For the true Starbucks coffee fanatic, nothing will satisfy the day's first caffeine craving like a trek to the nearest Starbucks storefront. The mega java chain, however, wants to supply its fans with an alternate fix you can have at home with the $179 Starbucks Verismo V. The machine is the company's latest domestic small appliance billed to recreate its drinks, including those dollops of real foamed milk that can make or break a latte.
Using and cleaning the Verismo V is a cinch, plus the machine slings coffee that successfully mimics much of that sought-after Starbucks taste. But this convenience comes at a steep price -- the coffee maker itself is expensive, and purchasing pods over time is even more extravagant when compared with brewing java from bags of supermarket beans (you can only use the specific Starbucks pods in the machine). And the espresso shots aren't as robust as I've had when I tested other machines. Unless you're a diehard Starbucks fan, skip the Verismo V and invest in a better espresso machine that will save you more money and waste in the long run.
This isn't Starbuck's first stab at a self-branded coffee maker. The original Verismo machine debuted back in 2013, and it did a decent job of brewing Starbucks staple drinks like mugs of coffee and espresso shots from pre-packed plastic pods. The Verismo V also brews its coffee from pods, though Starbucks has trimmed down the size of this machine by a good 1 to 2 inches all around (11.7 inches tall, 5.9 inches wide, 14.9 inches deep). At 7.7 pounds, the V is also more than a pound lighter than the original.
Another physical difference is a side-mounted water tank (77.7 ounces, 2.3 liters), which is much easier to reach and manipulate than the old model's reservoir that was on the back. The Verismo V also ditches the chrome highlights that graced its predecessor's chassis in favor of a subdued dark-gray-and-black color scheme.
Operating the appliance remains mostly the same. To brew espresso, simply lift its handle, drop a pod into a special slot, lower the handle back down, then hit the designated button. After 13 seconds, you'll have a 1-ounce shot of pulled espresso. While these shots had a well-developed crema and a balanced flavor, they lacked the richness and intensity that I've enjoyed in coffee made with true espresso machines.
For instance, shots of espresso from both the $600 Breville Barista Express and $2,000 Miele CM6310 Countertop Coffee System had much more body and depth of flavor. Espresso from those two appliances also had higher TDS (total dissolved solids) percentages. Essentially, the higher a coffee or espresso's TDS percentage, the more coffee essence and flavor the liquid contains. That means you'll get a drink with a richer taste and fuller body. The Breville and Miele hit 10.5 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively (average, measured with refractometer). The Verismo V's espresso averaged 5.3 percent.
I'm not surprised that espresso from the Verismo V was rather mediocre. No matter how tightly sealed the container, ground coffee loses much of what makes it delicious in short order. And the other machines used more coffee grounds per shot than the Verismo, which made for stronger espresso. I used more than double the amount of coffee grounds (0.6 ounce) per each 1.4-ounce shot I manually pulled from the Barista Express. Likewise, the fancy superautomatic Miele CM6310 robotically consumed 0.5 ounce of grounds for each of my 1.1 ounce shots of test espresso.
It was that same story for cups of regular joe I brewed with the Verizmo V. According to Starbucks, it has upped the amount of coffee inside its pods of Pike Place Roast (now 0.37 ounce instead of 0.32 ounce). The standard volume of the beverage has increased as well, with 10 ounces the current default drink size compared with 6 ounces from before.
Unfortunately, the 10- to 11-ounce cups I brewed tasted quite watery, even with more coffee grounds in the pod. Refractometer readings confirmed the weakness of the drink. I logged the liquid to have a low TDS percentage of 0.9 percent. That's much less than the 1.5 percent TDS cups the $16 Oxo Pour-Over created, which were packed with intensely delicious flavor.
Starbucks did give this revamped Verismo V machine one big improvement over the original -- its milk frother accessory. The old Verismo milk pods tried and failed to reconstitute powdered dairy into something drinkable. But the pint-glass-shaped gadget on the Verismo V turns real milk (cold or warm) into a convincingly foamy topping for lattes and other café favorites.
Indeed, once I added scoops of foamed milk from the frother to my test espresso shots, my tongue detected that familiar Starbucks toasty roasted coffee bite mellowed by creamy dairy sweetness. While it's not what I personally prefer, it's not bad for a tiny kitchen coffee pod gadget.
You should only go with the Verismo V if you're obsessed with all things Starbucks. While the machine and pod system don't identically clone distinctive Starbucks drinks, what it creates is close. For a lot of die-hard Starbucks fans out there, that's just fine.
Java drinkers who simply must have the taste of fresh, strong coffee will have to invest in a quality espresso machine or drip coffee maker. I suggest the $600 Breville Barista Express, currently our favorite home espresso machine.
Yes, the Barista Express has a steep upfront cost that makes Starbucks's machine seem like a deal. But the Verismo V becomes downright exorbitant when you factor in the cost of its pods over time. Priced between $10 to $12 for each 12-pack of coffee pods, one drink translates to about 83 cents to $1 per serving. Sure, it's less than what you'd pay inside an actual Starbucks store. But with the Barista Express, espresso shots using my go-to grocery store beans are a fraction of the price -- just 20 cents each. Being able to use grocery-store beans instead of pods will save hundreds of dollars in the long run -- enough to offset the Barista Express' price in two years. And when it comes to taste, the Barista Express has the Verismo beat.
I do understand the need for speed in the morning. If you need a nimble, single-serving brewer, I suggest the $169 Bunn My Cafe, which can handle K-Cup pods or use standard grounds.