine.”

The easiest machine to pack is the Nespresso Pixie ($229, pictured). It has 21 flavors available at between 65 and 70 cents per capsule. The Pixie (4.33" wide by 9.25" tall by 12.83" deep) weighs 6.6 pounds and comes with a travel case. I enjoyed the two darkest roasts. Decent crema. The temperature in the cup averaged 169° degrees, six lower than what the company claims, but very drinkable.

For travel? The Nespresso Pixie wins by three pounds. If you like the coffee.