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Nestle Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me review: Near cafe-caliber espresso drinks without all the hassle

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Enjoying espresso is one of life's true pleasures. The trouble is that having the tools on hand to prepare it at home is expensive and can require advanced barista skills. Nestle's $100 Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me offers a much easier, more affordable alternative. This pod coffee brewer has the power to whip up pseudo espresso-style beverages in about a minute. The machine is compact too, easy to operate and clean, plus it can create iced drinks. Just don't expect it to replicate purist-level espresso flavor. You also have to stay exclusive to Nestle's Dolce Gusto line of coffee pods.

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7.2

Nestle Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me

The Good

The Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me whips up fancy espresso-style drinks quickly and conveniently. The machine is also compact, easy to use, and can make iced coffee and tea beverages fast too.

The Bad

The Nescafe Dolce Gusto works with only Nestle Dolce Gusto brand pods, and its coffee can't match true, freshly made espresso. The Mini Me also brews drinks no larger than 8 ounces at a time.

The Bottom Line

If you have a hankering for fancy cafe drinks at home, the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me is worth a look -- just don't expect anything close to real espresso flavor.

Design and features

Standing at 12.4 inches tall and measuring a mere 1 foot (12 inches) deep by 7.9 inches wide the Dolce Gusto Mini Me is certainly aptly named. Its pint-sized stature makes it one of the tiniest kitchen appliances I've laid my hands on. About the dimensions of typical personal blender , the Mini Me takes up far less space than very compact drip coffeemakers such as the Bonavita BV1900TS or even competing single-serve pod coffee brewers like the Keurig K500 series and Starbucks Verismo .

The Mini Me uses a distinctive round-headed design. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

What also helps the tiny Dolce Gusto to appear smaller still is its rounded body and orb-like circular head. Overall, this machine's unique form conveys a playful, almost cute personality compared with the average, boxy brewers cramming most kitchen countertops.

It might be petite but the Mini Me packs all the parts necessary for creating coffee drinks in a jiffy. The front of the machine houses a capsule tray which accepts beverage pods compatible with Nestle's Dolce Gusto system. Flatter than Keurig K-Cups, Dolce Gusto capsules are designed to emulate a concentrated espresso-style brew as opposed to coffee pod appliances meant to make standard drip coffee. It's not unlike the Starbucks Verismo or the Nespresso VertuoLine . As a result the device tops out at dispensing beverages of 8 ounces or less, at least in one go. If you crave full grande or venti cups, or coffee by the put, then this is not the brewer for you.

Another word of caution is that the Mini Me is only compatible with Dolce Gusto pods so dropping in K-Cups from third parties is out of the question. Worse, this gadget doesn't support Nespresso capsules either, Nestle's other coffee pod brand.

The Mini Me's round face also contains a circular power button along with a water switch, which is a bit of a misnomer. This stick-like knob, placed on the top-rear region of the Mini Me's orb head, acts more like a lever that you pull either left or right depending on whether you desire a cold or hot drink.

Push the clear water selector up or down to set how much water you want to use. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Another control feature you'll find on the front of the coffeemaker is a horizontal bar made from clear plastic. Called the water amount selector, sliding this bar up or down highlights how much water will flow through the capsule and into your cup. The Mini Me also includes sports a height-adjustable drip tray that can accommodate up to a full-sized coffee mug.

Around back is a 27-ounce capacity, clear plastic water reservoir. Like the Verismo, the Mini Me's water tank is removable which goes a long way towards making refills and cleaning less of a chore.

Usability and performance

Whipping up espresso-style drinks with the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me is simple. Just plug the machine into an electrical outlet and hit the main power button. The circular key will flash red for a second or two then glow bright green when the Mini Me is ready to start making a drink.

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Frothy cappuccino-style drinks are what the Mini Me loves to make. Brian Bennett/CNET

The mechanism to insert a pod should feel familiar if you've used a pod-based coffee machine before. To insert a drink capsule, you lift the locking lever and pull the capsule tray out of the machine. Now drop in a pod, slide the tray back into the slot, and pull the locking lever back down. This causes a sharp needle to drive into the drink capsule and puncture its seal. It's a good idea at this point to confirm you've set the water level correctly -- recommended settings are shown both on the capsule face and retail packaging.

The most basic beverages the Mini Me makes are a shot of espresso, cup of Americano, or an 8-ounce mug of coffee. All these options require just one coffee capsule plus necessary tank water. Moving the water switch to the right and releasing it commands the machine to push hot water under (according to Nestle, under 15 bars of pressure) into the capsule. Brewed coffee then ruptures a foil seal on the capsule bottom, escaping into your cup.

Dolce Gusto coffee capsules are small and made to simulate espresso-style coffee. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The whole process takes a short 36 seconds which is lightning quick compared with other pod-style coffeemakers. The Starbucks Verismo produced 8 ounces in 57 seconds, while the Keurig K500 took a shorter 49 seconds. Even the supremely flexible Bunn MyCafe MCU's swift completion time of 42 seconds was not quite as brief. That said, the majority of Dolce Gusto coffee pods create a mere 4 ounces of liquid (if used as directed) and not a full 8-ounce coffee cup. Also keep in mind that the Verismo pumped out a shot of espresso (2 ounces) in just 13 seconds. Regardless, all these devices delivered a hot drink in under 60 seconds. Nestle's own Nespresso VertuoLine , however, took its sweet time (1 minute, 51 seconds).

As for the quality of brew you can expect from the Mini Me, if you're an espresso connoisseur you won't be blown away. Compared with the genuine article, or even fresh drip or French press, there's just no competition. Once beans are ground, their quality degrades substantially in hours. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of roasted versus green coffee beans. True coffee flavor simply can't survive within grounds for months merely because it's wrapped up in an airtight module.

The Mini Me makes decent espresso-like drinks. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That doesn't mean the Mini Me doesn't do an admirable job of slinging very drinkable espresso-style beverages -- it does. Most of the coffee drinkers in our appliance reviews office, myself include, were pleasantly surprised by what the machine served up.

Even though certain aspects of Dolce Gusto drinks I sampled had an artificial twinge I didn't care for, especially ones with lots of frothy milk, I prefer the coffee from this machine over K-Cup brew. The Starbucks Verismo system packs the most real coffee essence in pod form, but the Dolce Gusto is pleasantly satisfactory.

My refractometer tests reflected what I tasted, with TDS (total dissolved solids) figures coming in at a high 2.2 percent. Granted this reading was produced with Dolce Gusto Lungo espresso capsules exposed to a scant 4 ounces of water. Opening up one of these pods myself confirmed that packed within is 0.2 ounce of finely-ground coffee. This is a hair less than the 0.3-ounces you get with a standar K-cup. That said, K-cup brewers typically call for 8 ounces of water. That usually translates to a diluted brew with TDS falling within 0.8 to 0.9 percent; the ideal TDS percentage should be between 1.15 and 1.35 percent, at least for standard drip coffee.

The Dolce Gusto Mini Me tries its darnedest to deliver cafe-style coffee. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Conclusion

When I first got my hands on the Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me, I wasn't too impressed. Sure, for $100 it promises delicious espresso-style drinks without all the headaches, expense, and waiting around usually involved. Of course, many coffee-pod appliances have made the same claim. To my surprise, the Mini Me does in fact have some solid coffee-making abilities, and it makes drinks quickly.

That said, I don't like how the Mini Me is limited to only Nestle's Dolce Gusto branded beverages. For single serve cups of coffee, the $169 Bunn MyCafe's flexibility to make coffee either through K-Cups sold by third parties or using your own grounds, keeps that device on top. Of course for better performance in the flavor department, the Starbucks Verismo rules the coffee pod roost. Keep in mind though that jumping onto the Verismo wagon costs more, with 12-packs of espresso pods priced at $11.95 (compared with 16-packs for $10 on the Dolce Gusto side). Of course the Mini Me is a good alternative to Nestle's own Nespresso VertuoLine ($299) which is pricey but offers a similar level of coffee taste.

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7.2

Nestle Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Design 9Features 5Maintenance 8