Comparison: CBTL, Nespresso, Single-Serve Espresso

By Jeffrey the Barak

Single serve coffee and single serve espresso are the fastest growing trends in home coffee preparation. While the cost per cup can be a lot higher than you would pay with a normal coffee maker or home espresso machine, capsule systems take away the guesswork, the mess, the constant cleanup and the wastage

In an older article on the-vu, I compared the Keurig, which only makes brewed coffee, and not espresso, and the Tassimo, which makes both, except it does not make high BAR pressure espresso but rather a close facsimile. My review of these two systems can be found at http://www.the-vu.com/2009/05/discovering-single-serve-coffee-keurig-versus-tassimo/

But the world is going nuts for Nespresso, an espresso making system that delivers a perfect pull with every shot, and no cleaning required. Having pulled many a lousy shot with an array of manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic espresso machines over the years, The consistently perfect shots delivered from the Nespresso system are beyond impressive and I would challenge any highly practiced barista to consistently match the results.

But as perfect as the system is, the only place to get the capsules of coffee, unless you are close to a very rare Nespresso boutique store, is at Nespresso.com. Customers say they arrive in two days and Nespresso has the best customer service, even if a problem develops with the machine. Nespresso will even send out a loaner to use while the customer’s own rig is being fixed.

But Nespresso is not the only player. There are several aspiring single-serve, pod or capsule, espresso and/or coffee competitors in the world including  Dolce Gusto, also owned by Nestle (as is Nespresso), Gaggia, Flavia (Mars), Illy (with or without Francis Francis), Comobar, Lavazza, Italcaffe, Benotti, La Piccola, Tuttocialde and several more, including Caffitaly.

And it is Caffitaly that has struck distribution deals in various countries. In the United States, the partner is The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and the brand name for the machines in the U.S. is CBTL. In the States, the coffee varieties available for the CBTL machine are all from The Coffee Bean, and this is not such a bad thing, as the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have some of the best coffee in the world. Customers far away from any Coffee Bean store can order capsules online, just as they would be forced to if they chose to buy a Nespresso machine.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf started as a local Los Angeles family-owned firm that was closely watched by the Seattle giants and in many areas beat all to the start line with new innovations. For example, one day a couple of decades ago, the manager of a Coffee Bean invented the Ice-Blended Mocha. Cinnabon has another claim for the invention of this concoction, but It seems that the Coffee Bean manager was probably unaware of it when she dreamed it up, and the Coffee Bean’s unique use of cold-brewed “Toddy” coffee did contribute greatly to its success. Now every cafe, ice-cream store and donut shop has some version of a coffee smoothie, most noticeably, the cleverly named Starbucks Frappuccino.

And it is Starbucks who is strangely absent from the single serve revolution. True, they partnered with Tassimo (Kraft) to make Starbucks brewed coffee T-Cups, and they also make paper Pods to fit in E.S.E compatible machines, but they have not partnered with a single-serve espresso machine manufacturer so far. CBTL with Caffitaly have beaten them to market.

As mentioned earlier, the Keurig and Tassimo were compared in the aforementioned article, and so here we will compare side-by-side, a Nespresso machine and a CBTL machine. In each case we will focus on a single short shot of espresso, and simply note that both providers offer a virtually identical electric milk frother/heater should you want to incorporate your shot into a latte, cappuccino or machiatto.

And the comparison is fairly easy. Both Nespresso and CBTL have a good variety of coffee capsules. Both offer at least four excellent espresso varieties. But only the CBTL machine can also brew a lower pressure large size drip coffee drink. So if you want both espresso and brewed coffee, and choose Nespresso, you will also need a Keurig to sit beside it.

Both machines accept and eject the capsules in much the same way, but the Nespresso excels in finishing cleaner with less post-shot dripping

And as for price, the CBTL machines are significantly less expensive. For visual design, Nespresso wins with the narrow profile $279 Citz, but the $150 CBTL Kaldi looks great, and so does their less expensive CBTL Cantata, which has identical specs and function for just $130. I personally have an aversion to the shape of the $200 Nespresso Essenza but that’s just me.

Nespresso, being an espresso-only machine, has more varieties of espresso, but most of these are very mild and therefore not what you would expect to receive if you ordered a real espresso at any self respecting cafe. So both systems only have three or four truly excellent proper espresso blends in their line up. That’s right, not very many! But these few are excellent, authentic, and of course completely consistent from shot to shot, something of which few baristas can boast.

My own top capsule picks, based on the criteria that espresso should be the strength and intensity of proper espresso, not just a tiny little cup of fairly strong coffee:

  • Nespresso Ristretto
  • CBTL Italian,
  • CBTL Premium,
  • Nespresso Arpegio,
  • CBTL Continental,
  • Nespresso Roma,
  • Nespresso Indriya.

Decafs and lungos were not included in this comparison, and my order of favorites is preliminary because I have not yet experienced several of each and considered them over a reasonable period of time. Your preferences will of course vary.

I think the Nespresso and CBTL systems are both excellent and both will give better shots than your best effort with a portafilter or a super automatic, and do so every time with never a bad shot pulled. While the Nespresso generates 19 BAR of pressure and the CBTL only gives 15 BAR, the difference is not possible to notice in the extraction and crema, so 15 must be enough.

But the price difference makes the CBTL the winner, for now. They are too new to have many reviews and Nespresso fans will be alarmed this verdict, and the long establishment of Nespresso means you could find old used machines at a bargain price etc., but assuming you want a new one, it’s CBTL who wins today.

References:

Milk:

As a final aside, since these systems focus on convenience, I would recommend that if you drink lattes, cappuccinos etc., that you pair your CBTL or Nespresso machine with the $60 CBTL milk frother or the similar $100 Nespresso Aeroccino, rather than pick a machine with a difficult to master steam wand. Or take the even lower cost route with CBTL’s $13 hand-held frother and heat your milk in your microwave! (Or even pick up the $3 version at Ikea). Having practiced micro-foaming milk for years with several steam wands, I would not recommend the procedure to anyone seeking convenience and consistency!

Jeffrey the Barak is a coffee enthusiast and is the publisher of the-vu.

76 thoughts on “Comparison: CBTL, Nespresso, Single-Serve Espresso”

  1. Instructions as emailed to me.
    Programming the Coffee Temperature

    Please note that this will only raise the temperature 6 degrees.

    1. Switch the appliance off and raise the lever.
    2. Keeping the short espresso and the brewed coffee buttons pressed down, turn on the machine.
    3. The multifunction alarm light will stay on with a fixed red light.
    4. Press the long espresso button to highlight the short espresso button. This will raise the temperature approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
    5. Press the long espresso button to highlight the long espresso button. this will raise the temperature approximately another 1.5 degrees.
    6. Press the long espresso button to highlight the brewed coffee button. This will raise the temperature approximately another 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
    7. Turn the machine off and on.

  2. Programming the Coffee Temperature
    Your CBTL System uses one main heating element for all the drink options (espresso, coffee and tea). Should you find that you would like to increase the temperature of the water that is being dispensed, you can do so be following the below steps. Please note that this will only raise the temperature approximately 6 Degrees Fahrenheit.
    1. Switch the appliance off and raise the lever
    2. Keeping the short espresso and the brewed coffee buttons pressed down, turn on the machine
    3. The multifunction alarm light will stay on with a fixed red light
    4. Press the long espresso button to highlight the short espresso button. This will raise the temperature approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit
    5. Press the long espresso button to highlight the long espresso button. This will raise the temperature approximately another 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit
    6. Press the long espresso button to highlight the brewed coffee button. This will raise the temperature approximately another 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit
    7. The turn the machine off and on.

  3. You may want to upate your comparison chart. The going rate for nespresso pods is 60-65 cents a capsule per their website. The CBTL cups are $7 for a box of 10 or $11 for a box of 16, so that’s 68 – 70 cents a cup. Keurig k-cups list for about 70 cents a cup also, but you can usually get them for about 55 cents a cup at discount websites. Finally, Tassimo t-discs are retailing for $10/16 count bag, that’s about 63 cents a disc.

  4. Thanks Richard. We could update it forever as prices rise or fall but the article has a date and the prices were accurate on that date, when it was written.

  5. As a coffee geek I can tell you that you are mistaken on a few things. 1) Keurigs do not make great coffee, it’s all low TDS weak-bitter low brew temp coffee. 2) Pod machines do not make real espresso. 3) Challenging a barista to make shots that consistently is a false challenge, since my shots, as a home barista, even when botched, taste far better than any pod espresso I’ve ever had. Please stop pretending pod machines make coffee just as good as brewing it correctly. You are doing a disservice to the industry.

  6. replying to John C:

    1) Some K-Cups are very good, plenty strong and bold, not bitter at all with the right water quantity, and easily hot enough. Perhaps in your experience you were served a poor choice of K-Cup with too much water dropped through the machine. Many people choose poor K-Cups and dump a travel mug’s worth of water through it, which is obviously going to be no good.

    2) Single-Serve Espresso machines do make real espresso. The BAR pressure qualifies it as so. The capsule replaces the metal portafilter, that’s all.

    3) And thirdly, for most people, it is really very easy to pull a lousy shot at home with a semi-auto. As you know, everything from the grind, the tamp, the temperature, the drop-time, and the roast date, has to be just right, and the average user gets some or most of it wrong. The single-serve machines put a successful pull within reach of the average consumer, and in many cases it’s a darn good clean shot compared to the disasters served in American restaurants for three to six bucks each. Not the ultimate espresso of course, but consistently okay-to-good with one button push. Try a free sample of CBTL or Nespresso next time you are out shopping.

  7. May 2012.

    I have received many emails recently saying the prices are out of date in this article. Yes they are, but the article was published a long time ago and there is no plan to edit it as prices of machines and capsules rise or fall, or as new machines replace the old.

    Personally I now use both Nespresso and CBTL systems for my espresso. It is all down to personal taste in espresso and everyone has a different favorite capsule. The red Italian capsule is the only one I love for the CBTL but it is so amazing I keep that entire system just for that one capsule. Bloomingdales have two Nespresso boutiques close to where I live so a local pickup option now exists for Nespresso too.

    They are both excellent systems.

    Jeffrey the Barak.

  8. Jeffrey, thanks for all the great information. I’m looking for a pod espresso system (for all the reasons you indicate that are positive: consistency, time, easy of use). We currently use a stove-top Moka pot and get varying results; and generally very strong coffee. We also use a battery operated frothing wand, skim milk, and the microwave to make our froth for cappuccinos. I’ve been doing a bit of research, especially with the CBTL models as they also brew coffee. I currently use a Keurig for a quick cup of coffee in the afternoons, and we still use our cheap Mr. Coffee to brew a pot for the morning. Adding yet another machine to our kitchen is not only taking more counter space, but looks obsessive. So, the idea that the CBTL could replace my Keurig and add espresso is very appealing. I have been reading a lot of mixed reviews about the quality of the CBTL machine(s) itself, with some people indicating their machines are failing within 6 months. Also, that customer service for CBTL is lacking. So, I was wondering if you knew more about these issues with CBTL. To the contrary, I hear that Nespresso (Nestle) is extremely responsive to any machine issues. I don’t care about price differences of pods or accessibility as I can order both the CBTL and Nespresso from their respective on-line sources. Thanks for any comments.

  9. @ Susan. You have researched well. I actually found CBTL customer service to be absolutely fantastic. Yes I had one frother fail and one Kaldi go a little nuts, but each was replaced without trouble. Of course I have an advantage being a mile from CBTL HQ in Los Angeles. Since writing the article which is now quite old, with out of date prices etc., I have purchased for myself a Nespresso Citiz with Milk, and after more extensive use I prefer it. I really really miss the red CBTL Italian capsule that makes the perfect espresso the same as the one in the Coffee Bean, but that was the only CBTL capsule I loved, and Nespresso has several amazing capsules. The Nespresso Citiz is high quality, and operates smoother and with less lever effort. So far it has performed perfectly. The Nespresso frother is better. It works differently with a magnet drive rather than a shaft drive coming frother lid, and it is easier to change the whisk, and the non-stick surface is more non-stick, and it does not scorch the milk requiring a scrub to clean. If I were to do another side-by-side today, regardless of price, (and Nespresso is more expensive), I would recommend the Nespresso system over the CBTL system, but the article has a publish date and is not meant to be revised periodically. At the time of writing I was very enthusiastic about the CBTL system. As for a regular cup of brewed Joe, the Nespresso will not replace your Mr Coffee, but it makes a delicious four ounce fortissimo lungo which is quite delicious with a drop of Coffee Mate. CBTL brew capsules are not really that good and cannot compete with actual fresh brewed coffee.

  10. Now, there are two blends (Colombian and Breakfast Blend) no longer available from their own website.
    Is this going the way of Senseo, with the machine available but no pods to use in them?

  11. I was thrilled to finally get a machine to do it all, got it home, went by all of the directions, and to my disbelief, there at my last thing to do before turning it on was on the cord and switch, that the product in Calif. has been known to cause cancer, and harm reproductive organs. So, I think I only drink two cups a day, but when I also bought the frother, and read the same thing, it makes me want to take it all back. I spent a lot of time researching the information, and NO WHERE ON LINE did it state that. I am sorely dissapointed in a company that can not use products, that won’t cause cancer! Donna

  12. Donna,

    I am not aware of such notices. Is this referring to coffee, milk, aluminum or packaging? What is the warning referring to? Have you asked the manufacturer yet?

  13. Donna,

    Most everything with a motor has been labeled that “In California” the product has been known to cause cancer. It has to more to deal with the electromagnetic frequencies a motor produces than the product itself. You see things such as lawn mowers, blenders, and vacuums with the same warning. The most important thing to remember is that EVERYTHING in California has been known to cause cancer.

  14. Just brought the Americano!! LOVE IT…. Store quality Latte upon waking up and one for the road!!!! I brought the frother too. Just ordered pods from coffeewiz.com… about 60 cents per. I got it for $99 on sale at Macys :) sure it was a mistake. On the way to pick another for the office!!
    Negative. I hit the brew button when I pull the handle down and I don’t like the way the way the cord lays on the frother. Positives EVERYTHING; buy it…. who needs a truck on the countertop that makes the sound of an aircraft landing; needs major cleaning and is so complicated…. (one of those big antiquated machines)

  15. I have CBTL and agree Italian espresso is excellent and is responsible for 95 percent of my machine usage. The other 5 percent is breakfast tea and I find the available coffee lacking.

  16. @Donald.

    Yes the CBTL Italian espresso blend has been one of my favorites for decades, since long before the capsule system. It is not actually very Italian in character because it is so Arabica, whereas the cafes in Italy throw plenty of robusta into their signature blends. I remember back in the 80s when the Coffee Bean would display all their roasted beans in glass fronted hoppers, I would look at the “espresso” blend and the “Italian” blend and marvel at how dark and oily they each looked.

  17. Van,
    I wanted to thank you for the step-by-step to increase tempature on my cbtl machine.
    My husband did a lot of research before purchasing and I’m very happy with it. My only critique would be temp because I love my coffee hot.
    Other than that, I’m impressed. And I have to agree…..the Italian espresso is AMAZING.

  18. I recently bought a defective Aeroccino Plus. Nespresso’s “Club” diagnosed the problem as a bad “frother” attachment and said I would have to buy a new one!!! The machine cost $99 and was less that 2 weeks old. It isn’t the money; It’s the chutzpah of horrible service that gets to me. I explained my opinion on the likely outcome of their foolish, non-service attitude (this comment) but to no avail. In hindsight, I has been using a $15 frother and microwave for a long time with excellent results and will go back to it.

  19. Ola! Admin,
    Cool Post, Are we about the same size as a speck of dust in comparison to the solar system? Are we about the size of an atom in comparison to the milky way?
    Can someone paint me a semi relatively accurate picture of our size in comparison to our currently observable universe?
    Good Job!

  20. Hi Jeffrey,
    I have the Citiz +Milk for almost a year and agree its the best for a perfect and consistent espresso or latte at home. My only complaint is the milk and brew temp. I noticed you mention a way to increase the CBTL temp by 6 degrees. Is this possible with the Nespresso?

  21. Hi Patrick.

    I honestly don’t know, but my own one-year-old Citiz + milk gives me a hot shot and hot milk. I usually use Bodum double-wall cups with no preheating, and My drinks are the perfect hot temperature, and they sty hit until they are finished. Are you serving in cold cups perhaps?

  22. Hi Jeffrey,
    I do serve in a hot shot glass (preheated with the Citiz water), then start my milk, pull the shot just as the milk is almost finished and pour together. I usually take mine to go and am using a new $1 Starbucks cup. I have checked the temp of the milk and the shot when complete and neither are more than 150-158*. I have a Keurig I use just for hot water for loose tea steeping and it gets more than 185* consistantly. They are both thermoblock obviously so maybe the Citiz is just much smaller?? I was hoping there was away to set the Citiz brew temp higher. The Keurig is set at 192*.

    Thanks!

  23. Well then that is not hot enough. You should call Nespresso and arrange for a repair. They probably just have to turn a screw or something. But before you do that make sure you know if the coffee or the milk is not hot enough. You may only have to return the Aeroccino if the espresso shot is hot enough on its own and the issue is in the milk. Good luck.

  24. Hey Jeffery, I checked it with a digital thermometer tonight and the short was 145* and the Aerocinno was 139*…not even as hot as when I first bought it. I have an email to the shop where I bought it and will se what they tell to do. Thanks for your info in the many replies! :)

  25. Varying the fineness of the grind, the amount of pressure used to tamp the grinds, or the pressure itself can be used to vary the taste of the espresso. Some baristas pull espresso shots directly into a pre-heated demitasse cup or shot glass, to maintain a higher temperature of the espresso.`.

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