It had to happen. Wellington, the coffee capital, has a Nespresso Boutique. The Lambton Quay store opened last week with all the glitz and glam of an upmarket cocktail bar. Dean Barker and entourage, John Key and entourage, chef celebs, local artists and personalities gave the photographers plenty to snap about while the rest of us – fuelled on coffee martinis, champagne and canapés – chattered about what this new concept might bring to the capital.
We Wellingtonians are insufferably snobby and parochial about coffee. American import Starbucks has failed to make headway in a city that boasts numerous hip cafés and artisan roasters so what do we make of the Swiss company’s chances?
For the benefit of people like me, who until last week thought Nespresso was an upmarket coffee shop frequented by George Clooney, here’s a brief rundown of the concept that has expanded across 50 countries.
Firstly the boutiques are not cafés although they do have bars where consumers can taste before they buy from a range of single shot coffee capsules designed to fit Nespresso branded machines. Machines, capsules and associated products are sold from the store-boutiques that also serve as collection points for the spent aluminium capsules which are recycled off shore. There are 270 boutiques worldwide (NZ now has 2) but most of the action occurs online through local sites that are accessed when consumers join the Nespresso Club.
This means that unlike Starbucks, Nespresso isn’t competing for the café customer – it’s targeting the home and office market. That’s me: a free lancer working from home with a twice-a-day habit. My own machine is a Rocket and I’m completely wedded to the ritual of grinding, tamping and pulling the levers to make my morning coffee, but if I wasn’t into all that, I’d be seriously tempted to buy a Nespresso.
I rate the coffee ‘very good’. I might even give it an ‘excellent’ but I’ve only tried 2 of the 21 varieties (which are somewhat pretentiously called grands crus). The sealed aluminium capsules keep the ground coffee super fresh and the extraction system is as effective as it is fascinating. Drop a capsule in the top and the machine does the rest, delivering an espresso with an excellent crema. I like the frothing attachment too: pour in the milk and it uses magnetic technology to stretch the milk to silky perfection. It’s impossible to make a bad coffee. So yes, even a pretentious Wellington coffee snob like myself would be tempted – but not convinced. The machines themselves are relatively inexpensive ($380 for a smart one made by deLonghi) but factor in the capsule cost (.97 – $1.13) and I’d have to curtail my habit.
My verdict: if you appreciate good coffee and cost’s not a factor then join the club, but please, please do save up the empties and take them back to the boutique. All kudos to Nespresso for the effort it has put into recycling but the system is only ever as good as the people who use it.
Footnote: Artist Taika Waitit’s artwork suggests a more creative use for the empties.