/ Food & Drink

UK Coffee Week: are you a coffee capsule snob?

We Brits drink 95 million cups of coffee a day, it was revealed this week – but could the home coffee pod machine ever take the place of the artisan barista? 

I am a coffee snob. I freely admit it. As a campaigner, I practically run on the stuff. I can’t remember when I last drank instant and I’ll navigate my way around cities using my favourite coffee shops. If we were catching up and you suggested going to Starbucks, I would judge you.

For years, I dreamed of owning my own coffee machine – the proper kind you get with the steam wand. I even looked down on the ones that used pods. That is until I went on holiday and the Airbnb I was staying in had one.

Now, I’m a convert. I’d easily say the best thing I’ve ever bought is my Nespresso machine (other coffee machines are, of course, available) and the accompanying ‘Aeroccino’ – or, fancy pants milk frother, to you and me.

My friend, who is also a coffee snob, accused me of being seduced by George Clooney – what can I say: the man knows good coffee!

Latte for work

I worked out that until I bought my machine, I was spending anything up to  £1,000 per year on takeaway coffees during the week.

So, in 2017, I set myself a challenge: for the first three months of the year, every weekday morning I would make my own coffee rather than buy one. After all, I was paying off my Christmas present to myself. I excluded weekends, as going for coffee and reading the paper is my time to unwind.

On telling people about my challenge, I was often asked why I didn’t just switch to a cafetiere, given it’s even cheaper. While that’s true, a cafetiere doesn’t recreate the experience of having a proper barista-made coffee. And with my own coffee capsule machine, I even get to choose my own coffee.

Daily grind

The official Nespresso pods normally cost around 30-40p each, and I soon found it became easier to pick them up during my weekly shop. I’ve since tried rival coffee capsules such as L’or, Café Pod, Dualit, many of the supermarket-own brands and a mistaken purchase of some vile caramel-flavoured capdules that shouldn’t be legal.

But the pods I always come back to are those made by Taylor’s. I normally end up the with the Colombian, with the Lava Java on standby, for those mornings I need a kick. Sadly, Taylor’s pods didn’t make it into this year’s taste test but that just means I have a whole new bunch of brands to try.

Ultimately, I’ve slipped back into my old ways and now buy my daily coffee as much as I make it. But my machine has still cut down on the amount I spend and allows me to indulge in fancy coffee at home.

Are you a lover or a hater of coffee capsule machines? If you own one, has it saved you money and do you have a favourite brand of coffee pod?

Comments
Graham says:
19 April 2018

I refuse to buy the capsules – recycling issues – and am happy with my dripfeed filter – I wax and wane on actual coffee – Starbucks Colombian at present, but Taylors Lazy Sunday and Costa house blends are also good. Taste the Difference Italian is another favourite.
I’ve even attached it to an internet plug enabled with Alexa – so (assuming I fill it up the night before) I can say “Alexa, Good Morning” and she will read the news, brew the coffee and start playing the radio. 7 minute exercise routine while the pot fills up and then it’s good to go!

I wouldn’t dream of buying capsules. I but Brazilian Santos beans from a local family-owned shop in a nearby town who roast the coffee themselves. Great fresh taste and probably takes no longer than using stale ready-ground coffee in capsules.

That’s my point, Vanessa

An open packet of speciality coffee beans in the fridge will keep a week or two without significant deterioration – and cost £ per cup

Pods will keep much much longer as they are under vacuum, and offer near identical flavour. However, they cost typically xxxxx per cup, making beans so much better value (provided you’ve bought the hardware) for everyone except the very occasional drinker.

When we won an order at my place of work, I bought the department a bean-to-cup machine. Three weeks later I liked it so much I bought an identical one for home! £600 for the pair two weeks apart!

Turning to coffee… I like various ones, but my favourite readily available – until recently anyway – was Taylors Espresso beans – strength 5. They have renamed it now to something more fanciful. Tastes the same as far as I can tell, but the packaging is prettier – and so is the price (for them!). However, the cost per cup even at that elevated price would be ten times more if I used the little pods.

Apart from someone who has just three or four cups a week, I cannot see any justification for not grinding oneself or using a filter machine/percolator.

Thank goodness 165 million cups of tea are drunk in Britain each day , we are second to Eire —confirmed TEA drinker. -Source- UK Tea & Infusions Association .

I might be persuaded to give capsules a go if decent refillable ones were available. Inexpensive machines and expensive capsules remind me of cheap printers and expensive ink – a way of companies turning us into a regular source of income.

I do like the ease of use of these machines, Vanessa, but would like to see less waste of materials. In an earlier discussion I was told that refillable capsules were not very good. 🙁

The ink cartridge analogy is spot on – and extends in my case to a cartridge with a huge ink vat! My bean-to-cup machine I am guessing is no heavier on maintenance day-to-day than a typical pod machine

* Nozzles self-clean on power up – same for pod?
* Water reservoir – remove, refill from tap, replace when empty – does about 20 espressos or 8 “normal” mugs – same for pod?
* Coffee reservoir – add beans when nearly empty – takes about 7 Oz which does ~ 40 espressos. I am guessing a pod caddy or similar needs refilling/replacing for pod machines? How many at a time?
* Rubbish: Empty (and every few goes wash/dry) the recovery bucket – containing spent coffee “biscuits”. I guess pod machines have a bucket with pods full of spent coffee which needs similar treatment?

* Descale – about every 6 months, special fluid (no doubt expensive citric acid!) – put a dose in the water reservoir – it pumps through with pauses – fill it with clean water – it rinses through – ready.

Probably the only sightly more onerous thing a bean-to-cup machine requires over a pod machine is a thorough soaking of the compressing piston/cylinder – takes an hour or so every 4 – 6 weeks.

Big plus point though – even with Blue Mountain beans I am at less than 20p a cup, and most of the time less than 4p.

Operation? Easy peasy – put the cup under the nozzle, press the button… it whizzes to grind…. it compresses…. it sends in hot water under high pressure…. it steeps…. it forces more hot water through which discharges the hot coffee into the cup… it stops… it ejects the spent coffee biscuit into the recovery bucket – game over. Takes about a minute.

I am interested in bean-to-cup machines but would like to know about build quality because I’ve seen seen expensive ones die after little use and on dismantling was not impressed by the standard of construction. But it’s great to be able to produce great coffee at the press of a button.

I’ve asked Which? several times in the past to dismantle products to establish build quality as part of their testing. That would help us decide whether a wonderful buy on initial performance would sustain that and be durable – indicating real value for money and a better “best buy”. Much can be gleaned by doing this, as we know.

My De-Longhi is good quality. I did have one fault – after 5 years the reed switch (magnet operated – magnet in a sealed buoyancy capsule in the water reservoir) determining water low/empty or reservoir missing played up. I found a replacement via Ebay – a tenner including postage from Germany. I have to say I was remarkably impressed with the build quality – I took the trouble of course to go a bit further while I had it apart to see if anything else was on its last legs before ordering the spare part). Good quality plastics, brand name transducers for flow and pressure, nicely constructed PCB and sensible reliable connectors.

In view of the current interest in minimising plastics and unnecessary packaging, I wonder why some are promoting coffee capsules?

I’ve wondered that too.

I can understand them in corporate suites/receptions of hotels etc as they offer a large selection which would include a few slow turnovers.

Perhaps the manufacturers could design machines that work well with refillable capsules/pods made from stainless steel.

I’ve never bothered to buy an expensive coffee machine – I’m quite happy with a cafetière. But isn’t this an example of a common type of machine with a refillable stainless steel container?

Just look at those toggle switches and bezel surrounded indicator lights … straight from a 1965 Radiospares catalogue!

Corr! coffee techno porn eh?
Pretty … but pricey?
Having been weaned off “office/canteen coffee” (the filter stuff in a jug left on a hotplate…for hours) I’m now quite happy with the cheap instant coffee for a quick-fix. Sorry.not 🙂

I still think the humble Moka pot can give capsule machines a run for their money. You have to know how to use them to get really good espresso though. The trick is to cut off the heat just as the first coffee comes through – this way you get the initial very strong, sweet coffee and not the burnt stuff that occurs once you pass more steam through the grounds.

moka

This Brit doesn’t’ drink 95 million cups of coffee a day [more like one every other day] and I like my coffee weak so it’s generally instant for me. We sometimes use a cafetière if we have company in the morning but otherwise it’s out of a jar. I’ve never been a great one for strong flavours whether in food or drink so it’s really a case of bland loyalty and min fuss.

Like previous Which? forays into consumerist nirvana [balsamic vinegar comes to mind], I wonder how articles like this play with those who are just about managing or living on benefits or struggling to meet their rent bill. I’ve just come up from The Lobby where the talk is more finely grounded and more to my taste. I realise there is a place for sublime and self-indulgent sybaritic hedonism . . . but is this it? All credit to coffee snobs, however . . . at least they admit it and are proud of themselves. Must go; it’s time for my pot of English Breakfast tea and beans on toast [which would be spoilt by a cup of barista-style coffee on the side].

Patrick Taylor says:
22 April 2018

“I am a coffee snob. I freely admit it. As a campaigner, I practically run on the stuff. I can’t remember when I last drank instant and I’ll navigate my way around cities using my favourite coffee shops. If we were catching up and you suggested going to Starbucks, I would judge you”

I am confused as to the logic of “campaigner and coffee”. I campaign but get by on three square meals and tea. Do I need to change my diet to become more effective? : )

Andrew Barr says:
22 April 2018

I like coffee. I haven’t had an instant coffee since I gave up sugar over ten years ago (without the sugar I couldn’t stand the taste of instant). I had a Tassimo machine and tried every type of capsule available for that machine – two weeks after buying it I sold the whole lot at a knock down price at a car boot as the stuff it produced bore little resemblance to coffee. I have now got an Aeropress and haven’t used any other method of coffee making in over a year of using it. I’ve just bought a burr grinder and that has made the end result even better. If you can’t afford or justify the cost of a decent espresso machine then I recommend the Aeropress, at about £25 it can’t be bettered.

I don’t think I’m being hedonistic with my also running on coffee. However, when out I am more tolerant clearly than Patrick as Starbucks – with an extra shot of course – is on the whole quite acceptable.

It was the covetous attitude towards the expensive apparatus that I was alluding to, Roger, not the desire for coffee.

That is quite simply economics! I have typically 10 cups per day. At 25p a pop with pods and 4p a cup with beans, even if the pod machine were free I’d be quids in with my bean-to-cupper after 2 1/2 years. The works one use rate was dramatically more for the four of us.

I have yet to indulge in solar power (long story, should have embarked a decade ago). Would you regard spending out several thousand for cheaper electricity as covetous?

Patrick Taylor says:
25 April 2018

As an added extra I should point out that too much caffeine is not good for fetuses.
epigee.org/pregnancy/caffeine.html
and there is good research to back this up.

Fortunately I’m not pregnant..

It’s inconceivable how this could affect men.

Nespresso.

Tried a few side by side at a demo.

Most tasted the same or worse than instant Nescafe.

The Nespresso is expensive, but the quality of the final coffee is superb, the aluminium capsules are recyclable and it is used for special coffees.

Normal quaffing liquid is Tea, Yorkshire and strong.