UPDATE September 2020: The Bialetti Diva I Caffe d’Italia is no longer available for purchase.
There are several single-serve pod-style coffeemakers on the market: the ubiquitous Keurig that takes K-Cups, the Tassimo, and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (CBTL) Kaldi, just to name a few. The most common use for these is for brewed-style coffee, typically at 6-8 ounces of coffee per serving. But when it comes to the espresso pod machine market, there really has only been one name: Nespresso. Until now.
Bialetti, known the world over for its iconic Stovetop Moka Pot, is looking to compete in the single-serve espresso machine market. The Bialetti I Caffe d’Italia Diva is a diminutive device that promises authentic tasting espresso, in a small attractive package that is also easy to use.
So what makes the Bialetti special? How does it compare to the Nespresso and other espresso machines? How does the espresso taste? Read on to find out.
Bialetti’s Unique System
Bialetti has a few claims as to what makes their I Caffe d’Italia system special:
- A 20-Bar pump (290 psi), ensuring adequate pressure to produce proper flavor and crema
- 5 different espresso blends, each made in Italy, each representing the different regions of Italy
- Each espresso pod comes in a sealed aluminum container, promising 2 years of shelf life
What’s in the Box
The Bialetti Diva comes with an instruction manual, the main brewer unit, and a sampler pack of espresso pods (2 each of 5 different selections):
- Milano – 100% Arabica: Light Roast with Flower and Fresh Fruit Aroma
- Venezia – 80% Arabica / 20% Robusta: Light Roast with Spices and Vanilla Aroma
- Roma – 50% Arabica / 50% Robusta: Medium Roast with Dried Fruit Aroma
- Napoli – 30% Arabica / 70% Robusta: Bold Roast with Bitter Cocoa Aroma
- Italia Deca – 60% Arabica / 40% Robusta: Medium Roast with Cereal and Bread Aroma, Decaf
We won’t cover a detailed how-to, as the Bialetti website or manual covers that quite nicely. The basic operation is pretty simple:
- Plug the unit in
- Fill the tank with water
- Wait for both lights to turn green (about 60 seconds)
- Insert a pod
- Place your cup on the tray
- Press a single or double-shot button
- Enjoy your espresso!
- Touch Sensitive Buttons
- Adjustable cup holder and drip tray
- Removable water tank (holds approximately 20 ounces)
- Bin for used pods (holds 10 pods)
- Custom Programmable shot time (up to 55 seconds)
- A “Service” light that illuminates the area around your cup
- Standby mode after 15 minutes of inactivity
How Does it Compare? How Does it Taste?
I am comparing the taste of the Bialetti Diva espresso to the following:
- My current espresso machine, an Izzo Alex Duetto III
- Super-Autos, like the Philips Saeco Syntia
- ESE Pods (Easy Serving Espresso), in a Pasquini Livia 90
- Nespresso Espresso machines, both a little guy and the big boy industrial size
- My trip to Italy (Rome, Florence, Orvieto, Volterra)
I have also made a few tasting notes below for the various Bialetti espresso pod blends included.
Alex Duetto III
The quick answer is that the Bialetti Diva will not give you the quality of using freshly roasted beans in something like the Alex Duetto 3, but that is a $2500 machine with a $500 grinder to match.
The quality of the espresso from the Bialetti Diva is definitely better than some Super-Autos I have reviewed, costing upwards of $1000, and requiring fresh coffee beans, making quite a bit of noise, fiddly adjustments, not to mention regular maintenance and cleaning. The Bialetti Diva is far better at 1/10th the cost.
An E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pod is a small coffee pod with a paper filter in a disc shape, that is compatible with some traditional espresso machines using a special adapter, or with pod brewers made specifically to use an E.S.E pod. All of the Illy E.S.E espresso pods I tried with my Pasquini Liva 90 and a Francis!Francis! were horrific. Thin, watery, and minimal crema. I tried some other brands that appeared fresh, and they were also underwhelming. The Bialetti Diva is much better.
The Bialetti Diva machine compares the closest to something like the Nespresso Pixie with a couple of differences. A cup of Nespresso looks better; more crema, darker color. Although the Nespresso makes a tasty espresso, it has a certain flavor of its own that I have never actually tasted anywhere else, regardless of which of the many blends you choose. We have a gigantic one at my work, and the hardware that actually makes the espresso seems to produce the same result as the small machine my friend has at his house. The Nespresso produces almost a synthetic taste if there is such a thing. But still very decent considering the convenience.
My trip to Italy (Rome, Florence, Orvieto, Volterra)
I can’t really say if the espresso styles are different between the south, central, and north parts of Italy as Bialetti claims, but I can tell you one major difference in Italian espressos: they almost all use robusta at some percentage (except it seems, the vendors that use Illy coffee). Whereas in the US (at least the boutique coffee shops of California), it is invariably 100% Arabica. So I had to reach back to the memories of my trip, and try and remember how it tasted.
The Diva espresso has less crema and a lighter, thinner look to it than the Nespresso. But it tastes more like I remember in Italy. So yeah, good memories were brought back alive.
- Milano – Average Crema, Malty Flavor, Medium Body
- Venezia – Average Crema, Mild Spice Flavor, Medium Body
- Roma – Good Crema, Fruit Flavor, Thin Body, Bright
- Napoli – Good Crema, Rubber Flavor, Medium Body
- Decaf – Good Crema, Blueberry Muffin Flavor, Medium Body
The most surprising to me was the Decaf since Decaf can be a little underwhelming, even when roasting your own. It was the best of the 5. The Roma was a close second, much closer to the espresso I drink at home. The rest were OK, but if I had to purchase pods, I would stock the Roma and the Decaf.
- Straightforward simple operation
- Narrow and short space-saving design to fit under counters
- Roomy bin for 10 used espresso pods
- Fast 60-second warm uptime
- Standby Power Saving Mode after 15 minutes of inactivity
- Easy cleanup and minimal maintenance
- Fresh, tasty espresso
- The entry price of approximately $175, on par with Nespresso
- 2 Year Warranty for the USA
- Pods are proprietary and availability is limited
- $1 per pod cost, on par with Nespresso
- Only 4 regular blends and 1 decaf blend to choose from
- The water tank is small at just 20 ounces, requiring refilling often
- The drip tray is small, requiring more frequent emptying
- Noisy Vibe Pump
- Thinner, lighter crema
- Not practical to use as a hot water dispenser (too slow, small tank, not enough volume)
- The machine is almost entirely plastic and has that plastic feel
- Touch-sensitive buttons can accidentally activate the brew cycle quite easily, like when lifting the lever
The Bialetti Diva is a solid single-serve espresso machine, and competes nicely with the Nespresso, with a slight edge on flavor. This is a great way to stick your toe into the pool of espresso, without the cost or hassle of a traditional espresso machine and grinder.
Bialetti Diva I Caffe d’Italia (no longer available)
Disclosure: INeedCoffee was sent this product at no cost, which did not affect its review.