Capsul'in: a do-it-yourself Nespresso solution

Many people interested in espresso these days at least consider a Nespresso machine. In my case, I started out with one before moving up to an entry-level Gaggia. Of course, a major pro for the Nespresso system is its hassle-free delivery of passable espresso with no need to worry about roast date, grind, tamping, mess, temperature, etc. However, from time to time your average Nespresso user might chafe at the rising price of capsules or simply crave a little variety, the ability to use their own coffee. A number of gadgets have been designed to scratch this particular Nespresso-related itch (for example, see here), and I recently had a chance to try out the latest, Capsul’in.

Capsul’in (English and French sites) is a a refillable capsule system made in France and currently in search of a U.S. distributor. It’s fairly simple: fill a plastic capsule with coffee, tamp lightly, apply an adhesive foil seal, and then insert the capsule into your Nespresso’s brew chamber. As far as I know, Capsul’in is compatible with all current Nespresso machines, though I do find that occasionally my own machine, a D90, has a bit of trouble closing over the capsules. Nothing much to worry about in my experience.

Ok, on to the review.

For round #1, I emptied out a partially squashed Kazaar capsule I had on hand (thanks, UPS!) and filled a Capsul'in capsule with the grounds. This was an easy process. I filled, tamped lightly using the back of a spoon, filled some more, tamped again, and then applied the seal [note: there's a proper tamper available, though it's not cheap or, frankly, necessary]. Here's what I got in the cup:

In comparison, here's a normal shot of Kazaar I pulled afterward:

The Capsul'in shot was quite good, I have to say. In a blind tasting, I'm not sure I could have discerned which was which. The above pics seem to show that the crema was darker with the Capsul'in shot. This wasn't actually the case (blame my iPhone).

I limited myself to a very Nespresso-like 5 grams and change worth of coffee (shown in the leftmost "before" pic below). In the rightmost of the two "after" pics next to it, you'll see some deformation. As mentioned above, I had a little trouble closing the machine using the capsule. In comparison, I had no trouble ejecting the capsule. To see what was going on, I put an empty Capsul'in capsule into my D90 and closed it. There was some extra resistance, as before, but when I examined the capsule after ejection it wasn't deformed. So I'd say it's the extraction process (combination of hot water and pressure) that's causing the deformation.

For round #2, I managed to squeeze 7 grams of freshly ground Intelligentsia Finca Matalapa El Pino (100% Arabica) into a Capsul'in capsule. I then ground at #6 on my Baratza Virtuoso (uncalibrated) and tamped more aggressively than last time. The resulting shot had lighter crema (true), but then again I didn't have Kazaar's Robusta to work with. More importantly, it tasted very good. In that respect, I found the Nespresso + Capsul'in combo more forgiving of my then-poor technique than my Gaggia Carezza. Pretty sweet. This shot pulled very slowly, so I made a mental note to ease up on the tamping in the future and/or fiddle with the grind a tad.

Finally, round #3. Here’s a pic of the Kazaar grind on the right and a true espresso grind (11D on the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso) on the left (yes, I upgraded my grinder between rounds #2 and #3). I couldn't see or feel a difference between the grinds shown below. The beans I ground myself led to a great shot in my Gaggia not long after this picture was taken.

Setting 11D gave me the shot below using a Capsul’in. I filled the capsule with 7 grams of Vivace's Espresso Dolce blend (bought through Coffee Kind, incidentally), tamping lightly. Judging by the flow, this was about right in terms of grind (could go just a *hair* coarser). Pretty tasty! I can't say it was as good as what I get from the Gaggia, but it beat most (all? I'm still undecided) of the Nespresso capsules in terms of smoothness and flavor in my opinion.

In short, not bad! I expect these will start showing up on eBay (if not elsewhere) before too long. You can already find Capsul’in’s predecessor, the Ne-cap, on the Bay (haven’t tried that one, myself). If you’re a Nespresso user, you might want to keep an eye out for this.

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