I never pass up an opportunity to test a coffee system - so it was with some amount of anticipation that I received a sample Nespresso Pixie from a PR company in Vancouver.
This was a 3 or 4 day loaner - so I had to hustle. Those that know me from past reviews, hustle is not my middle name.
Anyway - the Nespresso Pixie arrived, via a local courier... in a 1972 Toyota - kid you not. First time I have seen a courier delivery via a private automobile old enough to be in a classic car museum. Does not say much - well, maybe it does... but that is beside the point.
The Nespresso came well boxed up (and I think had been previously loved - as a demo unit - and had a partial box of test capsules. 8 I think... not really enough to do a comprehensive taste test - but that was OK - I was not expecting a lot of variation on the flavor profiles. The Nespresso capsule-pod thingies come in color coded caps with dramatic names like Ristretto, Roma, Capricio, Volluto... saying absolutely nothing about the contents. On their trippy flash enabled homepage Nestle illustrates and breaks down the capsules into 4 groups; espresso, decaf, lungos and pure origins.
It's interesting that they appear to sell the unit as a "coffee brewing" beverage -- as in a single service "mug o' Joe" kind of machine -- at least from appearances - and it isn't. It is a single espresso shot brewer. Meaning, it is at its "best" when it is brewing a 1 and 1/2 fluid ounce serving of coffee - meaning for most of us working stiffs: A thimble full....
Sure, I am an espresso lover - but I do not believe that the average consumer realizes when they buy one of these units that they are getting a single shot brewer -- as opposed to a coffee maker. I know, I know - they are called N-Espresso machines. I get that. But laying out an array of dramatic pod/capusle offerings implies that it is something that it isn't.
And for me, to be painfully honest -- giving pods fancy Italian names that actually represent real espresso beverages is a tad cynical but not at all uncommon in coffee World. Coming from the Nestle corporation - totally expected.
Anyway - back to the machine...
In use: The Nespresso Pixie is one of the fastest power to brew-ready units I have ever tested. If you are a in-a-hurry morning kind of person that enjoys this kind of coffee - as in really, really quickly... this is the machine for you.
From power on to ready-light status... something under 3 minutes.
Personally, I am one of those espresso machine users that expects to flush any machine prior to brew cycle before "pulling" a shot. A reader reports: "One can pull a flushing shot or cleansing shot by pressing either brew button with no pod in the chamber -- it is in the manual..." Thanks for that reader! Appreciated!
Anyway - loading is dead simple. Pick a pod. Pull up lever. Drop in in. Pull lever forward. Ready to brew. There are two buttons for brewing if memory serves me correctly. Short and Long. And regardless of which one you pick to push, you can hit a button to stop the brew cycle "ristretto" or short. Which is what I found myself doing constantly. With the Nespresso Pixie, even the short brew seemed overly long -- yet it was probably around 2 fluid ounces.
Reality Check: The long brew on the Nespresso Pixie (I imagine) is a whopping 4 fluid ounces (OK, maybe 3.5) -- which is way over-extracted any way you slice it on a machine and pod size like this. Simply not enough coffee in the capsule - and you can only stretch it so far. Who knows, maybe some people enjoy this watery result - who am I to say that this would not be universally desirable. Cannot imagine that it would be.
Costs: At 50 cents a capsule - and assuming that most people consider a "serving" of coffee to be something between 4 and 6 fluid ounces of drinkable coffee - one is going to rack up quite the bill for this convenience. Because, again - I do not believe the average consumer is going to start their day with a single pod shot and find any level of satisfaction.
Convenience: Yup. Drop and pull and discard. If the expense or the mountain of waste that these units generates does not put you off (apparently there is a capsule recycling program if you return the spent pods to a "boutique location" near you.) then maybe the average consumer might find these units cool. There is no denying it - there is a market for sexy looking coffee machines that look nice on the kitchen counter and offer instant gratification... I just do not suppose that many of those people read this website.
Taste: Overall, I found the taste of the pods/capsules kind of edgy, not particularly alive nor particularly unique... one versus another that is. Bluntly, there was nothing here for me. I brew rich cups of filter coffee that are at the other side of the Universe relative to Nestle product. It was not like the pods are "fresh" exactly - I mean, there is no way they could be. Best of my knowledge, they are not packed in nitrogen or flushed with an inert gas - observation indicates that they have to be pre-staled in order to package, store and travel without bursting. So. We all know what stale coffee tastes like.
Bottom line for me was - it is a quick hit most suited to the early morning when you are late for the bus or subway or ride to work. It is all about bang-bang fast, get it on and get it down. This is not a gourmet method. This is convenience with a stress on sacrificing some/all quality.
Price tag: The Nespresso Pixie's are for sale online for around $249 bucks. I actually wandered into our local Mall (knowing that the anchor store sells a variety of capsules...) Not so for the Nespresso. Nespresso pods are available online or in boutiques. I think there is one in Vancouver. This was not of much use to me in wanting to refill on the weekend and try some more for more taste impressions. Our local super-store, The Hudson Bay company sells a variety of product like this (Keurig I think...) but one has to go to Vancouver to refill physically or browse.
Lasting or final impressions: If one Googles Nespresso for other reviews (God bless the internet...) one finds nothing. There seems to be NO serious peer review out there... lots of pseudo blogs that really are links to Nespresso - and lots of 2 line reviews (look's like serious coffee geek style reviewers like yours truly and others have little to worry about...) It is a real weak area. I did find a graphic of a Nespresso flavor wheel which left me in stitches. I may add it to this review if I get bored.
Would I buy one? Heck no. Would I suggest one for any of you? Not on your life.
Despite the fact that Nestle has a sketchy environmental stewardship record and a less than saintly history with attempts at manipulating the global coffee market, I was pretty confident that I was giving this brew system a fair shake.
Try as I might to like it a little, I did not. That is not to say that there could not be a market for this. Sadly there is a huge market for machines like this - for people on the go. For people that embrace style over substance.
Not for me. Overall, a thumbs down.
Who will buy it: For folks on the go and in a big hurry first thing in the morning, the Nestle Nespresso Pixie is a lilliputian hit of caffeinated mercy before that angst ridden trot to the subway station. It is a minor (or major) sacrifice in coffee quality for 'right now' convenience and carefully crafted sexy good looks on the counter top. Owners of shrink wrapped living spaces in urban areas will dig the foot print. Heck, I will admit - it's cute and has solid fit and finish - and unlike a lot of other super store coffee machines that claim all-in-one performance, the Pixie more or less delivers what it should deliver.
Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident and coffee lover - As the senior editor of the CoffeeCrew website (formerly the Coffee Experts Group going way back to 1995!), he drinks the bad coffee so you don't have to! His opinions/writing have been featured in all of Canada's major dailies, on the CBC, on Women's Television and an episode of CSI Las Vegas.