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GadgetGuy Asks: can Nespresso pods be used and reused with other coffee?

By Leigh D. Stark | 5:03 pm 05/09/2012

We’ll admit it: we love our Nespresso pod machine, but while the coffee variety Nespresso puts out is pretty decent, we’re still sticklers for the lovely cuppa our local can provide across the road. So we wondered, just what would we have to do to throw that coffee into coffee pods?

Anyone who owns a Nespresso system knows that the capsules used for these machines doesn’t resemble real coffee. The small shiny hat-shaped metal pods contain ground coffee, but the system isn’t designed to take in whatever blend you want to throw at it, with Nespresso asking you to buy refills from its stores.

Take a look on eBay, though, and you’ll find sellers spruiking the reusable pod, a little plastic box with a similar shape and a $30 buck price for ten pods that can be reused roughly thirty times each, offering essentially 300 uses. You bring your own coffee, fill them up, and run them through the machine.

It sounds so awesomely easy. What could go wrong?

It’s worth noting that if you plan on trying this, Nespresso probably won’t like you very much.

When you buy the Nespresso coffee machines, you’re buying into the Nespresso pod system, which serves as your only real way to use the machine. You buy coffee pods from Nespresso and you get coffee, and at roughly 60 to 90 cents per cup of coffee, it’s not a hard ask.

We’re quite happy to pay for it, mind you, but we’re curious to see whether we can replicate the same espresso by loading our favourite blends from other coffee houses into the Nespresso system.

Coffee from the official Nespresso pod on the left, and we want to replace it with coffee from a local coffee house on the right.

The warranty information from Nespresso actually acknowledges the third party pods, by stating:

“Any defect resulting from the usage of non genuine Nespresso capsules will not be covered by this warranty.”

Nespresso even states it a second time in the warranty, just in case you don’t get the message.

“Any defect resulting from the use of capsules which are not genuine Nespresso capsules will not be covered by this warranty.”

Over in the safety precautions section, the manual states:

“This machine works with Nespresso capsules available exclusively through the Nespresso Club. Your Nespresso machine’s proper functioning and lifetime are only guaranteed with the usage of Nespresso capsules.”

So Nespresso doesn’t want you using external pods that it didn’t make, and you have all your warnings right up there in the manual, so don’t go claiming you weren’t told, because you obviously were.

Still, we’re curious to see if we can have a different type of blend from our local come out of our Nespresso machine, so we pressed on.

Coffee loaded in the Emohome reusable pods.

To try this, we needed some reusable pods for the Nespresso pod machine, as well as some coffee from our local shop. The lovely people at Toby’s Estate helped us out here, providing a blend in three different sizes, after we opened a Nespresso pod and showed the level of granularity we needed.

Then, it was to the testing ground, with ten open reusable pods, a spoon, and several cups to see how well this would all work out.

The Emohome reusable pods we chose are made of plastic and feature small holes at the bottom and on the lid at the top, which itself is on a small hinge. You can easily fill these pods up with whatever you want – tea, coffee, etc – and then seal them, throw them in the Nespresso machine, and let the appliance do its best, pumping the pod with water with the 19 bar pump.

An initial test showed a grind of 2 or below was too fine for the machines, effectively turning the coffee into a thick paste no matter how much we packed it in. After consulting with the experts, we had grinds measuring 3.5, 3.8, and 4 to work with.

The same coffee blend in three grinds.

With our three grinds, we went to work attempting to recreate the espresso from across the road, albeit with a machine that wasn’t designed to work under these sorts of conditions.

Coffee grounds were packed in various ways – loose and full, loose and half-filled, tamped and full, tamped and half-filled – pushed through the Nespresso Maestria on the long or “lungo” setting of 3.

In the more full pods, we thought we had success, with a stronger coffee coming out, though without a strong crema, one of the factors Nespresso pods are known for.

Our testing was showing that a grind of 3.8 was proving the best for us, though it still wasn’t as lovely a cup as was capable from across the road with their professional machines, nor was it as nice as the Nespresso pods.

Some success with the 3.8 grind.

After trying it in twenty different configurations, we settled on the idea that we probably weren’t going to recreate a Nespresso pod with our own blend, with the reasons coming down to several factors: pod shape and material, type of seal, coffee packing, coffee type, and consistency.

As it stands, Nespresso holds the patent for its capsule-based system, and as far as we know, it hasn’t shared those designs and specifications with anyone else. That means the third-party pods don’t follow exactly what Nespresso has designed around, so the pod sizing and shape isn’t spot on in the way the official capsules are.

The Emohome reusable plastic pods next to the Nespresso one-use aluminium pods.

Next is the material, which on the official pods is aluminium, but on our reusable pods is plastic and rubber. Using metal in the official pods means the coffee can be kept perfectly sealed until use – with the pressure still inside – as well as keeping the coffee hotter as the water pumps through the pod during extraction.

We’d hazard a bet that the different material makes a big difference here.

The seal is a pretty big deal, too. Some may argue that the aluminium seal Nespresso uses on its pods may be solely to keep the coffee fresher for a longer period of time, but given that the machine has to puncture the pods during use, we’d say there’s more happening here. When a Nespresso coffee machine “punctures” a plastic seal, the extraction doesn’t seem as high quality.

The whiter bumps on the top of the reusable pod lid show where it's beginning to warp.

In fact, after one cycle of the coffee pods, we noticed our capsule lids were beginning to warp, bringing in the question of whether our 30 use pods would even make it past their fifth outing.

Adding to the seal quality is the way the coffee is packed, and without an industrial grade packing system, there’s no way of guaranteeing the amount of coffee you pack in. Basically, Nespresso can pack the right amount of coffee into its pods, and you can’t, because it has a system designed for it, and you’re using a spoon and a tamp.

Keep in mind that as you do this, you’re taking the time to fill these pods. That’s a few minutes of your life per pod that you won’t get back, compared with the Nespresso capsules which are bought pre-packed.

The coffee pods made by Nespresso are also designed to create a specific taste. More than just a flavour, the pods are basically engineered to come out the same time every time, which is more than you can do with reusable ones in our experience.

The coffee amount and consistency is very different and hard to nail on the reusable pod (left), whereas the Nespresso pod (right) is factory controlled.

That’s where the consistency comes in, or lack thereof.

With a Nespresso capsule, it’s the same cup, with the difference being the length: short ristretto, mid espresso, or long.

With a reusable capsule, you can pack it and intend it to be the same cup every time, but it’s possible that the coffee will come out completely different. One cup could be totally amazing, but then the next ten could be a different world altogether, with no way of guaranteeing the result.

It’s a shame too, because reusing coffee pods actually makes a lot of sense, especially when not only is there so much more coffee out there than what Nespresso produces, but it can be more economical, too.

But if you try the reusable pods, know that the results are nowhere near as simple as you may expect them to be, with a cup of coffee that just doesn’t feel or taste as good as the Nespresso blends.

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