Product Review: Nespresso
Around 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. And though Starbucks reigns as the "King of Coffee" in the U.S., that’s not the case in every corner of the earth. If you have ever had a Turkish or Greek brew, or Italian or Spanish potent cups of strong, smooth sips, you can understand the immense impact a porcelain vessel filled with brown liquid gold can have on your mood and day. That’s how Nespresso changed the market.
The idea of more aerated, higher-quality coffee was conceived in the 1970s by Nestle employee Eric Farve. His conception was tested in the mid-eighties and by 2000, Nespresso opened their first boutique shop in Paris. It wasn’t until a decade later that Nespresso sales in the U.S. were growing at a rate of 30%, delivering high quality, aerated coffee in pristine individual capsules. And along the way, I too became curious. As a coffee addict, it was time I tried this new brew technology.
When I opened the Nespresso box, the first thing I noticed is how intentionally compact the packaging is. The machine itself lay precisely in between cardboard sides with white styrofoam encasing the maker’s vulnerable edges. Rather than excessive boxes within boxes, this felt well-designed and thoughtful. It was already an at-home elegant experience. Placed on the countertop and plugged in, the coffee device looked handsome and familiar. It didn’t feel like a pretentious product mass-luxury brands often aspire to evoke. I filled the water vessel, and stared at the long lean boxes of capsules. For those who don’t know, Nespresso machines make individual flavored cups of coffee by way of capsules. These individually packed pods of roast are shipped and sold in boxes categorized by flavor. As a customer, you purchase one or a group of flavor boxes each filled with ten capsules, or individual servings worth of roast. This is somewhat the antithesis of homemade pot-brewed Folgers or Maxwell House, in which case one flavor roast makes many cups. While the traditional pot-brewed might be time-efficient and comforting in its tradition, the capsule-way felt more personalized, restrained, and posh. This first time I selected my capsule-flavor-of-choice, lifted the machine’s lid and slid the pod into place. Closing the lid, I pressed what seemed to be the button for my brew-size of choice. The button glowed green and the elegant machine seemed to awake. A moment later I had a steaming hot cup of coffee.
So far so good. My Nespresso machine was unobtrusive in form, intuitive to use, and quickly prepared a hot cup of quality java. The taste was rich and full of flavor. Layers of butter and tart wrapped in sweetness, packed with robust caffeine, one sip aroused my senses immediately. It was a true reminder of how food used to taste. Before pesticides, and altered fruits & vegetables, before machine-made sugars, and chemical additives, good food and drinks were full of layers of flavors like this. About half the world still restricts these food and drink alternations and has rich, strong, thick coffee like this. The U.S. typically does not. Nespresso, a subordinate of Swiss food and drink corporation Nestle, brought that experience back. However, just because my first review was outstanding doesn’t mean that all is perfect with the product.
The largest criticism Nespresso has fought is the capsule experience. These single-packed aluminum pods multiply materials needed for making a cup of coffee. Also, for a long time, they had to be shipped. Even today, their appearance on shelves at your local grocer is underwhelming. Between excessive materials and the requirement for ample shipping, customers and critics agreed that Nespresso’s sustainability story is questionable. The company addresses this and other sustainable concerns with a few efforts. First, the machines turn off automatically every 9 minutes to avoid wasting electricity. Though seemingly simple, this is at least a basic effort to conserve. Secondly, Nespresso acknowledges coffee bean farming’s history of deforestation and has pledged to plant 5 million trees by the end of 2020.* Thirdly, the company voices a priority in educating their community on suppliers; the website states, “A network of over 460 [Nespresso] agronomists work closely with farmers providing training and advice in order to improve the quality, productivity and the sustainability of practices and produce, as farmers tackle the day-to-day realities of coffee cultivation.” And lastly, Nespresso makes it prominent on their website and through their messaging that they want customers to recycle the capsules. They provide a free Nespresso-UPS program allowing customers to drop off the used capsules “at one of 88,000 UPS drop-off points or any Nespresso Boutique.” These programs are audited or certified by third-party programs, AAA, Intertek, and more. All to say, these are impressive efforts for a company of this size to take on.
As I used my Nespresso for a few months, I could see why one would invest in this coffee tech trend. It’s really good coffee. It tastes European - free of additives or artificial ingredients. It also brings a luxurious experience to your home every morning. For a cup (or two) a day, you have a moment of decadent privilege. Nespresso also has the ability to do the opposite when traveling - reminding you of home, when you spot it in a hotel lobby or breakfast nook on the other side of the world. It’s this mix of experience of privilege and comfort that is worthy of purchase.
Still, all good things must come to an end. A visiting friend couldn’t stop making Nespressos, loving the experience more than I did. I didn’t refill the capsules anymore, and had let the machine collect dust for a few months before ordering more. I realized that beyond the sustainability aspects, the act of keeping up with my coffee machine was more than a single busy lady wanted to keep up. Maybe this is great for couples who only take on half the ordering and recycling responsibility, or retirees who have time and look forward to the daily cups of joy, but it wasn’t for me. Always on the hunt for tech that adds to my life rather than complicates it, I brought back the pot and picked up more Folgers. I shipped my Vertuo to my friend for her birthday. She would use it more. Nespresso is a fabulous brand and worthwhile experience, but I just want simple roasted coffee.