Unlike most Australian expats, I’m not a coffee snob. I have just two key requirements: that it is strong, and that it is plentiful. But I also like gadgets, gizmos and various needful things, so it was that, years ago, my first yuppy, bourgeois, comfortably middle-class purchase to which I treated myself was a Nespresso Pixie.
It was a powerful symbol for me. I’d survived a year or two in London on a dogsbody salary and had escaped at last from the sharehouse life. I had (barely) enough disposable income to afford a little luxury in my everyday life, and there was George Clooney, telling me that the key to suave luxury was Nespresso.
Who are any of us to disagree with George Clooney?
So I picked up an entry-level machine and splashed out on the milk-frothing extra doodad and started to educate myself in the kaleidoscope of capsules; flavours, intensities, cremas…
So many new and completely legitimate sounding terms, so little time!
What Nespresso gives you is convenience. Quick to warm-up, easy to clean; no measuring, no grounds all over the counter. As advertised, I was able to go from needing coffee to having coffee in under a minute! A victory for mod-cons!
But for all my desire not to suffer any buyer’s remorse, and while the coffee smelled and looked inviting, I couldn’t help but find it a little too watery and in need of multiple servings. So off I would go, at 20p a capsule, feeding them through the machine to get mugs of coffee that didn’t wholly disappoint.
Very much the old joke:
Customer #1: The food here is terrible!
Customer #2: Yes! And such small portions![As told by a comedian who’s history of sexual misconduct makes him impossible to admire, but the joke, in isolation, is still a good one.]
After several years of diligent denial, the Nespresso was consigned to the corner of the counter and a £50 stovetop coffee brewer took its place; almost as quick, as thick and bitter as you want, a rich smell that fills the kitchen and the sound of water boiling through grounds is as much a part of the morning chorus as birdsong.
Of course, handling loose grounds when you’re half asleep will result in loose grounds on the counter, on the floor, in your slippers, etc. Yes: boiling water through your coffee will wind up in burning your coffee every now and then. Keeps you on your toes though.
And now, Nespresso has come out with a new range! The Vertuo! New, bigger capsules! New, bigger machines! New gadgets! My kryptonite!!
Not only that, but you can get the machine for £1!
…with a 12 month subscription of at least £35 per month towards capsule purchases…
The underlying premise of this system is that the classic Nespresso machines didn’t make big enough servings. Well duh. So the Vertuo swings wildly the other way: coffee sizes now range from double espresso through to “alto”, which will make your Venti look pitifully Grande. Gone is the classic system’s ability to set a custom amount of water to put through. Instead (#gimmickalert), the Vertuo reads a barcode on each capsule as you put it in the machine, determining the precise amount of water to dispense.
However, unlike my trusty classic, the Vertuo has no sensor to warn you when you don’t have enough water in the tank fulfil an order… So that’s not so great.
But a mug of coffee from a single capsule is now just one button press away! Happy days!
What’s that? How’s the coffee?
Yeah, it’s still watery.
Come on, George! For all Nespresso’s marketing pizazz, who’s ever had a 5mm, rigid “crema” atop their espresso and said “Now, that’s how it’s done!” The “centrifugal pressure of the capsule’s spinning motion” is all well-and-good, but it still brews a mediocre coffee at best. But it does brew more of it, so if quantity impresses you, this could be your thing.
And how does that £35 for 12 months price-tag work out? Well, in a month we used to work our way through £14-worth of premium, freshly ground coffee from London’s iconic Algerian Coffee Shop on Old Compton Street.
Side note: If you’re visiting London and in need of a mid-tourism pick-me-up, be sure to visit these guys. “The Algerian” is a Soho institution and will still make you a fresh, double espresso for £1; and it’s still the best Italian-style espresso you’ll get outside of northern Italy.
Now, thanks to Nespresso, more than double that almost stretches to a month of solid use. So it’s not going to save you any money. This may be because of the sheer convenience making it easier to “just have another quick coffee.” Let’s say it’s that, and not “good lord, if this tepid dishwater is all that’s going I’ll need another two mugs before I can face the world.”
But what about the milk-frother? You got me! Of course, we also picked up Nespresso’s new Aeroccino 4 along with the Vertuo and this is the gadget you’re kitchen could actually use. I had loved my Aeroccino 3, even once we switched back to stove-top coffee making. Warm, bubbly milk not cooling down my coffee prematurely? I’m there!
But the Aeroccino’s teflon coating got scratched with time and the build-up of general nastiness on its insides reduced the foamy happiness it was able to generate. This was a sad thing.
But the A4 has replaced teflon with a ceramic interior (#gimmickalert 2!), and the machine’s base now sports 4 buttons for differently frothed milks! It may just be that it’s new, but the quality of the froth this thing generates is truly wondrous. Veritable milk mountains!
Even if you pass on the rest of Nespresso’s offering, seriously think about picking one of these bad boys up.
So, I was a little disappointed. My life wasn’t markedly improved by the Vertuo. Perhaps I was putting a little too much stock in a coffee-maker’s ability to actually do that. Or maybe the next kitchen gadget will fill the gaping emptiness inside… Here’s hoping.
In the meantime, there is something to be said for convenience (and we’re locked into to getting capsules for a few more months at least!). Maybe there’s a place for the Vertuo system, so long as there’s still some coffee grounds standing by for the mornings when we have the time to enjoy a slower, richer start.
Thank George for the milk-frother!