At Home With the CitiZ: A Review of Nespresso’s Latest Espresso Machine

When I was in college, in the days before Starbucks had transformed into the behemoth that it is today, I worked for a small coffee chain which was located in a well-trafficked corner of the food court at the mall.  For up to eight hours a day, I pulled hundreds of espresso shots and made hundreds of cappuccinos and lattes, frequently for an audience that didn’t even know that the word ‘espresso’ does not contain an ‘x’.  At that time, people bought espresso-based drinks as status items, and I can’t tell you how many times a customer tried to return a cappuccino because “it wasn’t sweet”.

Truth be told, I never understood what the fuss was about.  I had free reign to sample everything that we sold, and the espresso didn’t really appeal to me.  I found it to be a bitter, acrid concoction that was only improved by the addition of disproportionate amounts of sweetener and milk, and by that point I would have been better off with a regular cup of java.

I could have lived happily ever after never tasting espresso again, but then something happened that served to change my perspective forever.  I got married, and we went to Italy for our honeymoon, just two young kids going out of the country for the first time.

We found ourselves in Venice, and on the first morning after our arrival in the city, we had breakfast on a rooftop hotel cafe overlooking the Grand Canal.  With the morning sun glinting off of the waterway, which was beginning to fill with the early rush hour traffic of water taxis, gondolas, and speedboats, the setting was absolute perfection.  A light breeze tinged with the faint smell of marsh, bright skies, and a stellar buffet of platters of prosciutto crudo, cheeses, and pastries completed the scene.

Feeling adventurous, and determined to sample the local product in the one nation that would definitively know how to make it correctly, I ordered an espresso.  What was presented to me was nothing like what I had produced so many times by my own hand – the espresso was topped with a luxurious cap of crema, and the bouquet of the bean, instead of being acrid, was almost sweet, even without the addition of sugar.  Tipping the cup to my lips, the taste was a revelation – intense, yet not bitter, and smooth on the palate.  I spent the rest of our trip ending each of our meals in Florence, Capri and Rome with a single shot of espresso, accompanied only by a single sliver of lemon rind.  Since then, I’ve often considered buying a machine for our kitchen, but was hesitant to do so, having heard unkind tales of inexpensive, underpowered machines, but also unwilling and unable to spend thousands of dollars for a higher quality one.

I’ve spent the last two weeks testing a demonstration unit of the new CitiZ espresso machine, manufactured by Nespresso and available for purchase in the United States on August 1.  For you espresso geeks, I will certainly revel in all of the details of my experience, but for everyone else, here’s my summary:  The Nespresso CitiZ produces a perfect cup of espresso, one that rivals the depth and quality of the product that is served in European restaurants.

If you’re in the midst of performing research on espresso machines for home or office use, you probably already know that the key to high quality espresso, one that features a thick layer of crema and maximum extraction of flavor, is the amount of pressure produced in the process.  While most consumer-level espresso machines produce 15 bars of pressure, the pump-driven Nespresso CitiZ outputs 19 bars.  The results speak for themselves – each shot of espresso that I have made has consistently been capped with a generous layer of golden foam, and the flavor profile is spot-on for how espresso should taste.  Honestly, I never expected an espresso machine that is designed for home use to deliver results that so closely matched restaurant quality.

From a design perspective, the CitiZ offers an extremely easy user experience, with virtually no learning curve to speak of.  The 1 liter water reservoir detaches easily from the back of the machine, giving you the freedom to carry it to the sink instead of using a receptacle to bring water to the machine.  Once you’ve got the water reservoir filled, just plug the CitiZ into the nearest outlet and hit the power switch – the two buttons on the top of the machine (one for regular 1.5 oz shots, the second for the larger lungo shots) start blinking.  Once they remain steadily lit, about two to three minutes in my experience, the machine is ready to do its thing.  Just lift the lever, drop an espresso capsule into the machine, close the lever, and push a button.  After the machine is finished expelling its golden elixir, a second lift of the level ejects the spent capsule into a holding area cleverly hidden behind frosted plastic.  As the owner of the CitiZ, you’ll know if there are empty capsules to discard – but casual observers will never be the wiser.

With respect to physical dimensions, the CitiZ manages to occupy only 5 inches of horizontal space on your kitchen counter, although it is worth noting that the machine is around 14 inches deep – you may need to store it at an angle to prevent it from jutting out into your workspace.  At nearly 11 inches tall, it easily fits underneath my kitchen cabinets.

I used to be an espresso snob, and wanted a machine that would allow me to measure, tamp, and pull my own shot.  After all, I was a barista for quite a while, and part of me considered using capsule-based espresso systems to be cheating.  The Nespresso CitiZ has changed my mind.  You can tell that a lot of research went into creating a machine that’s calibrated to deliver the perfect shot, time and again.  Plus, there really is a measure of convenience in being able to go from craving to satisfaction without all of the manual fuss.  Granted, there will always be purists who insist on sourcing their own beans, grinding, measuring, and tamping, but when you’re pressed for time, or find yourself making many shots of espresso for a crowd, you’ll be grateful for the push-button ease of this machine.

The other mark in favor of Nespresso’s capsule system is the sheer variety of espresso variants that’s available, which allows you to serve espresso for hardcore enthusiasts as well as newcomers who aren’t sure whether they’ll like it.  For benchmark purposes, I used Nespresso’s Ristretto variety as my definition of a “standard” espresso, which did not disappoint.  Nespresso rates the Ristretto variety as a ‘10′ for intensity – if you were preparing a shot for someone who thought that the Ristretto was too bracing, you could easily opt for a Livanto (rated as a ‘6′) or even go as low as the Cosi (an intensity level of ‘3′, and way too low for my taste).  The intensity of each varietal changes based on the origin of the beans and the depth to which the beans are roasted.  Nespresso even goes as far as to recommend which varietals are appropriate for standard and lungo shots, or as components of cappuccinos and lattes, and offers a handful of varietals specifically designed for lungo shots.  The cost per shot comes in at a reasonable .55 cents.

At a suggested price point of $279, the Nespresso CitiZ should definitely be on your short list of candidates if you’re looking for an espresso machine for use in your home or office.