Can Illy’s new Alien-looking espresso machine beat Nespresso at its own game?

I recently received a brochure in the mail from Illy, slick as always, promoting their new espresso capsule system, crazily called iperEspresso. I’m not even sure how to say that. It piqued my interest as I know and enjoy Nespresso capsule espresso. So I wondered how this new system from Illy would stack up.

The so-called single serve coffee market has been growing by leaps and bounds as us self-described busy people seek new ways to save a second or two here and there, without compromising our love for fine things like espresso. Okay, for me more functional than fine: it gets me going in the morning.

For manufacturers it can mean a new, enticing revenue model. I can just see sales and marketing folks light up: “Aha! Another shaver cartridge business model… I like it, let’s create revenue streams”. The model — like shavers, like video game systems, like cell phones, and like so many other new “service-based” consumer based pricing models — is all about a cash flow annuity. Sell the hardware cheap, in this case $150 for the Illy machine. Then keep them coming back for refills. Also important: make sure those refills use proprietary technology so they can only come to us, and only at a premium price. Think profit margin.

By the way, I should mention I’m not opposed to this type of approach. It lowers the entry price and often, like this new Illy machine, provides great convenience. It’s all a matter of preference.

Enough preamble, how does this new Illy machine stack-up against the market leader in single-serve espresso, Nespresso?

In a word: so-so.

Keep in mind I need to wait for a hands-on test before committing a final score, but my initial reaction is underwhelming for a few reasons.

First, the design of the machine. It’s larger than the Nespresso’s tiny, sexy footprint (I’m referring to the compact C100 and realize Nespresso also makes larger, more feature laden models). Granted it does include a steaming wand for cappuccinos and lattes (but if past experience with bar pump machines is a guide, I bet it’s underpowered and slow). Part of the reason is Illy partnered with FrancisFrancis to make the machine. Smart thinking though. Back to aforementioned business model discussion, the real money is in the cartridges.

The FrancisFrancis X8, the machine designed for Illy, comes in black only. And to my eyes it looks like a combination of 1950s retro and a space creature from the movie, Alien. Just oddball really.

Regarding the pods themselves, Illy is only offering 4 choices (medium, lungo, dark roast and decaffeinated) which pales in comparison to the wide selection of 16 colorfully described, and tasty blends from Nespresso.

Nespresso’s C100: a svelte, market leading choice

It goes without saying that Illy’s pods, like its peers, are proprietary. But I was suprised to see them almost gloat on page 2 of the brochure: “It’s an easy-to-use system combining a proprietary capsule for use exclusively with iperEspresso machines.” Someone needs to tell their marketing people that proprietary is good for them, bad for us. Or perhaps they’re confusing the notion of “exclusivity”.

On price, I was again surprised to see Illy come in below Nespresso, especially considering their premium brand positioning. $150 gets you the machine (plus $25 for handling). You are required though to purchase at least two cans of iperEspresso capsules ($16 each). So your total would be $207.

The Nespresso C100, which to me looks most comparable, starts at $249. It offers more power (19 bar vs. 15 bar), but requires a separate steaming device (Aeroccino). You can get a bundle for $299.

Illy refills are $16 per can, and $11 per can of decaf. That works out to .76 or .79 per serving respectively. Apparently not getting the jolts will cost you .03 extra every day. So much for sacrifice.

I believe Nespresso still includes a 40 capsule box with every new system, but I could be wrong about that. I couldn’t tell from their web site if this is still the case.

Nespresso refills range from .55 to .62 per serving depending on the type.

So while Illy initially looks like a sweet deal, over the long haul you’ll be better off with the Nespresso.

For price, let’s compare shipped to your door (tax extra):

  • $305.95 Nespresso C100
  • $207.00 Illy Francis Francis X8 iperEspresso

The difference is $98.95.

Let’s assume you drink 1 cup per day of the .62 Nespresso pod. How many days to break even versus the .76 Illy pod? Quick tablecloth math says it’s about 705 days, or almost 2 years. But, if you drink 2 cups per day, then it would be about a year, after which you will save more every day with the Nespresso.

HEAD TO HEAD: Espresso Capsule Systems

Illy FrancisFrancis X8 iperPresso ($150 machine, $16/can 21 capsules, .76 each) 

  • Cheaper initial cost. More expensive refills. Odd retro/Alien design. Less power. (note: we have not yet conducted a hands-on review)

Nespresso ($299 machine, capsules .55 to .62 each)

  • More expensive machine, but lower cost refills. Larger selection. Nicer design. More power. Market leader.


Go with the Nespresso. It’s a fun machine, reliable and been in the marketplace longer. The espresso selection is much broader too. The competition is welcome though, and I expect to see more choice for us espresso lovers in the coming years.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear