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.

50 Comments

  1. Thank you for this investigative reporting!! The detail and thought you put into this is very much appreciated!! I can see the love you have for coffee and you took the homework out of making the decision for myself!!…. 🙂

  2. Revision:

    Having taken more time to explore the brewed coffee quality from the CBTL Kaldi, the Excellent grade is lowered to poor-to-average. While this review focuses on espresso, the graphics table does show an excellent rating for CBTL brewed drinks but this does not reflect the quality of the brewed coffee and Keurig still reigns by an enormous margin.

    JtB

  3. Thank you for such a wonderful comparison. I have been looking for over a year and wasn’t impressed with any of the other machines. I like cappaccino and my husband likes espresso, so it was always one machine that was available. I purchased the CBTL today after hearing positive comments and then wow, tasting from the machine at Coffee Bean and Tea. I bought the frother also, it did an amazing job. I have been using the economy version (Ikea frother and microwave), but this frother — Wow–, what a job.

  4. Nespresso may once have had excellent customer service, but in my 2+ years, it has gone down considerably. My last call to customer service was due to damaged capsules and they were downright rude to me. I am now looking at the other machines and will not use the nespresso anymore.

  5. Doesn’t nespresso make an excellent americano that can be compared to the standard brewed coffee of the other machines. If so, which machine do you think makes the best 8oz coffee.

  6. I have not tried making an Americano from either machine. Both would probably be good, but maybe not a full 8 oz. The CBTL has a brewed coffee option with many blends, but I find they only produce a tiny cup of brew before becoming very weak and overextracted, so for brew, get a Keurig.

  7. I just bought a CBTL and it is great! It is easy to use and a fast clean up. One thing not mentioned in this comparison is that with the CBTL machine you can brew four types of tea as well. I feel like tea every now and then, so this makes it a clear winner. BTW, CBTL ships a free sample pack with each machine that includes one capsule of every variety they make (12 types).

  8. Hello friends.
    Grand Post, true that I like most is to nespresso.
    But as the the comparison .. Espresso is a great .. I use other coffee
    buy empty capsules, and use the coffee I like.

    I buy the capsules buy it online.

    http://www.ne-cap.com

    We hope you enjoy of a nespresso espresso for 20 cents.

    and it is best with coffee you prefer.

  9. I recently received the CBTL Kaldi as a gift. I love it. The drawback is the availability of capsules. I rently ordered two 10 capsule packages. The coffee was only $6.00 each. The kicker was the shipping charges. They were $7.00. Thus making their coffee prohibitive. My question is. Are the CBTL (Caffitaly) capsules the same as Nespresso? Bloomingdales sells Nespresso capsules.

  10. No, the others are definitely not compatible. If you have a Coffee Bean in your town, they may or may not carry the machine and capsules, but if they do then you can get the coffee locally without paying for shipping. If you live far away from a city where there’s a Bean, you are limited to buying online, but buying a larger quantity may help lower the shipping cost per drink.

  11. The concept of filling empty capsules to use in a capsule machine seems like a lot of work. You may as well use a regular espresso machine and maintain a supply of fresh ground espresso coffee. The whole point of single-serve espresso is no mess, fresh-sealed convenience and consistency. Once you introduce beans, grinding and refilling and resealing into the mix, you make it harder work than normal espresso making with a portafilter.

  12. I used to have a Nespresso. Switched to Tassimo. The machine is great and the beverages are yummy. I can do great coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, teas an hot coco for the kids. Everyone in the family loves it.

  13. Surprised you can enjoy that UHT milk and harsh robusta coffee that Tassimo offers, but it takes all tastes to make the coffee world go round.

  14. I have 3 different single serve hot beverage systems in my past, and now own a 4th; the CBTL. Out of all of the single serves, in my opinion, the CBTL beats them all for espressos, regular joes, and teas. I just love my CBTL. I think the quality of the regular cuppas, especially the French Roast, are very good. Ok, the choice is not as varied as the Keurig and may never be. Yet the word I received from CBTL is that more choices will be available as time goes on and a few new choices will be added during the upcoming holiday season.

  15. Oh, I also wanted to add, the other pro with the CBTL Caffitaly system is any capsule made for a Caffitaly “system” is compatible with those brewers. In Europe there is Lofbergs, Ecaffe, and Dualit. Those capsules would work in a CBTL and vice versa. I read somewhere that Ecaffe and Lofberg’s may be sold online in the States in the future. Even if this does not happen I will be very happy with the CBTL capsules ; )

  16. Thank you for another fantastic post. The place else may anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

  17. Surprised by your evaluation of Tassimo vs. Keurig machines. I own both machines and the Tassimo is a superior piece of equipment. Although not available anymore the Starbucks and Seatle’s Best far exceeded any brews on the Keurig. Some of the European brands are also very good. You must have tasted only the Maxwell House when you brewed with the Tassimo. Also take exception to your comment on UHT milk. Almost 90% of the milk consummed in the world is high temperature processed and boxed. When heated in the Tassimo it makes very good tasting caps and lattes if you use the correct expresso and if far easier and quicker to make than using a frother.

  18. Joe, I owned a Braun, followed by two top of the line Boschs. I did enjoy all of the brewers until the choices dwindled down. I missed having fresh quality coffees, and I’m including the european Ts here. Nothing beats the taste of real espressos.

  19. If Jeffrey is gonna have a blog, such as this one, SOMEONE PLEASE tell the guy the difference between “it’s” and “its” and get this guy a PROOFREADER!!!!!!!

  20. Randy you are indeed correct. It’s means it is or it has, and the word its, of which I was blissfully unaware, should have been used in the sentence: ….did contribute greatly to its success…

    Thanks, Jeffrey

  21. You can get these and the packets of coffee at Bed, Bath, and Beyond now. Thanks for the review. I love the style of the Citi Z….but like the price of this. Also I would list the Tassimo drinks as poor to excellent if Starbucks was still around. There’s still some very good ones though…. only the European ones are great though.

  22. CBTL and Amazon are not the only place you can buy the brewers and capsules. Check out your local BBB. The new Americano model brewer is available & the CBTL frother, along with a good stock of capsules. I found CBTL coffees at my local BBB today that have yet to be announced: Costa Rica, Columbian, Kona, Hazelnut, French Vanilla, and Butterscotch Toffee.

  23. Now that I’ve had my CBTL machine and CBTL frother for a while, I can honestly say this really beats the heck out of my previous Tass(s), and other machines. By starting my CBTL frother a few seconds before I pop a capsule into my CBTL, I end up with a latte or cap in shorter time than having to wait for the T to brew a simulated espresso then follow up by waiting another whole cycle for my milk disc to have that final burst of steam. Not to mention, with the CBTL frother I have at hand any milk I want to froth; be it soy, almond, rice, low fat, or calorie happy half and half which I love. I can even flavor the froth before I froth. And I can say, this froth tastes 100% better than what comes out of T-discs. Why make a quality espresso and top it with a sub-lime froth. Unknown to me, you can reprogram your CBTL to use less water or more, which does improve the quality of the finished brew. In other words, you can make your coffee experience even better. You can also buy Danesi espresso in the USA, or order good choices from Mienl in Austria. The VAT system can outweigh the shipping charges as a member on Singleserve explains. The great news is the new kid on the block is aggressive and growing…. the coffee choices are expanding quickly, the media attention has been top-notch, and the move to supply local BBBs with CBTL product is not going un-noticed. So I agree with the review in regard to the espresso which are superb. I disagree with the change in coffee quality for CBTL beverages. With some adjustments and the expanded choices, I find those drinks are also better than average, and better than Keurig, or at least very competitive.

  24. Nespresso wins hands down!…yea never tried Keurig…butI never wanted to try it as it is only 15bars of pressure vs Nespresso which always looked watered down..eww

  25. I own a Nespresso Citiz…excellent machine, excellent product BUT I love strong Italian type expressos. I have been using Ristretto capsules and find them still to weak for my taste. Is there a stronger blend? Can I use another brand capsule that perhaps has a stronger blend?

  26. For me, you cannot beat the hybrid espresso brew that the Aerobie produces. I crack open a Green Mountain Dark Magic k-cup and brew a small amount in the Aerobie. It’s coffee nirvana. The Keurig brewer on its most concentrated setting also produces a great brew. I’m interested in the CBTL and just went to look at one at BBBY…but my wife, disconnecting the plastic water reservoir, commented “It’s so plasticky” and I had to agree. But the Keurig is also ‘plasticky’ so I’ll probably buy one for try out vs. the Keurig. Thanks for your detailed review!

  27. Thanks for the lengthy comment. I will give the brew setting another try one day on my CBTL. But currently I am serving a few Americanos based on the Italian capsule and those are very nice as there is of course no over-extraction. I will look into finding some of those Danesi and Mienl capsules too!

  28. Yes the introduction of a different Caffitaly machine for CBTL exclusively at Bed Bath Beyond is more recent than this article, so it’s not mentioned. Thanks for this update.

  29. Wow, I am so glad I found this site. I discovered the new CBTL at BBB and wanted to buy it. But, I needed to get input first. I have had Keurig until it finally broke. I did like Keurig. I like the fact that the CBTL can also do expresso so don’t have to buy the Nespresso, too. Thanks for the input. Hopefully BBB will give us lots of coffee choices!

  30. Judy, the Keurig still wins for brewed coffee. But if you also want espresso, the CBTL is currently the best choice.

  31. Is there no other brand of pods that will fit into the nespresso, that is stronger then the ristretto?

  32. Jerry,

    I have not heard of anything else that will fit that brand of machine. The question is, which cafe serves a stronger shot than a Nespresso ristretto? It seems to be quite strong.

  33. Yes, it is strong but I am used to short estressos from a big professional single head Rancilo, but as I have moved to Ecuador its a huge undertaking to bring it down, so I bought the Nespresso Citiz. Now I must find a stronger blend….if it exists?
    Gracias, Jerry

  34. Thanks for the info. All I really want to do is duplicate a McDonald’s nonfat sugar free vanilla latte. Is that possible with a CBTL? I’m an amateur coffee drinker as you can see.

  35. iDavid,

    I think that is probably achievable with just a shot of espresso, some steamed, not frothed, non-fat milk and some CBTL vanilla powder. The CBTL system has all you need to make such a drink, but when that vanilla powder comes into the equation, the cost of a drink goes up quite a bit. Of course if you really get into the espresso, your desire to mix it with milk, sugar and flavorings may diminish.

  36. Which one froths the coffees more – CBTL or Tassimo?

    Why does no one ask this question? Bottom Line: I am looking for exquisite taste and froth in each cup of my coffee no matter which single cup type of coffee I drink. Given these two needs Keurig is not even considered. After much research I have boiled it down to CBTL and Tassimo. Once again, which is the best single-cup coffee maker to buy?

  37. @ Peter Venturell

    Here is the answer. The CBTL makes real espresso. The Tassimo does not. The Tassimo makes a low pressure facsimile of espresso, as explained in the article. If you want coffee with froth, then the Tassimo makes that, a frothy, and fairly strong coffee, but it is certainly not proper espresso and should not be described as espresso. In this writer’s opinion, your other goal, that of exquisite taste, is not obtainable with a Tassimo machine. Others may disagree with that statement, The Tassimo has its fans.

  38. Keurig better brewed coffee than the CBTL, not in my opinion. Keurig just has a bigger marketing arm. Side by side, the CBTL wins for brewed coffee in my opinion and the espresso is very good.

  39. I got a CBTL Contata for xmas. It brews coffee great. But, it’s not very hot. Does anyone else have this problem?

  40. This thing was only getting a little over 120 degrees. I called the help line and they emailed me instructions on ow two raise the temp. It will only raise the temp six degrees max. After adjustment, the temp got around 130 degrees for the first cup. The second cup was around 120 degrees. I sent it back for a replacement.

  41. Received the replacement. Coffee is around 175 degrees. Much better. Love the coffee it brews. I make one cup in the morning for my 45 minute plus drive to work.

  42. Van – Can you give instructions on how to raise the temp? I called help line and they said there is no such adjustment. Would love to know how to do it. I have Americano machine. Thanks.

  43. Great think about CBTL is that actually it is a open system (caffitaly) and so far i count that 97 capsules type exist in the world.

    In every region, usually only one coffe brewery is distributing caffitaly. In US it is CBTL, in german speaking countries it is Tchibo or Julius Meinl (Dallmayr for office use). In Italy, Cagliari, Chicco doro etc. Today I have a great collection of espressos (basically i have everything except CBTL, Swedish losberg and Israeli espresso club)… uncomparable to Nespresso or Tassimo. Its great thing i can explore more coffee types. Some of the manufacturers are even doing limited edition capsules. Fair trade coffee etc.

    I just wonder is some of you are not interested in exchange or to try some italian/german/austrian coffe compatible with CBTL machine (Caffitaly S4 in EU). I would like to make a special website when people can review caffitaly coffes around the world. What do you think of that idea?

    Btw. do you know that caffitaly capsules are very easy to refill? If you want I can post you link to my site here.

  44. @jan.

    That is very interesting Jan. So many country-specific brands for Caffitaly! For most users, refilling capsules with fresh coffee defeats the convenience and tidiness of choosing a single-serve system, but thanks for the link.

    Jeffrey.

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