Nespresso Intensity Rating

What does the Nespresso intensity rating mean?

Throughout our reviews, we have always indicated the “intensity” of a Nespresso capsule, as given on the official channels. Some call this the “Nespresso number scale”. But what does this intensity actually mean?

The official definition of intensity in coffee

From the Specialty Coffee Association website:

Coffee shall exhibit a brew strength, measured in Total Dissolved Solids, of 11.5 to 13.5 grams per liter, corresponding to 1.15 to 1.35 “percent” on the SCA Brewing Control Chart, resulting from a solubles extraction yield of 18 to 22 percent*.

That’s the golden cup standard that a good coffee should achieve. If you want to read more on this, the full pdf is here.

The key parameter for the SCA is TDS, Total Dissolved Solids: this is the amount of solid components that during the coffee extraction end up in the cup. The more they are, the more the coffee is “strong” or “intense”.

Be Strong Cup of Coffee
Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

So it goes for an official definition. Different coffee drinkers will identify as intense or strong according to different cultural and personal perceptions of it. As Perfect Daily Grind puts it, in some countries an intense coffee means a bitter one (think of Latin America) or an acidic one will be thought of weaker than others (like for Italy).

Others will consider a coffee intense if it has a heavy body, or a crema or an intense aftertaste or if the caffeine “kick” it gives you is strong.

The definition of what constitutes an “intense coffee” may wildly vary then. The SCA has selected to think in terms of solids in the coffee, which doesn’t help you as a consumer to identify without a measuring tool if a coffee is stronger than another. It is perfect for professionals as they quantify in a scientific way a coffee’s strength.

But for consumers, it doesn’t help much. By this definition, It is very possible than a medium roast, sweet and with great acidity may result more “intense”, as per solids present in it, than a french roast, dark and bitter.

How Nespresso defines intensity?

From their official FAQs:

The intensity is defined by a coffee’s degree of roasting, its body and its bitterness. In addition the intensity is due to the concentration of the coffee. It does not refer to the amount of caffeine found in the coffee.

A definition much closer to what you as a consumer would expect to give but not quite what many would have imagined.

Nespresso has an intensity rating that goes from 1 to 13. It considers coffee below 6, included, as “not intense“, and above 8 as “intense“. Intensity for Nespresso is then a mix of how much coffee is concentrated, which may refer to the TDS value of the Specialty Coffee Association, and a degree of how it’s roasted, its body and its bitterness.

Thus, a heavier body, bitter and with a higher percentage of solids in it is what Nespresso considers an “intense coffee”. And if you think of the most intense capsules on the Nespresso scale like Kazaar, Napoli or Dharkan, it makes perfect sense as all of them fit the definition from the FAQs.

Does an intense coffee contains more caffeine?

No. Both according to Nespresso and the SCA, caffeine doesn’t enter the equation at all. It is a wholly different parameter, and one that rarely Nespresso publishes, and it has no influence in the intensity rating of the Nespresso capsules.

Coffee Beans
Photo by Afrah on Unsplash

Don’t look at caffeine content when thinking of intensity in coffee.

What about Nespresso compatible capsules’ intensity ratings?

Some of the Nespresso compatible capsules we have been reviewing do publish an intensity rating for their coffee. If so, you can find it in the specific review, as with any original Nespresso pods.

Whether this rating means the same as the Nespresso ones it is not known. Most capsules have a different scale anyway, Caffé Vergnano has a 1 to 5 scale that definitely doesn’t match Nespresso’s.

Caffè Vergnano Intensity Rating
Caffè Vergnano Intensity Rating

Don’t judge then an intensity rating in absolute terms, comparing different brand’s capsules with each other. A 5 rated capsule of a company can mean extremely intense for them but on the weak side for another company. The various ratings cannot be compared with each other, only within the same brand.

The clearest definition remains the one of the SCA’s: how many solids are present in your cup of coffee. It doesn’t help much a consumer though, and what you feel it’s more intense may not be intense for your barista at all.

What do you think defines an “intense coffee”? Do you agree with the SCA or Nespresso’s definition? What do you think it’s the most intense coffee capsule?

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