Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Nespresso VertuoLine

Some Thoughts on the Latest and Greatest in Coffee

I have been meaning to write about this new machine and coffee system for a while. Because of the unnamed company I work at, I have been fortunate enough to try quite a bit of coffee from this machine.

I will admit a Nespresso bias, since it is a coffee system I personally sell for work, and something I have been to their specialized training for sometime ago. My destiny is somewhat tied to this doing well.

Therefore, I will not get into a heavy review, and I spent few weeks waffling about what I want to say about the machine. After all, this blog is a portion of my personal "journey with coffee" or some such nonsense.

For those who have not seen it, or had a chance to sample it, the Nespresso VertuoLine is Nestle's attempt at winning over America's drip coffee drinkers. The United States still has not fully been won over by pure espresso. The bulk of American's first instinct to a shot of espresso is to pour in enough milk and sugar into 1.3 ounces that it swells to two cups, and one more ticket in the diabetes raffle. Crema is a foamy substance on the top that is fairly alien to the average drinker.

With the VertuoLine, they created a new proprietary capsule with a bar code reader on it, then changed the extraction method to centripetal force to reach the usual 19 Bars of Nespresso pressure. When I heard about this machine, and the details, I thought that Nespresso is copying, or adapting The Remington iCoffee (a machine I'd like to get and try out for myself, honestly.) However, the VertuoLine is still not this, and could be something better. The coffee pods themselves make up for the difference.

What you get with the "coffee" coffee pods looks like 8 ounces of Guinness with a thick, foamy head that would impress any barkeep in London. The resulting coffee is still the dependable, excellent coffee that most people but the snobbiest of coffee snobs consider great.

No matter how they sell it, it is not drip coffee. It is not even amazing drip coffee that one would get from a Chemex.

With any of the coffee Grand Cru's, the resulting cup is closer to an Americano with a thick, two inch crema, or a a French Press with the mythical crema on the top. The coffee is thicker and silkier than anything out of most drip machines. (One of the reasons my mind went to the iCoffee.)  Nespresso recommends folding the crema back into the coffee itself to rebalance the cup. I haven't seen anyone do that, yet. The crema holds just too much wonderful aroma though.

The few purely drip coffee people I have talked to about the machine report that they are getting upset stomachs after drinking the coffee. I chock it up to that big difference in intensity. Potentially, due to the method of extraction, the VertuoLine has a hell of a hit of caffeine. It will be surprising to regular espresso drinkers.

So is this American style coffee? I really don't think so, and I think calling it that is a mistake.

For marketing towards a traditionally conservative portion of coffee drinkers, I think the VertuoLine is too much. For drip, the VertuoLine does not beat the purity of pouring a cup from the Chemex.

The VertuoLine is a new experience in coffee, and Nespresso marketing it the way they are could be a mistake. Secondly, I wonder about its price point in comparison. The machine is pricey, outside my range, even discounted through my employer. The coffee at just below a dollar a pod is pricey for cup of joe, and a capsule based system. Its still cheaper than McDonalds or Dunkin, and tastes better, but still not as convenient, nor is it quite the portion size of either. Also, the crema maybe too much if a change to bear, even as wonderful as it smells.

For espresso drinkers looking for something a little different, or looking for a cup they can enjoy a bit longer than a shot, this is the real deal. I honestly can't wait until someone reverse engineers this so someone can use their own beans, and coffee people can tweak and play with it.

CNET has a comprehensive review of the machine and some comparisons. If you're looking at this machine, I'd recommend checking it out. It is the first fully fledged consumer review I have come across.