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How to make perfect coffee at home

A food critic spends a few happy weeks with a new espresso maker and its tasting box


 

How to make perfect coffee at homeEarlier this year in Montreal a new café opened on Crescent Street near Sherbrooke Street. This in itself is not especially exciting news, but then the Nespresso Boutique Bar is no ordinary café—as you will know if you’ve ever dropped in on the two-storey six-salon Nespresso Club alongside the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées, or closer to home, the chic branch on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

If you have not, this is what you need to know. In 1970, the Nestlé company’s R & D division did for espresso coffee exactly what they had done in 1938 for regular café filtre: they rendered it instant and effortless, and while they were at it, dispensed with the messy pot, too. The trick of it was to vacuum-seal individual portions of coffee in special capsules designed for a purpose-specific machine. The system was patented in 1976, went to market in Europe a decade later, and now—just 20-odd years on—accounts for over 17 per cent of the espresso machines sold worldwide, and counting. And for all that the local onslaught is still recent. In Canada, the machines first went on sale in 2005; and the Nespresso Bar in Montreal is only the third location to open in North America, after New York and Boston.

The first time I came across a Nespresso machine on this continent was upon rolling out of bed for the first time at the splendid Auberge St-Antoine in Quebec City. Exploring the suite for the in-room coffee machine with a dread born of experience, I was shocked to find that in place of the usual cheap drip machine with its pouch of insipid grinds, there was instead a little espresso maker of the sort I had first encountered at a friend’s place in Monaco a decade previous. So I selected a capsule, pushed a button, and presto: a perfect, crema-laden espresso. Every good hotel should have them.

“The Relais strongly recommends them,” general manager David Mounteer, whose Auberge is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, concurred. “The quality is undeniable. And the chambermaids love them—no mess.”

What works for the Relais usually works for me; and on this occasion, I’m onside with the chambermaids, too. For I have been living with a Nespresso Citiz (just $299) for a few happy weeks now, and have not had to wipe coffee grains or oily spills or anything at all from the counter around the machine once. My suddenly neglected coffee-silt-spewing Krups burr grinder and Breville espresso maker appear more and more anathema to me every passing day.

Of course, doing away with the mess would mean nothing if the coffee were not excellent, too. And the Nespresso does that and more, because—just as if, say, like me, you may prefer your 10-year-old Bruichladdich single malt in the afternoon, and relegate the 15- or 20-year to post-prandial duties—you can pop a different flavour in the machine any time you like.

Obviously I am not talking about “minty nectarine” and “peaches and cream” or whatever they’re peddling at Second Cup or Tim Hortons these days. Rather, I refer to the possibilities presented by your basic Nespresso tasting box: 13 proper espresso coffees (and three decaffeinated types if you’re into that sort of thing) rated by strength of flavour. I lean to the strongest types—like Ristretto (strength 10), which has some bitter notes, and my favourite, Arpeggio (9), which has none. But having dutifully sampled all, I can attest to uniform quality across the entire range.

Now, even if your home is equipped with a lovely $2,000 all-in-one automated espresso machine by Jura of Switzerland, you cannot flit about between flavours like that. Nor can you do so if you use your own burr grinder. The only way to manage it is to procure your coffee pre-ground, and load your machine from a different bag when the urge strikes—and hope that the mix has not gone stale since you last dipped in. And this virtue of flexibility, combined with the negligible capsule surcharge, is a huge factor in Nespresso’s success.

The online ordering club for the standard lineup of “grand cru” and a rotation of featured specials (like the current “singatoba,” sourced just in time from Sumatra) is nearly six million strong. You can sample the enticing possibilities along with their vintner’s-style tasting notes in a lovely setting at the Nespresso Boutique Bar in Montreal—or you can save yourself the trip, pick up a machine (the Bay sells them in Vancouver and Toronto), join the club, and make your own perfect coffee at home with roughly the same skill set as is required to make a nice piece of toast.


 

How to make perfect coffee at home

  1. I find it interesting that in this age of the 3 R's (ecologically, with heavy emphasis on the first R – reduce) that you would promote a machine that creates more waste than any regular espresso machine or drip coffeemaker, for that matter.

  2. The capsules are recyclable. So how is that a waste?

    • Ok "NespressoUser". Just because something is recycleable does not mean there is zero waste. To recycle things takes large amounts of energy. Inputs are necessary to transform and breakdown something back into a reusable product. Clearly there is less waste with a regular semi-automatic portafilter system where you are just left with extracted coffee ground, and eventually the bag compared to the nespresso, the has individual plastic capsules for each cup.

  3. While Nespresso machines can be pricey they are well received by coffee lovers. The reviews that have been sent into our site have all been positive with people raving about the quality of the coffee.

  4. You need to buy brand 8:00 Coffee, make sure you buy the whole bean coffee, get a grinder, always best when freshly ground, use a little bit of half/half creamer and you are having the best cup of coffee EVER!

    • Where can you buy 8:00 Coffee I can't find it in Mississauga, Ontario.

  5. I have been to their website. It is remarkable how they will not reveal the cost of the coffee. Looks like alot of efforrt was placed into the hype in order to convince or brainwash the cunsumer inot thinking he/she is buying "class" before they are hit with the outrageous cost of the product.

    Iused to sell very expensive vacuum cleaners. The method of marketing was the same. The product wasn't any better than store bought but the hype and salesmanship made the machine look as though it was worth the stupidly high cost.

    This system remind me of the same thing. What are they hiding?

    Is there still a sucker born every two minutes?

    • I could not agree more. It is the most deliberately obscure artsy-fartsy website I have ever seen. For example, I read the page describing the "boutique concept" and haven't a freaking clue what the boutique concept is. Is it a restaurant where they have a machine and you make your own? Is it even a restaurant or a free sample booth or something in between? They gush about things like the artictice color of the capusles – they are freaking disposable capsules, who, in what world, would give a rat's anus what color it is??

  6. I thought I was gonna read on how to make a better cup of coffee than tim hortons. I thought Macleans wrote articles not ad copies for corporations.

    • LOL! Me too! Apparently blue collar working class Jo's such as myself, need to spend 2-3k just to get that " OK, now I'm awake! It's off to work I go." feeling. lol.

    • That's why I clicked on the page myself. Where is the article about how to make the perfect cup of coffee? Or is that the whole idea of the 'boutique concept'?

  7. I got an old fashion percolator model at Canadian tire
    In the camping section they also have them at some grocery stores if ya like espresso coffee just make it stronger the ground coffee is apparently yoused for other things not sure what. Then again all that fuel the trucks yoused too pick up the recycle stuff is not good for the planet not too mention the hydro at the factor and the toxins that is caused too refine it all but its better than bearing it underground like the truth. But I what do I know !

    • Good grief; it's "used".

      • And "burying" it underground. Good thing spelling doesn't count. :)

  8. We have an nespresso machine in our office. I ;ve tasted expressos in Italy, Toronto, Boston and montreal, and this machine is very good (for an imitation expresso maker) . I only tasted better from the real
    expresso makers. The other guy is right on about coffee made with a percolater….its the best way to make good North American coffee. As for the recycling part of this, its just big business. These companies are not saving the planet, they are just saving millions in their fat accounts. Example ? The city of Brampton pays millions a year to export blue box junk to Europe and they toss it into landfills. Special report on W-5 last year, so have a good cup of joe and forget all the other nonsense. cheers……………………Jonn

  9. Nestle is Nestle. The only issue for them is profit margin, and a growing market share. I'll still boycott them as much as possible, because of their egregious marketing of artificial baby milks to countries where the use of it raises the mortality and morbidity rates of all its infant consumers. Oh wait, that's ALL countries, except that in the so-called First World countries the death and illness rates aren't as apparent or as high. But how many infant deaths is low enough?

  10. So they compete with Tassimo? Oh, the convenience of it all; sadly, if I could afford it I'd probably use one or the other myself…

  11. As soon as you grind coffee,ie within 10 mins it is stale, full stop. Coffee right out of the roaster has a shelf life of 2 weeks.Go to the SCCA website for further info. The only thing I can see with this is it is convenient.
    Some folks argue up and down with me on these points and it is pointless, the facts are there if you want to ignore them then have your stale coffee and cheers!

  12. I've started to use a French Press, or bodum, no filters to dispose of, costs $18. bucks at Home Outfitters and you get to drink the oil from the beans too. The one guy was right, 8 o'clock bean in the red pouch from No Frills, Food Basics, Metro is $9.00 a kilo and goood. You folks that line up at Tim's must like wasting time and love getting all freaked out in the parking lot BEFORE your coffee.

  13. Nespresso used to be very popular, but as the single cup coffee maker market is growing, customers are preferring other models like Keurig and Senseo. Nespresso does make good coffee, but the other models offer better value for money these days.

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