Coffee for douchebags.
I freely admit I’m one of ‘those people’.
I’d rather not have coffee than suffer a bad cup. I will search for, try, and pour out countless cups in search of something great.
Buying beans is a carefully considered adventure that often takes me to wooden-floored, brick-walled roasting houses full of people with beards and thick rimmed glasses to find exactly the right bean for the job.
If I’m going to expend that much effort finding the right roaster with the right beans, I have to have a better than average grinder. Every bean is different, every roast has its own setting which needs to be ground meticulously and deliberately to the right coarseness. Next is the process of precise weighing.
You need the right amount of ground coffee to make the perfect cup. Which means you need a scale that’s accurate to the gram, just like a drug dealer!
Once you have the right bean, grind and amount of (precisely weighed) coffee, it’s time to pile it all into a small metal basket and exert the exact amount of tamping force needed to prepare the grinds for extraction.
Then there’s the machine.
The centrepiece of any coffee geek’s setup, picking the right machine is very personal and highly complicated.
What kind of pump?
How much pressure is said pump capable of?
How does it heat the water?
How accurate is the heater?
How much does the heat fluctuate?
How do you clean it?
The list goes on for days - there are dozens of ways to get water flowing though ground coffee. All of which can result in an excellent cup if the right amount of effort is exerted.
Having said all that, you clearly see why for the longest time I’ve written off Nespresso as coffee for fakers. People who like coffee but don’t ‘get’ coffee.
Like me. ahem
There is no possible way pre-ground coffee in a metal capsule can be better than a freshly ground, specifically roasted, weighed and made with love cup. Just nope.
I convinced myself that this was a fact and made a classic rookie mistake. I’ve turned into a grumpy stuck-in-my-ways-old-man. So utterly convinced that I could make a better coffee than one of them new fanged machines, I robbed myself of the very thing I was after all along.
Here’s how it happened: My newly wedded wife and I were staying in a hotel for a couple of nights; we’d had an early start and a busy day with no time to stop, so I missed my morning hit and was completely de-caffeinated/borderline postal. It was late and all my usual, reliable cafes were done for the day. I was faced with one heck of a first world problem; wait it out and be divorced a day after getting married or find something, anything to put my inner junkie back in his box.
After a detailed risk analysis, I decided go without. Until…we passed the Nespresso store at Emporium Melbourne. The wafting aroma of freshly brewed espresso was too tempting a lure not to at least see what was going on. What a perfect opportunity to exercise my Nelson skills!
We spent about 2 mins poking around the U-shaped kitchen counter setup just inside the door which was completely adorned with all the latest machines.
Almost immediately, I caught myself not poking fun but admiring. Each machine was geared to a level of commitment. Specifically: style, price and degrees of automation.
Of the 6 types of machines only one is completely automatic, one with a built in steam wand, one with the ‘Areoccino’ milk frothing machine attached, and the rest with the Areoccino included in a bundle or just the machine itself.
What was becoming clear rapidly was that everyone in the store had been fooled by clever marketing of crappy, but admittedly good looking machines. Convincing themselves to drink sub-standard but admittedly really great smelling coffee.
Almost as if someone was writing a script about how your initial Nespresso shopping experience should go, and executing it in real time on me - one of the boutique’s friendly staff, Sarah, asked if we’d like to try a free cup. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I agreed and Sarah choose the ‘fairly strong’ Arpeggio.
‘Would you like milk?’
looks Sarah right in the eye
‘No milk, then.’
It might have been my low expectations, or maybe that I was 24-hours dry, whatever the reason, I was stunned. Not just ‘machine coffee’. Good coffee. Very good coffee.
The entire process took 40 seconds. No grinding, no weighing, no tamping - insert capsule, push button, coffee.
You would think after all this I would be an instant convert. You’d be wrong.
Sarah spent another 15 very patient minutes answering with ease all the curly questions I could throw at her. She suggested three machines that would fit our consumption pattern, gave us a brochure and sent us on our way.
Less than 48 hours later, we went back to check if it really was a fluke. Annnnnnd it wasn’t. We walked out with a bright orange Inissia, Aeroccino, recycling container and 166 capsules for $294 or 166x 56c coffees and a free coffee machine. Thanks, Sarah.
One of the reasons people who really like coffee go through all the effort they do (knowingly or not) is to remove all the things they can’t control: a barista having a bad day, crap beans, crap milk, water so hot it seems like it came out of a volcano - whatever. There are a bunch of variables that you can eliminate by controlling more of the process.
The thing I was chasing was consistency: insert capsule, push button, coffee. That’s a gloriously simple, consistent process. Each capsule is calculated, each time you push the button a calculated amount of coffee appears in your cup. Coffee made by science, bitch.
As time has worn on I’ve been back to the Nespresso store a handful of times to top up on capsules. Last time I [tweeted]:(https://twitter.com/zillatron/status/553447863070388225):
Buying coffee at the Nespresso store in the super douche member section with the magic self serve registers is actually really great. ?☕️
I quipped (before we bought one) that the member section was ridiculous and I was 100% wrong. It’s brilliant. You don’t have to line up with the noobs, it’s fast and does away with typical shopping barriers to the point of magic. Walk in, put capsules in bag, insert bag into magic register, pay, coffee.
I can’t speak for every store or every staff member, but the idea is right; a streamlined, well thought out experience and the product is good.
Don’t be an exclusive super douche like me, and you too can almost have a Star Trek replicator that makes low friction consistent coffee from the future.