Joy in the task

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Joy in the task

At a café in Turin, Italy. Photo by Martin Parr/Magnum

Even the finest restaurants are serving coffee made with capsules. Have we lost faith in the human touch?

Julian Baggini is a writer and founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. His latest book is The Virtues of the Table (2014).

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You’ve just had dinner at one of the best restaurants in the country, the kind of place where the chef talks about his passion for perfection, obsession with detail and demand for the best, freshest ingredients. You know that there is probably one cook in the kitchen for every couple in the dining room. So you might feel surprised — even cheated — to discover that the coffee you are now enjoying was made by the waiter popping a capsule into a machine and pressing a button.

This is not a fanciful scenario. In the UK, more than 15 Michelin-starred restaurants use Nespresso, the market-leading capsule system, to make their coffee — including Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Berkshire, and The Ledbury in London. In France, Nespresso supplies more than 100 Michelin restaurants, including the legendary L’Arpège in Paris. Even in Italy, where the first espresso machine was patented in 1884, more than 20 Michelin restaurants use the new capsule system, and many others around the world use it or its rivals developed by Illy, Kimbo, Lavazza and Segafredo. Push-button espresso began as a domestic product, a way to simulate espresso at home without the mess and fuss. But in recent years it has rapidly, if quietly, started to take over the restaurant world.

You might not care much about fine dining or coffee. But you probably do value the skills of the artisan and might well believe that food is one of the ever-dwindling number of domains where individual human flair and creativity cannot be bettered by the mass-produced and mechanised. If so, you should care about the challenge to your assumptions that the rise of capsule coffee represents.

That concern lead me to a private dining room at the two Michelin-starred Latymer restaurant, part of the Pennyhill Park country house hotel in Surrey. With me were a coffee shop owner, two coffee obsessives, and a coffee-drinking friend. We were going to blind-taste three coffees: Nespresso capsule coffee, which is served in the restaurant; the traditional espresso that the hotel provides for room service; and a third unmarked coffee I had brought with me to be made the same way, just to see if the whole thing was nonsense and coffee is coffee is coffee. It was the artisan versus the machine, and given how top chefs had already voted with their contracts, the odds were against the result I instinctively preferred.

Ever since Alan Turing first suggested that we might be able to build a computer with an intelligence that could not be distinguished from a human’s, people have been trying to carve out a domain of activity that must be forever distinctly human. Chess grandmasters were once held up as exemplars of exactly what computers could not do. But after IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, this was quietly forgotten, and we looked instead to creativity, believing it absurd to think that a computer program could surpass Hamlet or Beethoven’s late string quartets.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems obvious that chess is just the kind of thing that computers could do well. The advent of capsule systems heralds pretty much the same realisation for espresso coffee. Coffee-making lends itself to automation, since all the key variables are strictly controllable. Technically, it’s relatively easy to get hold of the best coffee beans, roast them at the right temperature for the right time, grind them to the right fineness, and then vacuum-seal the right quantity for one shot. From that point on, the coffee will not degrade, effectively being as fresh once the machine pierces the capsule as it was when it went in. Then it’s a matter of hiring leading coffee experts, throwing millions of pounds of R&D at a crack team of engineers, and building a machine that will force the right amount of water through the coffee at the right temperature and pressure.

In theory, that is bound to result in a better brew than the traditional process, which, for all its romance, is full of opportunities for degradation and mishap. A bag of beans, once opened, will start to lose its flavour very rapidly once it is ground. Calibrating temperature and pressure is also difficult and subject to human error. While the capsule always contains exactly the same amount of coffee, the amount the traditional barista places in the portafiltro, and the degree to which is it compacted with the tamper, will always differ slightly. Most cafés do not get every step right, and they only get away with it because most people drown their espressos in steamed milk.

‘You have to function like perfect machines,’ Adrià was shown telling the kitchen staff at El Bulli

That’s all very well, but surely coffee is the exception, not the rule, to the artisanal qualities of food and drink? That could be a complacent thought, and ironically, the people whose work most suggests it is are currently at the vanguard of artisan cooking: the molecular gastronomers. Donning both lab coat and chef’s hat, these pioneers are exploring how the science of cooking and sensory perception can tell us the best ways to cook and prepare foods. At the moment, this approach requires enormous amounts of time and kit, and you can enjoy the results only at restaurants such as the Fat Duck, where they come at vast expense (£195 per head without service or wine).

But the logical consequence of molecular gastronomy is haute-mechanisation. If the best way to cook meat, for example, really is to vacuum-seal it with some herbs and spices and cook in water at 55 °C (131 °F) for 48 hours, then as soon as a suitable, cheap sous-vide cooker is available, there is no reason why a novice chef in a local pub, or anyone else for that matter, couldn’t collect it from the butcher and do as good a job as anyone else.

Even at El Bulli in Spain, voted the world’s best restaurant for a record five years before it closed in July 2011, this basic principle was evident. Head chef Ferran Adrià and his core team were not actually the ones preparing the food on the night. Their main role was to develop dishes, in a form of gastronomic R&D, during the six months of each year that El Bulli was closed. The restaurant kitchen itself was really just a very fancy production line. ‘You have to function like perfect machines,’ Adrià was shown telling the kitchen staff in the documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2011). If that’s true, then in the long run, why not simply use perfect machines in restaurant kitchens, just as computerisation and mechanisation took human beings off the production floors of car plants?

Mechanised production can be wonderfully democratising, turning all sorts of things that were luxury, bespoke items into things everyone could afford, like the car, central heating, and computers. In the gastronomic utopia of the future, no one need be condemned to thin, dishwater coffee, or pies with pastry like wet cardboard.

For most epicures, it is almost an article of faith that this will never happen, because food needs to be cooked with love, flair and passion. While this might conceivably be true at the very peak of culinary art, in most cases mechanisation is competing not against the artisanal best but against the human mean. So, even if the very best coffee is still made the traditional way by a skilled, human barista, all Nespresso need do is produce better coffee than the majority of baristas, whom most coffee fanatics describe as incompetent anyway.

The claim that handcrafted is better does not stand up a priori. It needs to be put the test. And for coffee, that’s exactly what I did.

The tasting was designed to be as blind as possible, with each taster trying each coffee in a different order, so as to counter any advantage or disadvantage that coming first or last might give. The coffees were brought in by a waiter, not by the experienced barista Bruno Asselin, who is also the manager of the Latymer restaurant at the hotel. He had thoroughly cleaned the traditional espresso machine, opened a fresh bag of beans, and ground them just before the tasting.

We tasted the three coffees in silence, scoring them on a scale from zero to seven points, and jotting down personal tasting notes. My scores were not used in the final reckoning because, in making sure that Bruno had understood the system, I had seen which coffee corresponded to each number. Then we totted up the scores.

In distant last place came the ground coffee I had brought, a very good quality, single-estate bean, but not roasted for espresso and ground four days earlier, a little too coarsely for Bruno’s machine. The traditional house espresso scored 18 points, and was the favourite of one taster. But the clear winner with 22 points was the Nespresso, which both scored most consistently and was the favourite of two of the four tasters. Of course, these were just four people’s opinions. But their consensus fits the judgment of top chefs and Nespresso’s own extensive testing, which must have been conclusive enough for them to have the confidence to agree to my challenge in the first place.

Does this herald the death of artisan coffee, except in those exclusive enclaves where the very best, most obsessive practitioners ply their trade? And is the writing on the wall for other areas of human excellence where we cling to the idea that artisanal is best? A lifeline might seem to be provided by the detailed reviews of the coffees we tasted. The key descriptors for Nespresso were ‘smooth’ and ‘easy to drink’. And from the point of view of restaurateurs who use it, the key word is ‘consistency’. It was far from bland, but it was not challenging or distinctive either. It’s a coffee everyone can really like but few will love: the highest common denominator, if you like. The second-place coffee had more bite, and was the favourite of myself and the 10-cup-a-day connoisseur, but scored a pathetic two points from one person on the panel who took against it.

That taster was actually a bit of a coffee nerd and he made the acute observation that what Nespresso had really done was to look at the coffee-making process and systematically remove all that is problematic in it. The result is something flawless, but that is a particular and limited form of excellence or perfection. Perhaps there are peaks above perfection that can be achieved only by accepting a certain amount of imperfection. A perfect bottle of cola will not be as good as an average meal at El Bulli, even if they screw up one of the 40 courses.

Yet even subtle variations might themselves be perfectible. One day it might be possible to produce mechanically the coffee that is just right for you, even perhaps for you just now rather than yesterday.

The only way truly to defend the artisans against all that technology might put up against them is to give up the entire premise of my blind tasting, that is, the idea that it does not matter how the coffee came to be, all that counts is its final taste.

Surely we appreciate the handmade in part because it is handmade. An object or a meal has different meaning and significance if we know it to be the product of a human being working skilfully with tools rather than a machine stamping out another clone. Even if in some ways a mass-produced object is superior in its physical properties, we have good reasons for preferring a less perfect, handcrafted one.

We are not simply hedonic machines who thrive if supplied with things that tick certain boxes for sensory pleasure and aesthetic merit

Corporations know this, which is why they will often use bogus personalisation to make their products seem more appealing, like putting a picture of a farmer on the label, or giving the product the name of a person or place. But do we have good reasons for this preference, or is it just romantic nonsense? I think we do. We live in a world of humans, other animals and things, and the quality of life depends on the qualities of the relationships between them. Mass production, like factory farming, weakens, if not destroys, these relationships. This creates a kind of alienation, where we feel no genuine, human contact with those who supply us with what we need.

We are not simply hedonic machines who thrive if supplied with things that tick certain boxes for sensory pleasure, aesthetic merit, and so on. We are knowing as well as sensing creatures, and knowing where things come from, and how their makers are treated, does and should affect how we feel about them. Chocolate made from cocoa beans grown by people in near slave conditions should taste more bitter than a fairly traded bar, even if it does not in a blind tasting. Blindness, far from making tests fair, actually robs us of knowledge of what is most important, while perpetuating the illusion that all that really matters is how it feels or seems at the moment of consumption.

This might seem a simple, even platitudinous point. But it has profound political implications. For if it is true, then the whole way in which efficiency is usually measured is fundamentally flawed. Take agriculture. Proponents of organics and other non-intensive, less petrochemically dependent forms of farming are often drawn into the game of defending their approach only by measurable, objective results. So the battle becomes a statistical debate over yield, water usage, carbon footprint, soil erosion, and so forth. The trouble is that the kind of human-scale farming that people like does not always win when judged by these metrics.

Of course, we need to think about yield, efficiency and environmental impact. But we also need to think about what kind of world we want to live in. And if we do, most of us would say that we would prefer food chains that preserve human links between consumer, farmer, land, and animals, in a landscape that combines functionality and beauty as much as is possible. We prefer to buy coffee traded between small groups of individuals rather than beans of the same quality, grown to the same environmental standards, but channelled through large multinationals with an exclusive right to supply the machine you buy from them. That is not to say we must shun technology, never use polytunnels, or insist that all chickens come from a nearby country lane. But it does mean it is legitimate to prefer forms of trade and artisan production that maintain links between individuals, communities, land, and animals.

It is not that handmade is always best, of course. Much technology is itself a testimony to human creativity and ingenuity. Apple has got very rich through supplying technology that is beautifully designed by humans who are as gifted as the best artisans. There is plenty that we should happily allow to be mechanised, for the obvious benefits that brings. But there is plenty else we will continue to prefer to be handmade, because what matters is not just the result, but the process by which you get there. Humans are imperfect, and so a world of perfection that denies the human element can never be truly perfect after all.

Read more essays on food & drink, making and values & beliefs


  • Lester

    Besides the aversion many naturally have for allowing Mega-Corp's to monopolise our intakes like mother birds ramming products down our chick-like and compliant mouths, and besides the fact that perfection is a cultural concept and does not exist, and beside the fact that error can lead to innovation and/or discovery which is sadly lessened by mechanisation and homogeneity...

    Besides all this there is the joy of disappointment or conformation or surprise. Going to a restaurant is a wider experience which as humans we slot into the flow of our lives and compare and contrast with other experiences. There is something satisfying about a overly bitter coffee or an undercooked egg on the day when one has, for example, made a thoughtless or uncomplimentary remark to ones daughter or friend. Feeling the universe has balanced out things may be merely and beautifully subjective but there is quality of experience in it which the mechanised and predictable Nespresso removes.

    I once had a coffee in a rural Spanish train station that was positively the best coffee I have ever drunk and remains so, and another from a Danish convenience store that was so revolting as to be legendary. Is the search for mundane and repetitious "perfection" worth unweaving these experiences from our lives?

    • trapezium

      " There is something satisfying about a overly bitter coffee or an undercooked egg on the day when one has, for example, made a thoughtless or uncomplimentary remark to ones daughter or friend."

      I like that thought very much :-)

      To make a less subtle point, context matters: When the table is surrounded by friends and full of good food and dappled by the sun reaching through the wisteria, a two pound bottle of red plonk becomes the very nectar of the gods.

      • David Dawson ♫

        Wonderful! I could not agree more.

      • Lester

        When the table is surrounded by friends and full of good food and
        dappled by the sun reaching through the wisteria, a two pound bottle of
        red plonk becomes the very nectar of the gods.

        This perfectly explains the phenomena of why Retsina only tastes good in Greece :)

  • Mike W

    I've already been through several British "artisan" outlets who pride themselves on their hard-won baking skills who then think nothing of slopping some milk in a mug of instant coffee and microwaving it as a ­£4 "latte".

    I have yet to sample a Nespresso that can compete with a good barista's offering, or for that matter with my own home brew. It may be better than 75% of the muck served at British chain cafes, but the standard there is so low as barely qualify as coffee.

    • Justin

      Meh. If you are so lucky as to live next door to a coffee house run with a pro-Barista then congratulations you're in the .01% - spout the argument to any neighbors you have who happen to own a Nespresso!!

      But for the rest of the world? I'm incredibly lucky in my new city to be in walking distance to two coffee shops, non-chain, with good reputations. I peeked at their espresso technique and secretly timed them... as far as I can tell they aren't even trying to do it right. Screw their $4~5 drinks, last night I decided to get a Nespresso for all my cappuccinos at home and henceforth never get anything but $2 coffees - which will at least be made correctly for the most part - at the coffee shop.

      • Mike W

        While I now, by chance, live a block away from one of the finest coffee houses I've encountered anywhere in the world, for the last three years I lived on an isolated farm, which was about 8 hours drive from the closest comparable cafe.

        I didn't decide to lower my standards, I used my home machine and educated myself in techniques using free online videos.

        BTW my rule of thumb is that the more a cafe charges for coffee, the poorer the standard. Good cafes/baristas make their money in volume from loyal customers; poor cafes amortise the cost of their expensive water boilers over as few customers as possible, or charge a 50c/50p premium per cup for Fair Trade coffee.

        • Justin

          Very interesting point about the amortized cost - going to start looking at coffee shops around town with this view and see if it is a good predictor! (I have a lot more places to try if I drive)

  • Neville Morley

    There's another dimension to this, of course: not just soulless mechanisation versus cuddly organic artisan production, but how far we pay other people to do things that we could more or less easily do ourselves (at least as far as equipment and techniques are concerned; time may be another issue).

    I don't imagine that there's an enormous amount of personal satisfaction to be gained from operating one's own Nespresso machine as opposed to buying a cup of coffee, but there certainly is personal satisfaction in kneading one's own bread; with decent ingredients, some practice and only a small investment of time, the end product is scarcely distinguishable from that of the expensive artisanal bakery that charges a premium in part because of its claim to be free from the taint of mechanisation. And you wouldn't believe how easy it is to cure and smoke your own bacon, with just a little bit of know-how.

    Hypothesis: the 'artisanal' food producer is wholly a rather odd phenomenon of late capitalism and specifically the middle classes, with their combination of affluence, time poverty and fuzzy nostalgia for an imagined pre-industrial utopia.

    • Jonathan P. Allen

      There is nothing especially new about a preference for individually produced, limited edition as it were items and goods, versus mass produced products. As Bourdieu examines in depth in The Field of Cultural Production, denial of economy and a deliberate rejection of ease of production or distribution is a key component in certain forms of cultural production (he is discussing art, but the basic ideas can be extended to things such as artisanal food with little disruption). More than a little bad faith is involved in the whole production, as a couple of other commentators point out below. Preference for certain limited products becomes a marker and means of cultural capital among, in our case, both those with more limited cultural capital and extensive 'real' capital (the haute bourgeois, for instance) and those with more extensive cultural capital and less 'real' capital (the producers and co-consumers of these products, for instance).

      That said, I think it is a mistake to reduce a preference or a valorization of the artisanal and the hand-made or small-scale to just cultural capital maneuvering. Likewise with agrarian sympathies and actions, or environmental ethics, and so on. Read, for starters, the introductory works of Kropotkin like Fields, Factories, and Workshops- hardly coming from a haute bourgeois perspective of cultural posturing. Look at the positions and actions of modern day agrarian and peasant groups like La Via Campesina. Or go further back and look at the period of transition from pre-industrialization to industrialized capitalism, and the long struggles of artisan and machine and the ways in which that struggle played out along class lines. Absolute mechanization and the destruction of small-scale enterprise has hardly been a cakewalk for ordinary workers, then or now; it may have produced benefits (I get to drive a relatively affordable car, and am typing this on my thin, powerful little laptop, for instance), but it has also meant a tangible and intangible transformation in both workplaces and relations of labor, many of them quite negative, and none of them absolutely necessary. Other worlds are possible, and not just in wild utopias or the imagination of cultural capital hungry hipsters. The sort of world imagined by Kropotkin a hundred years ago, with a union of mind and manual and an attention to the human dimension, neither dismissive of technological advance nor blindly welded to such advances, need not be a fantasy or a tiny sliver of the world devoted to bourgeois self-affirmation. It can be, and may well become, a reality.

      • Neville Morley

        I agree enthusiastically with almost all of this - I would certainly claim that I make my own bread, cure and smoke my own bacon etc. for better reasons than just accumulating cultural capital (whatever people reading these comments may think...), and that there can be excellent reasons for preferring artisanal products, as indeed Baggini suggests. The optimistic view, as you suggest, is that this can be a gateway to greater interest in conditions of production, greater involvement with it, reunion of mental and manual labour etc. But of course this isn't necessarily in the interests of artisanal producers, who are busy carving out a share of the market by producing premium goods; some (especially craft brewers, in my experience) are delighted to share their expertise and encourage people to try it themselves at home, but many are not - it's incredibly difficult to get hold of fresh yeast in domestic quantities round here, for example, and I've been reduced on occasion to begging local craft bakers to sell me any.

        • Stefan Kendall

          Skip the bread and cure more bacon. I think I've solved your yeast crisis.

    • Martin Burns

      The Bread analogy doesn't work as commercial bread is produced by an entirely different process (the infamous Chorleywood process) - it's more like comparing instant 'coffee'; the results are truly shocking and what we generally know as 'bread' these days just isn't.

      Most artisanal bread is pretty mechanised, too - big mixers, with little hand-kneading of individual loaves. But because it's real bread with a slow rise, it tastes pretty damned good, and of course varying the recipes is very easy from day to day (if not loaf to loaf - it's harder with a 12-24hr high volume batch process)

      • Neville Morley

        I was just focusing on artisanal bread versus homemade - wouldn't touch anything from the Chorleywood process with a bargepole. Agreed that artisanal bread does actually taste good - but I do wonder how far its price may derive partly from its claim to wholesomeness and authenticity - the cultural capital that Jonathan Allen refers to above - rather than solely the costs involved in its production.

    • Dauphin Kaffee

      I don't know if I would agree on the hypothesis. There is nothing in the world like a perfectly roasted coffee, freshly ground and prepared with care and attention. A closer analogy maybe between baking your own fresh bread or purchasing stale bread in the "clearance aisle" at a low cost supermarket.

    • johnhay

      Despite your condescension and bigotry, you are right. Artisan is simply a word used to make idiots like the author think they're getting something special. You can read about it here, if you can read.

  • Eric Jacobsen

    I recently moved, and my new neighbor is an astonishing chef. She improvised recipes for and produced three incredible soups in her kitchen while we got acquainted. Along the way she mentioned how much she adored her new Nespresso, and all I could think was that her awesomely good taste must have an espresso-sized void. I suppose I'll have to invite myself over for coffee soon.

    • Jethro Bodean

      Just lost a brilliant reply. Damn. So, anyway back to this Nespresso, Artisan discussion. I am all for the artisan. I am not in the industry, nor am I a barista. I just like my coffee. I have had a nespresso machine, used it for ages, bought it after my Pavoni Lever machine packed it in cuz it was so old, and crusted, though fixable, for abit of change I could buy a new one. I bought the Nespresso to try it out. La Cube, nice machine, I have bought friends machines. The buddies that actually sort of like starbucks, they love the machine, use it religiously, cannot think of using anything else. They, like most users are about ordinary, common, easy, no mess. Chefs are about all this and keeping costs and waste down. I do believe that the Nespresso is part of the plot to homogenize the planet, you know the plot to make us all like and want the something normal and easy, mediocrity. I to think the blind test written about here was just not right. It is not so much about the best tasting as that is so subjective. It is about the experience, why do we drink coffee. I would much rather pull my own shot, maybe it is crap one, I dump it and start over. It is about making it, and having the experience. Nespresso is grand if you like the taste of soap, and mediocrity. My take on the Nespresso gig is that those that subscribe to it, have just given in. Ordinary is fine, don't have to think about it. Which is fine. I love my La Pavoni lever. Keeps ya on your toes, and when the pull is good, it is sublime.

  • Navin_Kumar

    This is an important question, and I'm glad to see it put so well. However, I disagree with it. Here's why:

    1. These “preferences” are as much a consequence of “false consciousnesses” as anything else. We have them because we’re “supposed to”. They have no more legitimacy than the desire for status symbol sneakers. It’s interesting that people cannot see that a taste for small farmers is as much a consequence of the glamorization of the peasant life as polo shirts are a consequence of glamorizing country clubs.

    2. At worst, these preferences can be seen as a desire by the well-off of the world to escape the taint of being associated with the ugliness of the lives of the poor of the world, regardless of what benefit these impoverished individuals gain from the association. This is not necessarily a preference to trumpet. Paul Krugman put it better than I ever will (

    "Why does the image of an Indonesian sewing sneakers for 60 cents an hour evoke so much more feeling than the image of another Indonesian earning the equivalent of 30 cents an hour trying to feed his family on a tiny plot of land–or of a Filipino scavenging on a garbage heap? The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit–and this makes us feel unclean."

    3. Indulging these preferences can harm people we care about: raise wages in Chinese factories and already poor workers will become unemployed. See Krugman again.

    4. Indulging these preferences harms goals we care about. Buying locally grown foods, for example could be worse for the environment than buying the industrial stuff:

    5. Such preferences, expressed via “politics” sometimes occurs in the form of a ill-considered demand for a ban on such things, which, at the bare minimum, infringes on the preferences of individuals who do not share such views and at worst, deprives the less well-off from access to hedonistic sensory pleasures. This author calls for no such thing, which I acknowledge.

    There is nothing illegitimate about these preferences, but there is no reason for any of us to consider these as superior to anything else.

  • Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood

    The blind taste that was used here is a shocking survey and does not represent the different types of drinks and methods available. You haven't tested the artisan at all. When tasting a coffee the Barista should change the variables in there brewing recipe to get the most out of a cup of coffee. So flavour comes out of coffee roughly in order, fruit acids first, then malliards, and then caramels, with dry distillates last (also known as burnt stuff). Different single estate coffee that are freshly roasted, left to rest for the right amount of time(depends on coffee, can't be pre-determined. It must be done on taste) freshly roasted and the amount of ground coffee weighed, the amount of liquid ran through it weighed also and the time must also be controlled. If a coffee tastes too acidic then I may drop the amount of coffee compared to the amount water or slow the time down. It's complicated and that is the artisans job. Basically, there is no one way to blanket test coffee. Different roasts need different temperatures and so on.

    The test was good if you were looking at how coffees stand up in commercial environments that don't put the right knowledge and actions in place. This proves that companies like Nespresso are exactly what hotels and most coffee shops are looking for, something reliable and consistent without effort. Consistency can be achieved with artisanal speciality coffee but requires much more effort.

    Very simply put, this test did not utilise the role of the artisan. A proper fresh roasted(and there is more than one way to roast) high grade single origin coffee, that is freshly ground and "dialled" in by a barista who is familiar with the latest understanding was NOT part of the test. For example, tamping makes next to no difference to flow rate. It is amount of coffee and the fineness of grind that affects flow rate.There is much wrong mystique in traditional Italian espresso rules. Firstly Italian espresso is not really artisan coffee as defined by the world barista championship and the cup of excellence programs. Italian coffee is nearly all commodity grade, blended coffee that is heavily roasted and is waiting for the addition of sugar. I would say that, yes, Nespresso is a much more pleasant coffee than traditional Italian coffee(although you would need to look at different brands to make it fair) because it utilises technology and arguably a better raw ingredient. You will notice that the Italian barista champion from two years ago got his coffee roasted in England by a speciality roaster called Hasbean. You will also notice that the continental countries, with which most of popular culture ascribes the notion of artisan coffee, fair rather poorly in the world competitions. They have achieved palatability rather than the learning to tolerate the taste ethos of much traditional coffee, which has been par for the course.The kind of coffee that is being developed around the world in what i would deem artisan coffee is a remarkably different product to those that were used in your taste test. Fascinatingly, much high scoring coffee (by industry experts), if poorly made, tastes worse than lower grade coffee. The lower grade coffee has less volatile flavour to go wrong. The high grade coffee needs to be made meticulousness by someone whom can adapt and change their variables to make the most of the coffee. This is why the role of the artisan will not be lost. Yes we will loose the role of the faux artisan that has been a part of coffee for a long time and hopefully it will be replaced with an understanding and execution that results in a more valuable flavour experience. Yes there is much discussion to be had regarding the psychology of taste, the environments that we consume in and concepts of value and so on, but this conversation can not be properly had until the test has been done properly, most people have not tasted artisan coffee, just something that is sold as artisan. Once again, it is depressing to see the realities of such a complex product so poorly represented.

    • Julian Baggini

      Err, I was pretty clear that (a) my test was not decisive and (b) it probably is the case that the best artisan coffee would beat the Nespresso. As you say "The high grade coffee needs to be made meticulousness by someone whom
      can adapt and change their variables to make the most of the coffee." It is because this is so demanding that these capsule systems compare so well with the norm.

      • Maxwell

        I do apologise if I have misconstrued your article. It seemed to me your article's overarching theme was trying to say something about people valuing artisan over capsule, not because of taste but because of the process. However poor your test(even if admitted), it was still used as the backbone of the piece. I do think it is particularly misleading and confusing for coffee to call the commercial norm artisan. It sis rather interesting to note, however surprising, that it is a well known fact in the coffee industry that michelen star restaurants have failed to take coffee as seriously as their food and that the pod development is just a further example of this.

        Re-reading the article, I can now see that it was pseudo-philosophical musing based on very little evidence and that you have in fact made this clear. So you have surmised off the back of inconclusive and very limited tests - but its OK because you have said that that is what you were doing.

        I would just like to make it clear that from my point view as a coffee professional it is a mis-leading article. I am not suggesting this is purposeful.


      • kyushuphil

        Thanks for your willingness to enter the debate as to "how."
        I loved your original article, however, not for the relative strategies for how to get the best product, but for how to keep the human in it, in everything. Or, the human and the natural.
        I think mostly of, not food, but education. Well, OK, maybe that's another kind of food, or food and drink. But around the world it's getting robbed of the human. Getting processed for trackings, standardized testing, and specialization. This all only ultimately serves the vulgarization of money that a U.S. Supreme Court ruled law of the land in its Citizens United ruling for the money interests to rule all.
        So I don't take your plea for thinking about coffee as only about coffee, but as a wider context in which you stress, too, the still, small voice of the human, and the natural.

      • Jackson—SWAG—OBrien

        Just so you know, you are literally conversing here with the best barista in the UK.

        The man is going to be more than tempted to defend his profession.

    • MsInformation

      Get over yourself!

    • Ormond Otvos

      I'm totally not impressed with this diatribe, which reminds me of the BS that audiophiles emit about vinyl vs digital. Never any way to prove anything, just opinions.

      The article was a fine piece of work, sort of artisan grade.

  • Tony Prudori

    In a business where (from what I understand) margins are tight, the automated coffee is less labour intensive (anyone can be trained quickly and easily to use the cartridge machine). It's also more uniform/consistent - do you want "decent/good product 99-100% of the time" or "great 15% of the time, not peak 85% of the time"?
    This said, I agree with lester re: environmental effects on social eating.

  • Jdart

    I think that almost more ironic is that some places that tout local, artisan foods and also use a Nespresso (decidedly not artisan or local) are really undercutting their own philosophy. I also get appalled each time someone here in the Uk orders a big milky coffee after a dinner -- stick to espresso.

    • Tired O. Pomposity

      OK, Jdart, I'll stick to espresso because you say so, rather than ordering coffee with some milk in it because I like it that way. On second thought, leave me the heck alone!!

  • Anthony Hess

    I really like the debate this article brings forth. This is a discussion I have had with my family a number of times and I will say now that I am on the side of the artisans and the hand crafted coffee. This isn't to say I don't appreciate a Nespresso because the convenience of having a good coffee at home is amazing but I will never stop going to cafe's for a good hand-crafted coffee as long as I have the option. Here is why.
    The idea that anything can be perfect is ridiculous. Perfection is subjective. That is why I don't have the same favourite band, food, drink, shirt, style, etc. as someone close to me like my sister or best friend. Each person is different and so their preference will be as such, and the blind study conducted highlights that more than it does tell us what the best coffee is. If were to look at sheer numbers, Psy's "Gangnam Style" or Justin Bieber's "Baby" could be label them the greatest artists ever on simple views over time and I will be damned if anyone tries to tell me that either one of them holds a candle to New Order's "Blue Monday". But that is just my preference.
    I think this makes a good point of what these restaraunts are looking to do is serve a consistently good coffee. But why draw the line there? Why not get cocktail machines where the ingredients are put in and all you have to do is fill the cup? The reason why is because you go to a quality restaraunt for that hand-crafted flavour, the very thing that makes that place unique. You go to McDonalds for consistency. The day that everyone starts to homogenize coffee is the day fashion follows in suit, low and behold, we're in 1984. Extremist? Maybe, but I like my coffee and I enjoy having options of where to go.
    Dave Grohl covered this in his Grammy acceptance speech for Wasted Light, when he discussed the brilliance of human imperfection. It is every little imperfection that paints a part of the bigger picture. I have a good friend who is a barista by trade and the care and understanding that he puts into his coffee is nothing short of amazing. While camping at a music festival, he made our site fresh coffee every morning and he made it how we liked it. Nespresso's limit the variations until more and more capsule varieties are made. Then going out is no longer about who does the best food and coffee, but who has the food and coffee combo I want. Once we can mechanise chefs, we can make a permanent switch to vending machines in nice settings.
    I understand why these restaraunts are doing it and to be fair, they are renowned for their food, not their coffee but at the same time, a hatted restaurant can probably manage to employ a good barista. I think in scenarios like this, it is laziness as much as it is consistency driving this decision. I go out to have the things that I can't have at home. I can get a Nespresso at home anyday.

    • Jonathan Pinkerton III

      "a hatted restaurant can probably manage to employ a good barista."

      But a good barista is unlikely to want to work there - it would just be the wrong environment for them.

    • Mike W

      " what these restaraunts are looking to do is serve a consistently good coffee."

      What they get is consistently _adequate_ coffee, without any striving for excellence.

  • Chris Marrou

    I am waiting for the locally-sourced automobile handmade by artisans who labor in an adobe factory down the street from me. And then I will be waiting a long time for it to start in the morning.

    "There is plenty that we should happily allow to be mechanised, for the obvious benefits that brings."

    This sentence does not justify why we don't just get everything from factories, and the taste test backs it up: industrial processes exist because of their ability to standardize at an optimum level; everything else is conceit. I especially like the fair-trade certification companies which, in guaranteeing that small producers are paid enough, take money from the price paid small producers. But it makes us feel good.

  • Barbara Price

    Not to forget the less conspicuous impacts: Every pod becomes waste, rather than composting the grounds. The pods have two (or three) layers of packaging and are not reuseable. And finally, the cost per cup is anywhere from tripled to quintupled, compared to home ground.

    • johnhay

      No, there are reusable pods, and you simply pack the good coffee of your choice into it. But by all means, please don't stop making ignorant blanket comments on articles. Where would the internet be without people like you?

      • Shirley0401

        I'm not expert, but the description ("and then vacuum-seal the right quantity for one shot") implies they're not using reusable pods.

  • Jim Chevallier

    I can't find any mention here of one BIG downside to the capsule system: the piles of used capsules. Personally, from that side, I view these machines as an ecological disaster and certainly hope legislation will soon be passed to make the manufacturers responsible for how their empties are disposed of. Have we learned nothing from water bottles, cans, plastic bags, etc.?
    Paradoxically, perhaps, I will then chime in on the anti-artisan side (to exaggerate a little). Coffee made at home once involved actually roasting the beans oneself; these days many people don't even grind them. While some with the resources do indeed roast their own beans today, even many "artisanal" brewers take the industrial roasting for granted. And I don't know of any who, like eighteenth century users, do it for each pot. The fact is technologies advance and the older methods are left to the kind of people who build their own fires and bake their own bread; most people just want a "good enough" end product (not even excellent, in most cases).
    So I can't fault the technology from that point of view. But I can cringe at the image of piles of used capsules filling landfills.

    • Justin

      Prove it. I doubt the capsules I used in one year amount to a fraction as much waste as the packaging in one molded foam packed fragile household electronics item - and I buy 10s of such items a year if not more. If you actually cared about this "problem" of waste you'd be more scientific about it and seek to reduce waste by making the biggest % reduction, not pursuing the product that seems most bourgeois. Admit it, you don't actual give a flip about the waste - you are just jealous of other people's convenient lives - you have a hatred of the good for being the good to use Ayn Rand's wording.

  • Gypsy Boots

    In his 1948 Mechanization Takes Command, architect and historian of technology Siegfried Giedion wrote a chapter on the history of attempts to automate bread-making and concluded that machines met their match when they attempted to mechanize "the organic."

    The irony is, he wrote before the appearance of the home bread-making machine, which produces something that is certainly superior to commercial packaged bread.

  • Gypsy Boots

    Of course, at some level the distinction between "human-made" and "machine-made" is bogus shorthand for... well, most of us aren't quite sure. It is humans who design the machines, conduct the research into products like Nespresso and design the mechanized processes. And machines are just as capable of enabling "authentic" tailored small-batch production as the "soulless" mass kind; witness the explosion of craft beers and wines the the excitement about manufacturing printers that can "print" three-dimensional products. So it's a complicated discussion.

  • Gil Jacobsen

    It's just coffee.

  • Jon Jermey

    If the most important thing you can find in your life to write an article about is who makes your cup of coffee, perhaps it's time to retire.

  • SaintMarx

    There is a performance aspect to the aesthetic experience of coffee or food, which contributes to the aesthetic experience. This performance aspect (even if unobserved) differentiates dining from merely eating. Preparation of the coffee, whether by oneself or the barista, is part of this aesthetic experience. Some parallel examples: Why do we care whether a musician is actually performing music, or pretending to do so with prerecorded tracks? Why do we care whether a work of art is real or a forgery?

    In that vein, I find that aesthetic experience is ruined in America by several factors typical of US "coffee shops" in contrast to European cafes: the slovenly appearance of the baristas (typically a look consisting of a ski cap over unwashed hair, ripped jeans, and flannel shirt), the all-too-frequent condescending hipster attitude, and the serving of the coffee in paper cups with plastic utensils. I would never pay for that unaesthetic experience, so I usually grind and brew the coffee myself at home. In contrast, any corner European cafe will have well-dressed staff and serve coffee in ceramic cup and saucer with silverware, and it's no more expensive than the burnt coffee at the local Starbuck's [sic].

    Just as the K-cups and their Nespresso variants are unaesthetic and environmentally destructive, the use of paper and plastic to serve the coffee produces more environmental waste, can affect the flavor of the coffee, and can add potentially toxic chemicals to the coffee.

  • senhor r

    Although it was done with the best of intentions, It's an absolutely horrific methodology and small sample size.

    If one person managed to completely change the outcome with one stupidly low score it invalidates the whole experiment.

    Although i agree with alot of the points and sentiments in the article, I can't help but feel you had your narrative decided on before the 'Test'. It would be easier to buy into your arguments if the test was designed more robustly to make the sample size actually zero out the anomalies and noise.

    I would be genuinely interested to see a similar test done on a wider scale, larger sample size and more types of coffees/pods.

  • Mo Sabghir

    Great article! Of curiosity which "flavor" capsule was used in the test? Where I live I only buy coffee at one cafe and only when one specific barista is working because only he does it well. While I didn't use an "espresso" maker till now I had a filter machine and a french press for my at home 'fix' and it was fine. Then a few weeks ago I saw the Nespresso Pixie combo on sale and I decided to take the plunge. Though I use it to make an Americano style coffee for the most part my morning coffee has never been better and without the extra prep and cleanup.

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    I enjoyed reading this and by scanning some of the comments below you have obviously hit on a passionate topic for many! I must admit that I started reading the article with a bit of skepticism about nepresso coffee but you do make some good points despite the small sample group of your test. Will that change my coffee making habit? NO - because I view the entire process (from buying the beans to grinding them to brewing the coffee) as part of the experience. A one click alternative to coffee making doesn't appeal to me.

  • Alex Silber

    The testing method for this article was inherently flawed, considering that the original question was 'Which method of making coffee is most liked by our panel - Nespresso pods, traditional espresso machine, and (for some reason) a drip brewer' and the materials used to test were not standardized. If you want to actually judge the process you have to use the same materials, which in this case, would be the beans. No matter how good the process may be, a bag of really crappy beans will still make bad coffee. But if you put a bag of good beans through a crappy process, it might turn out okay.

  • Jason Gonzalez

    Basically, I'm not a fan of the article. Maxwell, in the comments, already mentioned why the "test" was flawed. To sum: Craft coffee was poorly represented. For craft coffee, you need a (not preground 4 days ago) speciality coffee, and an actual Artisan to make the coffee. That's simple. Italian coffee's cool and everything, but it's basically an untraceable mix of low grade coffee that's darkly roasted and pairs well with sugar. I feel like it was well represented and I'm not surprised that the pods beat it on taste.

    After your "results" you then feel the need to excuse your preference for "artisan" coffee.

    Your justification is basically, "I LIKE that it's worse".

    This is clearly silly. Craft coffee, well represented, accomplishes it's goals of clarity and individual flavour very well. Machines don't yet beat us on taste in that way. You don't need the excuse to like craft coffee, because it's still better. If machines do end up capable of producing "better" coffee... it's still humans that will grow it, and coffee will become more like wine. A focus will shift to the growers.

    In any case, I don't hand-grind my coffee. I don't hand-press it. My contributions to making coffee aren't my MISTAKES... they are my creative DIRECTION. The same coffee can taste differently based on the decisions I make. I am very purposely making those decisions and influencing the final product. A good coffee isn't a happy accident, it's the culmination of experience, expertise, and of course, the quality of my ingredients and my equipment.

    Your argument is that you need a person there to screw it up, to make it more "human". I'm sorry, but I imagine that you haven't had the sort of coffee made by award winning professionals that would make you think otherwise.

    Machines in coffee are used to give us more control, a finer brush to paint with. I'm still holding the brush. Full mechanization takes the creative choices away... and it also ends in a mediocre product that cannot be improved by a professional.

    I just think it's a shame craft coffee was so badly represented, and that you felt a need to defend your choice of a substandard product. Craft coffee is driven by taste, which is why we don't flame roast and hand grind any more. You are very specifically buying into the BRAND of Italian coffee, the romantic ideas there. You are trying to justify your preference for worse tasting coffee. Craft coffee is using better processing, machinery, and education to improve flavour and give the Barista more control. I hope you get a chance to try some. It's pretty amazing.

  • Yochanon Bogart

    There is a $30 manual expresso machine called the "Aeropress", which if you're into quality coffee, you will have heard of. It uses micro filters and absolutely beats all the pods, K-cups, etc. This is the first of my secrets for coffee everyone raves about. The second is to grind the coffee immediately before brewing (like in Israel). The third is to use spring instead of tap water. Lastly, use fresh roasted quality coffee if possible. I roast my own (using a FreshRoast SR500), with either Columbian Supremo, Celebes Kalossi (Indonesian), or a few other specialty but unroasted beans. "Green" beans are cheaper and last longer, too. Free advice, worth every penny! Cheers!

  • Dan

    This article is like a Longhorn Steer. A point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.

    • ImagineCreateChange

      right on dan!

  • sdb17

    Compared with our previous filter coffee Nespresso is wonderful. But like others I worry about the waste of all that aluminium in the pods. I religiously return the pods to the "recycling" bin at the store but harbour a suspicion that it goes to landfill anyway. Anyone know if Nespresso is genuine about recycling?

    • Ormond Otvos

      The term "religiously" is SO apt!

  • Stefan Hersh

    I agree with some of the other responders that the test is specious: a beef stew from scratch wouldn't compare favorably to a microwave version if they were both prepared in a microwave. What the article does serve to underscore is the relative ignorance that the culinary world lives under regarding coffee. It isn't news that a double blind test of fine wine produces wildly different results depending on the testers, and much more predictable results with wine professionals. So it should come as no surprise that coffee, with many of the same variables as wine, and some critical challenges that wine service doesn't face, should be similarly opaque for the inexperienced. But whereas a fine dining restaurant typically has at least one full-fledged sommelier on staff, the professional coffee world is rarely, if ever represented similarly in the culinary world, and so sits quite apart from the restaurant world, contributing to the murkiness of the topic.

    For a lot of reasons that this is likely to continue, not the least of which is the challenges that serious coffee preparation creates for a restaurant. The relatively low return on investment, along with more indifference and low expectations on the part of diners represents create overall disincentives to restauranteurs to meeting the challenges. So coffee is likely to continue to be served with relative inattentiveness in restaurants, and with care and precision only by hardcore coffee shops, for those curious enough to venture into that world.

    Stefan Hersh
    Buzz: Artisanal Coffee Roaster

  • CADude

    Nespresso capsules are sold exclusively by Nespresso and are more expensive than portions of ground coffee purchased "loose". As highlighted in Oue Choisir 12/09, the cost per serving is up to three times higher than that of alternative brewing methods. Additionally, the idea that we will soon have billions of these waste capsils in our landfills and oceans is of concern.

  • MikeJ2

    And that little green packet on the saucer in the photo.... (Is it sweetener?) Should the restaurant have made its own sweetener instead of dispensing it in a green plastic packet? I say it's all a non-issue. What matters is the quality of the coffee, whether hand-ground at the restaurant, or purchased in capsule form.

  • Martin Cohen

    There is an interesting analogy to the making of fonts: A number of "hand-written" fonts have the ability to introduce random variations in the letters so that each occurrence looks slightly different.

  • Dodgson

    I'm not sure how many of those commenting have actually tried the Nespresso capsules, but some of them are really good. The Indriya is my favorite and it stacks up very well to any other espresso that I have tried. The issue I have at most stores is that they roast their espresso for espresso drinks instead of for drinking it straight. I highly suggest actually trying it before just rejecting it.

  • Vinny

    "That concern lead me to a private dining room" - you mean LED, goddammit.

  • Studio 75

    i like nespresso but i refuse to use it coz I can't justify the packaging waste. A mocha pot does me perfectly well. coffee is not, repeat NOT, a religion.

  • Jonathan London

    Quite frankly, UK cafes and restaurants produce the worst coffee in creation. I think if you had gone to a coffee cafe (established and run by an Australian or NZer) that has an excellent reputation for their coffee and compared their coffee with the nespresso, you might have had very different results. Having lived in NZ and Oz for the past 25 years with frequent visits 'home' to the UK, I am regularly dismayed by the quality of coffee in the UK. I have had many coffees at friends homes, made with Nespresso or similar, only to be very disappointed by the result. In addition, the waste factor is something that needs to be factored in, as well as the issue of becoming hostage to the maker/supplier of the pods that fit the machine.

  • Archies_Boy

    Oh, please. I pop a K-Cup of Starbucks decaf House Blend into my Keurig and have a great cup of coffee every morning. What should I do, grow my own? Start my own coffee plantation? And of course have my own cow and sugar cane field for the creamer and sweetener...

    The techniques of making a good cup of coffee are crucial to the quality of the end product, no matter what that technique happens to be, and this is, after all the 21st century, not the 16th. You can call me a coffee *zhlub* if your snobbiness and luddite mentality demand it; I start the day with a great cuppa joe, and my criterion is how it tastes to *me*. And I say, "It tastes great!"

  • Janet

    From the West Coast hub of the American artisanal neo-hipster--Oakland, CA--the appropriate knee-jerk, to which I knee-jerkily paid obeisance, was to condemn Nespresso for waste and, what I was certain was questionable sourcing. They headed that off at the pass (Western expression, from here, the West) with recyclable aluminum pods and a corporate intention to adhere to Fair-Trade practices. Here, the cutting edge of coolness has moved to consuming from within one's geographical area. Neener, neener, Nespresso. We are still cooler than you.

  • Janet

    Oh, and another thing--Nespresso<Nestle<Monsanto.

  • Janet

    That was meant to say that, as a subsidiary of Nestle, Nespresso may have an interesting relationship with Monsanto...

  • robot_makes_music

    You also need to consider what neuroscience tells us about human rationality, or rather the lack thereof, when considering this argument. We're willing to believe things are better because they are more exclusive. We want to be special, and you can only get that from going against the masses.

  • johnhay

    Since "artisan" is a word restaurants and Madison Avenue just started using to give idiots the sense they're getting something special, and you either took the bait or are too lazy to write serious words for jobs, let's remember that the coffee you get is better when it's individually made for you, through a filter, which is all a K-cup is. The grinds are better and the method of the machine is meaningless. Are you equally shocked when you learn your chef cooked in a gas oven, or used a newfangled refrigerator to keep the meat fresh rather than a pile of ice?

    Seriously, completely pointless. Good coffee is good coffee.

    USA TODAY: Marketers Use "Artisan" to Boost Sales

  • BillStewart2012

    K-Cups aren't going to produce as good a coffee as a barista who's carefully managed all the ingredient preparations and is really paying attention to the brewing process. But they'll consistently beat a pot of drip-filter coffee that's left on the warmer too long.

    Unfortunately, they're Nestle's, and in spite of over 30 years of boycotts, they're still selling baby formula in the third world to people who don't have clean water and can't really afford to buy formula instead of breastfeeding. Go read the Wikipedia article on the boycott if you want more information. And they keep buying up more and more of the food industry, including some really good products, which makes it especially annoying not to be able to do business with them.

    K-cups do also have a waste problem and costing about 4 times as much as you'd spend for good quality coffee; you can get around both of those problems by buying the refillable ones and putting in the coffee you want, but by the time you've done that you might as well just use an espresso machine.

  • Archies_Boy
  • Bryan Tan

    I just skipped to the bit where the writer described the beans he used for the test: three kinds of rubbish. Everything else in the article, despite being well written, is therefore nonsense.

  • jeremyjava

    I have some good coffee gear at home (mazzer mini, and an office lever plus), and would say I know coffee pretty well. While many would consider me a snob, I don't think I am - more of a hobbyist who enjoys using both top grade beans... and Trader Joe's decaf... so long as I grind it just before pulling an espresso shot.

    All that preface was to make my point that I disagree with the tasting results and cannot believe the Nespresso score. Why? Because it's heresy to believe such a thing? Hardly. Because I just went over to the Nespresso machine in the agency where I'm writing from and pulled a shot with one of their pods and am very disappointed. It tastes absolutely nothing like the rich, complex, flavorful, enticing flavors that even the TJ beans will offer if pressed correctly. This tastes very thin and watery. Is it better than nothing? Absolutely, but I would not be surprised if someone told me what I'm drinking was made from a packet with boiling water. That's it - it tastes like watery, packet-made hot chocolate, only, yknow... not.

    P.S. I had actually considered selling my good coffee gear and getting a Nespresso or Illy pod system because I heard they're so good. Not after this, so thanks for the test that led to this reassurance I've chosen correctly.

  • Ormond Otvos

    I have in my hand a lovely Oneida Rose Pattern teaspoon. I don't care if it was stamped or hand beaten by someone likely bored by the process. If they weren't so damn expensive, I'd buy a Nespresso machine.

    People are always going to be the sine qua non of impossible perfectibility. Their products, not so much.

  • vadimoss

    Haha, in Chile they would even serve you Nescaffe instant coffee made of powder. You know what it costs? $1.50 USD - $2 USD.

  • albeit

    "a world of perfection that denies the human element"

    I've never once heard a perfect world do that and I don't expect one to come along any time soon.

  • SE’s

    Why do we need a backhoe to dig our own grave, all we need is a shovel. We, humans, love to eliminate ourselves. I'll get my espresso from a person, please.

  • CrankyFranky

    taste - including coffee - is subjective.

    decades ago I worked in an expensive restaurant frequented by lawyers who'd be drunk on expensive wine and choosing the souffle for dessert by the end of the meal - my owner/boss told me to make coffee - boil the electric jug, put ten teaspoons of the cheapest supermarket instant coffee into a Corningware percolator jug (remember them - when that was a peak of 'quality' ?), stir to ensure no powder residue remained, then march out to the table - 'who'd like coffee !?' - the cry would go up - 'ah - freshly brewed ! Yes Please !' - no-one ever asked or questioned this presumption.

    I've since tested that the easy way to impress people with coffee is to use twice as much - be it instant or brewed - 'ah - that's a good coffee !' - even I use a cheap grind and make it strong - 9c a cup - works for me - scoffers form a queue to the right ...