Capsule brewers – they’re as convenient as they are affordable, making them hugely popular. In light of that, we’re taking a look at two of the world’s most famous brands: Illy vs Nespresso. We’ll cover everything you need to know to help you decide which (if either) is best for you.
There’s lots to cover, so let’s dive straight in!
Main Differences Between Illy vs Nespresso
The main differences between Illy vs Nespresso are:
- Illy doesn’t have as much variety as Nespresso, whereas Nespresso has more options both in terms of capsules and machines
- Illy is yet to adopt centrifusion functionality, whereas the new Nespresso machines (from the vertuo lines) have more technologically savvy features like centrifusion
- Illy’s accessories are steeper in price, whereas Nespresso’s accessories are generally more affordable
- The quality of Illy’s coffee is typically higher, whereas Nespresso’s pods aren’t as rich
- Typically Illy’s coffee machines are cheaper, whereas Nespresso’s machines tend to be more costly
- Illy has 160 stores and cafes in under 40 countries, whereas Nespresso is the larger organization of the two; it has 810 boutiques across over 80 countries
- Illy only generated $5.6 million in 2020, whereas Nespresso continues to dominate in sales, reaching a net profit of $13.6 billion in 2020.
Illy has its own loyalty program called ILLY LOVERS. You sign up on their app (available from Google and Apple stores), then you receive hearts when you spend money on their products. This, in turn, unlocks exclusive promotions, products, and shipping discounts.
Similarly, all Nespresso machines come with an automatic membership to the “Nespresso & You” loyalty program. Likewise, you’ll benefit from discounts on machines, capsules, delivery costs, and accessories. You also get immediate machine assistance, repairs, and machine loans should yours require fixing.
Both brands offer subscription-based plans. With Nespresso, you can choose between monthly plans based on how much coffee you drink, starting at $22. Or there’s a plan that comes inclusive of a coffee machine (and a minimum term subscription of 24 months) from $26.
Both options come with free delivery. Alternatively, Illy has a subscription plan based on the type and frequency of the coffee you drink, starting at $14 a month. Or there’s a longer-term subscription (minimum 18 months) which comes inclusive of a complimentary coffee machine. Both options again are inclusive of free shipping.
Both brands have made significant ethical commitments towards sustainability and carbon neutrality. Illy has made it their aim to be carbon neutral by 2033. Likewise, Nespresso has promised the same by 2022. To achieve this, both companies plan to balance how much carbon they produce against how much carbon they remove using sustainable practices. Most notably, planting trees and reducing landfill waste with their recycling programs.
Founded way back in 1933 by Francesco Illy, Illy remains a family-run business with Andrea Illy as Chairman and Massimiliano Pogliani as CEO. In fact, the company has been passed down through three generations. Illy is world-renowned for its velvety-tasting coffee brewed from 100% Arabica beans. It’s enjoyed in over 140 countries across all five continents and sold in more than 50,000 outlets.
In recent decades, Illy has also shown outstanding commitment to ethics and sustainability within the coffee industry. In fact, in 2019, they adopted Benefit Company status, underlining their determination to pioneer sustainable growth for the communities they work alongside.
They also achieved B Corp certification, which is only awarded to enterprises committed to upholding the highest social and environmental consciousness standards.
Based in Switzerland, Nespresso is a subsidiary of the Nestlé Group. It’s been around for over 30 years, and like Illy, Nespresso also strives for sustainability. Most notably, by producing fully recyclable pods and partnering with The Rainforest Alliance, Fair Labor Association, Fairtrade International, and Fairtrade USA.
Back in 2003, Nespresso developed its AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program to source coffee directly from farmers using sustainable farming practices. Consequently, over 110,000 farmers across 15 countries are committed to improving coffee quality while protecting the environment and preserving their communities.
At the time of writing, Nespresso markets the following lines:
- 30 original coffees
- 30 vertuo coffees
- 17 professional coffees
Illy vs Nespresso: The Brewing System
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a closer look at Illy and Nespresso’s brewing systems:
Illy’s iperespresso capsule system veers away from the traditional one-stage brewing system in favor of a two-stage process. This results in a highly smooth, full-bodied espresso with long-lasting crema.
However, Illy’s brewing systems are only compatible with their capsules – as such, these machines lack some versatility. That said, below is a couple of examples worthy of note:
Illy Francis Francis x7.1 iperEspresso
Of course, the first thing that strikes you about this coffee machine is its classic design. Everything about it is sleek, even the portafilter-like mechanism that holds the capsules. We also love the Panarello system wand, which enables you to froth up milk in an instant. You can adjust the water temperature, coffee volume, and steam wand, so you have complete control over the milk frothing process.
Other notable features include the following:
- An internal steel thermoblock: A metal block that sits in the coffee machine passage where the water flows and measures it to the correct temperature for the coffee being brewed.
- 15-bar pump pressure: This is the pressure it takes to push water through the coffee grounds (also known as barometric pressure or standard atmospheric pressure). More pressure bars don’t necessarily mean better quality. However, the pressure will suit the type of coffee that the machine’s designed to make.
- Automatic volume stop
- An auto-decalcification indicator: This tells you when it’s time to descale your coffee machine.
- Power saving mode
- An auto-off feature
- A detachable cup warmer
Once your desired settings are in order, this machine can prepare your shot within 30 seconds. As capsule coffee machines go, this is pretty quick! Overall, you can use this machine and its pods to produce nearly barista-quality espresso.
Despite all these perks, there are some drawbacks worth bearing in mind:
- The steaming wand isn’t the best: Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few complaints concerning Illy wands, including blocked wand valves and mediocre milk frothing.
- The machine won’t last a lifetime: On average, coffee machines last anywhere between 5-10 years. While Illy doesn’t specify how long their coffee machines are intended to last, we can get an idea from their warranty, which only covers a year. Though we imagine, you can extend the life of your coffee machine with some good maintenance.
ESE Coffee Machine
This is a new and eco-friendly addition to the Illy coffee machine family. It’s a compact machine designed for saving space and energy AND comes with an intuitive and easy interface.
The machine’s main features are as follows:
- Espresso and lungo preparations (lungo has a slightly milder flavor than espresso and usually contains more caffeine. The name comes from the Italian word for ‘long,’ which refers to the fact it takes longer to make and has more water)
- Energy-saving settings and low wattage
- A drip tray
- 20 bar – pump pressure
- It works with compostable coffee pods.
However, there are a few things to look out for:
- For the ESE Coffee Machine, the water tank needs to be rinsed before use; otherwise, it can make the taste of the coffee more bitter.
- The water tank is a bit awkward to re-fit.
- Unlike the Illy machine above, there’s no cup warmer.
In contrast, Nespresso machines adopt a more traditional coffee brewing system – namely a single-step pump or centrifugal-based pressure extraction system.
Also, when you use a Nespresso machine that supports their original capsule-style, you can use pods created by other companies like Maud’s. That said, there are next-to-no capsule alternatives for machines that use Vertuo capsules.
However, Nespresso’s Vertuo brewing system is arguably what sets them apart. This benefits from a sophisticated barcode reader that reads the barcodes printed on the Vertuo capsules. Then, with this info to hand, the machine controls the water flow, volume, temperature, infusion time, and capsule rotation speed to brew the perfect coffee.
That said, below are a few examples of Nespresso machines:
Nespresso Creatista Plus
If you want a steaming wand on a pod-brewer that can keep up with some serious frothing, look no further than the Nespresso Creatista Plus. While you can’t produce the most intricate latte masterpieces, you can definitely create a basic leaf or heart design from this microfilm.
This is the perfect option if you don’t want to commit to a full-blown espresso machine but enjoy combining the convenience of pod brewing with some milky experimentation. It features eight coffee brewing options, four froth settings, and 11 temperature settings – all of which are accessible from the intuitive LCD display menu.
However, one downside is that the Creatista Plus ($519) is priced significantly higher than Illy’s X7.1 ($207). But, thanks to their high-quality manufacturing partner, Breville, you can count on a much longer-lasting machine. Most people see a life expectancy of 5-10 years for a Nespresso machine that’s well maintained – although the warranty is only two years.
There are a few other points worth noting about this coffee machine:
- It’s designed for Nespresso original pods; as such, it doesn’t work with Vertuo pods.
- It’s loud while brewing.
- It’s best for lattes and cappuccinos.
If you’re looking for a machine that works with the VertuoLine pods, we recommend the VertuoPlus instead. This machine is equipped with an easy-to-use, one-touch brewing setup that can quickly churn out a decent espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, mug, or alto. It’s also one of the more affordable Nespresso machines on the market.
Again, it uses barcode technology to determine the right brew strength and volume every time. It also uses the latest centrifusion technology to spin up the coffee, adjusting the slightest settings to achieve the unique taste of each blend.
Instead of manually working through the grind settings, water temperature, and brew lengths, the machine only requires you to fill the water and insert a pod. Then with a press of a button, you’ll receive your coffee in seconds. The machine is also compatible with the Aeroccino milk frother, which is important because it doesn’t have milk frothing capabilities.
Below are some of this machine’s most notable downsides:
- No milk frothing capabilities
- It’s more expensive to run as a high wattage (1600W) is needed to power the centrifusion technology.
- It only works with the two types of vertuo pods.
Illy vs Nespresso: The Pods
Now let’s turn our attention to the quality of Illy and Nespresso’s pods:
The grounds inside Illy’s pods are made out of 100% Arabica beans. They come in medium roasts, dark roasts, decaffeinated, and lungo options.
The medium roast boasts a pretty balanced flavor with subtle hints of caramel and chocolate. In contrast, the dark roast is more intense with more pungent cocoa notes. In short, these coffee pods are great for any coffee drinker looking for a convenient way to enjoy a dreamy Italian espresso.
Illy also has a range of fully compostable ESE coffee pods that work with their ESE coffee machine. They’re wrapped in environmentally-friendly filter paper with the same blend of Arabica beans that yield a strong and rich yet smooth and balanced taste.
These pods come in the following options:
- Classico roast: with subtle notes of caramel, orange blossom, and jasmine. This roast aptly balances the acidity and bitterness while providing a lingering sweet aftertaste.
- Intenso roast: this pod has a more intense, bitter taste with warming notes of cocoa and dried fruits.
- Forte: this leans towards a richer, dark chocolate taste.
Nespresso’s pods are fully recyclable and split into two main categories: Original and Vertuo. Nespresso’s range of products is so extensive that we can’t go into all of the tastes here. Still, we can assure you that you can expect a variety of rich and distinctive flavors. Nespresso takes its inspiration from traditional coffee and worldwide flavors and usually has seasonal additions to its collections.
In addition, they have a REVIVING ORIGINS program attempting to bring back coffee blends from vulnerable regions.
The Original line includes the following pods:
- Intenso: A strong and thick coffee taste with caramel and brown sugar notes.
- Voluto: This has a sweet, light flavor.
- Cosi: This boasts a milder, more delicate taste.
- Capriccio: A richer tasting brew that’s slightly more acidic than the others.
- Ispirazione Italiana:
- Napoli: A dark, creamy coffee blend.
- Venezia: A strongly roasted brew on the more bitter and acidic side, but with caramel notes.
- Reviving Origin:
- Tamuka mu Zimbabwe: A zesty and acidic blend from Zimbabwe with fruity notes.
- Kahawa ya Congo: An earthy blend with a nutty aroma.
- Master Crafted Single Origins:
- Indonesia: A complex, rich taste with tobacco notes.
- Ethiopia: A rich sun-dried coffee with fruity notes.
- India: A savory, intense, and spicy flavor.
- Nicaragua: A honeyed texture with sweet cereal notes
- Colombia: A deep, acidic, and fruity aroma
- Decaffeinato: (same flavors but decaffeinated).
- Flavored lines:
- Vanilla Éclair: A mellow vanilla taste with a silky texture.
- Caramel Crème Brulee: A sweet, creamy, caramel taste.
- Cocoa Truffle: A dark cocoa, almond, and vanilla blend.
In comparison, the Vertuo line is much more extensive, with a whopping 24 different pod types available – ten of which are explicitly designed for espresso. Then, 12 other pods can brew standard 8-oz coffee. On top of that, you’ll find the following lines:
- Alto XL: These 14oz coffee capsules are specifically designed to work with the larger cup size options that come with the vertuo line.
- Master Crafted Single Origins: These are a collection of coffees originating from Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Nicaragua, and Colombia.
- Reviving Origins: These, as mentioned, are rarer coffee varieties Nespresso is trying to revive.
- Carafe pour-over style: This is used with a carafe jug (a special coffee decanter).
- Nespresso Exclusives: These are limited edition coffee blends – for example, the festive season blend is a mix of almond, fruit, and pumpkin spice flavors.
Then, within each of the above lines, consumers will find around two to four options to choose from.
Pods: Which Is Better?
Overall, when it comes to espresso Nespresso’s capsules don’t seem to produce the same richness as Illy. That said, the range of pods Nespresso offers beats Illy hands down – as such, you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you; quantity of quality.
Illy vs Nespresso: Accessories and Merchandise
Suppose you’re looking to re-create a more professional coffee experience at home. In that case, you might also want to consider the accessories each brand offers. Of course, you’ll have to pay an additional price for these parts, but if you’re looking to achieve that full-on coffee shop vibe, the investment might be worth it!
Illy has several main offerings in this department:
- Milk thermometer
- Chocolate shaker
- Coffee machine descaler
You can also purchase:
- Travel cups
- Coffee jugs
- Coffee spoons
- Artist cup collections – These are cups designed by contemporary artists worldwide. Illy’s cups are part of their objects d’art collection which they’ve been building since 1992.
In addition, Illy also hosts and sponsors art events. For example, they’ve partnered with the Venice Biennale since 2003, which just speaks to the kind of high-brow coffee-making experience the brand is trying to emulate. For Illy, the focus is providing a gourmet and artisanal coffee experience. We can see this in the price difference between their merchandise and Nespresso’s and their emphasis on art and collectibles.
For example, a set of two Illy art cups (for cappuccino – you can also get mugs and espresso cups) start from $67. Whereas Nespresso’s cups start at just $30 (for two small mugs). However, if you’re just looking for those simple moments of coffee bliss, Nespresso still might have some options for you:
- Pod dispenser
- Coffee machine descaler kit
- Coffee recycling utensils such as recycling bags and bins
- Travel mugs
- Cup, saucers, and mug sets
Utility is at the heart of Nespresso’s branding. They provide all the basics at a reasonable price; their cups start at just $30 (for two small mugs). In addition, their brand heavily leans towards sustainability and intends to be carbon neutral by 2022.
We can see this in their product design, from coffee ranges made using recycled aluminum to offering consumers recycling options for their products. They’re really leading the way where eco-friendliness is concerned!
Illy vs Nespresso: Our Final Verdict
With all this in mind, what’s our final verdict? All in all, both brands have their benefits and drawbacks. But based solely upon the factors below, Illy just takes the gold for its supreme taste and luxury coffee-making experience.
When it comes to taste, it depends on what you want from your coffee drinking experience. If you’re a true coffee enthusiast, you’ll probably favor the superior taste of Illy’s coffee blend. Also, suppose you aren’t looking for milk frothiness as much as you’re looking for a solid, authentic tasting brew. In that case, Illy will definitely be for you. Illy provides a richer, purer espresso taste.
However, Nespresso has tons of flavor options, making them a good choice if you’re looking for something unique or exciting from around the world to start your day. Especially if you like a milky or creamy mix first thing – they can quickly whip one up for you.
While, compared to Nespresso, Illy machines are cheaper to buy, their longevity is limited. However, the price of the Nespresso capsules and machines really adds up. Though some affordable machines are on the market, you might have to compromise on features to bring down the cost.
If you prefer a quick and convenient solution to your morning coffee, Nespresso might be a better option for you. Not only are their machines more durable (See warranty and FAQ), they are generally faster:
- Nespresso’s brew time is approximately between 17 to 25 seconds
- Compared to Illy, which is 25 to 30 seconds
But, in terms of disposable convenience, although Nespresso claims all their pods are recyclable, the former Nespresso boss has commented on the mass of transport and energy needed to complete the recycling process. So the current setup might not be as environmentally-friendly as you think.
Illy faces a similar problem with recycling their capsules. However, as mentioned, they now have their compostable capsule line, which is natural and organic, so they can conveniently go straight in the food waste bin.
Answer: For a long time now, Nespresso has been in the battle against knockoff pods. While their original machine line allowed this capability, it also meant the brand had to compete with other third-party coffee pod suppliers. So, Nespresso started selling capsules outside its own retail outlets to tackle this problem. Nespresso also brought in their Vertuo machine line and pods, which prevents certain third party capsules from being used with their machine.
Answer: While Nespresso manufactures its own coffee capsules, the machines themselves are mainly made by third-party experts. Krups and Magimix are two leading manufacturers of Nespresso coffee machines.
Answer: Of course, this is a matter of opinion. Still, there may be some reason why many coffee lovers favor the taste of Illy over Nespresso. As we mentioned, Illy uses a pure Arabica blend with a focus on espresso. In comparison, Nespresso’s coffee machine inventor, Eric Eavre, didn’t want to reproduce the traditional way espressos were made. Instead, he invented a new way to make coffee to produce something akin to a strong shot of traditional Italian coffee that wasn’t quite as intense as espresso.
Rosie Greaves is a professional freelance writer and content strategist. She specializes in all things coffee, lifestyle, and business. You can find her work on Contena, Judicious Inc, and E-commerce Platforms- just to name a few! Please feel free to reach out to her via her website.