Nespresso machines work in a similar manner to pod- and K-cup-based coffee machines and brewers, although there are a couple of key differences. Nespresso machines are geared more toward making espresso-style drinks, not flavored coffees or teas. Its capsules won't fit in machines made by other brands, and vice-versa. All Nespresso machines work in the same basic manner when it comes to brewing a beverage, although some have extra features or larger water tanks.
Two Lines, Two Capsule Types
Nespresso makes two different shapes of coffee capsules that fit the different machines it makes.
These machines use two different brewing technologies. The Original line uses a high-pressure system to brew espresso-style drinks. The Vertuo line uses what Nespresso dubs "centrifusion," which combines centrifugal force and water infusion as it spins the capsule rapidly in the machine. The Vertuo line also offers drinks larger than an espresso or lungo (which uses more water during brewing), such as a standard cup of coffee.
Before First Use
No matter which method of coffee brewing you prefer, you're going to want to know how to really clean your coffee machine before using it. For Nespresso machines, they must be rinsed inside and out prior to first use. Doing so is as simple as brewing a few batches of hot water in the device.
Step 1: Rinse the Reservoir First
Rinse out the water reservoir, then fill it most of the way with fresh tap water. Slide the reservoir into place on the back of the Nespresso unit if you have removed it to add water.
Step 2: Readying the Nespresso Machine
Plug the Nespresso in if you haven't already done so. Press the "lungo" button, which will turn the unit on. Lights will blink as the device warms up, then turn on steadily once the Nespresso is ready to brew.
Step 3: Don't Forget the Mug
Place a large mug, such as a travel mug, on the tray in the front of the Nespresso unit to catch the hot water.
Step 4: Running the Rinse Cycle
Press the "lungo" button to start rinsing the machine. Once the first cycle brews, run three more "lungo" cycles to thoroughly rinse the unit. Discard the hot water in the mug once the water cools.
The rinsing process is slightly different on Vertuo models, as these have a head that must be locked in place first. Once you've rinsed and filled the water reservoir and placed a mug in the tray in front of the Nespresso machine, close the head and turn its lever to the "lock" position. Push the button on the head three times quickly to run a rinsing/cleaning cycle. It may take up to two minutes for water to flow out of the machine, and up to five minutes to complete cleaning.
Brewing an Espresso
Step 1: Check the Water Reservoir
Check the Nespresso machine's water reservoir. If empty or near empty, fill it at least halfway, or with enough water to brew at least a couple of espresso beverages. Keeping extra water in the tank ensures you'll have enough in case you want another cup or two.
Step 2: Turn the Machine On
Press either the "espresso" or "lungo" button to turn on an Original series Nespresso machine, or the "on" button on a Vertuo series machine. The "on" button is the button on top that features a coffee-cup image. It is the only such button on the machine. Once the device's light illuminates steadily, the Nespresso machine is ready to use.
Step 3: Set the Cup in Place
Place your espresso or coffee cup in place on the tray in the front of the Nespresso machine. Some Vertuo models offer an adjustable tray that can hold a small espresso cup up higher, closer towards the spout that dispenses hot drinks. On such a model, set the tray in the desired position before placing the cup atop it.
Step 4: Insert the Coffee Capsule
Lift the lever on an Original machine to access the port for the coffee capsule. On a Vertuo model, turn the lever on the head to "unlock," and lift the head to open it. Insert the desired coffee capsule in the capsule port. On Original machines, they will only fit in one way, clearly outlined on the device. On a Vertuo machine, the dome side must face down. Press the lever down to start an Original machine's brew, or close the Vertuo's lid and slide its lever to the "lock" position. On an Original machine, the brew will stop automatically after creating an espresso or lungo beverage. All Nespresso machines automatically turn off when not in use.
Step 5: Setting the Beverage Size on a Vertuo
Vertuo-series devices require manual stopping if you wish to create espresso, lungo, or half cup of coffee. As the device dispenses coffee, hit the "on" button to stop the dispensing process once the liquid reaches the desired depth in your cup. Hit the same button again to resume dispensing.
The Vertuo's factory settings are designed to dispense a specific amount of beverage best suited to the coffee capsule inserted in the device. Using an espresso capsule results in a beverage containing 1.35 ounces. A coffee capsule results in 7.77 ounces, while an alto capsule produces 14 ounces. To change the amount of liquid, hold the "on" button down while the Nespresso brews, releasing the button once the desired amount of liquid is in the cup. The unit will remember this amount, overriding the original factory setting. The same process can be use to change the amount of liquid dispensed on the Original series Nespresso machines.
Step 6: Releasing and Removing Spent Capsules
Since Nespresso devices require single-use coffee capsules, these must be released from the unit after each use. Each machine has a receptacle that catches the used capsules. On an Original unit, simply lift the lever and lower it again to release the capsule into the bin. On a Vertuo model, move the lever to the "unlock" position and lift the head, which ejects the capsule into the bin.
Step 7: Basic Care After Use
Once you've finished brewing coffee drinks and the Nespresso unit turns off, it's time to wipe it down. Slide out the spent-capsule receptacle and empty it into the trash or into one of Nespresso's recycling bags as part of the company's recycling program. Wipe down the removable coffee cup tray with a damp cloth. Also wipe down any other areas on the device's exterior, as needed. Empty the water tank as well.
Nespresso not working properly? Here's our guide for how to repair a Nespresso machine.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.